Wedding Pictures This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“I’m short. When I am no smart, I have nothing special.” I knew my mother was relaying her few words of wisdom, but I kept my eyes on the supermarket meatball she had put on my dinner plate.

“Your dad love his college. He find out that he like research. I have bad college. I did not find what I like. I still do not know.” Searching for her tears, I raised my eyes from the meatball to hers. She smiled.

As I cut my meatball into thin slices, I could only focus on all the mistakes in her grammar. I was not ready for one of the mother-daughter chats I once desired.

“But like I say yesterday, I look back and I have good life. God bless me so many ways. I should not feel bad. I just feel like I didn’t do anything.” She smiled again.

My eyes moved to the bowl of tortellini between us. It was filled with spaghetti sauce, meatballs and green peas. It looked like a repulsive combination of leftovers, which is exactly what it was. Next to the bowl, the gray pot of rice seemed out of place. My mother viewed rice as a staple: a meal was not complete without vegetables, fruit and rice. On her plate, the rice was mixed right in with the tortellini concoction.

The silence that normally characterized dinner without Dad resumed. Seven-minute dinner, plate in sink, homework time. I glanced at the clock and prepared for my retreat. But before I could move, my mother decided to impart more of her ungrammatical knowledge.

“My sister, the one who …” my mother looked as if she wouldn’t be able to say the word “died.” I nodded.

“She was so pretty.” Impatience began to rise and I rolled my eyes. Couldn’t she think of anything to say besides the fact that her sister was pretty? Physical appearances are not that important. She said the same thing last year when my cousin died of heart problems.

“She died of drug. We didn’t really have drug like now. She sniff, what you say, something like glue,” she said, more to herself than to me.

“No kidding?” I had always thought she died of some disease.

I looked at my mother again: her white shirt, short hair, plastic glasses. I saw her often, talked with her less. She had told me little about her life. Well, I had never asked. I had viewed her as a person I would never become. I never bothered to find out why she had gone from the top of her college and a woman on top of the world to one who spent a lifetime cooking meatballs and cleaning the kitchen floor. My curiosity about her had grown. Perhaps I was searching for an explanation for her depression. Perhaps I was frightened because I was slowly learning I was more like my mother than I’d ever imagined.

After leaving my plate in the sink, I went upstairs and pulled a photo album from underneath the road maps and old Bibles. The cover was stamped with orange and brown flowers, the binding undone. Although I could not recall looking through the album before, I knew it had to be their wedding pictures.

I laughed. There was Dad, skinny as ever with the same mocking expression. And then, there was my mother. She was wearing a strapless yellow dress and platform shoes. She was smiling, but with an expression I had never seen. It had spirit.

“Am I pretty?” My mother stood behind me. She was. In my mind, I nodded. “I told you. See? I was pretty.”

She pointed to a close-up of her face. “I really not that pretty. I had one of the best make-up person in the country. See? I ask for light makeup. At that time, most people wear dark makeup. You see how light that is; looks natural.” She pointed to the yellow dress picture. “I look more like that.” I said nothing, but I thought she looked much prettier in the yellow dress picture.

“You should know my family,” she said.

I was much closer to my father’s side and knew only one of my mother’s sisters. She had given me the stuffed-to-ripping Hello Kitty wallet I carried around, to the dismay of my more sophisticated friends.

“This is Grandma.” My grandma seemed so different from the person who called once in a while for my mother. I hadn’t seen her for eight years, and there were no pictures of her on our walls. Grandma looked chubbier and less fragile than I had imagined.

“Grandpa.” I remembered him even less. I recently learned he had divorced my grandma. Though he seemed like the bad guy of the family, my mother sympathized with him.

“How old were you when they got divorced?” I asked.

“I had just come to America.” My mother came here after college; I figured her parents had divorced when they were about 60.

My mother pointed to her sister (the one who gave me the wallet) and her brother. Then, she pointed to a girl in a blue plaid dress with straight hair that fell just above her mouth. She must have been about 13. I stared at the girl – it had to be the youngest sister, the one who died at 19. I’d spent one summer with her daughter, who had been adopted by one of the other faces in the picture. A whole summer, and I just passed her by as some relative. I wondered if my brother had ever asked about my mother’s sister. Was he as oblivious as I?

The last page had four pictures, but my eyes were drawn to a dark one in the bottom left corner. My father and mother stood with glasses of wine. My mother was laughing. Around her neck was a Victorian choker.

My throat tightened, and I couldn’t hear a word my mother was saying. I kept staring at the choker – its dark velvet, ivory stone, rose bead. It was the same choker my mother had kept for 25 years. It was the same choker I had taken out of her drawer, unaware of its history. It was the same choker I had lost one day, and never found.

“And that’s the pictures,” I heard my mother say. I smiled at her. When words fail, I have learned to smile.

“Goody, goody?” my mother asked.

“Goody, goody,” I replied.

I watched my mom leave the room. And then, staring at that lost choker, I began to cry.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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