I stole this phrase from a colleague.
Over a weekend, he proposed to his girlfriend, the picture-perfect woman whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet for a few times. In the photos, a few yards away were my colleague’s friends, holding pro-cameras and iPhones snapping the moment for the love birds on the beach against the cloudless blue sky under the California sun.
The woman, who works the camera by trade (model/actor), didn’t care how she looked and bawled.
“She had such an ‘ugly cry.'”
This comment from my colleague froze in my head.
This morning, that ugly cry hit me. The difference was, no one proposed.
I was alone in my bachelor’s pad. To put it more precisely, I was in my studio apartment. I just had a video call with my dad. It was my 5 am, his 8 pm. Our vocal cat Michael was meowing for attention slouching against my dad’s feet. Dad was concerned, about my visa. He was worried about the What-ifs.
It was the first time in months since I got up when the alarm first went off at 5. I wanted to use it well. I was going to write. But dad’s text got me thinking: he must be worried. I need to give him a call. A quick one, before I got on with my day. We talked for a bit, about this route, about Michael. I asked where my mum was. Then I heard her voice. Her wet head popped into the frame.
“I was just taking a shower. Where’s the lecture video? I was telling your auntie all about your success the other day.”
“Ma, it may take a few more days. Have some patience.” I replied impatiently.
“You dad starts smoking again!” She blurted out of nowhere.
With dad’s vices, mum never has a problem being the snitch. Her Animal Sign is Rat after all. Dad just smiled back at me. To the others, he’s known for his scowl, even at home. And Michael (he’s our cat btw) knows it, too. But when he gets busted by Mum, the Policewoman, he lets out a gruff scarce laugh.
I told them that it’s five here in LA and I need to get started. 10 mins in and I had to go. I hated that I had to end our convo so abruptly.
I often picture them living with me in the US. I want it happen so bad. I want it happen right here, right now.
Then I made a mistake. I tuned into The Moth Podcast with the theme on Fathers as I prepped my meal. It was a series of father-child stories. One story was about a son with his estranged writer dad who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The son drove him around when he visited him at the facility. The son was so full of fear—
“I looked at his hand. Not sure what to do. It was so close but felt so far away. Then I took my right hand off the wheel and lay it on his hand, as if I just took a jump off the cliff. I feared that he would swat it away. I held my breath. Then I felt it. He put his other hand over mine. We stayed that way as I drove… For the last few years of his life, that’s what we did. We held hands.”
I broke down at my kitchen counter and started an ugly cry.
I was disgusted by my selfishness, abandoning them back home, coming here to chase my dream. Nobody told me it’s going to be this hard to do the right thing. Why doesn’t it sound and feel right whenever I look at them through the phone screens, and not into their eyes?
I miss holding my father’s calloused hand. I miss listening to my mum telling on people, mostly my dad’s ‘misdeeds.’ I miss being the judge of the two, giving out my verdicts. I guess, I just miss being around them, like the old days, like a kid, without a care of the world, or of some distant dream.
More and more, that’s what keeps me going. And I hope, with each endeavor, I’ll be closer to them. And them, closer to me.
Damn, I’m cryin’ again.