Americanization -- fiction by Satori McCormick
Ina came with nothing but jeans, a T-shirt, and a diamond necklace. At least that was what she told us. My sister gasped and asked, “Mommy, you mean you came without any shoes?” And Ina shook her head proudly. Then she reminded us to always call her ina, mother, and to call our father ama, so we would never forget where we really belonged.
Later I learned all the words for mother and father in the Philippines: mama at papa, erpat at ermat, nanay at tanay, mudra at padrekels, and the English terms of course. Almost as if there’s a different language for every island (and there are 7,640 of them).
Ina sometimes let us touch the diamond at the base of her silver necklace. She wore it all the time, only taking it off for showers or work. She held very still as my sisters’ chubby hands reached out for that tiny star nestled in her collarbone, reverently, religiously. It was cool to the touch and smooth. It was what my father had given her just before they left for Los Angeles. Technically, our parents were not married. The necklace was as close as they ever got to a ring.
Soon, she told us, Ama wouldn’t have to work so much and could come back to live with us in the apartment he got us, and then everything would go back to how it had been. When my youngest sister was a baby Ina said he loved to be around us all the time, and couldn’t bear to tear himself away. I vaguely remember that. Maybe I remember him making faces at my sister in her high chair at the table. Or maybe that was Ina, or the neighbor, or the babysitter. She told us he would tuck us into bed every night like he used to. And he would, soon. And she would stand in the doorway and watch him, instead of tucking us into our bed herself, and they’d have to hire a babysitter to watch us if they went out to a movie.
When he came back for good, Ina said, they would have a wedding. We would be flower girls. Ina would get a matching ring for her necklace and it would be on the beach in the fall. Or something simple, like a courthouse visit, because she wasn’t picky.
So I prayed for Ama to get enough money to come back home, and for Ina to get married. Every night, with the windows open, so that my prayers could float out the window and into the cloudy night sky. Then I nestled back into bed with my younger sisters and we slept.
One day, my prayer came half-true. A rickety white pickup truck with almost as much tape as dents rolled onto our apartment’s street and a scrawny man stepped out. Ina spotted him from the window and made us all get our best dresses real fast. Then we stood in a neat line and waited until he knocked on the door. Ina went to go get it, a childish grin on her face. More than she had ever smiled before.
Standing side by side, in the same room, our parents looked like teenagers. They made each other young. But I realized later that they were always young. They hardly looked any different from the teens hanging out at corner stores and in the skate park. Then Ama stepped forward, and he looked much older up close. He squatted in front of us and grinned. His teeth were crooked, and both the front ones were chipped and jagged. His skin was pockmarked and he smelled like smoke. Other than that, he was handsome.
He wanted to take us out to eat, and Ina let us go on without her. He took us to a McDonald’s and bought us each a Happy meal with soda. He finished his Big Mac in what seemed like three bites. Then he stuffed handfuls of fries into his mouth and waited for us to finish. My youngest sister pried the pickles and onions out, sticking her bottom lip out in disgust. I whispered to her to just eat the thing.
Ama took out his wallet and, still grinning, showed us pictures of his other kids. We looked at a baby girl who had just been born and a toddler boy not much younger than my youngest sister. We saw a flash of another woman, in another apartment, smiling happily. We looked at the pictures silently and then we didn’t feel much like eating. He reminded us what he had paid, and we stuffed it all in our mouths like he had.
He let us play in the Play Place for exactly ten minutes (he timed it on his watch). I sat back with him because I was too old. I wanted him to turn to me and ask about school, but he didn’t. He closed his eyes and only opened them to peek at his watch.
When he drove us home Ina made us go into the apartment so she could talk to him in the hall. They talked for only five minutes before his footsteps stamped away and thundered down the stairs and we watched his truck leave with a roar. Ina sat at the kitchen table absently.
When she was in the shower that night I decided I wanted to see what the diamond necklace would look like on me. I wanted to wear it like a rich lady, because I’d never worn a diamond before. I took it out of her near-empty jewelry box and tried it on in front of the mirror. I couldn’t see myself in the mirror, though. I just saw that other woman. Ama wore a ring on his finger. It wasn’t my mother’s. I unclasped the necklace and hid it at the bottom of the garbage.
The next day Ina looked for it. She spent hours searching under beds and between couch cushions and I regretted throwing it away. But I didn’t tell her. I took out the garbage and rid our family of that Ama who was the first person I ever hated. After searching for three days Ina dialed a phone number at night and from the bedroom I heard what she said to him.
“I lost the necklace you gave me,” she said, holding back tears. She hunched over at the kitchen table alone.
She had him on speaker. “What necklace?” he asked.
“The diamond one. The one you bought right before we moved here.”
“Oh, that? Forget it. It wasn’t even a real diamond. Fake.”
She froze. He started talking about his work and how he wouldn’t be able to send money this month, and slowly Ina called herself back into the conversation. She nodded and hung up. Then she picked up the phone without dialing and spoke quickly and bitterly to no one at all.
“One day I’ll make you follow me to the ends of the Earth. In Manila you loved me, and I swear that wasn't just a honeymoon phase because we haven’t even…” She scowled and huffed, barely able to get the words out. “You will always wish you married me, you son of a bitch. You son of a bitch.” Then she slammed the phone down again, wiped her tears, and stood up. From then on, she never asked us to call her Ina. We called her Mom. She wanted to Americanize her family, and part of that was forgetting the Philippines and everything (everyone) that ever came from there. She became a citizen herself, no longer Filipino.
When we were all graduated and in college, she bought herself a real diamond necklace. She never wore it.
Satori McCormick (she/her) is a 17-year-old writer from Denver, Colorado. Her work has previously been published in Paper Crane Journal, The Augment Review, The Daphne Review, and more. She is mixed-race, including Filipino heritage.