By: Shannon Thomas
Honor thy parents. The fifth commandment in the Bible, and the first commandment in Indian-Christian households like mine. There was no question about it. You honored your parents by giving them respect, obeying their rules, being honest with them. By this logic, I would be lying if I said I honored my parents 24/7. An uncomfortable truth about being a first generation American is that you find your way around the rules by reading between the lines. I respect my parents, but only to their faces. I obey their rules, but not without cursing in my head and muttering complaints to myself. I am honest with them, but not about things I know they will never understand. Honesty is definitely the trait that my relationship with my parents lacks the most. I can only remember 3 times in my life when I was completely honest with my parents to their faces.
The first was when I was ten. I came home from school and went to my parent’s room. My mom was sitting on the bed, reading some nursing magazine as she would do whenever she found any time on her days off. I crawled into the bed next to her and covered my face with the blanket, preparing for what I was going to say next, thinking about what happened earlier in the day. That day at recess, one of my best friends Sophia had told me she had a crush on boy named Joey. She also told me that she was going to invite Joey to her birthday party, and I was as confused as ever. “What do you mean? Won’t your parents see him in your house?” I asked as if she was an idiot. “Of course, it was my mom’s idea to invite him after I told her I liked him.” Wait…WHAT? Turns out I was the idiot in this conversation. “You told your mom???” I remember actually screaming that— my 10 year old heart was racing. “Yeah! I tell my mom everything!” I had never been so shocked. So I was lying there under the covers, next to my mom, experimenting on whether I could also tell my mom anything. I took a deep breath. Let’s give it a shot.
“Mummy, I have something to tell you.”
“There’s a boy in my class…”
I can hear her put the magazine down, I can actually FEEL her looking at me.
“And I have a crush on him.”
There was silence. A long silence. I am so afraid. What is she going to say? She pulls the covers off my face and is staring me down. She opens her mouth, I close my eyes, and she says…
“What is a crush? Did you hit him, you crushed him? What did you do??”
Even at 10 years old, I knew my parents were lame as hell.
“No, mummy, it means I like him.”
“What do you mean?”, she asks, “No. You are too young for that, do not think or say those things until you are much older. Okay?”
And there it was. I knew it. I wasn’t like Sophia, and my mom was not like Sophia’s mom. The hilarious irony in this is that I didn’t even have a crush on anyone, I was just testing the waters. Even my attempt at honesty included a lie. And it was there, lying next to my mom, both physically and verbally, that I realized it was always going to be like this.
Fast forward 8 years to honesty time #2. At the end of my freshman year of college, I had begged my parents to let me go on a retreat for Christian college students. I had a very eye-opening experience and came home with a new mindset, ready to do things differently. I had been so depressed my freshman year, so alone, and so full of lies. I wanted to tell my parents everything. But I knew I couldn’t dump everything on them at once, so I was going to start with a small step. My best friend from high school, a guy, wanted to get lunch and catch up. The old me would have told my parents I was meeting with a female friend. But the new me wanted to have a clean slate. My entire family was in the kitchen, the aroma of tea and sounds of bites into our favorite Indian snacks filled the air. A day like any other. My 18 year old heart was racing.
“I’m going to go get lunch tomorrow.”
No one looked up, my dad’s, mom’s, and sister’s eyes were focused on the newspaper, tea, and phone, respectively.
“With who?” asks my dad, eyes still scanning the black ink.
I took a breath and said “Steven”
I have never seen heads and eyes look up so quickly. None of their hands even moved. Just their heads. It was robotic and terrifying.
“Who?” My mom looked confused and my dad looked angry. My sister had no expression.
“Steven, my friend. He’s just my friend. Not boyfriend. Just my friend. We just wanted to hang out and get lunch because haven’t seen each other since last summer. He’s my friend.” I wondered if I had emphasized the word “friend” enough.
“I just told you, we haven’t seen each other in months, we just want to get lunch together.”
“Why? It’s just lunch.” It really was just lunch. For once, this was not lie or a cover up. He wasn’t my boyfriend, he really was just my friend.
My dad puts down the paper and takes off his glasses, something he only does when he’s stressed and needs to rub his eyes. “I said no. If you want to talk, call or text him. This is why you have a phone. You don’t need to go out and eat lunch with him.”
It was not possible for me to be more confused. I was being 100% honest and was still being shut down.
“I don’t get it, why is it such a big deal?”
My dad goes to the living room. I’m trying my best not to scream. I had just learned at his retreat the importance of being patient with those you love and not letting your anger get the best of you, which is something that happens to me often.
“Dad, c’mon. You’re not making a good argument, give me a reason.”
“THE REASON IS I SAID SO. DO NOT ARGUE WITH ME. I SAID YOU CAN’T SO YOU CAN’T.”
My jaw is on the floor. Here I am trying not to lose my temper, and of course my dad, the person I get my temper from, loses his.
My mom, silent this whole time, quietly says, “What if someone sees you? Other people will think things.”
