My Mother’s Legacy: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Resilience

Short Stories

There are two stories that I’ll be sharing. The first story belongs to my mother, and the second belongs to me. I decided to tell my story in this fashion because I feel that in order for you to understand my story, you must first understand my mother’s.

My Mother’s Story

My mother was very young the first time she met my father. She was only 13 or 14 years old, she wasn’t sure. She didn’t know much about love then, but with my father, she discovered love for the first time, and he too loved her with all his heart. Her memories of my father were that he was very tall, very kind, and soft-spoken. He always thought carefully about his words before he spoke, and sometimes it would take him a while before he actually did say anything, but it was always well worth hearing. He was also very handsome. My mother and father made promises to each other: to be together, and when the time was right, they would get married. However, time was something that they had no control over because their love took place during a time of war in Laos. My father, a young soldier, wanted to marry my mother before he left for the battlefield, but his family insisted that they would get him his bride once he returned. They said that with a young bride at home, he could lose focus and may not be able to concentrate on what he needed to do. And so, before he could marry her, he went off to war. He promised her that when he returned, he would make her his wife. Before he left, he gave her his watch and told her that it was a token of his promise to her and that he would return.

Not too long after my father left, my mother found out that she was pregnant with his child. She didn’t know what to do. She was scared, but she decided that she would wait for my father to return. My mother tried to hide her pregnancy until my father returned, but months had gone by and she could no longer hide it. My grandparents were furious when they found out. They kicked her out of the house, but she begged and begged in tears until my grandmother couldn’t take it anymore and begged my grandfather to let her stay until my father returned to marry her. In such a tough time, fortune was not in my parents’ favor. My mother was about four months along when news traveled to her that my father was killed when he accidentally stepped on a landmine. Hearing about my father’s death broke her heart. She cried and wanted to die too. She became very depressed and for a long time, she barely ate; still, the baby inside her continued to grow. Rather than giving her time to mourn the death of my father, her family became very angry and upset with her. My grandfather told her that she had disgraced them and that anyone who wanted her could take her freely. She went to my father’s family to beg them and inform them that she was pregnant with their son’s child, the only thing that was left of him, but they didn’t even want to open the door because they didn’t believe her.

Everyone in town knew about her pregnancy and that she was without a husband, and because of this, no one wanted to marry her. However, a man in the next town heard about my mother’s situation and wanted to marry her. He already had two other wives. My mother did not want to marry him at all, but she didn’t have much of an option. It was either marry him or be homeless. Not to mention, he was older than her father (my grandfather). Not too long after, that man came to my grandparents and asked them for her hand in marriage. He gave them the impression of a kind, gentle-hearted person, and without asking my mother how she felt about the marriage, they just gave her to him.

My mother cried all the way to her new home. After arriving at her new home, she soon learned the cruelty of the life she would have. The other two wives did not like her at all. They spoke down to her and made it seem like she stole their husband. If she ever tried to defend herself, to let them know that she did not want their husband, they would slap her and accuse her of thinking she was too good for him. She was young and lacked the common sense to say or do anything. Her new husband was also cruel to her. He took what he wanted, and when he didn’t want, he would shove her aside. If she didn’t do the things he asked, he would push or punch her. It didn’t matter that she was pregnant. After all, the child she carried wasn’t his. My mother was eight months along the night they had to flee Laos and cross the Mekong River into Thailand. They had to wait until nightfall when everything was quiet, packing only what they could carry. All of their traveling was done at night. My mother had nothing except for a few old clothes that she packed just in case she might need them when her baby came. She was eight months, weak, tired, and hungry, but the first wife made my mom carry one of her children on her back. There were times when she fell or slipped on the mud, and no one helped her. Instead, they scolded her for being so clumsy and injuring their child even though she used her body to shield him. He never cried once.

The night that they crossed the Mekong River was a night my mother would never forget. It was the night that changed her life forever. As they were crossing, everyone was tied together with a rope and a few floating devices. The children were on the inside of the rope, and the adults were on the outside. My mother was last. It was so dark that you could barely see the face of the person in front of you. As they were crossing, my mother’s ankle got caught between something hard. It felt like a rock. She didn’t know what it was and she was scared. She cried for the others to help her, but they didn’t want to risk getting caught because of my mom’s cries. Instead, they moved on without her as quickly as they could in case someone did hear her. They didn’t want to be found with her when the Laotian soldiers came. It was so dark, she didn’t even know if they looked back. The more she struggled to get free, the stronger the grip on her ankle. She had nothing to hold on to and the water was up to her neck. Suddenly, a strong wave came out of nowhere. It wiped her over, but it also freed her ankle. She was not a good swimmer and was swept downstream. With nothing to help keep her afloat, she went under. She remembers struggling for air and thinking she was going to die. Within moments she lost consciousness.

