My Mother's Secret (Comfort Women)
As my time with Rolex was running out, my mother was calling, trying to come see me. Angrily I spewed at her through the phone, “It’s time for you to tell me the truth.”
“Tell you what?”
“You know what… Your secrets! I don’t know what they are, but I know you have them. It’s time for you to tell me everything so that it stops hurting me.”
A long pause, then a heavy sigh, “Okay, Echo. Let me come see you.”
I was irritated with the timeline, but I had no choice. She arrived shortly after Rolex departed.
It would take her a long time to unravel the story. She would review the same song and dance I had heard so many times throughout my childhood- How she did not know what a family was. How she did not have anyone to teach her how to live. I gave her as much patience as I could… Eventually the secret:
She had been between living/work arrangements. A woman said that she was going to take her in as a babysitter, but then she didn’t. My mother found herself homeless, desperate to not return home. She had heard there was a place she could work and stay. She heard it was where women were “wrapped in silk”.
“It sounded good. I didn’t know what being wrapped in silk meant…” her tears poured. “I went there, and they took me in. At night time, they sent me out into the street and told me to invite men to come into the restaurant. When one followed me in, I went and told my boss… Then-“
I watched my mother fall apart as she explained that it was not until that moment that she realized she had entered a brothel. In her youth, she had been molested, but she was still a virgin. The owner was unmoved by her innocence, but she was not at all willing to sell her body. Claiming he had made an investment in her, he sold her to another brothel. There she was allowed to be waitress, making pennies rather than the dollars the prostitutes received.
“I had to wear white so the customers would know I was just a waitress- that they couldn’t have me. I could only afford one dress- So, your daddy thinks I just like to wear white,” she sobbed into my arms. “You can’t tell anyone. Never, never, never… I didn’t know. I was so stupid. I thought it sounded wonderful to be wrapped in silk. I didn’t know they meant…”
I promised, knowing I was lying, knowing this was the piece of the puzzle I had been waiting for. “Umma, it’s okay. It’s okay. I was so afraid- Afraid you had been married before, had kids before. It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
We cried together. I longed to call Victor but restrained myself. Instead, I sent him an email explaining, “My mom and I have been talking. There are things I didn’t know. Things that make me realize why she was so depressed when I was growing up. I am not going to let them hurt me anymore.”
He didn’t answer.