It was late summer, a few weeks before school resumed. I was going into my senior year in college. I was quite conscious of the fact that that was the last summer break of my life. Those were the last few carefree weeks I got to spend in Hong Kong before I flew back to the US. I decided not to have a real summer job.
Instead I filled it with odd jobs- making cold calls at call centres, entering data, and on that day, I was distributing American Express door signs to shops around Hong Kong.
My memory of Cityplaza links to dusk- Saturday afternoons my daughter and I spent there, family shopping we did right before dinner when I was a kid, and then, this phone call I had with mom on that day when I was dishing out door signs.
“Grandma just died.”
It was around 4pm. I was walking towards the train station with my friend Joey. Mom sounded calm over the phone, and I did not know how to react. I did not react. After I hung up, I told Joey about it. He didn’t know how to react either. I don’t remember much after that, apart from the glare from the late afternoon sun coming through the tall glass windows in the mall.
I didn’t come to this mall often but when I did this memory would resurface every now and then. Whenever that happened, I would feel immense guilt. My mom wanted someone to talk to, and I was her only option, yet I did not play my part. In fact, I have always been her confidant. When she was going through the turmoils in her marriage, she would take refuge in talking to me. When she was contemplating her business decisions, she would share with me. When Dad beat her up, she would use the time to dress me up as a pit stop, smiling at me with tears streaming down her swollen left cheek.
In fact, I was the one who woke up to pick up the phone at 3am. I was the one who drove them to the hospital. I was the one who took Mom out of the intensive care unit.
And I did not play my part.
This guilt continues to build up, because I know I am still avoiding this responsibility. I feel bad about not wanting to spend more time with her, even though I know she is in the final years of her life. I feel bad I get annoyed with her easily. I feel bad I still treat her well intentioned criticism as excuses for my low self esteem.
Cityplaza will forever be this very unique part of my experience. It is the kind of unresolved nostalgia that grips my whole being. Even though I hate dwelling into those emotions, there is a certain familiarity and comfort in the pain that I shamefully relish.