Red eye dreams

I was lucky enough to get upgraded days before my red eye flight last night, so I got to lay flat and sleep about four hours en route back from San Francisco to New York today. I slept well despite it only being four hours, and of course I still felt sluggish, but I felt even more sluggish because I saw Ed again in my dreams last night.

I hadn’t seen him for a while, which made me quite sad. It also made me sad to think about the fact that my last two visits in September and November, I wasn’t able to visit him at the Columbarium. In September, I was too sick to go anywhere, really, so I saw no one other than my parents. In November, the visit was so fleeting that I only saw my parents for one night. And then yesterday’s debacle happened, which really annoyed me. When you think about it, it might seem silly because frankly, we all know I’m not going to visit him, the real living, breathing person. I’m there to visit what remains of him, his ashes, in his wooden urn, in the niche that I tried to make homely for him. But it upset me anyway.

So last night, I saw him. I was in our bedroom at the house, on my laptop doing work. And then suddenly he appears in the doorway. I immediately run to him and jump on top of him, throw my arms around him and start sobbing. “I miss you!” I yell into his ear as my eyes overflow. “I miss you! I don’t want you to leave! Don’t leave me! I love you! Don’t you know that?!”

He hugs and holds me back. He feels warm, but as usual, he doesn’t say anything. He keeps patting my back and finally says, almost hesitantly, that he misses me too.

I’m troubled by this dream because it echoes the types of dreams I had a few months after he passed. After he passed, I had dreams where he kept dying and killing himself in different ways. That progressed into months and months of dreams of him appearing in some room where I was, and my running up to him like a mad woman and sobbing endlessly and telling him how much I wanted him back.

The cycles of grief and pain don’t seem to be predictable or steady. They seem to change the same way the wind and the weather in New York does. We have all these futile tears and pangs of grief, but nothing will come of them ever.

I still have hopes of seeing him. It sounds stupid. But I can always have my own hopes that are unrealistic.

My brother making jook

I was sitting on my bed with my mom for a couple hours before I went to the airport tonight. She’s in a somber mood because she knows I’ll be leaving her after just a short stay. She always wants me to stay longer. Even if I lived with her, she’d want me to stay longer. I think we all know that.

There’s always a point of my visit now where she starts talking about Ed. I usually just listen and don’t say a lot. She needs some outlet to talk about Ed because we know she can’t with my dad. He just can’t handle feelings and emotions. He’s the stereotypical Asian male: block out all emotions and feelings, be stoic, try to stick with things you can do and avoid things that make you feel and be human.

This time, she said that she finally saw him again and was so happy. He finally came to her in a dream recently. He was at the house with her, and they were making jook together (Ed never really liked to cook, so this is an odd dream). He spent most of the time watching her and also helped stir the pot and add some ingredients. Then, when it was done, he went back to his bed and was reading a book. But she was just so happy because he was there again… and alive. And she said he looked very good — healthy, smiling, happy. He had no acne — his face was clear. And then she woke up and became extremely disappointed.

“It was so real,” she said. Maybe the reason my dreams are so vivid is because I get it from her.

We tried going to the Columbarium to visit Ed at around 3:30 and were shocked to drive up to find the gate locked. I looked at the sign: did they update their hours? I swear they were open until 5pm on Sundays. The sign on the gate said they now close at 3pm on Sundays. Given I hadn’t been there since last May, I was so irritated.

I felt a sinking feeling as we drove away. Ed’s in there, all alone. I can’t visit him. I can’t spend time with him this trip. He is lonely. Or is he? He was. He spent most of his life feeling lonely, like no one really cared about him and wanted to spend time with him. I didn’t realize it until I was in college that my brother was lonely. It just never occurred to me. I went back and forth on it, sometimes feeling bad, sometimes trying to get him to try harder to make friends. It was never that easy for him, though. And who am I to talk? It’s not like I make friends easily, either. I just don’t have the same struggles as he did, which of course would make this process exponentially harder.

I hope he isn’t lonely anymore. When both of us dream of him now, he always seems to look healthier, be glowing, and happy. He genuinely looks happy and healthy. This world just wasn’t for him.

Upcoming family visit

In just over two months, my parents-in-law will be coming to visit us here in New York, and I’m already excited about their visit. I’ve been thinking about what birthday cake to make for Chris’s mother, whose birthday we will be celebrating together in the city. I’ve even been thinking what breakfasts I’ll be preparing them. Because his mother is quite obsessed with “healthy eating” while they are traveling, I’ve already started collecting chia seed pudding recipes.

I told Chris that I was excited, and he said that I get into this happy mood about them coming around this time of year every year. Just about two months before, I start expressing excitement, and it’s almost like clock work. Why do I get like that?

When I think about it, I suppose it’s for two main reasons. The first reason is that our winter depresses me. I hate the short days and the long darkness. I dislike the cold and the snow, and I need something to look forward to in the spring.

