Breakaway Guilt

Jason and His Mom, 2009

When I first received Haverford acceptance letter, I ran to my mom and dad, my hand clutching to the phone with the email still open. Despite not knowing where (or even what) Haverford was, "I'm proud of you," my parents said, for their son could now experience the college education that they never had. There running through my body was this feeling of pride, and then nervousness, and guilt. I was proud to be the first person in my family to go to college. I was nervous to step foot into this elite college life. And most predictably, I felt the guilt of leaving my parents behind.

My family owns a small tailor shop in a big city in Vietnam. My mom is the tailor; my dad is the delivery man; and I photographed the dresses she made and put them online for others to see. Sometimes, putting the dresses online is the only way to get customers for the family. Much as I tried teaching them how to manage websites, they are by no means good with technology made after the 90s. My decision to go to college would mean fewer customers, less money, smaller meals. I asked myself how I could leave the family business behind.

And it’s not just the family business. My mother has a few kidney stones; my dad is an alcoholic; and both have high blood pressure. When they came home late from the shop because of high demand during wedding season, I cooked and waited for them. When they came home late from the frequent hospital visits, I cooked and longed for them. How could I leave my parents behind?

Then I did. I decided to accept Haverford offer letter, for I was told that if I go to college, I could help my parents, not in a material way, not in a physical way, but in a much bigger way, bigger than the meals I cooked, or the customers that I brought. I don’t know whatever that bigger way is, but I know that I’m getting closer to it by getting closer to my degree. Believe me, it is no easy task. Sometimes I doubt whether that bigger reason is relevant anymore when I know they stay in late at the shop to wait for the last customer to come pick up the dress, or when I hear them telling me about their illnesses and then trying to play the illnesses down.

For now, I decide to believe in that better and bigger way.