“The more, the merrier” — or not.

My aunt, my dad’s older (deceased) brother’s wife, has been based out of New York temporarily since the end of May until now. Despite her having been here for over three months, I’ve only seen her once. Part of this is because of my own travel, part of it is because she’s been traveling around the East Coast to visit family and friends, and part of it is just because our schedules don’t mesh, and I don’t want to see her with five of her friends every single time we meet. She’s very much of the mentality that “the more, the merrier,” so whenever she sees me, she always wants to bring at least one or two of her Jehovah’s Witness friends along. When it’s just us, I have to insist that it just be us; I can never just assume that when she makes plans to see me that it will ever just be her. With these people — we always have absolutely nothing in common, and we just have to make polite small talk, and then after we part, I immediately forget anything I may have learned about them. I’m sure they feel the same way about me. Oh, and her son, my cousin who lives in Brooklyn, never comes because he is angry that his mother spends all her time with JW friends and no time helping him raise his son. Well, I don’t feel sorry for him.

After spending two weeks in Honduras with her JW friends, she is back for less than a week in New York, and then going back to San Francisco on Monday night. I asked if I could see her before she left; the only time she had “free” was on Saturday for lunch. Yet she said that when Chris and I got to the restaurant that we ask for a table for five or six. There’s only three of us, so obviously she’s invited two to three other friends. When I ask her if we can just have lunch with the three of us, she insists that she already invited them and has to see them, and this is her only time she is free this entire weekend because she is seeing other friends the rest of the weekend. The only other time that will work before she leaves is Monday for lunch, but I have meetings throughout lunch time (yes, because some of us actually need to work), so I can’t do that.

So we had to give in to having lunch with her and her JW friends. We won’t have any meaningful conversation, and she will go about her happy-go-lucky life paying for all these random people’s lunches and enjoying her life, even though she doesn’t know how to spend any quality time with her real family. Maybe she just enjoys not having any really deep relationships with anyone, even those “closest” to her.

Maybe she’s realized what I have realized and knows that her real family isn’t so great after all.

Back from the dead again?

Ed came back from the dead last night in my dream. I was standing in front of a house that my parents supposedly lived on atop a hill in San Francisco. It was a white house with black window trims and a black roof. He walked up the steps and approached me, and I threw my arms around him and started crying and asking, “Is it really you?” You’re alive? You came back?!” My mom is standing there, shocked and confused in the background, and she is speechless.

The dreams with Ed were supposed to start getting more positive. The last vivid ones I had of him included him smiling and reciprocating my affection, and even telling me he loved me. Now, they have reverted back to shock and sobbing.

Long week

Every day this week seems to be slightly agonizing. The pile of things to do seems to get taller and taller, and every work day has to end with a dreaded phone chat with my mother, who has been extremely miserable and dramatic pretty much every day this week.

I was telling my friend what the situation has been like with my parents this week, and she said to me, “Are you sure you have to call them every single day?” She then suggested, like pretty much everyone else I’ve ever spoken to about them, that maybe I should just deliberately cut back on the calls for my own health.

I’ve been calling home every single day since I moved away for college in 2004. The only exceptions to this have been when I have been traveling abroad and didn’t have the easiest international dialing access. I’ve thought about calling less every now and then, but whenever I have suggested it, my mother gets wildly angry or starts crying. It hasn’t ever elicited any positive emotion. Particularly now, when my mother’s sensitivity has been even more heightened, I’m even more scared of breaking out of what is “normal” for her. There’s really no way to win.

In preparation

It’s like every day just gets worse. Today, my mother sounds just as miserable as yesterday, and she says that when she dies, she doesn’t want a funeral, no meal, no nothing. She wants to be cremated immediately after being viewed by just my father and me. That’s it. Don’t tell anyone that I died, she said. Don’t tell anyone unless they ask where I am. No one cares anyway, she said. Everyone just pretends. No one really cares. Do you think anyone really cared when Ed died? No one cared at all. Do you think anyone cared just because they took a half day off from work to go to his funeral? It’s just pretending, she said. You can’t trust anyone other than your own parents and siblings. Do what I say; these are my wishes. 

She told me this a month after Ed passed away last year. She loves repeating herself, especially when it’s pertaining to negative thoughts. It makes her feel better, she says. Isn’t that ironic, that it makes her feel better to say negative things?

How does one not tell others when a significant family member has died in her life? Or more importantly, why would one not want to share that information?