The second reason is because his parents are always so grateful at the littlest things I do. I’ll make them coffee and they’ll endlessly express gratitude. I could actually just hand them granola bars in the morning, and his dad will probably smile and say, “Oh, this is delightful!” I’ve just never met people who are that happy and grateful for the smallest gestures. It still amazes me to this day. We all express gratitude in different ways, and of course, our feelings, but they are so outwardly warm and genuine and expressive all the freaking time. It’s just so nice to be a part of.

Flu strain

I had back to back meetings all morning today, so when I finally got back to my desk by the time noon rolled around, I noticed that there was a missed call from my mom. It’s not really like her to call during the work day, so I wondered if it might’ve been urgent. So I called her.

She actually sounded almost back to normal, so it looked like the antibiotic she was prescribed was effective, and she actually did have a mild case of pneumonia. That was the good news.

Why did she actually call, though? Well, she just learned from her chiropractor that someone just a year older than me who eats very well, exercises a lot, and leads a healthy lifestyle just died from the latest flu strain. He was just 33 years old. It completely freaked her out because we’re at a similar age, and she thought, that could be my daughter!! “That’s almost your age!” she exclaimed. “Make sure you wear enough clothes during the cold winter there, and eat healthy food! It was so scary!”

Oh, mom.

In my thoughts

Every new year that begins leads to my birthday in just a couple short weeks, and as the week approaches, I always think of Ed since he passed. I remember how he so generously gave me all these gifts every year, how he always made sure to wish me a happy birthday even when I wasn’t home… except that last year when he died. He was too depressed to call me, too gone from his mind. And I knew something was definitely wrong that year, more wrong than ever before.

And that was it. He’s been gone from my life for 4.5 years now. Four and a half years just flew by, and somehow, I got here. The age of 32. One year away from the age when he jumped off that bridge. It’s like I have aged, yet he hasn’t. He just doesn’t age anymore.

I wonder if he’s still out there somewhere, watching over me as my birthday descends. I wonder if he thinks about the gifts he could have given me, or the cards he would have gotten me that had corny messages. I wonder if he wonders if our dad will actually call me instead of sending me a pathetic e-mail wishing me happy birthday in a single line. I wonder if he thinks that one day, my dad will finally treat us both equally and just not acknowledge my birthday.

I wonder what he thinks of how our parents’ lives have progressed since his death. He probably sees them flailing and thinks, “well, what a surprise.” They have no material reason to worry: they are both retired, they collect Social Security payments and pension checks, they both have a healthy amount of savings that could allow them a comfortable lifestyle if they chose. But they don’t choose that. They rather wallow every day and stress out over things that don’t matter, pick fights in their heads with random and innocent and well-meaning people. If anything, my parents have mentally gotten worse since my brother’s passing. The level of paranoia and distrust has increased. It’s only getting worse by the day. I wonder what Ed thinks of all of it. Does he have some smug self-satisfaction that his parents will never be happy or satisfied with anything? Does he feel sorry that I still have to deal with all this and try to rationalize irrationality? He’s more likely to feel sorry for them. That’s just the kind of person Ed is.

It’s the same feeling every year around this time. I just wish he could be here and healthy. I wish he had someone to love him the way Chris loves me. Maybe he’d still be here if he did.

Christmas tree for Ed

Today, after lugging home a fake 5-foot Christmas tree this past Monday, we decorated our tree fully. The funniest thing about this is that this is the first tree I’ve had since 2008, and since then, I’ve still been collecting Christmas ornaments that I’ve bought and been given and storing them away in a sad plastic drawer. They’ve just been sadly sitting there, sadly hoping to one day adorn a Christmas tree. Since being with Chris, we never had our own tree because our apartment was so small, and each Christmas, we’d be in Melbourne anyway, so what’s the point of having a tree, real or fake, if we’d only be in December for one week of the entire month? This year, I insisted we get a tree of some sort, especially since we aren’t leaving for our trip until the 18th. A fake tree made the most sense given the mess that a real one would leave behind the two weeks we’d be gone. I suppose it’s also cheaper and better for the environment, anyway.

What makes me sad about our tree is that so many of these ornaments were given to me by Ed. This is the very first year that all of them have been able to be put up together. Ed always loved Christmas so much, and even though we never had a tree in our parents’ house after I was 12 since my mom started studying to be a Jehovah’s Witness, he still bought many Christmas ornaments during the after Christmas Macy’s sale, when all the ornaments, simple and ornate, would be on super sale. Some of the prettiest ones would only be $1-2 after all the sales and his employee discounts. He had hopes that I would have a tree again at some point, so he kept on buying them for me. And these aren’t the filler crappy ornaments you add on when you have none that are unique; these are all unique and have their own character and flair on the tree.

Every tree I have from now on, real or fake, will be for Ed, his memory, and his love of Christmas.

Unfinished Business

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a prominent international lawyer, foreign policy analyst, professor and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State… okay, she has too many titles and accomplishments, but the point is that she wrote this book that was published last year called Unfinished Business, which the media often portrayed as the counterpoint to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Lean In primarily argues that change relies on the individual; Unfinished Business argues that change needs to happen at the societal level, but that means that the way we all think has to change. Obviously both are necessary for full and true equality of men and women, but there are a lot of points that Slaughter brings up that are a bit hard to swallow, especially when you realize you enable a lot of the behavior you may not rejoice about.

