This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
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I was studying for finals. My mom was gone the whole weekend and when she came home, she complained bitched about the house being a mess. She yelled at me for not being like other Hmong daughters and keeping the house spotless clean. This was not the first time and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. I was tired of her comparing me over and over again to these Hmong girls in town whom I had no desire to be. I yelled at her to stop comparing me because I am my own individual and it hurts my feelings when she does so. “How would you feel if I were to say that you don’t love me the way I see other mothers love their daughters?”
My mom was furious. She yelled obscenities at me, calling be a bitch and a slut. Then she grabbed my hair and dragged me around my room. She pushed me here and there, still holding on to my hair. For 3 years, I had endured my mom’s physical abuse without ever hitting her back. This time I had enough and I fought. I grabbed her hair and pulled it just the way she was pulling mine. I even punched her a few times so she would let go.
My mom’s boyfriend saw what was happening so he tried to break us up. He pushed my mom off of me, grabbed me and held me to my sister’s bed. My mom took advantage of him holding me down and sat on me and started to strangle me. She said she was going to kill me because I was a disappointment to her.
My mom’s boyfriend pushed her off of me.
He stood between us and tried to reason with her, “Puas yuav zoo koj siab yog tias koj muab nws tua tuag kiag lawv ma (Will it really please you if you killed her)?”
“Kuv yog nws niam. Kuv yug nws thiab tus nws loj hlob li no. Nws txiv khiav mus tso nws ua ntsuag. Tsuas muaj kuv xwb, kuv thiaj li ua rau nws noj thiab nws hnav. Kuv xav hais tias thaum loj hlob tuaj es yuav hlub kuv no. Niag maum dev ntawv tsis hmloog kuv lus. Tseem muab kuv piv rau lwm tus thiab. Kuv tua nws lo tsis ua li cas. Kuv yeej tsis cia nws ua li no rau kuv li (I am her mother. I gave birth to her and nurtured her. Her father left her an orphan. It was me who fed her and clothed her. I thought that once she’s older, she’ll love me. That bitch doesn’t listen to me. She dare compare me to others. It won’t matter if I kill her. I won’t let her do this to me).”
I was torn—completely confused and frustrated. My heart ached for my mom. I realized what a failure I was as a daughter when I heard these words. I had hurt my mom so deeply that she felt the only way to solve our problems was to kill me. However, a part of me felt that it wasn’t right. I should be allowed to be myself without worrying if I’ll measure up to someone’s expectations.
Anger took a hold of me. I had had it. I ran to my bed and grabbed the glass lamp on my nightstand. I didn’t know how to cope and couldn’t deal with my mom anymore. So, I hit myself on the head with the lamp. It didn’t break. I did it over and over again until my mom’s boyfriend stopped me. He told me to calm down and talk with my mom. I sat on my bed, looking down at the floor. My head was throbbing, but I couldn’t feel the pain. I didn’t know if it was bleeding and I didn’t care. I was numb.
“Kuv tsis xav nrog nws tag. Txij hnub no mus, koj txhob muab kuv hu ua niam lawm. Koj yuav mus hu leej twg niam los kuv tsis khe (I don’t want to talk with her. Don’t call me mother from now on. You can go call someone else Mom for all I care),” my mom shouted at me and left my room.
My mom’s boyfriend spoke to me for a minute, trying to make me understand my mom’s actions.
“You know that your mom doesn’t like your boyfriend. She doesn’t want you to make the same mistakes she did when she was young. You and I both know that he is a nice person, but she doesn’t see it that way. However, she is your mom and she loves you.”
“We weren’t even arguing about him,” I cried.
After he left, I just sat there in the room that I shared with my sisters and cried. No one loved me and the one person who loved me I’m not even allowed to see. When I stopped crying, I went to the bathroom to wash my face. To my horror, there were bruises of my mom’s hand prints all around my neck. I cried even harder. I was so depressed.
I couldn’t call my boyfriend, not after this fight I had with my mom. I also couldn’t call any of my friends because none of them knew what was going on at home. Friends at school saw me as a cheerful girl who didn’t have to try hard to get good grades. They didn’t know about the struggles I was going through or how I would change for dance class in the girls’ restrooms to hide my bruises.
