By: Anonymous

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I remember many details of November 17, 2001 so vividly. It was mid-afternoon, and my friend’s mom had just dropped me back home after a junior high school fundraising event. I was making pancakes for lunch when my dad came into the kitchen. Even though he was calm and in control as usual, I could tell that his entrance would deliver bad news.

He told me what I had perhaps always expected but, in reality, never accepted. My mother had just passed away. She had been sick for the past seven years, spending the last year of her life at home in hospice care. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I’m not sure why I said it. The last thing I owed anyone was an apology. He hugged me tightly as I cried. When I let go, he returned to my mom’s bedside. I sat outside in the living room for hours with my head in my hands, alternating between episodes of uncontrollable trembling and calmed sniffling as our family doctor arrived, as the paramedics arrived, as our close friends and neighbors began to arrive. I soon after retired to my bedroom, locking the door behind me. I wasn’t going to talk to anyone that day, and I wanted to make sure that no one was going to try to talk to me.

Eleven years later, I frequently find myself looking back on that day and trying to imagine how I could have possibly handled it worse. It’s the perfect example of a long-standing, diehard problem that affected me into my early 20s: not talking.

I grew up in the most non-traditional East Indian family you could possibly imagine. My dad still speaks of the social constructs in Indian society that made him want to leave in the first place. Both my parents felt emotionally suffocated by the invasion of privacy and caste-based persecution they witnessed in India during their teen years. When they moved to the US, I believe it was their goal to Americanize their children in just about every way possible.

But still there exists such an irrefutable belief in my family’s need to repress emotions. November 17th marked one of two times in my life when my dad accepted my emotions and let me cry without telling me to go to another room and compose myself. It was one of three times in my life when he spoke of my mother’s death with me. My dad is by no means a cold or uncaring person. But I know that his inability to acknowledge feelings has been detrimental to me. I learned by example, and unfortunately now I realize how much this complicated my acceptance of death and my ability to process emotions.

I buried my mother’s death for the next five years. I went to school the following Monday as if nothing happened. My friends at school found out because my teachers told them. I was told that I was “so strong” and “truly amazing” to be taking the death so well, when in fact I was in a state of denial deeper than anyone could imagine. I never spoke of my mother unless it was absolutely necessary. When she was brought up in conversation, I was quick to change the subject. My inability to process emotions spread to other relationships I cared about. I went to great lengths to avoid even the smallest argument with any of my close friends. My boyfriends often labeled me as detached and insensitive, even though I felt as if I was being as loving and open with them as I possibly could be. Not talking meant that I never truly opened up to anyone. It meant that no one ever knew who I really was because I only projected an image of someone I wanted to be: someone who was completely in control, someone who wasn’t weak.

So how do you attempt to reverse a habit that seems to be so strongly rooted in your blood? For me, the only option was to start talking. College brought a whole set of new friends who didn’t know a thing about me. When they asked about my parents, I had no choice but to tell them about my mom. I effectively began the mourning process five years after my mom’s death, when I finally started talking about it as if it was a reality. A defining moment for me was the first time I talked about it without being prompted to do so. In one of my college film courses, we spent an entire class period talking about why we wanted to be filmmakers. I had such a strong urge to make up some bullshit answer in order to save myself the pain. Instead I told my classmates about my childhood experiences growing up with my mom’s illness and my resulting interest in the study and portrayal of human emotions. It felt amazing to have nothing to hide from them. Though this confession was one that may seem natural to a lot of people, for me it was the moment that I set myself free from the social impositions that had plagued me for most of my life.

Since then, I’ve tried my hardest to be honest about my emotions – to never go a single day without expressing feelings that are important to me. I often wonder why such otherwise close-knit families feel that it’s so necessary to hide emotions and stifle the true voices of the ones they love. All I know is that I will be the generation that puts an end to it.

At The Laundromat is a supportive online community that exists to challenge the taboo of talking. We welcome you to air your dirty laundry – your past, your emotions, your fears, and your questions – in a safe space. ATL is also an online extension of Vanessa A. Yee’s documentary featuring young Asian Americans breaking the silence that takes hold of their lives and their families. So speak. Write. We’ll listen.

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