What keeps people feeling out of place is certain memories they have. From living with my mother, I’m sure this is the case.

I spend time in my brother’s room when I’m at home with my family because I like sitting on his bed. He’s usually at his computer. When we had our conversations, they mostly took place in his room.

He casually brought up how it could be that our mother grew up in a village where conditions were primitive and still be dissatisfied with living in a home with running water, a gas stove, and light switches.

“It should be easier for her to adapt to life here,” he said, “than for us to get used to life in her village. Life is more convenient for her now. She doesn’t have to go out to find water to wash in. She doesn’t have to work as hard as she did before.

We were born in a place where we don’t have to work hard to take a shower. If we were to live in her village starting in our twenties, it would be an extremely difficult adjustment for us.

What is she so mad about all the time?”

Just because someone may have more than they had before, it doesn’t mean that that person would be happy. From my mother, I’ve learned that taking someone out of an undeveloped area and into a a place where it’s easy to keep a house lit, where there’s a safe place to use a toilet, where food is available in abundance and where water appears by turning a knob may not necessarily stop feeling upset about something. There are other stories I’ve read about people who lived in dangerous and unstable conditions and have moved to more developed locations and who still don’t feel content either.

It’s not a matter of having things. It’s a matter of experiencing human intimacy. People can be given and buy a lot of things and still not feel okay. When loneliness persists, when the feeling of being left out stays strong, then people can have a lot but still continue to feel upset.

My mother has probably always felt isolated. I’m sure that having resided in a place where it feels threatening and hardly relaxing to go out in the open and pee, trauma has formed.

The mind can be a hard thing to live with. It’s hard to explain how some memories linger and others disappear quickly.

People who have lived in hardship areas inevitably have bad memories. Maybe there was never enough food. Maybe a whole day was spent on collecting water and wood and not much was collected by the end of the day. Maybe people going insane were witnessed. Maybe boredom set in for days at a time. There are a lot of people who can’t get over time associated with something absolutely horrible.

Putting such people in a more peaceful, slow-moving place doesn’t clear away those memories right away.

It’s hard to say.

Often, I think that these people who are now in their new, more secure homes are alone whether they live with anyone or not because their memories set them apart.

I suspect that not only are my father, brother and I ‘too American’ for my mother’s taste but her village memories aren’t shared with any of us. My father is from Hong Kong, an urban, cosmopolitan area once a British colony and my brother and I were born and raised in a major American city. We three know nothing of Chinese village life and it’s probably no wonder that my mother always feels alone.

She has the habit of filling empty time with browsing around in shopping malls and filling the family home with stuff and more stuff that there’s not really much space to store all of the things she has gotten my father to hoard (she would point out a piece of furniture on the street sometimes and tell my father to put it in the van and bring it back home) and purchase things (always something small, like a hat, and, the next day, she may ask about getting a vest, perhaps). Most of the time, when she isn’t working, she immerses herself in looking at things. She wouldn’t talk about anything but buying something, or, at least, going to the mall. She looks at things as if they were her best friends (things don’t talk after all so I suppose it’s fair for her to focus so much on them instead of on people).

She always insists that something is missing at home. She may point at a shelf and say that the house needs it.

To keep her from throwing a temper tantrum, my father always complied. Every time I come home, I notice a couple of changes to it, like new bathroom sink faucets and a new toilet and shower stall or metal shelves on the balcony (that actually serves as a storage room so it can’t be used like a balcony should). I’m aware that new comforters and pillows have recently been purchased because my father told me (They were on sale. One thing [and I don’t know about anything else] that excites my mother is seeing a hot price for something. Seeing a discount stops her at her tracks and she’d browse for a while). My mother has always shopped and I’ve understood that my mother shops because she’s looking for something.

Many years of shopping (food, too) later, up to now, my mother is still not happy about something. She’s gone a long way since leaving the impoverished state of her native village. She went from having nothing to an American home that acts like a warehouse (every room in that house is crowded with stuff including bedrooms. Stacked plastic storage boxes remain in the room that I sleep in when I come home for a visit).

Thus, this is why I hang out in my brother’s room (though, his room also has some stuff, but less than the other rooms in the house. Only the bathroom doesn’t store anything but toiletries). I read, take naps, use my computer and pet my stuffed koala in my brother’s room.

The house feels more like a storage space than a home and I sometimes don’t know where to put myself. At least I can look at one of my mother’s trinkets while she expresses her obscure displeasure of something. I think that perhaps my mother should continue to find healing in her shopping and hoarding if it makes her feel better but I feel like I am in the way of her stuff whenever I appear in the home.

I wish my mother could directly talk about what could possibly be wrong instead of buying things (Alright, she doesn’t have to feel obligated to talk about anything but it would be nice if she took up taking walks as opposed to hoarding). I got her fifty scarves (there are many inexpensive but good quality ones in Istanbul) and she said they weren’t enough. I tend to surmise a lot about her from gathering all the of the words she used to spew out when she went into her almost daily tirades. From all that she’s shouted about, I’ve understood that what my brother said may sound logical but my mother still doesn’t feel assured of anything because of her likely feeling of being an outcast.

My mother (and a lot of people out there, like North Korean refugees who live in Seoul, for example) may live in physical abundance but she’s emotionally hollow. Nothing has been able to meet her emotionally.

I think that people like her are probably bewildered by what’s presently around them and especially made to feel so when the people around them currently don’t know anything about what they’ve lived through. Though, everything around them looks fine and it looks like they should be grateful (and I think they should at least a little), they are lonely nonetheless due to their uniquely sad memories.

Imagine that you’ve gone through so much in your life and the people around you know nothing of it. You wouldn’t be able to help but feel confused and misunderstood.

I just hope that my mother would feel well enough so that the family home would be less physically full (or else, where would she even put herself in it?).

Author of ‘A Girl All Alone Somewhere in the World’, ‘Confessions and Thoughts of a Girl in Turkey’, ‘From Just a Girl Grown Up in America’. (Amazon.com)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store