Black Tea

Written By: Danielle Ly

The tea was getting cold.

The two white china cups sat between us, filled to the brim with black tea - his favorite. I looked at the steam coming from the top, then back at the dark brown eyes of my dad. I looked away again.

“That’s really what you want to do?” He sounded as if he hadn’t spoken in years. A raspy sort of dry cough came after. He looked at me as if I had told him my biggest hushed secret, and he had never seen it coming. I reached for my tea, hoping the warmth would calm me down.

Whenever I was nervous I would shake a bit, it was sort of like feeling cold, but only in the pit of my stomach. I wouldn’t be able to talk very well because my whole jaw would vibrate with a nervous tension. I would always try to swallow the anxiety, but it would only bubble up, greater.

“Yes.” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.

My dad shook his head, reached for his tea and gulped it all. He poured another cup from the kettle beside us and sighed again.

“You’ll never make money doing that. You won’t be anything doing that. Is music worth starving for?” It wasn’t a question, because he already knew the answer.

I could feel my stomach tying itself into a knot, so I spoke before my tongue could too. “It’s not what you think anymore, ba. Art is not worthless. I can do so much with it – advertising, movies, shows – it’s so much more than it used to—“

“You won’t make any money that way. It’s not stable enough.” He raised his voice in the way only a father could. The way that made you feel the prickling of tears in the back of your throat.

I swallowed the lump and took a deep breath.

“But it’s my choice, isn’t it? I get to decide.” I told him. He looked at me and I could see the anger building in his face. He sighed it all out and shook his head repeatedly.

“I didn’t work and break my back every day for you to throw your life away on some dream.”

I looked down into my cold tea, staring at the bits of black tea leaves at the bottom of the cup.

My father came from a war torn country and a village with no name. He fought to protect the small group of people until eventually they had to run to survive. He had told me many times throughout my life how hard his had been.

He came here by boat when he was just sixteen. He never spoke much about the war or the escape – just enough to tell me how hard it had been. Along the unforgiving waves he had lost most of his family and friends.

My dad is a man of very few words. He prefers to let me and my mom do all the talking. But sometimes, when he would drink a bit too much with his friends before coming home, I would find him in the kitchen. He would be munching away on leftovers, that my mom had made, and the stories would come spilling out of him the way the ocean rushes to the shore – all at once and without any hesitation.

He had told me then of what life had really been like. Each story was a foggy memory, spoken from the drunk words of a man who had buried them deep inside. He told me of how he had hidden in a secret room in a staircase for weeks with his siblings. How he heard his mother die above them, and his father die beside them. He told me what gunshots sounded like in silence. He told me about how the ocean looks at night – pitch black and nothing. But you can hear the waves, you can feel them too. You just couldn’t see them.

He told me about mom’s struggles too, of watching her friends be taken by pirates that came to rob them on the ocean tops. My mother is the sweetest women, with a soft demeanor but a strong will. She never spoke to me about what happened when she escaped. She never really had to. I understood.

On most nights, he would recall what his village was like – a bubble of laughter, music, and dancing every night. The most delicious food and the most generous people. He would recall stories of his friends from home and we would laugh until our sides hurt, or until mom would come down and yell at us for still being up so late. She would stuff us with more food before forcing us to bed.

But some nights, we would be weeping in the middle of the kitchen, the food untouched, and only small whimpers of sound. My dad is a very strong man, but on those nights, I saw the boy he was when he left home – broken, alone, and scared.

My mom would come down, hug us both and send us off to bed with a warm cup of tea.

My mom and dad came to this country with nothing, they had barely any skills – they were both in their teens and couldn’t speak the language. I often thought about how difficult it was for them. To be alone in such a big place – and then to try to make it home.

My mom became a waitress, and then a cook, and ultimately a chef. My father became a carpenter and then a welder. They met at a house party when they were nineteen. Still though, they struggled. They struggled for years – barely making rent, barely able to eat. Barely anything. Mostly, nothing.

When my dad talks about struggling I know it comes from a place of love. He doesn’t want me to have to earn the life I was given the way he did. He doesn’t want me to struggle and be scared, to be lonely or to fail.

My dad and mom lived the hardest parts of their life, so that I could have better.

And I’ll love them always for it.

I reached over from my cup and placed my hand on his. His hand was rough, the skin thick from years of labor.

“You worked hard, broke your back every day, so that I could dream, ba.”

I watched him take a deep breath, watched his chest rise and fall before he finally reached his hand over to mine and held it tight. He didn’t say anything, and I didn’t either. We just sat that way for a while.

Finally, he raised his eyes to mine, and spoke.

“All I ever wanted was for you to dream, and hope, and succeed in a way that I never was able to. You are all the good that your mom and I have to offer, and all the struggles we went through was because we love you more than you could ever know. We will always be on your side. Whatever dream you choose.”

I held his hand tightly while all my love poured from me, the way tea pours from a kettle.