Insistent traveling

I went to see my therapist this afternoon. We spent most of the time discussing my anger since I’ve come back from San Francisco, and we also touched upon the upcoming Vancouver trip that Chris and I are planning to take my parents on. It will be the second trip that we’ll be taking my parents on, the second trip we’ve taken altogether when Ed has not been around. It will be the second trip that we’ll be paying for.

My therapist said she thought it was extremely generous and thoughtful to want to take my parents on these trips, and she asked why I wanted to do it not just once, but a second time, particularly given we know how difficult these things can be and my differences with my parents in general in life. I thought about it for a second, and I responded that my mom always wanted to travel to see other places, but my dad, being a hermetic and antisocial and anti-change homebody, didn’t see a reason to. My mom’s lived a really hard life and has had to experience and witness things that no one should have had to go through, I said. She deserves to see at least a little bit of the world, and if I want that to happen, I need to do it myself. No one else will take her — not even my dad. “And frankly, I’m scared that my parents will die one day never having seen anything of the world,” I said.

What this is ultimately about is that I just want my parents to enjoy life and be happy. That’s all I really want. I want them to do things they’d like to do that they may think are frivolous, but things that they’d gain happy moments from. I don’t think this is a lofty or esoteric type of wish; it’s actually quite simple. But with my family, the simplest things always have the potential to get extremely complicated.

All families

A friend and I were chatting today about my visit home. I said it was okay… until it wasn’t at the end. He figured it wasn’t a big deal, that it was just some little tiff that happened that got me into a sour mood. I copied and pasted my blog entry regarding the sign on the gate at the house, and he was really shocked. He said he didn’t think it was a good idea and agreed it was hostile, but he also said, “Try to be good to your parents. They only know what they know.” He then shared that he hasn’t spoken to one of his two brothers who currently lives in Australia in over six years now, and as much as he’s tried to reach out to him, he won’t respond. He’s also estranged the rest of the family, as well. “We can’t control our family,” he said. “All families are dysfunctional in some way.”

It’s true. People only know what they know. They will only do what they want and what they see in their own restricted minds. It’s such a dismal thing to think, though. Are we even capable of changing ourselves and our own perceptions? How much power does it take for us to change, to prevent ourselves from becoming the qualities that we detest the most?

Remembering the past

I don’t know what it is about going back to San Francisco and the house I grew up in, but ever since Ed passed away, for at least a few days after I come back to New York, I tend to get flashbacks of the past when Ed was still here that make me angry. Most of the flashbacks are about terrible family situations we’ve had where Ed was getting yelled at, accused of something he never did, or intense screaming arguments that have happened in that house. The latest one that happened today while I was at work was the time when I was of a middle school age, and my parents accused Ed of stealing money from their bedroom. It was a massive shouting match that ensued for what seemed like hours, and I got involved by screaming at our parents, telling them that Ed would never steal from anyone, and how dare they even attempt to accuse him of something so awful. That really didn’t help anything because that just got me yelled at, but at that moment, I rather would have had myself get yelled at then Ed. He was just so weak and defenseless. It didn’t matter what he said. He was on the verge of tears, and it always pained me when he was either crying or on the brink of it. He didn’t deserve that type of treatment. In the end, when our parents found the money that they had misplaced about a month later, no apology was ever said to Ed. Parents never need to apologize, right? That’s what our parents think. Parents are never wrong… Even when they are.

Being there just reminds me of all the injustices he faced that he never deserved. He just wanted a little bit of peace, but he rarely got it. I get so angry thinking about it sometimes that everything around me blurs, and I stop hearing what is being told to me or seeing what is in front of me. I think of how powerless I was to help him, even when I tried. I could never have been enough. And it really hurts to know that.

I hate that house. That house destroyed my brother.

Letterpress

Wedding invitations are far more complicated than I thought they’d be. When I first started doing this research, I figured I would choose a template we liked from one of the major sites like Wedding Paper Divas or Minted, customize the wording choice, decide what type of printing we wanted (letterpress vs. thermography vs. engraving vs. digital), and then call it a day. Little did I know I had more choices to make: those printing options are not the only ones. There’s also laser cut, foil stamped and different edge cuts to consider, about five million fonts that can be customized for names of bride and groom vs. the rest of the text, colored and textured envelopes, and did I even consider a pocket folder? What about letterpress invitations but digitally printed enclosures? What types of customized images would I like, if any? Do I want the invitation company to print all the guests’ names and addresses? How heavy should this paper be? Is there such a thing as having too heavy of a piece of paper for an invitation? Have I considered a return address stamp, press, or even sticker with our names on it? And to add to this, every budgeting wedding site keeps reminding me that the only people who will likely save my wedding invitations will be me, my bridesmaids, my mother, and my mother-in-law. Everyone else will throw them away. So if this is the case, is an expensive print method like letterpress even going to be worth it? What about selectively doing letterpress for a handful of invites and doing the rest digital? This is really overwhelming.

