Changing season

Today was the first day this season when it’s actually felt like autumn. The air was cold and brisk. I went out to do a quick grocery run at Fairway, and my toes were a bit unhappy that I’d only put on flip-flops for this errand. My neck thanked me for wearing a scarf.

When the season changes and it gets colder, I think about all the things I have to do before the year ends — charity donations, volunteering, Christmas gifts to be bought, pantry clean-outs and food items that need to be eaten before we leave for Australia for Christmas. I also think about Ed and how it’s another season without him. It’s another season of my life that I will not have a chance to see him or talk to him. The only daily physical reminders I have of him are Bart, the gifts he’s given me, and the photos I have of him in the apartment. When I look up recipes to make for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I can’t help but wonder if Ed would have liked these things; I’m sure he would have. These are dishes I will be making for all these other people to savor and enjoy, but not for him. In fact, I cannot even remember the last thing I made that he got to eat. Was it the crispy oatmeal cranberry cookies that my mom got so excited about that she didn’t share as much with her best friend as she originally said she would? Or was it the chewy brownies I made? I’ll never know for sure. His memory just lingers on and on no matter where I am and what I am doing, and all I have left to think about it is — what would life be like if he were still here?

Banh mi

Since leaving home for college in 2004, I haven’t been much of a sandwich person. I’ll occasionally have one, but I generally don’t get too excited about them. There is one big exception to this, though: banh mi! Vietnamese sandwiches have been a part of me since as long as I can remember. During all of our trips to Southern California growing up, we always had multiple banh mi stops, and in Vietnam, the best banh mis of my life were had from random food carts along the street in Quy Nhon and Saigon. In Vietnam, I realized how light and ethereal yet crispy banh mi bread could be, and I found out the best combination of sliced meats, pate, and pickled vegetables to complement that bread. By random luck, I found a great place that almost matched this quality in Dorchester, a suburb outside of Boston, but the second time I went back, the bread quality just wasn’t the same.

I’ve been lucky and through thorough research of food blogs and sites, I’ve found the best banh mi at Ba Xuyen in Brooklyn. The most ironic thing about this is that generally speaking, New York is actually lacking in a wide variety of good Vietnamese food. It’s quite a trek from where we live, but I’ve even gotten Chris wanting to travel all the way out to Sunset Park in Brooklyn for this sandwich. It could arguably be the best sandwich on earth to both of us.

Worth the chase

My friend recently wrote an article and posted it on Medium about how in every relationship, even happy ones, the “chase” should last forever. As someone who has had two other failed semi-serious relationships, I can completely relate to this idea. It’s easy to get too comfortable in our romantic relationships, and even in our platonic ones, as well. The concept of trying seems to completely die once couples have established themselves either by moving in with each other, getting engaged, or classically, by getting married and thus “settling down.”

I thought about his article for a long time after I read it. It made me think about how among my own friends, we rarely ask each other how our relationships are going once we are past the “labeled” stage of officially being in a relationship. We ask each other a lot when things are uncertain and when the label “boyfriend” or “partner” has not been given, but after that, those questions seem to die off. Do we just assume that because we are officially together that nothing might be wrong? Or maybe we just shy away from those topics unless our friends give indication that something may be off. I’ve tried to make a point to still ask, even if the question is unwelcome or shaken off with a response like, “We’re fine; we’re just (fill in the blank with whatever they are waiting to happen).” There’s always attention to be given and work to be done, even if we don’t wait to admit it out loud. The chase is really never fully over unless the relationship is over.

Phone call

As time has gone on, I’ve become less and less of a phone person. When I was in middle school, I used to spend hours and hours on the phone when not studying or doing household chores. This was before I realized how lame that was because why would you spend all these hours on the phone with someone in your same city when you could just go spend time with him/her in person? In high school, I spent more time doing that – hanging out in person, whether at malls or walking through neighborhoods or at each others’ homes. Then through college and in the years after, I spent even less time on the phone. If I wasn’t on the phone with my then-boyfriends or my parents or Ed or another relative, I wasn’t on the phone at all.

It seems like this progression seems fairly normal, especially since it’s almost unheard of for people to call each other anymore because we live in a world dominated by texting and e-mailing — in other words, a world that is far more impersonal. When an old high school friend was visiting New York last month, he said he’d call me, and he actually did. I was honestly shocked (despite how stupid this sounds).

