On Amma, Queerness, & Being Out of her Reach

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 7.47.00 PM.png

Content Warnings: Parent death

By: Suma Cheru

I often wonder whether my deceased mother would support or reject my queerness. I was too young when she died, too young to know that it could be normal to like girls. Too naive.

***

My amma―the Tamil word for “mother”―died a slow, brutal death. She’d been sick with stomach cancer for eighteen months. She’d gone into remission for some time. But, given cancer’s insidious nature, it came back. And after the cancer returned, it dared not leave her again.

I was seven when Amma died. Too naive to understand the gravity of the situation. Perhaps, because of my youthful age, my parents had thought it best to keep me out of the chaos. They chose not to inform me of the severity of Amma’s illness. In doing so, they kept me in the shadows of her burgeoning illness and death. I would never have understood just how serious stage III stomach cancer could be.

I think about Amma here and there. I think about what my relationship with her would be like today. Would we get along? Would I tell her everything? Would she be my keeper of secrets? Or would we fight incessantly? Would I keep her out? Far away? Would ours be a deep or a superficial relationship?

Amma has a gay brother. I’ve heard that, when he shared his sexuality with her in the late ‘90s, she didn’t speak to him for months. Months. She did eventually respond, however. She wrote him a letter. A letter that traveled from her place in Berkeley, California to Bangalore, India. Things were fine after she responded, I suppose. She and her brother still spoke to each other, still sustained their sibling ties. She still didn’t speak to him for months, though. Nothing could make up for those lost months, not even a letter.

I don’t know what she wrote in that letter. I guess I’ll never know.

There are things I wish I could tell Amma today. I wish I could tell her that on some days, I feel less feminine. I wish I could tell her that I didn’t feel like myself when I was forced into wearing a frilly pink dress for my fourth birthday. I wish I could tell her I feel like my best self with my short hair. I wish I could tell her that I sleep with women. That I fall for women every single time.

***

I realize I don’t get to say the word “Amma” that much. Not at all, really. I only use it to refer to this woman who gave birth to me, someone far in my past.

I wonder whether Amma would write me a letter upon learning about my queerness. I don’t know what she’d write in that letter. I guess I’ll never know.

What haunts me is the possibility that Amma wouldn’t speak to me for months upon learning this.

From May 2018 Issue