Things Left Unsaid

Jennifer Willis


In this piece, I think about my college experience, and how it all has prepared me for my future. It’s addressed to the person who played a big role in the reason why my college experience was the way it was.

We both know that I’ve done it, but we’ve never spoken it out loud.

You realized it during my junior year in high school, after I told you that I threw up during basketball practice. When you jokingly asked if I was pregnant, instead of saying “ew, boys,” I defensively said “no, I’m on my period right now.” I realized that you’d realized it when you gave me hug after I blurted out that idiotic response.

The only other time we talked about it was more recently, two months before my wedding. You asked me if I was on any birth control. Being the poor immigrant women we are, we concurred that birth control was shady and family planning was best. Who knows what that kind of stuff really does to you anyway.

Another thing left unspoken was why I was leaving your home so early to make my own, barely my own person at 22. For people like us, 22 was early to fly the nest. We both knew why, though. We just didn’t want to think of that night, way back when.

It was time to put down a deposit for a college and you chose the school for me. By your lucky stars, your youngest child happened to be born on that very important day, and we were throwing a party for her. No one in the entire family understood why I was not there when we cut the cake. I was probably the biggest nuisance of the night. Maybe I’d bugged you too much about going to my dream school that was too far away while you were putting up decorations earlier in the day. During the party, I stayed upstairs sobbing; baby cousins popped in and out of the room, looking for somewhere to play and hoping I would stop soon. Maybe the idea of me being gone bugged you so much that you decided holding me hostage for another four years would be worth it. Four years of commuting to a majority resident university. Four years of sharing a room with a sister seven years my junior. Four years of a long-distance relationship I was only allowed to maintain on your terms. Four years of working to provide for myself because I felt bad asking you for help. Four years of working to provide for myself because I was determined to become independent from you. Four years of discomfort and bitterness. Four more years of being at home, with you.

Another thing left unspoken is the reason why I’ve forgiven you for that night and those years that followed. It took me a while to figure out why you did it. Years of reflection and navigating complex feelings. Feelings that make me want to have a mother-daughter dance at my wedding, not father-daughter. Feelings that make me want to walk myself down the aisle. Feelings that push me to forgive him, and hold him accountable at the same time.

The spring before I was to leave for college, his abuse got worse than it had been in years. We are best friends, you and I, and you didn’t want me to go. You were scared to be alone. Understandable, completely. And you are forgiven. After four years of feeling alienated, outcasted, pushed aside, worked to the bone, lonely – I have forgiven you, and you know I have. Because that’s what best friends do. We’re there for each other when the going gets tough. But you think it means that I can forgive him too, and I can’t yet. You two are alright now, and I want to forgive him because I know it’ll make you happy. But I still can’t bring myself to say hello to him when I walk through the door. I can’t lean in to his hugs. I can’t dispel the image of him in my mind, the one that made you scared enough to hold me back from my dreams.

After I failed my road test, you said I should let him teach me to drive. I have to pass the exam before the wedding, so you think I might finally be willing to take his help. He is a good driver, but I quietly refused. I’ll learn from someone else in time. My husband and I will road-trip to our new home as newlyweds; we’ll go halfway across the country, just like I wanted to four years ago, when you weren’t ready. But one thing will not be left unspoken – you are my mother, I am your daughter, and we are best friends.