Greeting sign

When I came home last week, the first thing to greet me as I rang my parents’ doorbell was a big sign duct-taped to the gate that said, “Please do not SLAM THE IRON GATE!!!!!” (Yes, those exclamation points are real; so is the capitalization). I thought to myself, that’s a really great way to scare people away from this house, and who knows… this may even scare away the mailman! I told my parents I didn’t think this was a good idea, and they just ignored me.

I brought it up again today with them, and my mother insisted that our neighbor upstairs, who rents a room from my aunt, has guests constantly coming in and out of the house, slamming the gate, the door, and even ringing our bell without realizing they are ringing the wrong one. The sign is not for our neighbor, she says, but it’s for her inconsiderate guests and family. I want to note that our neighbor is dying of cancer, and according to her doctor, she probably only has about two months left to live. She’s so frail that she can’t even make it to the toilet. She has to have a bed pan, which unfortunately goes into the garbage…. And my dad has to clean that. It wouldn’t be anyone’s favorite thing to do. Since my aunt is away in New York, she doesn’t have to take any responsibility for this.

I thought about how hostile and just rude the sign looked. Every day when she’d come back from one of her JW meetings or the doctor’s and would be in pain, she’d see that sign. Passersby would see this sign and think, what the hell is wrong with the people who live here? What kind of problem do they have? It just didn’t seem right to me to have such hostility and passive aggression stare at someone like that who’s dying. I told them that I think the sign should come down. My mom got angry and spent the entire airport ride being defensive and childish about it. “Stop saying things to hurt me,” she complained when I brought this up. “Just STOP IT.” She claims that the sign is not for the neighbor, that it’s for her bad guests. And I have no right to say anything because I don’t live there, so I have no idea about all the “suffering” that neighbor makes her and my dad go through. She even complained about the breathing machine making “all kinds of noise all night long” upstairs. Well, without that breathing machine, our neighbor would die, I said. Why are you complaining, and do you realize what would happen without the breathing machine?! She insisted they were right to keep the sign up, and my dad flatly refused to take it down. “They have no consideration,” my dad said.

This is probably why you shouldn’t have duplex or multiplex units housing multiple families. You have to deal with stupidity and passive aggression like this that is ultimately caused by both sides either not taking responsibility or choosing to be mature and reasonable. Some people just want to instigate and cause more misery and suffering without even realizing it, and they spend their entire lives depending their poor, thoughtless choices. They claim everyone else has done wrong to them and that they are constantly the victims. And these people are people I call my family.

Ongoing contempt

My mom hates it when we are at the dinner table and I pull out my phone to check the time or a text message on the lock screen. I’m not even really doing anything other than looking for less than 3 seconds, and she scolds me and tells me to put it away. She says that dinner time is family time. I agree with that, but I don’t object to checking a lock screen for a few seconds. Yet, despite that, when we are having dinner with my dad and uncle, she will happily pull out her phone (which is a dumb phone, so there’s really nothing on it to “browse” other than names in an address book, which is quite pathetic) and start tinkering around with it right in her face. I tell her to put it away, and she gives me a dirty look and says she’s just looking. It’s fun to discipline your mother as she disciplines you. She is clearly paying no attention to what is being said, nor does she care. She just wants dinner to be done with as soon as possible so she doesn’t have to see my uncle anymore. She claims that my uncle doesn’t respect her because she’s from Vietnam. What she doesn’t realize is that it’s for different reasons that are far more legitimate… and they are really about how she’s treated Ed and me growing up and how he doesn’t agree with it.

Why are there so many layers of disgust and contempt and grudges in this family? I’ve heard of some pretty terrible things, such as my dad’s best friend Bob who died last year, and how he was in an ongoing lawsuit with his own brother about their father’s inheritance that he had left behind. Because Bob took the most care of his father in his old age, his dad decided to leave his large inheritance just to Bob. So Bob’s brother wasn’t happy with this and sued him. It was never settled before Bob died, so I’m sure that Bob’s brother is still pursuing it against Bob’s wife and son now. Granted, nothing has gotten that out of control with my family, but I’d say that in some cases, it’s even worse. There are problems and grudges that have never been addressed or resolved, and no one wants to do anything about it. My uncle tried his best to reconnect with my dad during his heart surgery, but it fell completely flat because my dad is so socially inept and cannot see that his younger brother was trying to be there for him. He just gives short responses and goes into his own little world, tinkering with his pills and pill case and sorting out his medications as though no one else is there.

Changing home town

I remember back in March 2013, I came back to San Francisco for two weeks to spend time with my parents and Ed. I worked part of the time and also took off about four days. One day, for whatever reason, I had to stay late at the office in the financial district, and I didn’t get back to the Richmond until around 7:30pm. My mom and Ed panicked, and they insisted that they “pick me up” from the bus stop at 20th and Geary. I thought that they were both being ridiculous, but I figured I couldn’t stop them.

