Talk to Me, Third Place in Nonfiction

Talk to me

by Ingrid Ren


Everything makes my mother suffer.


I stand on a street at nighttime begging her not to leave. She opens her car door. I don’t know if I would miss her but

someone needs to. My father is alone is his room; my brother alone in his. Why am I trying to convince her to stay?


My mother is the weakest person I know, and she recognizes this.

She stands in my doorway as I sit on my bed.

– The first person to hurt me was my own mother. Then the second person was my college boyfriend.

– Who hurts you now? I ask.

She doesn’t answer.

She tells me stories of how her parents used her as a maid during her childhood, making her cook for them, do the dishes,

clean the house.

She tells me of her college boyfriend of five years who wouldn’t let her dance.

– Dancing was seen as kind of rebellious at the time, she would say, like an exciting adventure.

I’d imagine her with black hair falling back, grinning up at the ceiling. Twirling arms above her head.


Sitting on her bed, wrapped up in a thick blanket, she tells me she’s been stressed for the past twenty years of her life,

trying to take care of her parents and her brother. Why does she always use the word “stress?” Never depressed or anxious.

Maybe being stressed is more acceptable than having a mental illness. Maybe it’s because her English isn’t that good.


My mother constantly chases happiness. She says she will be happy when she can sleep in, read books, and travel. But she

doesn’t realize that all these things are just short moments of distraction. I think what she really wants is to escape.

Escape her marriage, her job, her children. Only the chain of family responsibility still holds her back.


As I get closer to my high school diploma, my mother starts asking more about my schoolwork and pressures me to apply early

decision to a college. At the same time she forgets my test scores forgets my grades and forgets the names of the colleges

I’m interested in. I don’t know if she really cares about my future or just feels the need to act like she does.

I hear her on the phone, informing my brother that she’s worried about my most recent report card. She asks my brother what

she should do, how she can help. She asks my brother, the one who skipped a grade and graduated top of the class, what to do

with me.


My mother is packing a suitcase. Sniffling, crying. At this point, I’m unfazed by her sounds of pain. I ask her where she’s

going. She tells me she’s not welcome here by my father anymore.

Part of me wants to encourage her to go, to free herself. I want to tell her to take her suitcase and move to France with my

brother if that will make her happy. But part of me still needs her and that same part of me doesn’t believe she can find the

courage to leave my father anyways.

I go to my room and close the door.

Later, I see the emptied suitcase left on the ground.


My mother wants to start her own business. Businesswomen are strong and assertive. I’m scared that if she doesn’t succeed

she’ll really give up.

– No one thinks I’m strong enough to start my own business, she tells me like I don’t already know.

She looks at me. I look away. She doesn’t even ask me what I think.


She is tears at night and painful massages, smoke trapped between lungs and a broken birdcage, the iron bars bent but not

bent enough to free a bird inside.


My father brings my mother a mug of hot chocolate. She takes it, frowning in confusion as he walks away. My father grabs my

mother in a hug. She accepts without moving her arms.

Sometimes I hear my parents in bed. My mother is crying. My father is laughing.

Their marriage seems to bring happiness to my father but sadness to my mother. How can a one-sided relationship survive?


My mother quits her job again. She says she hasn’t been happy at her work for the past year.

When she quit her previous job, she said she hadn’t been happy for the past five years.

I guess she’s improving.


So many times I have entered her dark bedroom, lured by her crying. We sit on her bed, just the two of us, wrapped together

in one blanket. I cry with her, for her. I collect her tears and turn them into compassion, hope.

The only time we ever talk for real is when the lights are out. There’s something about the darkness, about not seeing each

other’s faces, that makes us open up, makes us feel like it’s okay to be vulnerable together.

When the daytime comes again, we forget what we shared and she returns to playing her interpretation of the role of my



I stand in front of my mother’s bed.

– Why are you crying.

– I’m sorry

– That’s not an answer.

– I’m depressed

At least she owns up to her mental illness now. I look at my father, lying down next to her, his impassive expression glowing

under his phone.


My mother clenches her jaw and pushes her foot hard on the gas pedal as if she wants to drive away and leave me behind.

– You trust your friends more than you trust your own mother, she says.

– Didn’t you?

– No.


During the daytime she yells, she smiles, she insults me. She calls my friend a bad influence. She tells me this is your

fault. She laughs at my jokes, her eyes crinkling as she smiles. She asks for a hug. She asks if I love her.

At nighttime, she sits alone on a bed. Tears fill the crinkles of her no longer laughing eyes. She doesn’t talk to me this


I’m pissed at her. I pity her.

She needs help but I can’t give it to her.