A Bittersweet Departure

It’s nearly 1 o’clock in the morning, and my family is barely awake. We all squeeze into my dad’s 15-year-old minivan with all of my luggage; ten months worth of clothes and supplies are jam-packed into two 50-pound suitcases, a carry-on, and my backpack. My dad pulls out of our neighborhood and makes his way onto I-76 while my mom quickly passes out in the back seat with my two brothers. I am sitting beside my dad in the passenger seat, awake and slightly anxious. As he drives quietly under the gleaming, bright moon, I look over and asks if he’s tired. “No, I have my coffee.” Steering with his left-hand, my dad reaches for his cà phê sữa đá and takes a sip.

After a brief 1.5-hour drive, we arrive at my Terminal at the Newark Liberty International Airport. It takes me about an hour to figure out my luggage and boarding tickets. My suitcases are slightly overweight, so I spend time with my brothers rearranging items and removing anything I deem “unnecessary”, which includes two bottles of Head & Shoulders shampoo and two bottles of Old Spice body wash. (I cleared up about 10 lbs worth of things…oof.)

I finally check in.

With my tickets in hand, I make my way outside where my family awaits. I’ve been dreading this bittersweet moment for months. My family and I have not always been sentimental—maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s not. Raised in a war-torn country, my parents did not experience familial love in the same way that I have. For them, to love and to be loved were concepts shaped not by warm hugs and kisses but rather by survival and gratitude. However, I have learned that their love is understood by their sacrifices, mounted on the trauma of immigrating thousands of miles away to ensure I had a future; their love is understood by providing me clothes to wear, a roof over my head, and warm food to eat despite doing all that they can to make ends meet.

I lean in to hug my dad, both of us avoiding eye contact. “I love you,” he whispers. “I love you, too.”

I lean in to hug my mom, who presses my cheek firmly against hers. “I love you.” She kisses me.

“I love you, too.”

Standing behind them are my brothers. They reach over to me, each extending a hand, and as I lift my hand to meet theirs, they pull me in for a hug. My brothers and I have not always seen eye-to-eye. We used to bicker over everything, often driving my parents insane. We grew up under the same roof, lived in the same room, and slept on the same Queen-sized bed, and despite being so physically close, my brothers and I were far from being close. Yet, wrapped in their embrace, I could feel that our brotherhood weighed more than I thought. Our relationship, I realized, is molded not only by the fights we’ve had, but also by the intimate conversations we’ve had about our parents and our future.

“See you in ten months.”

I wave goodbye, and as I turn away, I can’t help but feel a hint of guilt. This feeling seeps through my jacket, climbs beneath my clothes, and enters my bloodstream. I am beginning a new chapter in my life, one that would not have been made possible without my family. With them, I always feel at home, but with each step I take, moving further away, I start to feel unanchored. Unable to liberate myself from feelings of remorse, I turn around. It’s too late—dad’s minivan is nowhere in sight.

I ask myself, Will they be okay without me?

But maybe I suppose that isn’t the right question to ask.

Will I be okay without them?

* * *

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