I remember my brother calling for updates to see where I was along the 38L line so that they’d know when to start walking down the block. When I got off the bus, they were both waiting for me at the bus stop across the street, and as soon as I approached them, Ed insisted that I shouldn’t be so trusting of taking the bus so late at night, and that there were lots of crazy people in San Francisco now. It wasn’t as safe as I remembered it, he said. “Don’t pull out your iPhone on the bus,” he warned. “You don’t know who’s going to just snatch it from you!” He also admonished me to stay away from the back of the bus and to stay closer to the front and middle as much as possible.

I thought about this tonight when I took the bus home, and after I spoke with a colleague who has lived in San Francisco for over 17 years now. He relocated here from New England, where he is originally from, and he was telling me that there’s about a murder every week in San Francisco now. “It’s unfortunately not getting safer here, Yvonne,” my colleague said to me as we walked out of the office together with his almost 2-year-old boy. “There’s more people living in this city than ever before, and the police force just isn’t keeping up with the increase. There are more crimes and murders here than as long as I can remember it.”

Having this conversation with my colleague made me wish I didn’t brush Ed off as much as I did when he was warning me about the diminishing safety of our home town. Maybe he wasn’t being as ridiculous as I thought, especially now as I walk the streets of this city and wonder why every time I come home, the homeless and druggie situation seems to be worse than the last time I came.

Clone

I was walking up my parent’s block today from work, and the sun had just finished setting. I had a slight headache at the end of the work day, and I wasn’t wearing any glasses to see things clearly. But then I saw a figure who looked just like Ed from behind — same height and build. He was even in Ed’s default “going outside” outfit — a loose black jacket, a white shirt underneath, khaki-colored pants, and black shoes. His hair was cut just like Ed’s, and his walk was just like his. It was so uncanny… I couldn’t believe it. I kept walking toward him as he walked, and finally he turned so that I could see his face, and of course, it wasn’t my brother. The man was pulling keys out of his pocket to get into a car.

As the man drove off, I felt empty again. I know it’s ridiculous to think it could have been my brother, but he seemed just like Ed even down to his steps and the way he moved his arms around. There are probably clones of Ed everywhere walking around, just waiting for me to find them and hope that maybe one of them really is him. And then, as per usual, I will be disappointed and have to move on with my everyday life.

Bad blood

I think I was really cursed. How is it possible that I could really have a family where a) when my brother dies, my cousin makes it all about him, b) that same cousin constantly calls or texts about how “miserable” his life is, and then c) that very same cousin says he can actually relate to my brother for not wanting to live anymore given that neither of them have any support system?

In a perfect world, I would not even be associated with this cousin. I would no longer see him or his text messages (thankfully, I can block his texts and calls now), and I wouldn’t have to invite him to my wedding. Who wants to invite someone to their wedding when that potential invitee explicitly states that he doesn’t care about your wedding? But then there are complicated things to consider, such as making his brothers angry, who would be invited, and even worse, making his mother, who is my aunt, angry. Bridges would be burned. Families would be broken. Well, our family is already broken, so what difference does it make? We’re not trying to be something we’re not. We’re openly dysfunctional.

 

Note

I’ve had moments over the last year and half when I’ve thought about my brother’s suicide and the lack of note he left. I’ve wondered if I would have felt better or worse if there had been a note. Some people say a last note gives them a greater sense of closure. I’m not sure I quite agree with that because in my brother’s case, I know myself, and I probably would have obsessed over every single word in that note and never would want to get rid of it. I knew he was clinically depressed and spiraling out of control the last three months of his life. It wasn’t a surprise to me, and I could sense it more and more every time I talked to him over the phone in those days leading up to his death.

I did a quick search on how common suicide notes are. In an NIH study done in 1992 (the last year data was collected on this that I could find, which is pretty sad), less than a quarter of those who committed suicide wrote last notes. The majority of them were young females with no history of mental illness or previous suicide attempts. My brother’s not a woman, and he also had a strong history of mental illness with one previous suicide attempt. Ed was so lost in his own pain and suffering to even consider the idea of a note.

I feel an emptiness in this house without him here. I can feel his energy, but he’s not here in the flesh. It’s always the same feeling I get right before bed because I would have always gone to bed after him, and now that he’s no longer here, I can’t expect him to be in the bed next to me sleeping as I turn out the light. I have a strong urge to see him again. It would be nice to see him just once for a few hours, just to talk to him and hear his voice and laugh again. I’d tell him about how he’s going to be missing our crazy wedding in a year and how our mother is trying to control parts of it a bit at a time, and I’d let him know that I’m trying to incorporate him as much as possible because I haven’t forgotten about him — not even a bit. I just want a piece of him, and as the days go by, I feel as though I have less and less of him. It’s as though he is slipping further away from me even though he’s already been gone out of this life almost 19 months.

I look at the big framed photo of him smiling, the same framed picture we displayed at his funeral service, at night before bed while I am back home, and I just feel so hurt. Am I really never going to see you again in this life? Ever? Can’t I just hug you again, just once?