The first time my mom came to Berkeley was to help me move into my Clark Kerr room. She carried all my luggage for me so my hands wouldn’t be sweaty when I shook hands with my new roommates — people who the school had decided were allowed access to my body and belongings while I slept.
As we explored my new home and saw all the campus locations where such-and-such happened, we were both excited about all the possibilities for my next four years — all the life changing experiences I might face. I was happy to be going to a renowned college, and my mom was just happy I was going to college. People were talking in line at the bookstore, the restaurants were all filled with extended families and beautiful white people were singing from the windows of their sorority houses. There was a buzz throughout the entire city.
The second time my mom came to Berkeley was Homecoming weekend, and everyone was getting buzzed throughout the entire city.
The first indication that my mom had just entered a distorted reality was when a drunk friend barged into my room while my mom was taking a minute to rest after having freshly arrived in Berkeley. With two unfocused eyes, he half-shouted, half-asked if he could use my bathroom. My room had no bathroom.
Middle-aged men in backward caps were having fights and throwing fists over what amounted to a difference in the color jersey they were wearing. And some of them were alumni — people who were supposed to stand as examples to our campus’s ability to prepare its students for the real world.
No matter which street we turned onto, my mom stared through the same disturbing window into what my highly touted college really looked like.
Raphael’s School of Athens, through which my mom had walked a mere two months ago, had turned into that episode of “Entourage” when Drama tries to convince Turtle to dress up as a furry pink rabbit to have sex with a chick after answering her Craigslist ad.
My mom was always the cool mom. She never lived up to the stereotype of the Asian tiger mom who didn’t let me have friends outside robotics clubs, which she also didn’t force me to be a part of. The only restrictions my mom placed on me were that I couldn’t go over my data plan and I couldn’t commit murder.
When I would come home late at night and she would ask me what I had been doing, I would respond “drugs” and know she wouldn’t ask any further questions.
When she found a condom wrapper in the backseat of the car, she coyly placed it on the dashboard so that the next time I used the car I would know that she knew.
And when I left for college, she told me I could do whatever I wanted. Albeit, she meant that I could choose my own major with the assumption that upon graduating I would attend law school.
My relationship with my mom was built on trust — I had nothing to hide from her and she knew that if I did, she could just ask and I would tell her the truth. I was a pretty good kid with alright grades and no police record, and that was good enough for her.
But after I started to call a place home that was on the other side of the country, I found myself on the phone with her for hours to assure her that I was prepared for a midterm I had the next day, rather than using that time to study for said midterm. I would regale her with stories about my days spent getting lost in my studies and attending my professor’s office hours. I would come up with different analogies to describe how my mind was expanding from absorbing knowledge — like a sponge, like a blackhole, like Great Britain in the late 1800s.
So when my mom saw this city of Sodom — and at that moment the perfect picture of college I had painted for her was shredded and then eaten and then shitted out and held to her face — I was reminded of how cool my mom was.
She had a few moments where her eyes widened and her mouth curled into a slight smile, but otherwise she didn’t bring it up. And like with the car, my mom just gave me that look to make sure I knew she knew.
Home wasn’t my residence hall or my house or a specific time in my life. Home is whenever I’m with my mom. Home is the trust my mom has in me to keep my head when all those around me are losing theirs.
And because my mom is so cool — and she is 3,000 miles away — I think now is probably the best time to say this: I don’t know how to break it to you mom, but I don’t have the desire, the diligence or, more importantly, the grades to get into law school. I hope you will take this news well. See you at Christmas. Love you!