Matt and Priya were classmates. I met Mrs. Manoukian for the first time when she came to drop Matt off for a birthday party.
She rang the doorbell. “Can we stay too?”
Matt ran in without pause. I saw Matt’s brother looking up at me. His chubby palm circled mommy’s manicured finger. His look was fearless, and in that he looked like his brother. They lived just down the block and had walked over.
“Of course. I would love that.”
As was customary in those days, I had invited the entire Kindergarten class along with the moms – if they wanted to stay. But so far Mrs. Manoukian was the first and as it turned out the only mom who stayed.
I found out she was a lawyer when she confided “you know, as much as possible, when I am not working, I like to spend time with Matt and Mike – they grow up so fast.”
“I like to do the same” I said and we bonded over the hard choices mothers must make. In that, our first meeting, her so very American self-confidence and friendliness bequeathed in me a love for all people in my new country.
That was 25 years ago.
Today is Memorial day and I saw Mrs. Manoukian on the front page of the Mercury News. Her small frame has stiff shoulders to bear the burden of the Stars and Stripes. The picture is fuzzy but I see a tear on her cheek. Her wild curls are still beautifully frizzy but I cant see that mom in there who transformed me from an Alien to an American. Grief has aged her like Time never could. Yes, that must be it.
When did we go from being moms when all we had to do was love our children to becoming mothers?
Matt grew up tall and brilliant and became a Marine. He collected medals and honors and then one day he was killed. Today is the 4th annual memorial in San Jose where over 1500 people attended the service honoring area Gold Stars – is it 50 families? I can’t remember – the number grows every year.
How many Gold Star Honorees? How many moms? How many mothers?
Mine was one such mother. Her son, my brother, had joined the Indian Air Force and when he was 21 years old his plane crashed while on a solo flight. She went to his Air Base in Hyderabad to hear guns salute and came back home with the Indian Tricolor. She stood stoic and expressionless while they folded the flag into her arms with great pomp and ceremony.
Later when she came to live with me in America, I found that my mother, who taught us how to be brave, could not attend a funeral, any funeral. Other than that she lead a full and loving life. Her only ask of me – I need my own private room.
She showered love on Priya and her friends. She loved birthday parties. All day she smiled and looked beautiful. Sometimes at night she got nightmares and she would wake up screaming. I would hold her till the paroxysms passed. There was nothing to say.
Today, as I head over to our annual memorial day block party, I wish I could hold Mrs. Manoukian.
I wish I could do something for her; for all moms who must grow up and be mothers: moms who make the hard choices and mothers who have hard choices made for them.
Author’s note – How do I file this? It is Truth but not true, Fiction but not fiction.