I hated calling my parents when I was a first-year. I was so tired of the arguments, of explaining myself, of getting nagged. I hated visiting home, because it washed out the taste of freedom I was having as a college student and filled me with the same boredom and suffocation I was so eager to escape. I love my parents. But I had to be my own person.
Following my freshman year, I came home for the summer after a wild Spring Quarter, but I was out of the house for 70 hours a week at my internship in San Francisco. It was ideal. I was creatively challenged at my job, and I relished the two hours I had to myself on my daily commute. I spent every evening at the gym. I love my family to death, but I had to be free. I had to be my own person.
Everything changed when my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
I learned about it three times. The first time was when she told me, while waiting in line at my family’s favorite mediocre Mexican restaurant one Friday night. The second time was immediately after, in the bathroom, gripping the sides of the toilet seat, my vision blurring, dry heaving, my whole world spinning. And the third time took place over the next few months, with mini-moments of relearning. I learned when my mom had her lumpectomy. When she found out she had to go through chemotherapy. When she lost her hair. When, for the first time in my life, I sensed pain in her voice.
It came in waves. But I was always underwater. I was always thinking about her. I felt like I was bobbing in the ocean, and some moments everything was calm, but other moments I was swept away with a mix of fear and anger and guilt and doubt. I’d be biking home, processing my day and a certain song would come up on my playlist, and I’d have to pull over on the side of the road. I was underwater. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me, to my little brother, to my little sister and to my dad. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to my own mother. I may have been in Davis, but I never felt less free in my life.
During Fall Quarter, I went home every three weeks to see my mom as she went through chemo. I shaved my head each time I went home because I didn’t want my mom to be bald alone. During Winter Quarter, she went through radiation and started recapturing some normalcy — getting back into her daily walks, getting back with her weekly poker group, getting back to playing “Hotline Bling” as loud as she could to embarrass my siblings when picking them up from middle school. Today, she’s healthy and happy. And while she’s still getting back into it, she’s as loud and intense and loving and funny and in-your-face and nagging and passionate as ever. I can’t fathom how lucky I am to write that.
First-year Yinon had to be his own person. But that’s not how life works. You can’t be your own person. Not when you go home to see your mom after she was just injected with a barrage of poisons but the house smells like Moroccan red fish stew and Ashkenazi Jewish desserts because the entire community brought dishes to make sure no one has to worry about not having a Shabbat dinner. Not when you start seeing your brother and sister more, and they tell you they wish it didn’t take cancer for you to be in their lives so much. Not when you text your dad asking for the Netflix password, and you wonder why he’s taking so long to respond, and you start getting frustrated, but then you hear your phone buzz and it’s your dad saying, “Sorry, had to be the family barber for a minute.”
You can’t be your own person when people need you. You can’t be fixated on your own struggles, enamored with your own successes, enraptured in your own day-to-day when you’re someone else’s pillar of strength. People tell you that you should always focus on yourself and do what’s best for you. I don’t disagree. At times, however, what’s been best for me has been what’s best for someone else.
Today, I can’t wait to call my parents. It’s the best part of my day.
You can reach YINON RAVIV at email@example.com