“I asked you a straight question and you can’t give me a straight answer.”
I’m heading toward the kitchen and staring at the counter. There happens to be snacks there. I unwrap a Reese’s Pieces and bite into the buttery chocolate, not tasting it.
10 minutes earlier:
My heart is soaring and I feel at peace watching Will’s car speed down the open road to San Francisco. It’s green all around. I relax for the first time since turning the movie on and happen to relax into the pool of pillows on my left side, and closer to my mom.
“Your hair smells strongly of sweat. Go wash it.”
I flinch. I knew after two years of college and being away from home without those comments that I had somehow inherited that weird asian gene that makes my sweat basically odorless. I don’t know what game she’s playing. And I hate it.
I turned off the movie and my feet carried me into the kitchen.
My mom followed me and stated, “He’s so smart. Isn’t it a waste. There’s really nothing you can do, I guess.” It was as casual as if it was just another breath out, but it made me pause. She didn’t see a young man driving away to discover what he wanted for the first time in his life. She saw a young man wasting his potential when he could’ve been working for the NSA breaking code and making money so he didn’t have to live in the slums anymore. What if I decided I didn’t want to work for a tech giant because I had found another place that was a better fit for me? She would be disappointed, apparently. I don’t know why I’m surprised to hear it.
I reached for another Reese’s and unwrapped it. I raised it to my mouth. Before I could take the bite, my mom interjected, “You know, I’m hungry too but I’m not eating right now (and this is why you’re fat).” My mind tacked on the appropriate implication at the end. I let momentum keep my hand moving toward my mouth and before I know it i’m eating it, and it tastes like sand going down. These are the reasons every time I come home, I’m simultaneously overjoyed and stressed out of my mind. Comforted and invalidated, all at the same time.
And the race in my head begins.
She’s Chinese. She grew up in China, raised by professors. She’s seen that academic success could lift you out of the rice patties straight into a new life in a new country, and that in that new life, people could throw rocks at your window because you, your husband, and your young son are Chinese. She saw how money could buy you into a better part of town and a life where those memories are just that, far gone memories.
Her definition of success is not about me discovering what I want. It’s not about my happiness, because she takes that to be a natural byproduct of wealth.
Her vision of success is working for a tech giant for 200k a year, not because she knows what working “in the IT department” entails, but because that’s what she sees my brother’s friends doing in the bay area.
“What do you want to do?”
I feel like Will Hunting. I have no clue. And until I do, I won’t be able to tell my mom my story. I won’t be able to explain to her what my vision of success is that makes sense — that can compete with hers. I can’t make her understand my values when all I can bring to the table is a gut feeling. Unfortunately. Until then, it will feel like she would disregard my personal development and happiness in favor of her vision of success. Also unfortunately, I feel like figuring out what I want to do isn’t something that will click for me immediately. I feel like I need to gain more experience, try more new things, fail at a couple more things and live a little more to figure out what I want.
So now my job is to bring more than just my bullshit to the table, but I don’t know how long that will take to be sure. I can bang my head at the unfairness of it all, but I can’t really speed up this process.
(The movie is Good Will Hunting)