It’s like my life is one big drama movie and I’m just waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

This sounds pretty bad, but when I was growing up, I always knew that my wedding would not be “perfect.” You know how other girls day dream about their Big Day and envision how perfect it will be? Well, I rarely daydreamed about the Big Day, and I always knew in my gut that something would be wrong that day – whether someone important in my life would not make it because he/she died prematurely, or someone picked a massive fight with someone else, or the ballroom we selected got set on fire accidentally mid-reception. I knew something would be off.

I guess I have predicted correctly so far. As of now, it looks like the most “wrong” thing is that my brother can’t be there because he’s dead from his own suicide. To make matters even better, my mom is already a drama queen and we haven’t even set a date yet, and I’m positive she will be that way on the day of the wedding because how could she resist herself?

I’m so exhausted that even saying that is exhausting.

Drama, drama, and drama

My parents apparently got into a big fight last night. Today, my mom told me that my dad cares more about the rental properties and making money more than her, and she didn’t want to live anymore. Her son was gone, I’m in New York, and her husband doesn’t care about her, so what is she living for? She then proceeded to say that I would not be seeing her again, and neither would my dad, and she hangs up the phone.

Being here in New York, I felt the same helpless, alarmed feeling I felt when my mom called last July and said that Ed was missing. What are my options here given the distance? I Google the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number and call them. They put me on hold forever, so it’s clear why so many people are taking their lives. I finally get through, I explain the situation, and the man on the other line tells me to hang up and call the local police department and have them go to my parents’ house to do a wellness check. Then, I call the Richmond police department and tell them what’s going on, and they tell me that they don’t handle these situations, and I should dial 911. I call my house, and my dad answers. I ask him what’s going on and why she is so upset. He responds in his pissy, matter-of-fact tone of voice, “You are to blame for this.” If she takes her life, he said, it’s my fault. I felt so much hate at that moment that I was tempted to blurt out that he’s just going to ignore her the same way he did with Ed, and we all know how that turned out. I insist he comfort her and at least be in the same room. He responds and says, it’s easier said than done, and easy for you to say in New York. Then he hangs up on me. I’d never had more hate for my father than I did in that moment.

I was finally able to get through after neither of them answering the phone forever, and I got my mom to calm down. She insists she has no reason to live anymore and no one cares about her.

My manipulative mother and my childish father… and my dead brother — what have I done in a past life to deserve this kind of family?

Happiest moments

Chris and I got into a small spat today about our families, and during it, he told me that whenever I am home in San Francisco or come back from there, I am always exponentially more tense. I smile very little, and I’m not really myself, or the self that he knows and loves. It’s really annoying when someone points out something obvious about yourself that you know is true, but you don’t want to admit out loud.

It’s like how I hate thinking about how pretty much all of the happiest moments of my life have been without my parents there. Other than the day of my high school graduation, which I loved and still look back fondly on, every other time has been a time when they were not there: my Olympic National Park trip as an eighth grader with my classmates, including some of my best friends today; the Seattle trip I took in the summer of 2004 with Ed and our cousin, the first semester of Wellesley; studying abroad in Shanghai; pretty much all of my travels that did not include them; the day during my college years when Ed and I spent the whole day alone together celebrating his birthday, exploring a museum, and eating Thai together; the day we got engaged.

When they are around, things are made more complicated and tense, everything that is good has to be looked at under a microscope to identify what is wrong, and even the best situations become bad because they dwell on the worst aspects of everything, even if they are minuscule. It’s like it will forever be my life struggle — trying to be happy amidst all of their drama and self-induced pain.


Little Ed

In the 27.5 years I knew Ed, I knew he was plagued by the childhood he had… or was deprived of. Much to my annoyance and at times lack of understanding, he frequently brought up painful memories of his childhood that clearly shaped who he became as an adult. One of the most frequent recollections he shared with me was how he felt ignored and rejected by our father.

I recently read a book about friends and relationships. In it, the author states that being ignored is one of the most psychologically damaging state for a human being; it is even worse than being treated poorly. Our father has always had his own demons and problems; he frequently to this day talks to himself loudly, even when in the presence of our family and even in public. At times, it’s like he is more interested in talking to himself and swearing at some mysterious person in his head than he is in speaking with me or my mother. When Ed was little and my dad was around, he told me he’d frequently try to get our father’s attention, but our father would ignore him and continue talking to himself. He’d shoo him away and say he was busy and continue to talk to himself. It’s one of the very embarrassing things I’ve had to deal with growing up and particularly now as an adult when I invite friends over. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t really like to invite anyone to our house when I am back in San Francisco.