While she was unconscious, she recalls a man holding her. His arms were wrapped around her waist, and he was pulling her to shore. That man was my father. She was surprised and happy to see that he was still alive, but before she could ask anything of him, she awoke. She then realized that it was just a dream. She woke up along the side of the river, not knowing how much time had passed or if she was on the side of Thailand or Laos. The sun was barely peeking over the horizon, and she didn’t see anyone. All she remembered was that my father saved her life. Not knowing where to go, she kept walking. Soon, she was approached by a few Thai soldiers, and they told her that she was in Thailand. They took her to a refugee camp where she knew no one, and no one knew her. She was afraid that she would run into her husband and his wives. She didn’t want to go back to them, so she kept to herself most of the time. When the soldiers came around to collect her name, she gave them a different name. It was her mother’s first name and my father’s last name.

The following month, my mother gave birth to me, her baby girl. My mother says that not only did my father save her life, but he also gave me as his last gift to her. She held me in her arms, and I was the most beautiful and precious little thing she had ever laid eyes on. She held me in her arms and cried. Soon after, my mother registered to come to the US and was approved. Upon arriving in the US, she was able to find her brothers and was reunited with her family again. She never remarried, although she had many suitors. She was always afraid that something bad would happen to me if she did, that they would not love me or that the new husband would be as cruel to her as the last. I grew up knowing that I didn’t have a father like everyone else. Sometimes I was okay with it, but other times I longed for that fatherly bond when I saw my friends and their fathers together. Other times, I wanted a father so that others would stop calling me a “menyuam kas tsaub [a derogatory term for a fatherless child].” I hated that word, and every time I heard it, I would run crying to my mother. She would hold me in her arms, stroke my hair, and say, “Don’t cry, my sweet daughter. If your father was here, he would pick you up and carry you on his back, and he would take you to school or to the zoo, but he can’t be. Just be proud of the man that he was and keep that pride in your heart that he did exist. He did not abandon you. He died fighting for our people’s freedom.” After she said that, I would calm down, and I would pretend that my father was somewhere up there watching over me, and

sometimes I would pretend that I’m having conversations with him, sharing with him my worries and happiness. Most of the time, being without a father did not bother me because my mother gave me enough love to complete two parents.

My Story

Many years passed, and my own love story began. He was my first everything: first hug, first hand held, first kiss, and the first person that I gave my heart and body to. Because of this, I loved him with all my heart. It didn’t matter that his parents did not approve of me, as long as he did, that was all that counted. I was an honors student and held a part-time job. I was responsible and earned my own way, never taking any freebies from anyone. Yet, the one flaw that his parents saw was that I was born to a single mother; a mother who never had a husband, and we had very few relatives with little achievements. We met during the summer after my sophomore year at a BBQ that a friend of ours was throwing, and immediately we clicked. When I introduced him to my mom, she said to me, “Be careful. His family is the fortunate kind, and they may not see you as equal to him.” I told her, “It’s okay, Mom. He is kind to me. Maybe he won’t think that way.” For the first few months, everything was like a dream. He would call me each morning before I got to school, and he’d come spend time with me each evening, helping me cook, clean, and study. All that immediately came to a halt the moment his family found out that we were dating. Whenever his mom saw me with him, she would act as if she couldn’t look at me, but when she did, she would give me looks as if she wanted to destroy me. Often, I would just tell him I had to go. Her glares were so intense I could feel them burning like a laser beam through my soul.

His family did everything they could to split us apart, and they tried to play it off as if it was my fault. They’d tell him that they saw me making out with another guy or that I was fornicating with two boys at the same time behind the school. They would spread these kinds of rumors about me, and worst of all, they included my mom. They told me that I wasn’t good for their son and that I was only trying to get into their family so that I could claim all of their wealth and success, but I didn’t care for any of that. What they said about me bothered me, but not as much as when they pulled my innocent mom into it. That’s when they really struck a chord with me. They said that my mother was a prostitute to the Thai soldiers and that’s how I came to be. I was infuriated, but my boyfriend convinced me not to let it affect me because he knew the truth. We had rough patches in our relationship, but we always did our best to mend them.

