Grace Ly: Do your best

By: Grace Ly

Grace Ly at the Read My World Festival

Uitgesproken in het programma ‘Motherhood’ tijdens het Woorden van West festival 2022

Do your best

I wanted to welcome her in style, with a bouquet of lotus flowers, but the florist on Place Monge didn’t have any. In France, lotus is rather associated with ultra-absorbent triple layered toilet paper.

Instead, I picked pink peony buds, which I arranged in a vase next to the medical bed we rented.

The day before, in her hospital room, we watched “Nadia Comaneci”. It would play on TV every year around the holidays (together with another 1980s celebrity biopic),

and my mom would tell me, with eyes all watery from the scene when Nadia climbs on the Olympic podium after hitting the first ever perfect score, behind her a delirious crowd and scoreboard going berserk:

“Look, neoi neoi 女女, this is what happens when you work hard.”

This time, it was my turn to whisper to her: “You too, Ama, if you work hard, you will get there.”

When I left the room, she said all perky: “See you tomorrow! Don’t be late!”

Getting away from this place that smells of Aniosgel 85 NPC 500 ml, populated by draughts and people in a hurry, away from flashing neon lights and beeping machines. Coming home, even for a day. The excitement was at its height as she was being discharged for the first time.

But when I came back the next day, I found Ama in her bed, still in pijamas, in deep sleep. A terrible feeling took hold of me. My heart sank to my stomach. I wanted to cry. I rushed towards two nurses walking in the corridor.

-We have to go, the taxi is waiting…
– Listen, I am sorry but… there’s been a complication…
– NO! No! No!
– Listen to me…
– It can’t be!!
– Calm down… I will get the intern… Wait here.
– Wait? Again? WAIT? But we’ve been waiting too long, don’t you understand?! It’s been months, we’ve been doing nothing else but wait! And my mother, she has waited for years…. YEARS!

I suddenly turned around and ran back to the room. Along the way, I hit the corner of the table, its wheels turned as I stumbled; medicine, pestle, mortar, syringe, all ended up on the floor.

I grabbed a bag from the closet and put all my mother’s stuff in it, everything I could get my hands on. “Ama, wake up, come on, we’re going, HELL WITH THEM, we’re going home, you’re coming with me, Uncle Two is downstairs…

– Miss! Wait!
– You don’t know ANYTHING about my mother… she’s been through way worse than this! Things you cannot even imagine! She’s a SURVIVOR, Ama! Do you hear me? You all, and the doctors, always doubting her, talking in “if’s” and “in case of’s”, but I know! She can do it if she WANTS to! Let me through…

Uniformed people dragged me out of the room, lifting me up by the arms. I was fighting back:

“LET ME GO! DON’T TOUCH ME! AMA, I’ll be back, I won’t leave you here… AMA!”

A crowd had formed in the waiting room. It was Sunday, visiting hours. People were staring at me eyes wide open, I heard whispering: “They’re usually discreet…”

I was imagining myself handcuffed to a radiator, doctors forced to inject me with a powerful sedative before banishing me from the hospital. Ama would be transferred and I wouldn’t be allowed to see her anymore.

Then I heard a voice saying:

“It’s nothing, a small infection, it will get better very soon. It’s better to postpone the discharge day, she should rest.”

I found myself sitting in a closed room. No radiator, no handcuffs in sight. The woman who was talking to me had silver hair. She was smelling like talc and brought me a warm beverage from the machine.

I kept repeating:

“My mother is strong, you know… She’ll get through this…”

The woman said to me with her very soft voice, of infinite sweetness:

“Your mother, she is doing her best.”

She is doing her best.

I had to hear it from this stranger to understand. All the things that my mother had wanted for me, all these words which at the time seemed senseless, all she gave up, all she never spoke of, everything she had given me,

the private piano lessons, “lawyer, doctor or engineer, that’s all”, math tutoring, the seven-day shift at the restaurant, music classes, looking ahead, “it’s nothing, it’s nothing, all is well”, forget the past, “you will understand when you grow up”,

the language courses, “we too go holiday, when money have”, the International School, “it’s for your own good”, the taiwanese cultural centre and its phonetic symbols to copy, mou sam gap 冇心急, do not rush heart…

All of it was simply her way to tell me:

“Do your best.”

Translation by Canan Marasligil