To my 婆婆

Expressing gratitude for the lessons I’ve learned from my grandma

Sophia Ma

Summertime was when the cicadas would screech and I’d follow suit, screaming in fear for my life as I ran into the foil, rocketship-shaped tent. The tinted, plastic windows would cast a blue light on my face, and I would sit, shaking, shrinking into my own little shadow.

I’d hear them at night still — their haunting screeches — and you’d laugh consolingly, placing a piece of hard candy from your nightstand into the palm of my hand. The fruity taste with a hint of honey left a tingling sensation on my tongue as I swirled it into the sides of my mouth, hoping it wouldn’t disappear and dissolve into nothingness. Hoping that it would stay forever. But by midnight it had faded away with my consciousness.

When my eyes fluttered open the next morning, they stung from the aroma of Sichuan pepper. The fuzz of the white-carpet lined stairs tickled as my nose led me to the source of the smell — to you. My legs would dangle when I sat on the kitchen stool — the wooden one that always rocked slightly because the legs were different heights. All my eyes could do was fixate on the foaming bubbles in the sizzling vegetable oil or widen as the eggs poofed up when you dumped them into the wok. 

What passed by my eyes were the beads of sweat dripping from the top of your scalp to the bottom of your heart. 


I’m sorry, for not seeing how much you care. For ignoring the signs of your love and instead letting out afflicted sighs and raising my voice. For showing up later that day, late for dinner, not uttering a single apology because I had always ignorantly assumed family will always forgive each other. 

Because you always did. 

The wrinkles around your eyes would scrunch up and you would squint as you laughed — we laughed — at the dining room table about the dumbest video you saw on WeChat, munching on freshly-sliced Korean pears that mom had bought the day before. Finally relaxing after losing our breaths for minutes on end, the corners of my mouth remained upturned. The pear residue on my lips was sweet. I thought to myself, I loved these little moments of pure joy. But when I opened my mouth to say that, I looked into your eye – – I — I stuttered in my head and said nothing because I had gotten so used to inserting silence into my words of appreciation.

When we finished the pears, you would say my Chinese has improved so much, lips slightly ajar as you smiled. Has it really? There are words that I struggle to say to you not because of my fluency, but because they’re stuck. 对不起,我爱你 — my throat tightens around the curves of each stroke of every word I have failed to say to you. And my voice collapses into itself. It builds the big fat wall that is a language barrier because I’m still learning the language of emotion — something that you, somehow, are so affluent in. 

Did you know that cicadas stay underground for 17 years of their life? Google says it’s because they’re safe this way, that is, until they come out of hiding and die only weeks later. Isn’t it sad? To finally put yourself out there, only to die because of it? If I were a cicada, I would stay underground forever. 

But my birthday is in August. I’m at the verge of turning 17. And I know it’s my turn to fly out from underground to face the worst of it yet. But I’ll struggle past the rules of nature so I can tell you all about it. I want to tell you how much you’ve comforted me. I want to tell you that you’ve taught me gratitude. I want to tell you so much, but it gets lost in translation. 

What I’m trying to say is, 婆婆, I’m scared. I don’t want to lose you. I would stay as I am underground because I don’t know how I’ll manage change and how I’ll ever live without you. 

When your senses started to deteriorate, I didn’t know what I would do. I would call your name, but you’d sit idly, eyes glazed. I would call again and again because I didn’t know what else I would do if you couldn’t hear me. What will I do if you can’t hear me? How will I say that when you’re gone, I’ll miss you — that I don’t want to live a life of regrets, teary-eyed, clinging to your giant, warm jackets and the fading memories of you. All because I couldn’t utter a genuine word of gratitude when I needed to. 

So instead, I’ll write to you. I’ll cling to each passing day that I still get to cherish and memorialize the ones that went by too quickly.

I don’t think you’ll ever see this, or ever be able to read it or understand what I’m even trying to say, but no matter. I’m forever grateful to you. You, who would make the most delicious egg fried rice I’ve ever tasted. You, who would console me at 2 a.m. when I ran down the stairs, crying about all the tests I thought I would fail the next day. You, who would use the handwritten Chinese characters keyboard on your phone to type out a congratulation message to me, mixing up the traditional and simplified characters. 

So now, as I type on my keyboard, mixing up the English and the Chinese, I say to you, the most amazing person in the world —

谢谢婆婆, for everything.