Tonight, for the first time since I could remember, I spent almost three hours on the phone with one of my best friends in San Francisco. Sure, I multi-tasked a little bit by doing things like flossing my teeth and creating scrapbook collages during our chat, but for the most part, we had a long, in-depth conversation about our latest activities, our families, our respective familial conflicts, and the future. It actually felt really nice. It reminded me of those middle school days when I felt so close to friends just by being on the phone with them. It’s scary to think how much time has passed since those days and the people that we’ve evolved into, and exactly how different our lives are now versus then. Yet we’re still connected, and we choose to be.

Emotional intelligence (or lack thereof)

Today, my cousin, who is taking three months of unpaid time off to “tend” to his two-year-old son, and I were having an instant message conversation online. His baby, who supposedly needs five different therapists five times a week because of multiple learning disabilities that he and his wife believe the child has, is being smothered by the two of them. They could probably give my mother a run for her money when it comes to who can be the most overprotective parents in the world.

I’m telling him that I think he and his wife seriously need to consider marriage therapy. They clearly have no respect for each other and don’t listen to each other at all; she calls him an “awful father” every day. He has no respect for her job and thinks she should fulfill traditional female roles at home and not do paid work, even though she loves her job and works for a company that takes pretty good care of her. I tell him that I’ve done therapy before and found it very helpful. He is clueless. He asks, “Why would you need to go therapy?” All three of my male cousins lack any sense of emotional intelligence, so I responded, “To deal with Ed’s death, the circumstances around it and how it came to be, and to come to terms with how stupid people in our dysfunctional family are like you.” His response? “Oh.”

Sometimes I read certain entries on this blog, and I can’t help but think that if someone else read this, they’d think I’m making up all these stories. No, this was not made up. This is real… sadly. I wish I were making this up.

New family

After work today, I rushed to see Chris’s aunt and uncle, who are spending their very last day in New York today. We met at the Shake Shack near Time Square so that we could have a quick bite together before I walked them over to the Minskoff Theatre to see The Lion King musical. Because of a work meeting that ran way over, I unfortunately only had about half an hour with them before we had to part, but it was a really enjoyable time. I presented them with half a loaf of the pumpkin cranberry walnut bread I made, and we discussed their time at the UN, Top of the Rock, and shopping in Herald Square. They were in high spirits the way they had been pretty much the entire time I have spent with them.

As I walked east after leaving them at the theatre, I thought about how I never feel as satisfied spending time with my own relatives. We can’t have the same types of conversations, and I can’t expect them to be as excited or happy about what any of them do. Being with my cousin and his wife this past Saturday wasn’t that enjoyable, nor was it as though we had much to talk about that meant anything to anyone; the enjoyable part was being able to see and play with their two-year-old son. The conversations I think I should be having with people who matter to me cannot be had with my relatives. I can’t even say what I think about New York City honestly around my own family without it completely being shot down or criticized.

But now, Chris’s family is part of my family. It’s still sinking in (and will probably continue to sink in) the same way it was still sinking in for the first month that the engagement ring on my finger was actually my engagement ring. It wasn’t on loan, and it wasn’t going to be given to someone else. This is mine now. And I’m blessed to have an extension of a family that is everything I’ve never had before.

Orange juice

So, my mom called tonight to let me know that I did something to hurt her terribly on the Friday before I left. She was hurt so badly that she has thought about it every day since I have left. It’s been five weeks now.

Apparently, that day, she asked me to bring a glass of orange juice to my dad in the bedroom. He wasn’t in the bedroom when I got there, so I figured I’d give it to him when he came back upstairs from the basement.

Supposedly, I’d already set out a glass of orange juice on the dining room table for Chris when he got back from work that afternoon, so it was there waiting for him.

My mom asked why I brought the glass of juice for my dad into the kitchen. I said he was rummaging through stuff downstairs and I’d give him the orange juice when he came back up. She snapped at me, took the glass downstairs, and gave it to him.

Clearly, what I have proven to my mother through this incident is that I care about Chris more than my dad because I had a glass out for him already (I don’t remember this and doubt its validity… especially since I distinctly remember pouring him a glass after he arrived), and I wouldn’t go downstairs to the basement (that you can’t even safely walk through without tripping over something) to give my dad his juice.

“You care about this boy who isn’t even your husband yet more than your own father; your father does EVERYTHING for you!” she yelled today. “You’re supposed to put your parents first before everyone! You hurt me so much that day that you don’t even realize!”

I think the term “hypersensitive” and “overreactive” are terms that don’t even begin to encompass what my mother is.

