As I’m wrapping my secret santa / stocking stuffer gift for my housemate, I hear my mom and brother arguing outside in the living room.
“What do you mean you want to fill out the FAFSA now? We don’t file taxes until February, what do you mean you want to do it now? I thought you filled out the FAFSA for last year already, why are you asking me about this now? Is this why your tuition costs me $8,000 this semester?”
“Because you keep telling me to figure out my financial aid stuff! I ask you ONE thing and you start yelling at me about everything!” And of course, my brother retaliates with anger.
“I’m not yelling at you. It’s just you never know what to do you about your own tuition. You never know where to look up financial aid information, and I have to ask MY friends just to figure out how to help YOU, because their children actually tell them how to do these things.”
“I’M JUST ASKING YOU ONE QUESTION WHETHER I NEED TO DO THE FAFSA RIGHT NOW OR NOT. WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME ALL THIS?” With that, he storms into my room, our room that we share.
No one ever believes me when I tell them that my brother is scary when he yells. Is it because he always looks so mellow and soft-spoken to everyone else? Yeah, because that’s what he’s like when he’s with his friends. Not at home. When he yells, it seriously makes me shiver. Yes, I get scared. I’m scared that he needs anger management. I’m scared that one day, he might just punch my mom and hurt her. I’m scared that one day, things will escalate to a point where I can only sit in the corner and cry because I live with two of the most frightening people I’ve ever known.
Hearing their mutual anger gets me really nervous, and my hands start shaking as I’m still trying to wrap my gift, anticipating the impending escalation of their argument. My brother jumps onto his bed with his laptop and plugs in his headphones, and my mother leans against the door to face him, clearly trying to continue their argument.
“All you’ve been doing this break is play games on your laptop. You sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning and wake up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon just to play some more. I tell you that our electricity bill is going to go up this month, and yet you continue to leave the lights on until 3 or 4 in the morning to play your stupid games, racking up our bill. I tell you to go get your license this break, and you just sit there and play on your laptop. I tell you to check your financial aid to let me know whether you’ve gotten the money or not, and all you do is play on that damn laptop. You think your parents have a lot of money? You think we have all the money to pay our bills and your college tuition? Playing on that laptop isn’t going to feed you or the family!” My mom’s voice reaches a high-pitched screech, and I know she’s super pissed. Her Cantonese cuts deep, as I realize that she could be directing her words towards me, sprawled out on the floor still trying to wrap the gift. But her words don’t affect my brother.
“I NEVER SAID THAT WE HAD A LOT OF MONEY! STOP PUTTING WORDS IN MY MOUTH!” As usual, he tries to find one flawed idea from my mom’s continuous slur of angry words and counter them with his own. And yet, it only makes my mom angrier to know that he’s trying to talk back to her using the least significant part of her argument.
I seriously start tearing up. My hands are still shaking as I try to fold the edges of the wrapping paper down, grabbing some tape with my free hand. My mom and my brother continue yelling at each other back and forth, and my wrapping paper rips. My mom ends the argument by saying, “FROM NOW ON, IF I SEE YOU PLAYING ON THAT LAPTOP PAST 1 AM, I WILL DEFINITELY THROW IT OUT THE WINDOW. You want a laptop to use in college? You want a laptop to play your damn games? KEEP PLAYING ON IT PAST 1 AM AND WATCH WHAT I CAN DO.”
She storms out of the room, releasing strings of profanity in Chinese as she relays the entire argument to my dad in the living room. I’m relieved that my brother didn’t try to stick in a last word in that argument. I’m glad the argument didn’t escalate from there.
But I’m so tired of hearing them yell at each other back and forth. I’m so tired of being scared of angering either of them. I’m tired of my brother not being able to come to his senses and think in terms of our family’s well-being instead of his own selfish desires, because there is definitely validity in my mom’s argument. Yet, I’m also tired of my mom always trying to dig up our old faults to use when she’s yelling at us. My brother doesn’t see that my mom is seriously looking out for our best interests, and my mom doesn’t see that she makes us feel worthless when she repeatedly brings up our mistakes and shortcomings. And I’m just trapped in the middle, unwilling to step into their argument because I’m honestly frightened of the both of them.
How will God bring healing to my family?
How can I find peace at home for winter break, when I’m always fearful of something small like figuring out financial aid info blowing up out of proportion?
How can I go back to Davis and trust that my brother will be a good son, that he won’t hurt my mom? How can I go back to school and know that anytime, my brother can throw a tantrum and start swearing at my mother in English, calling her a bitch and telling her to fuck off?
How can I find peace?
I’m praying for God to redeem my mother and let her find peace despite her circumstances, or what she calls “the terrible luck that life has given me, to suffer as an immigrant,” which I believe she has retained as her life’s sole purpose. I’m praying for the Holy Spirit to find my brother and bring him back to the Lord, so that he can see that his anger and harsh words really do a lot of harm. I’m praying for healing in my family, that although we do not have much and cannot boast in much, we can at least call this place we live in a genuine home.
I’m just praying for the day that I can come home and not have to worry about setting off my mom or my brother, that everything I try to do for them as an older sister and a daughter will be enough in their eyes, and that I can feel a sense of security with these people that I’m supposed to be closest to in this world.
And here’s my unspoken apology to my housemate… I wish I could’ve wrapped the gift better. My hands just weren’t cooperating with me. I guess I just really can’t multitask when I’m more focused on something else.