Ed said he fought hard to get our father’s attention; he used to throw things, make loud noises, do anything to force our father to pay attention to him. Our father would just yell at him, name call him or say he’s stupid or dumb, and then continue tinkering with whatever he was occupying himself with in the basement. Eventually, Ed realized he was never going to win, and he gave up. He recalled that when our father did pay him any attention, it was to call him an idiot or a dummy or a moron or some other hurtful insult. In my own memory, I recall being called an idiot as young as five years old. I’m certain Ed had it even worse as a boy and the first born. As he got to his teen years, he decided to start giving our father a taste of his own medicine; he’d ignore him, too. From his early teens up until the point of his death, he rarely had a real conversation with our father unless it was absolutely forced or needed. And when he did talk to him, his tone was completely different and sullen, and he was always bracing himself for the next insult. For the rest of his short life, he never knew what it was like to have a father’s love and respect. There was absolutely no mutual respect between the two. And I knew during many occasions that our father’s cutting words never stopped having an effect on my brother because whenever it happened, Ed would freeze with pain and tell me constantly that he was waiting for the day for him to die so he’d be free of his criticisms.

No parent is perfect, just as no child is perfect. But what I will say is that being a parent requires more than just putting a roof over your child’s head, sending him to school, and placing food on his dinner plate. Those are like the bare essentials that a parent should provide to his child. That should not force a child to respect a parent.

In his last weeks, Ed told me he stopped blaming our parents; he blamed himself and only himself. I told him he was wrong, that it wasn’t his fault. You’re the victim in this, I said. He personally wanted to relinquish all his hate.

The sad thing, though, is that it was wrong for him to blame himself; he was blinded by his suffering. I’ll never forget that conversation because I knew then that he’d given up on living.

A lovely phone call

Today I was on the phone with my mom, and she sounded pretty gloomy. She’s kind of sounded this way ever since I left almost a week ago. It tends to be a repeated thing she goes through every time I visit and leave. I know she means well, but she can’t seem to get over it that my visits are just visits, and that I’m not moving back into that house with her ever again.

She said today that she was only going to live day by day and not plan anything for the future because there was no point for that, and she has no energy. She doesn’t know what tomorrow will be; in other words, she doesn’t know if she will live another day. There goes my negative mother with her black as hell outlook. I told her that if she thinks negatively, she will shorten her life, and she has to change her outlook, otherwise she’s going to continue being very unhealthy and susceptible to sickness (which she is). She sounded as though she was beginning to cry, and said that I have “no idea” what she goes through every day and that she doesn’t want to talk about this anymore; she just wants everything to be calm and peaceful — the irony in that statement. Then, she hung up on me. Lovely.

Fear and hate

I was telling a friend today that my future in-laws have graciously and generously offered to host an engagement party for Chris and me in Melbourne. He said to me that if we were seriously not going to consider Australia at all for our wedding that he would really consider coming to Australia this December to be at our engagement party. He’s always wanted to visit Australia, so why not come when we’d be there and there would be a major event for us happening? I told him I didn’t think our wedding would be in Australia, and he asked why not. I told him that two-thirds of my bridesmaids are broke and already told me that they would not come if we had a wedding in Australia, another good friend explicitly said she would not come if it were outside the U.S., and worst of all, my own mother said she would not come to Australia for any reason. “Why not? She can afford to come,” he responded. Money is not the reason (to be honest; she won’t tell other people that). The main reason is fear of flying and hatred of travel. Yes, because those are healthy things to allow guide your life – fear and hate, he said to me.

Yes, I know.

Engagement party

Chris just told me that his parents would like to host an engagement party when we go back to Australia this December. A few friends have asked if we were going to have one, but it didn’t really make sense for us to have one in New York considering we have little family here, and the majority of our good friends are not here, either. Since Chris’s parents have offered to throw us a party, I guess this will be it — just in Melbourne. I’m touched that they want to do this. My own parents didn’t even offer. Then again, that’s probably because they dislike the rest of our family.

This is the hard part about being in a relationship with someone who is not from the same place as you are. You have to think about things that your old classmates and friends who married their high school sweethearts never have to think about, things like “where the heck are we having a wedding when you have family in one hemisphere and I have family in the other hemisphere?” Seemingly simple events like engagement parties are difficult because there’s no way in hell everyone you’d like to be there will be there. In this case, it will be Chris’s family, friends… and me. None of my friends or family will be there. My mom has already told me she refuses to go to Australia for any reason, and is terrified of taking a “long flight” anywhere given the plane crashes that have dominated our beloved media this year.