Campus Life

Tears, Tsukiyo, and Never Let Me Go

Walking across the Harvard Bridge back to my dorm from an orchestra performance in Symphony Hall, I answer my phone: “Hello?” 

“Hello Vivian,” my mom replies. “I am currently waiting for an Uber and I plan to go to the airport now. Where are you now?” 

Hearing this makes me feel a little sad. A few hours ago, I quickly left for the concert while my mom napped in my room. I thought that I would get to see her again after the concert and say a formal goodbye. Instead, she has to leave while I’m almost back. Despite this slight disappointment, my mood isn’t that affected as I know that I will see my mom again over winter break. 

“I am on the Harvard Bridge. It will take me another 20 minutes to reach the dorm,” I say as I admire the blue sky and wonderful New England foliage along the Charles River. 

My mom pauses before she says, “I am sorry I was napping before you left.” At first, I hear her trying to hold back tears, but she eventually breaks down. 

“I am such a bad person. I didn’t even say a proper goodbye,” my mom says, starting to sob.

It’s the first time I’ve heard someone cry on the phone. Physically, my mom is only a mile away from me, yet the phone call makes me think that she is much farther away. In less than two hours, she will board a plane and fly back to San Francisco, a city that’s 3120 miles away from Boston.

As cold-hearted as it sounds, the idea of being thousands of miles away from someone never really bothered me. I thought that with technologies such as phone calls and video calls, these geographical barriers would vanish. I could still have conversations.  But as I remain silent and hear her cry, I am beginning to question my naïve view on distance.

I am not sure how to comfort her. No matter what I say, it seems like nothing will be as good as a face-to-face conversation. My heart tightens when I hear her weep. I expect tears to start flowing down my cheeks, but nothing comes out of my eyes. I wonder what’s wrong with me and start to ask myself the last time I cried. I can’t even remember. Was it during winter break during freshman fall or sometime during my first semester at MIT? Regardless of the actual answer, I find it concerning that I haven’t cried in almost a year when there were many times that I wanted to. 

Part of me thinks that MIT has hardened me. The other part of me thinks that MIT has worn me down so much that as much as I want to cry because of how cathartic it feels, I don’t have the mental and physical energy to cry. I am scared that crying will only make me cry more and put me in awkward situations with others, something that I experienced many times growing up.

“You aren’t a bad mom; we will see each other in a while,” I reassure her. 

After she recollects herself, my mom says, “I hope the rest of the semester gets better. I will try to help you as much as I can.” 

We both say goodbye and then end the call. 

On the way back to New House, all I thought about was the conversation I just had. Impressions of Mitsuko Uchida’s wonderful piano escaped my brain. My phone’s call history said that the duration was 2 minutes, yet it felt like time came to a standstill because of the many swirling thoughts and epiphanies I had within that short amount of time.

The summer before college, my parents frequently reminded me that the time I had with them was very limited once I left home. Despite this, I never really let that thought bother me. I was sad that I was starting to count down the number of months, then weeks, then days left with my family before I left for college, but I accepted this as a fact of life. Unless I chose to live near my family for the rest of my life, there wasn’t much I could do about it. Even hearing my peers say that 90% of the time spent with parents is gone after high school didn’t make me very concerned. Sure, the percentage sounded very high at first, but after thinking about the number of days I had during college to visit my parents, the number made sense.

But having this phone call with my mom sobered me. Based on Tim Urban’s blog post called “The Tail End,” the number of days I have with my parents for the rest of my life is a small fraction of the total number of days I spent with my parents before college. As a result, the time I have with them is quite precious. I thought about why my mom cried beside the fact that she said she felt like she was a bad parent. I may not be fully correct, but a possible reason that my mom cried is that she assumed that she would still have time to say goodbye to me before going to the airport, which wasn’t the case in the end. In other words, she felt regret for not cherishing every moment with me as she chose to keep napping instead of waking up to say goodbye before I left the dorm.

The more I thought about what was going on in my mom’s mind, the more I thought about a dance performance I watched at the Boston Ballet a while ago. The dance on its own may appear to be completely separate from my life, but the emotions the dance imprinted on me strongly echoed with what I felt during the phone call with my mom. Directed by Helen Pickett, Tsukiyo is an intimate duet that captures the power of love perfectly. When I watched the couple dancing with such closeness and gracefulness, I started to feel a lump in my throat. The performance was so touching and moving, yet I couldn’t cry because of how beautiful it was to see them dance amid the moonlight-like setting.

The intimacy of the dancers made me think of how we want to be vulnerable in front of our loved ones so they can be there for us, even though we sometimes say that we are independent. Despite being adults, there’s this desire of us to revert to being a child so someone can take care of us. My interpretation may be a stretch, but the ballerina’s delicate nature as she allowed her partner to hold her in the air reminded me of how fragile and short human life is. The two hold on to each other most of the time, but in some parts of the choreography, they walk away from each other and then come back together again. 

While the dance portrayed a couple, I thought of other relationships like a parent and child, friends, etc. The tension present in the dance made the constant internal struggle of wanting to let go but not wanting to at the same time so visceral and real. In a greater context, the dance made me think of how hard it is to say goodbye to someone we love and accept the fact that intimacy in a relationship cannot last forever, just like the former closeness a parent and child or two siblings may experience. 

Not only did the phone call evoke strong impressions I had of Tsukiyo, but it also made me think of a book I read this summer called Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. One of the book’s central conflicts is that Kathy, the narrator of the story, struggles to accept the fact that her friends will pass away and that time will keep passing by. The title itself is thought-provoking, as it highlights Kathy’s tendency to reminisce about her friendships with close friends during her schooling days. 

The title haunts me because the title applies to relationships with people in my life like my mom. It is when things are too late that we realize the time we have left with a loved one is limited and cannot be taken for granted anymore because time does not wait for us. As much as we want to hold onto someone we love and want others to hold onto us in the context of family members, ultimately we have to let go, even if this means being thousands of miles away from those we love dearly.