There are many ways teens cope with their problems. Some turn to drugs or alcohol. Some join gangs. Others cut themselves. Me, I self-medicated. Whenever I felt too depressed to the point of not knowing how to cope, I gobbled down acetaminophen or ibuprofen and went to sleep. It temporarily took away my pain. This time, I wanted to take all my pain away for good.
I walked to the kitchen and opened the cupboard where my mom stored her medicine. Death was the only solution I saw. I was looking for the acid she used to wash Hmong silver coins, but it was not up in the cupboard. My mom had a new bottle of ibuprofen, 500 ct. I took almost all of the bottle. Why not all, you may ask. Because I was worried that if I took all of the pills, my mom may not have any pain medicine after I was gone. After gulping down a cup of water to wash down the pills, I calmly walked back to my room. I laid down on my bed and awaited my death.
To my disappointment, I awoke the next morning. I hadn’t died. Instead I had this HUGE headache and I couldn’t concentrate. I don’t know if it was from the ibuprofen or from my fight with my mom. I also had a bump on my head from when I hit myself with the lamp.
I thought, why didn’t I die? If I had died, I would’ve been free. Everyone would’ve been free. I wouldn’t be hurting like I am. My mom wouldn’t have to deal with a useless daughter like me. My partner wouldn’t have to deal with my mom. He would move on with his life and find someone whose mother adored him.
It was a miracle that I didn’t die from taking almost a bottle of ibuprofen. No one could’ve survived taking that many pills. I truly believe that my guardian angel was watching over me that night. A few weeks later, I saw my mom take out the acid from its usual place in the cupboard to test a new set of silver coins she bought. Why didn’t I see it when I was looking for death? My guardian angel had protected me.
I thought I should get ready for school since I was still alive. I would kill myself that night after everyone went to sleep. To hide the bruises on my neck, I wore a piece of cloth as a choker necklace. I didn’t tell anyone about my attempted suicide and have never until now. Many years after I had gotten married, I found out that my mom suspected it because she saw the almost-empty bottle in the cupboard.
There was nothing to do during dance class because our annual performance was done and over with. Mrs. Coito was the kind of teacher who deeply cared about her students and took the extra effort to inspire them. We would regularly have exercises of self-reflection, self-care, and motivation. That day, she handed out a manila envelope to every one of her dancers. Inside it were various items to remind us of all the wonderful things life has to offer. Although I no longer have the manila envelope, I can still remember what was inside:
Eraser: A reminder that we all make mistakes, but we can wipe the slate clean.
Penny: Save this and you will never be broke again.
Marble: To keep you rolling along.
Rubber Band: To keep you bouncing back and flexible.
Candle: To light up the darkness.
Tissue: For drying your tears.
Toothpick: To pick out the good in others including yourself.
Cotton Ball: For the rough roads ahead.
Confetti: To add some sparkle to your life.
Lifesaver: To remind you of the many times others need your help and you need theirs.
Rainbow: A reminder that after every storm comes a rainbow.
Paper Clip: To hold everything together when it falls apart.
A Hug & Kiss: To remind you that someone cares about you!
Thanks to Mrs. Coito, for it was this activity that prevented me from attempting another suicide. One of these days, I will go back to my high school where she still teaches and personally thank her for saving my life.
The bruises on my neck were so bad, that two weeks later, they were still there. And so, I attended my boyfriend’s high school graduation without the consent of my mom, with my homemade choker around my neck and a smile on my face.
I was so happy to see him as a graduate, walking on that stage. The delinquent that my mom belittled had graduated from high school. She was wrong after all. However, my happiness was short-lived. By 7:30 that evening, my mom had already called my boyfriend’s sister-in-law. She demanded that I come home straight-away or there would be consequences. And so, my boyfriend drove me home.
I saw more and more of my boyfriend after he graduated from high school. He attended the local community college, majoring in criminal justice. And because he now had a car, he was able to come see me more often. Although my mom and I still had our arguments, she was no longer tripping as much about him as before. She never looked at him, greeted him, or spoke to him when he came over to visit, but it didn’t matter to me. It was okay for us to be together now.
Although I was accepted to a few universities, I made up my mind to attend community college after high school. I was undecided on my major and career goals (all I knew was that I wanted to make a difference). A community college would help me save money while I shopped around for inspiration for my major and career goals. Things were looking better. I was chasing my dreams of going to college. I was finally able to be with the person I love. Life was looking good… until I found out I was pregnant.