Towards the end of my junior year, he convinced me that he really loved me and wanted to be physical with me. Thinking of my mother’s story and her years of telling me to never give my body to any boy unless he was my husband, I hesitated. I told him no, but he kept persisting. He said if I didn’t do it, then I didn’t love him enough. After months of his begging and sweet persuasion that he wouldn’t let anything happen to me, I gave in to him, and we slept together for the first time. The following months after that, everything was sweeter. I felt like his princess whenever I was with him. But gradually, the sweetness began to die down. By the time summer rolled around again, he was getting ready to move away. He said his mother had a brother who lived in Syracuse, NY, and that she had asked him to go live with his uncle, find a job, and go to school there. I didn’t want to be so far apart, but I trusted his decision. A big fool I was. I later found out from his cousin that he had been planning that for a long time. It was true that he had an uncle in Syracuse and that he moved there to help out his uncle with his shop, but the underlying truth was his parents had introduced him to another girl, and though he wasn’t interested at first, he met her and had a change of heart. While he was living in Syracuse, they dated, all the while stringing me along as if he was still committed to me. And then one day, he just stopped calling. No warning, no goodbyes. He married her; her family was “worthy” according to his mother. I was crushed and torn. I cried to my mom, and she told me it’s okay and that he’s not the one, plus if I ended up marrying him, I would live a life of sadness, and she would not want her only child to live that kind of life.

Even after he and I were no longer together, his family still spoke badly of me. They said I came from a bad seed, therefore I am bad, and my children will be bad. They couldn’t possibly risk their family’s reputation by associating with someone like me, and anyone who married me would have a lifetime of misfortunes, just like my mom. It bothered me for a bit, but after I was done crying, it only made me tougher.

After I graduated from high school, I attended a local college. I did really well, and when I graduated from there, I applied for a scholarship and was awarded a full ride to medical school at a prestigious university. I took my mom with me. Being my mother’s only child, she lived with us, and my husband didn’t mind at all. Instead, he welcomed her and loved her like his own mother.

Twelve years later, my husband, a more established doctor, and I, a director of HIM (Health Information Management) working for the same hospital, were grabbing lunch together in the hospital’s cafeteria. We had just sat down to eat when in walked my ex, his wife, and his mom. Apparently, they were there because my ex’s father had a minor stroke and had to be hospitalized. The most ironic thing was that my husband was their doctor. My husband saw them and waved to say hi. I looked at my husband and asked, “You know them?” “Yeah, their father was admitted yesterday, and he’s one of my patients.” I looked over at them, and my ex and his mother looked directly at me. They immediately recognized me. His mother still gave me her laser beam stare, only this time it didn’t penetrate as much as it used to. As for my ex, well, I think his jaw almost fell to the floor had his wife not been there.

My husband and I continued to sit at our table to eat. The ex, his wife, and his mom got their trays of food and left. I debated whether I should tell my husband or not, and then I decided not yet. I didn’t want to distract him from doing his job, not that he would be worried. When we finished our lunch, he gave me a kiss, and we both went back to our jobs.

That evening when my husband got home, he came up to me and wrapped his arms around me from behind. He placed a kiss on my neck just below my ear.

“How was your day?” I asked him.

“It was interesting,” he said.

“How interesting was it?”

“Oh, the usual…people telling me things I already knew, such as how beautiful my wife is.”

I laughed. “Uh-huh.”

“Oh, and I met your ex too.”

“So you know?”

“I didn’t, but when I got back, I checked on the family that we saw in the cafeteria and how the dad was doing. The mother began to ask me questions about you and if you were just my friend, girlfriend, or wife. She was more interested in our relationship and personal life than she was in the condition of her husband.”

“Really!? She asked you about us? What did you tell her?”

“I said you were my mistress.”

Just then, I socked his shoulder.

“Ow,” he laughed. “I’m just playing with you.”

Instantly, thinking of the things they used to say about me, I scolded him. “That was not funny.”

“Sweetheart, I told them that you’re my amazing wife and that we’ve been happily married for more than 12 years. She asked me what you do, and I told her that you were a director in the hospital. And then she told me that she knew you a long time ago. She mentioned how much you have grown and how beautiful you’ve become. She regrets not holding you for her son because she once wanted you to marry her son, but you were too good for him. That’s probably why you moved on with your life.”