Holy crap. What if someone sees me? Hm, maybe I can claw their eyes out. Is that a good solution? Probably not because they’d still be able to talk to crap about me to other people I don’t give a crap about!!!!
“OH MY GOD.” I lost it, my voice is raised, my face is distressed, I’ve jumped off the bar stool. “WHO CARES IF SOMEONE SEES ME?? I’LL TELL THEM THE TRUTH I JUST TOLD YOU, HE IS MY FRIEND. THAT’S ALL.”
The arguing continued for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t help it and started crying in the midst of my screaming. I hate when this happens because I feel like a big fat baby. Crying when she doesn’t get what she wants. The thing is it’s not just about not getting what I want, it’s the fact that I can’t even get a word out or have a civil conversation with my mother and father. Before running down the stairs and slamming my door as hard as I could, knocking the picture frames off my wall, having them shatter as they hit the ground, I said one last thing I said to them: “I was being honest with you because I don’t want to lie to you. I promise, one day, you’re going to regret the way you treat me. I’ll be gone and it’ll be all your fault.” I don’t know exactly what I was threatening in that moment. Maybe I was talking about the day I move out. Maybe I was talking about the day I die. You know how it only takes one little thing to push you over the edge? Well, this was it. I was done. I was long gone over the edge.
Fast forward three years. Three years of college. Three years of lies. Three years of fake respect, obedience, and honesty. And I couldn’t have cared less about it. For a while, I was sure that the only time in my life I’d ever be able to be honest with my parents again would only be when I could avoid any backlash, aka. when I’m moved out or married. Every semester of college meant something different for my depression. Sometimes I was better, sometimes I was worse. Even the days fluctuated in such an extreme matter. And I had no control over any of it. One semester in particular was heavier and more painful than any other. My schedule was insanely busy. I had the weight of the future on my entire body. The LSAT and law school haunting me every second of every day. One of my closest friends had moved to DC for school and I missed her terribly. And worst of all, my best friend since I was a toddler, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had no time to process, no time to cry, no time to breathe. There was never a moment I could escape. Locking myself in my room was the best solution. But not everyone saw it that way.
One day I went to the kitchen to make myself some coffee. It was just another long day, I was tired as usual. It was now the norm to have intense bags under my eyes, my shoulders slumping over, a permanent frown on my face.
“Shanon, come sit.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Come sit,” my mom echoes my dad, “we haven’t seen you in years”, she says sarcastically.
“It’s okay, I’m going to my room.”
“No, it’s not okay. Sit here with your family.” my father says firmly, implying that this was an order, not a request.
I look at them. They look at me. I turn back around to pour my coffee into my mug, my hands shaking from a mixture of exhaustion, irritation, and anxiousness.
“Hello? Can you hear us?…….SHANON”
Here we go. “I DO NOT WANT TO SIT” I thunder at my family, “I DO NOT HAVE TIME TO SIT. I HAVE PAPERS AND TESTS AND DIAGS TO DO. I NEED COFFEE AND SLEEP AND QUIET. I AM SO TIRED. I NEED TO BE ALONE”
Suddenly, all the angry feelings my parents were feelings had transferred over to me. And my quietness had transferred to them.
“I HAVE SO MUCH WORK TO DO. MY ENTIRE BODY IS ACHING. MY HEAD IS SPINNING, MY CHEST MIGHT EXPLODE. I’M GOING TO DO BADLY ON THE LSAT AND I WON’T GET INTO LAW SCHOOL. AND MY BEST FRIEND IS DYING. SHE COULD DIE ANY DAY NOW. I COULD WAKE UP ANY DAY, AT ANY MOMENT, SHE COULD BE DEAD. THIS IS MY LIFE OKAY. AND I HATE IT. I HATE EVERYTHING.”
Without even realizing, my face was covered in tears. I was hyperventilating. I had released so much and yet…I had released nothing.
I didn’t even give my parents time to react. I didn’t want to hear them say “it’s okay” or “try to relax” or “pray and God will guide you”. I knew these were all reasonable responses but I did not want to hear it. I just wanted to go downstairs, sit in my room, and try to escape.
That was the third time in my life I was ever fully honest with my parents. It was the quickest, but definitely the most intense. This wasn’t just a situation. This was my life. Everything around me was crumbling, and I couldn’t bear the extra pressure from anyone else. Whatever pieces I had broken into, broke some more, and eventually powdered into nothingness. And my parents could see it. Within the next few months, my relationship with my parents had shifted. They tried to be more understanding, and I tried to be more civil. They didn’t want to step on my toes, and I didn’t want to scream and cry more than I had already been doing. Honesty may be the best policy, but in our house it was a new administration. My parents and I didn’t become best friends after that, and I still didn’t ever share more than I needed to. Because at the end of the day, they’re not just my parents— they’re also my landlords, my guardians, and my bosses. There’s a certain level of professionalism that will always remain. So whether it’s phrasing things the right way so they won’t get mad, asking questions at the most opportune time, or keeping 99% of your life and feelings to yourself, this is what needs to be done. Because you know what they say— some things (or even everything) is better left unsaid.