I say she was a tough woman, and my mother says, how tough, how tough? My mother always wants to know the toughness as a number. The television says Robert lived twelve years past his prognosis. The newspaper says Sandra battled cancer for twenty-three months. Ah, my mother says. That’s tough. That’s very tough.
I say the woman traveled farther than she ever thought she could. I say she learned English in night school with a baby in her lap. I say she battled lonely for thirty-two years. I say she battled outcast, homesick.
Homesick? my mother says. Homesick is for children, she says, for frightened old ladies. Homesick is not tough. No, not tough at all.
The woman battled widowhood, I say. She battled abandoned. She battled poor and broken with nobody left to turn to. She battled weekly long-distance calls that she wished were daily, her best friend the moth-murmur of a voice on the line—this costs a fortune, I have to go, same time next week, okay?
My mother says her brother survived six bullets to the chest in Parma. She says her grandmother lived thirty years past being buried alive. Don’t insult me with your fake tough, she says. Save me your prissy stories.
She battled electro-convulsive therapy, I say. She battled inadequate mental health services. She battled words she couldn’t understand in court, she battled no children, no freedom. She battled wanting to go home but not knowing where home was. She battled depression and Alzheimer’s and she lost those battles but still she kept fighting.
Losers aren’t tough, my mother says. If she wanted to be tough, she shouldn’t have lost. And wanting to go home, no, don’t give me that crap. Give me numbers instead, give me something I can understand or else leave me alone, she says, leave me alone. And then she looks at me straight with her great big wet eyes and says, I don’t even know you, old man.
Gen Del Raye’s stories can be found in The Monarch Review, Corium Magazine, and at gendelraye.blogspot.com. He grew up in Kyoto, Japan and is currently studying marine biology in Berkeley, CA.