We often forget where we come from, and by “Where we come from?”, I don’t mean the neighborhood we grew up in, or the past struggles we’ve overcome. I quite literally mean, “where we come from”, as in: the woman that most of us refer to as “mom”, “mother” or in my case “Mama Horng”.
Mama Horng is where I come from. And my Mama Horng hates voicemail.
Most people accept the concept of voicemail. You call someone. That person isn’t available, so a recording prompts you to leave a message. If the person you are trying to reach is not a complete asshole, they eventually call you back. Like I said, most people accept and understand this concept. Well, not my mom. She perceives voicemail as an insult, a challenge, the Ninja Warrior of communication. Instead of leaving a message or calling back later, she takes the recorded greeting as a cue to hang up and call back. OVER and OVER and OVER.
In fact, sometimes I send her to voicemail just to see how many times she’ll call back. It’s become a fun little dance that has increased the dexterity in my fingers, thus enabling me to be uber efficient in writing my blog posts. (See what I did there guys? Someone give me a high five.)
Not too long ago, my mom and I embarked on one of our traditional phone tangos. She called me and I sent her to voicemail. Five times. Ok, it might have been more, but in order to make myself seem like less of an assface, I’ve edited the number. Anyways, when the repeated vibrating in the breast pocket of my jacket risked confusing my sexuality, I conceded defeat. I negotiated with the numerous bags of overindulgently nerdy and optimistically world-changing items I had bought at the health food store, then pulled my phone out, and nimbly thumbed the “talk” button. A voice boomed through the phone. The Fs and PHs were replaced with Ps, and the words were stressed in odd places.
That’s right folks, just in case you were wondering, iambic pentameter ain’t never happening for Mama Horng.
“EEE pug-knee-mass mah-too-yen” were the first words that echoed through the receiver. These words, spelt phonetically here, have been uttered at me, or in my general direction, for my entire life.
I still have no fucking clue what they mean.
After a couple more “EEE pug-knee-masses”, sighs and “Jenn-EE-fuhs!!!” (It still boggles me as to why my parents gave me a name they both have trouble pronouncing), Mama Horng explained the reason for her frantic calling: she had had a terrible dream about me on the previous night.
In her nightmare, I was in my room crying. I was trying to pull on a skirt that didn’t fit and I kept saying that I had no money, no food and that my clothes were too small. Seeing this, my dream mom desperately tried to find money to give me. She ransacked her house but couldn’t find a dime. She awoke from her dream trembling, and after being unable to shake the feeling for an entire day, she called me.
By the time she was done recounting her dream, I was standing on the sidewalk silent, trying to control the shakiness that had crept into my throat. I reassured her that I was ok and then quickly got off the phone. I walked home looking down, fighting the sting of tears. I’m not sure whether it was the guilt I felt for choosing a lifestyle that underscores and perpetuates her worrisome nature, or whether it was the deep love I felt for her in that one instant, but her call had hit a nerve.
Though petite and rather frail looking, my mother is a monolith of a woman. She has never stopped fighting for her children even to this day, when we are all in the throws of adulthood, working towards engraving milestones in this spiraling world.
She has done things most would never understand; she fought against a violent marriage for years, deflecting punches, kicks, flying TVs, belts. All this to save her children from pain. She riotously aided her son in what seemed like a hopeless and gripping addiction to heroine, then, when she saw that no progress was taking place, she broke her own heart and sent him to prison. And when that same son was transferred to a halfway home, she drove 3 hours back and forth every week to see him for what was sometimes less than a 20-minute window.
She would make us gather at the kitchen counter and tell us that we were smart, brilliant, could do anything we wanted to, and especially with me, since I was the only girl, she never let us off the hook easy. When I told her I wanted to go to school in New York, she took on 3 jobs to pay for my education because she said it was important for me to have a shot at my dreams. She has done all of these things while staying positive and loving us unconditionally.
She’s fucking crazy.
We live in a world where legends are sought. Everyone wants to be the next big beauty, next big actress, politician or reality TV star. Everyone, in some way or another, strives to be the next big nonpareil in this media filled world that paradoxically seems to favor the “pareil”.
(“Nonpareil is an adjective used to describe a person or thing that has no equal; a paragon. Pareil is a French word meaning equal.”)
In this world, it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to forget what we are made of, and my mother’s frantic phone call reminded me of just how important it is to never forget “where I come from”.
I come from Miss Lolita Tullas Horng.
She is the reason I love fully and ferociously, hurt appreciatively and speak courageously.
She is a strong, beautiful woman who will always be the biggest legend and hero in my life.
Read more of Jennifer’s work.