Although I am fond of my childhood memories, I prefer some distance from the city that some belong to. Yet, as I am getting older, I keep finding myself at my mother’s apartment, or specifically, at my childhood home in Guangzhou. Nostalgia floods through the barred windows of her apartment—the vibrations of construction work lull some part of me to sleep. I have sat for hours in silence, in idleness, trying, but failing to remember a feeling of home that has long evolved into something entirely different. My present sense of home has collided with what used to be home—muddling my very marrow of belonging. In my most recent visit, this fact made me angry. In solidarity, my sister was angry also. So in protest, we refused to adjust our jet lag, waking up at 4 am and sleeping at 4 pm. We rejected the nightlife, the very essence of Guangzhou and its esteemed Canton Tower. We weren’t the only ones who had difficulty adjusting. My mother was adjusting to seeing her estranged children. We were the visitations of a failed past life. Whether it was misdirected or not, the three of us would clash, and that would ultimately lead to one of us sulking. Though, more than once, our conflicts would settle in a heart-to-heart, the icky gooey kind that made everyone shift uncomfortably in their seats. Despite the various forms of semi-resolutions, during the following days, we would find ourselves in the same cycle.
Our arguments revolved around my mother’s guilt for her absence throughout our lives. After living briefly in America, she made the decision to leave us behind to live with my nomadic father in Guangzhou. Perhaps, she wasn’t ready for children, and in turn, couldn’t spare any love for her children. Burdened with guilt, my mother compensated by placing the entirety of her love on my father, only to realize that it was inadequate. More recently, she alluded that she might be ready to express thoughts of recommitting to life in America. Her children, most of us now adults, are in America and too self-sufficient to admit we might still need her. Nevertheless, she is needed. Her decision depends on whether she could surrender her guilt, commit to the role of mother, and relinquish the role of wife.
Back in my apartment in America, I am at my desk flipping through baby photos taken in Guangzhou. I am staring past this album, trying to make material of something that no longer exists. In Guangzhou, I was surrounded by familiar faces and familiar things, but I was unable to recognize them. I was fixated with my inability to piece together what seemed to be the most essential parts of home. I am holding onto the familiar, to the photographs and feelings of home. My mother is holding onto the familiar, to her guilt and to her role as wife. The once defined lines between my sense of home and my mother’s sense of purpose, are blurred.
Inevitably, what was once familiar is eventually lost in time, but if accepted, in its place, a newly discovered sense of familiarity propels us forward. That day will come when we have to let go of the old and begin to find our way home.