Horrible marriage

Yesterday, I went to my cousin’s baby’s birthday party at his new apartment in Brooklyn. After 1.5 hours of commuting, I finally arrived to a sea of barking orders from my cousin’s wife to my cousin. “Didn’t I tell you to get the cake? Did you even hear me? What did I say about spreading the food out on the table? Can’t you do anything? How did you let Ryan drink out of Zachary’s bottle? Weren’t you watching him?” It was probably one of the worst public treatments of a wife toward her husband I’ve ever seen — it far surpasses how bad it’s been in previous times I have seen them together. The last time I saw them was this time last year, as pathetic as it sounds. My cousin seemed so helpless, squeaking out quiet responses every time each barking order came out of his wife’s mouth.

I wonder if this is part of the reason that my cousin’s baby is seeing five different therapists five days a week. Maybe he can tell in his own way that his parents have an extremely unhappy, horrible marriage, and that they are priming him for a life of anger, resentment, and dysfunction.

Two funerals

I had a dream that it was Ed’s funeral again, except this time, the funeral took place in a large cathedral-like setting with stained glass and long aisles. I walked down the aisle to view him in his casket, and I notice that for some reason his head is positioned so that his chin is pointing straight up. I immediately notify the funeral service director and start explaining how ridiculous and unconventional that type of positioning is for a viewing/funeral ceremony, and she disagrees with me, saying that this is the norm. We continue to argue and eventually she relents and says she will do what I wish.

The clock says 7:25. I’m assuming it’s an evening service that will begin at 7:30. Chris insists that I try to relax by going outside, where there is a playground with lots of swings. Go on the swings, he said. It will calm you down.

The service eventually commences, but my parents are so displeased with the entire thing that they demand that the service be done over again completely the following evening. How are we going to get all these people to come back for a second funeral of the same person the next day? I wonder. I don’t want to get either of them angry, so I say nothing.

I think it’s the first time I can remember where I’ve actually dreamt of his funeral after he passed away. I’m used to seeing him living in my dreams and speaking to me in some way. I don’t want to see him dead in my dreams. Isn’t he already dead in real life? Dreams are supposed to be for us to live out what is not our reality.

Never-ending grudges

My mom was clearly angry when I called yesterday evening. She is really mad that I am going to my cousin’s baby’s second birthday party, which is happening this Saturday in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which is about an hour and a half commute from my apartment. She had a really nasty tone with every sentence that came out of her mouth, and she said, “I told you I didn’t want you to go, but you don’t listen. You never listen to anything I ever say. But I just want you to know that I do not want you talking to his wife — she is a devil. There, I said it. She’s a devil! DEVIL!” I told her to stop saying that, and she just kept repeating the phrase, “She’s a devil!” that I finally said, Okay, this conversation is over. Goodbye. And then, I hung up.

There are two reasons she hates my cousin’s wife (she isn’t a big fan of this cousin, either, but she wants to focus on her hatred of women most of the time). The first reason is that when my cousin and his wife came to visit San Francisco in 2009, my mom treated them to lunch. My mom is the kind of person who counts every time she treats you and will hate you forever if you never treat her the same number of times. My cousin’s wife profusely thanked her and said that when she and my dad were to come to New York next, she’d tour them around the city and make sure to take them to a good restaurant. Well, in spring 2010, my parents did come, and not only did my cousin and his wife not take my parents anywhere, but my cousin’s wife didn’t even show up to the dinner that we all had together because she had to stay late at work that night. I didn’t mind because I understand how hectic work can be, but my mother was furious and was yelling about it the whole night, taking it personally, as she always does. Stupid me, I defended my cousin’s wife, saying that you can’t control work when it comes in.

The second reason she hates my cousin’s wife is that she found out that she told my cousin to “just get over it” when my brother died last year, knowing that my cousin and my brother were very close growing up. My cousin loves to complain about his wife, and apparently, he told my mother this. What a bad idea. Granted, that does sound like an extremely heartless thing to say, but knowing that my cousin is a complete chauvinistic jerk to her, I can understand that she just wanted to hit him where it hurt. For very clear reasons, my mother was very upset, and typical her, she’s held both grudges ever since. She’s told me she wants me to have nothing to do with either of them and their child, and at most, to just send a gift but not spend any time with them. I’m going to the birthday party because of the baby, not because of my cousin or his wife or their dysfunctional marriage. She just doesn’t understand because she’s so blinded by her own hatred and the grudges she refuses to let go of.

Sometimes, I think about all the things I can’t stand about my mother, and I wonder if I have some form of those qualities. And then I get freaked out by it because I think, I don’t want to become what I hate. Isn’t that what every child seems to fear — that he/she will become the worst qualities of his/her parents?