Yola has always loved other people’s mom, but she didn’t realize that until college. It dawned on her during one of the classes for her elective course European Literature.
“Balzac’s parents belonged to the first generation of middle class in France, and Balzac’s mom always wanted to go up. You know what I mean. She arranged for Balzac to visit a rich landowner’s daughter regularly, dreaming of him marrying the daughter one day. Soon there’s a marked change in Balzac’s behavior, who started to pay attention to his outfit and who was eager to accompany the girl’s family to parties and theaters. At first Mrs. Balzac congratulated herself on her clever scheme, but before long, Mrs. Balzac was shocked to discover that her son was not interested in the girl at all, but rather he’s interested in the girl’s mother.”
Yola listened to her professor, who’s a Balzac fanatic. However Yola herself only reads English and Russian novels. She’s not familiar with French literature at all. Why banding all these authors together in one class? Why can’t she just choose what she’s interested? As Yola was daydreaming, the professor suddenly called her to answer a question, obviously he sensed her lack of attention. Yola didn’t even hear the question and for a second or two, she was baffled as to how to reply. She vaguely heard the Balzac’s story, but missed the question that was directed at her. It would be embarrassing to admit it in front of the thirty or so classmates. She stared and suddenly said, to her own astonishment, “I love other people’s mom too,” as if this is the answer to the unheard question.
Everybody laughed in the classroom. The professor said, “I would be happy to explore this vein of thought if you were a boy.” And he dropped the whole thing and moved on with his class. Yola couldn’t drop it. How can she say such a thing? Is it even true that she loves other people’s mom? Is it possible that her eagerness to come up with an answer somehow brought her subconscious thought to the open?
Her mom is distant and authoritative. As the first generation of women who work outside of her home, she’s tired of the cooking and cleaning at home after her regular shift at work. She’s thin and not very strong. Yola always feels that it’s her fault that she complains of fatigue all the time.
In middle school, she loved to go to her friend Jasmine’s home, ostensibly to help her with homework, but in essence to enjoy Jasmine mom’s warmth and the little snack she prepared for them. She even sat to listen to Jasmine mom’s stories while Jasmine complained that her mom had repeated it many times. Yola insisted that she wanted to listen and she even went to the kitchen to help Jasmine mom to cook so that she could continue to listen to her talk. Now Yola realized that it’s because of Jasmine mom that she wanted so much to be friend with Jasmine.
In high school, Yola’s mom befriended the mother of a family with a daughter of Yola’s age, Yina and a son about seven to eight years older. Yola spent almost every weekend at their home since the daughter always needed homework help. The mother is so loving and caring and fun to be with. She is even better than Jasmine’s mom since she’s better educated and read books. The mother actually said many times that she wants to have two daughters, Yina and Yola, for which Yola repeated in her mind many times over afterwards. Then she suddenly realized that the mother wanted Yola to be the future daughter-in-law. Yola was very happy to play along. The son was very cute and just graduated from a trade school. Now he’s working as a mechanics nearby and preferred to stay in the dorm of the company, only coming home occasionally. Yola convinced herself that she’s in love with the son–now she realized that probably she’s not really in love with the son, but rather she’s in love with the mother and wanted to do everything to please her.
Then one day, when Yola was staying with Yina’s family, the son came back, bringing a pretty girl with him as his girlfriend. The parents and the son had a long talk behind the closed door. Before long, the son pushed the door open and rushed out. He left with the girl angrily and shut the apartment door so hard the entire building shuddered.
Yola felt indignant, less for herself as a jilted lover, more for the mother who must be wounded. Her heart broke a little, not because she lost her imaginary and unspoken lover, but rather because she realized that the mother had her little agenda–pitching Yola against the pretty girl she didn’t approve of.
“Yola, I am asking you a question.” The professor and the whole class were staring at her. “Pay attention. Otherwise, you won’t learn anything.”
“But I did learn something.” Yola wanted to say, “I know more about myself now.”