My eyes got huge as my husband continued.

“When she said that, I looked over at her son, and then it clicked that he has the same name as your ex. It all made sense in that moment why he suddenly wouldn’t make eye contact with me ever since we bumped into them in the cafeteria. But who I feel horrible for is his wife. His mom said all of that in front of her as if she wasn’t even there.”

I had shared with my husband a long time ago about my history with my ex, and he knew how cruel they were and why we broke up. I was appalled that she would have the nerve to say something like she did to my husband. After she finished talking about me, my husband responded to her in a humorous tone, “It’s a good thing she did move on; otherwise, I would have never found my rib.”

She even said to my husband that he should take me to see her

before she leaves the hospital since it’s been such a long time and she missed me. My gosh, the nerve of some people. My husband simply told her, “My wife works here too as a director, and she may not have the time, but I’ll tell her you said that.”

I was a little irritated by his encounter with them, but my husband hugged me and said, “Don’t let it bug you.” “No, it doesn’t bug me, but they put me through so much. They were so cruel.” “I know, but shhhh,” and he kissed me to be quiet.

Towards the end of the week, their father was being discharged. As my husband was making his last check and completing discharge forms, my ex came downstairs to pull the car around. Just as he got off the elevator, he saw me. I heard the elevator ding, so I looked over. He raised one hand to say hi. I paused, unsure if I should wave back or ignore him, and he began to walk over.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I responded.

“So you work here, huh?”


“It’s good seeing you.”

“Thanks,” I said, while thinking to myself, “Why is he trying to make small talk with me?”

“I have to go,” I told him and excused myself.

As I left, I didn’t even look back. His mother was still talking wonderfully about me to my husband until they were completely discharged and left the hospital. It was awkward, and it brought back a lot of hurtful memories, but my husband said, “I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson to never say any of the things they once said to you.”

Just when I thought everything ended there, a few weeks later, I saw my ex wandering the first floor near the department I worked in. When he saw me, he hurried over.

“Can we talk?” he asked.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked back, thinking that it may be something related to his dad’s health or hospital stay, at the same time wondering why he’s not asking my husband instead.

“Not really, but if you have a moment, I just want to talk.”

“If this is about your dad, you should be talking to my husband.”

“It won’t take long.”

“Still, if this is about your dad, there are confidentialities that should only be discussed with his physician or primary care.”

“It’s not about my dad, but I still need to talk to you. I promise it’ll just be five minutes.”

“Well then, just tell me now,” I said. He looked around as if to make sure the coast was clear.

“I know this is long overdue, but I feel stupid, and I just want to apologize.”

“This is why you want to talk? That’s a lifetime ago.”

“I know, but I had wondered about you for a long time, and seeing you again, I see that you are doing well. But at the same time, I was still feeling awful for how I left you.”

“It’s okay, time heals all wounds, and it’s in the past.”

“Can we at least be friends or have lunch together sometime?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’m sorry, okay, but give me a chance.”

“What!? A chance for what?”

“A chance to redeem your friendship and trust again.”

“Thanks, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but no, and if you’ll excuse me, I have to go.”

As I turned to walk away, he grabbed hold of my hand. I turned towards him and jerked my arm away. Just then, the hospital security guard was walking through the corridor we were in, and he approached us. “Is there a problem?” the guard asked.

“No,” I said, “But you can see this man out.”

“Okay, buddy, let’s go,” the guard said to the ex.

I went back to my office, feeling a little shaken by how he grabbed my arm. Even though it was just an arm grab, I felt violated. I called my husband, and he came downstairs. I told him what happened, and he was upset with the ex, but he placed both of his hands on my shoulders and gave me a slight massage. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. He hugged me and then went back to his office.

I never again saw the ex after that encounter, and I’m not quite sure what got over him all of a sudden. But I’m very blessed that my life did not end up with him and his family. As my dearest mother had said to me a long time ago, I would have had a life full of tears if I did end up with him. My husband has been the best thing that has ever happened to me, and it does not matter to him whether I have only my mother or both parents. He loves me unconditionally for who I am. I also believe that my father is still watching over me every day, and I hope that someday when I leave this world, I will get the chance to meet the man who gave me to my mother and gave me life.

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