It embarrassed me whenever my mom or my dad trumped me (although it was never on purpose) with how thoughtful they were, and, by comparison, how thoughtless and selfish I had been in only thinking of myself when it seemed like every second of every day my parents were planning to undergo yet another sacrifice to make our lives that much better. No matter how diligently I tried to observe these minute changes, there was always so much that was indiscernible—it was so hard to keep track of every detail, like how my father only took showers every four days so that we could have more water allowance to use in making soups, which was my favorite hot food, or the way my mother wore my father’s dress shoes when the soles of her shoes started to wear off and how she wore them to work at the restaurant even though they were four sizes too big and that’s why she tripped so often and fell on her side and came home with scraped elbows.
There were so many days when I came home to an empty house with nothing at all to distract me except an oozy desire to come up with all the ways I could possibly sacrifice enough to catch up to my parents, who were always sacrificing. But I didn’t know how I could compete with my mom, who got fired from her job baking donuts after spending a night scavenging all over for a desk so that I wouldn’t have to do my homework on the floor or the bed or standing up with my workbook pressed against the wall, and how she found me a beautiful desk that was perfect except someone had written fuck ya momma on its side with black spray paint, and how she dragged it down 20-something blocks on her own and was too exhausted to wake up in time for work, and that was why she was fired, and why she couldn’t ever keep a job because she was so tired all the time from taking care of me. Or how was I supposed to compete with my father, who was so good about not wasting a single thing, like how between the ages of zero and five I used to always throw up my food and no one was able to figure out why, except maybe it had something to do with the time I was two and caught pneumonia because my mom put me in a beautiful blue tiered lace birthday dress in the middle of a snowstorm in January. I spent a month recovering in a hospital even though we couldn’t afford more than a night, and the bills from that time were part of the reason why for so long my parents had to work three jobs at a time. After my bout of pneumonia I was always terrible at keeping food down, and there were times when my dad would spoon the food I had vomited up into a bowl, which he would then eat with his eyes closed, because that was how much he loved me and how much he was willing to sacrifice for us.
When I got home from school (if I went to school that day), I would sometimes wait, slumped against the wall, for my parents to come home with a box of doughnuts or leftover mein fun or a pair of earrings with the paint peeling off, like when my mom worked as a seamstress for a woman named Donna who gave my mom gifts to give to me because she liked how I wore my bangs so high and pouffed, and I thanked her a million times whenever I went with my mom to work. I waited and I wondered what I could do in those six or seven hours alone in the apartment to show my mom and dad that I, too, was part of this amazing, intricate machine that saved us from the kind of utter and complete desperation that coincides with everything falling the fuck apart.