When my mom was 13, she left Manila and moved by herself to Mullens, West Virginia. She always told me that these were some of the hardest years of her life.
Mom didn't make many friends. She remembers kids in school asking if Filipinos lived in trees. She remembers dreading the laundromat because that's where all those men would stare at her as if silently wondering what planet she was from. She struggled to keep up with English and desperately tried to kick her native accent.
But all through it, Mom found places of refuge.
There was the town library where she would camp out for hours on end, getting lost in a stash of records. There was the alleyway where she taught herself to skateboard and the Dollar General store where she stocked up on candy that she ate all on her own. At 13, she managed to create pockets of happiness for herself where she could just live and be a kid. And when Mom went back to Mullens for the first time in 30 years, she came out of there smiling.