Amyeo Afroz Jereen

Thu Feb 11 2021 05:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)


It is a July morning. I am reading my favorite blog, ‘Wait But Why,’ for comfort after another explosive argument with my baby sister. We fight a lot. Each argument is tethered to a childhood trauma too painful to put into words.

Like many Bangladeshi families, we had it rough. My mom and dad are the oldest of their siblings. Both my grandfathers passed two days within one another soon after my parents’ marriage, placing crippling responsibilities on my parents’ shoulders, before their love had any chance to solidify. Then, my sister and I came along.

I choose to remember all the mango trees I climbed, all the swing sets I conquered as a child. But my earliest memories are of my mom fighting back tears. I remember her picking away at her cuticles on our cold balcony floor, minutes after another snide remark from a new family member. Their words were designed to cut her down and pick at her ‘flaws,’ tactics borrowed from their own abusive pasts. She ignored them the best she could to preserve some peace for her children, thinking I wouldn’t notice.

While she kept our house from catching fire, I watched my parents’ marriage grow bitter. No more carrom nights, no more chess games, only escalating bitter fights as neither of them could bottle up their frustrations.

Then finally, a break–the US Diversity Visa. I dreamt of lush green fields and spotted cows based on the milk cartons they gave us at school. I was 10 and my sister was 4 when we moved into my cousin’s living room in the Bronx from Dhaka. No cows. No grass. But it’s okay, the Grand Concourse grew on me. I loved the freedom of diving into the water from open fire-hydrants in the dead of summer.

Unfortunately, our troubles didn’t end there. My parents were in serious debt while their families’ needs continued to grow. I took care of my baby sister on my own as we auntie-hopped for low-cost childcare while my parents took on odd-jobs. I picked her up from school, fed her, and helped her with homework in my broken English when I could barely take care of myself.

As I rolled into puberty, I grew independent to a fault. It seems ridiculous now, but after I began my period, I crafted sanitary pads with napkins cores and saran wrap under-linings for months to avoid informing my mom. I feared the news would somehow burden her. I forgot how to ask for help and took on habits of aggressive caretaking and unwarranted self-sacrifice.

Now in adulthood, I work to unlearn what helped me stay afloat as a child. Children are resilient because we have no expectations and we love unconditionally. However, as we grow into adults, we place crushing expectations on our loved ones. We live in the tomorrow, but our only truth is what we feel in the moment.

Family, Migration, Adulting