In her second and current marriage, she says that for the most part, she and Andy are equals… but are they really? They have raised two sons and generally share in teaching, disciplining, clothing, and feeding them, but why does it always feel like she is asking her husband to do things that he should just do? Why should she be checking with him about the medication they need to give the kids, or reminding him to give one of them a bath when he should just know it? Why does she always have a sense of urgency when it’s time to clean the bathtub or mop the floor, and he seems to think it can happen later and asks why it needs to be done at that very moment (which really means… probably never)? When it’s time to clean, she finds herself doing the lion’s share of the cleaning and organizing not because she thinks he’s unwilling, but because it’s just easier if she does it herself and doesn’t bother asking him. Because shouldn’t they both know that cleaning needs to get done?

He may be guilty of being less willing to clean, feeling less “urgency” to get those menial tasks done, but at the same time, she enables him by justifying in her mind that it’s quicker for her to take care of certain tasks. So she just gets them done. This then enables the imbalance in duties. So then the problem remains: how do they both have an understanding of what needs to get done and by when so that it doesn’t feel like one party is doing significantly more than the other, or that one is nagging the other to get things done?

This feels like my situation. Or maybe it’s the situation of most couples who live together because nothing is ever truly “equal” or egalitarian. But then that begs the question of what imbalance are you going to be comfortable with to really be happy and fulfilled? It’s all too easy to fall into gender roles in heterosexual relationships where the woman “owns” most of the domestic duties. But then that’s not really fair if both work, right? It’s far more challenging and a constant work in progress to continually evaluate how “egalitarian” the methods are that duties are divided and see what can be improved upon.

Finding medicine

I haven’t slept through the night in over a week because I’ve been waking up to cough up mucus or vomit. It hasn’t been fun, and it’s been very exhausting on my entire body. Lucky for me, last night was probably the first night I successfully was able to sleep more than four consecutive hours. I think I slept about six. I had a lot of different dreams throughout the night, but this one was the most vivid.

I was at my parents’ house, sick and in bed. My mother, as per usual, is nervous and not sure what to do. She’s pacing around the kitchen and bathroom attempting to locate the correct cough medication to suppress my coughing. “I think this is the one! Is it?” she’s asking herself.

Ed comes out of nowhere and passes through the kitchen. He quietly opens the kitchen cupboard, pulls out a bottle, and hands it to her. “This is the right one,” he said. He takes a quick look at me, and we make eye contact for a few seconds. And then, just as quietly as he entered, he leaves and shuts the door behind him.

He comes to save the day, and then he leaves.

“Can you get me some hot soup?”

For the last couple of years, my mother in law seems absolutely hell bent on getting her second born a girlfriend… or, wife. She’s seemingly terrified that he’s going to be single forever, and she doesn’t seem to understand why he can’t find someone. I guess its the blindness that affects most parents who think their children are perfect (or, well, western or heavily western influenced parents, since as we all know that most stereotypical Asian parents like my own think their children are the exact opposite of “perfect”). The rest of the family occasionally makes comments that they hope he will find someone. They always say how sweet he is, but also make jokes on what kind of girl would be able to put up with him. Hmmm.

I really hate situations like this. Listening to people obsess about why anyone is single or not single or whatever their relationship status is is so pointless. I think everything happens when it is supposed to happen, and when we rush things or create artificial situations, then we’re increasing the chances of disaster.

However, in my brother-in-law’s case, I will say that there are a number of glaring reasons that I can see why he’s been single for so long: he’s a bit selfish, he’s coddled by his entire family to the point where he can’t seem to do even basic things on his own (like… clear his dish and put it in the dishwasher, not even wash it), and he’s in general very clueless about proper etiquette and behavior, and when called out on it, instead of reflecting on the situation and seeing how he may have been wrong, he instead chooses to get defensive. Here’s the most recent example:

I’m obviously not feeling well, and we’re flying back from Auckland to Sydney to spend the night before boarding our Sydney to LA flight back to the U.S. (it’s what we do when we fly Qantas). We’re spending the night with Chris’s brother, so I thought, okay, I’m not feeling well, so maybe he can get me some soup nearby. I texted him a few hours before arriving and asked if he could get me some hot soup. He said, “Sure, I’ll make sure to have something ready.” When I walk through the door, he hands me a packet of tomato soup powder. “I wasn’t sure what kind you wanted, but here.”

When someone tells you she wants some hot soup, the proper response is to get that person hot soup, REAL HOT SOUP that can be eaten right away, not a packet of artificial powder that you then hand to her and ask her to make for herself when you know she is ill.

Not to mention that, but he knew I was ill, yet he didn’t even have sufficient blankets for us to sleep with. He handed us a crochet throw blanket that by design, had holes all over it, plus a sleeping bag that was really enough to keep just one person warm, and there’s also Chris sleeping with me. And because Chris knew I was ill, he gave me most of the blankets while he was cold.

I told my friend this story without mentioning names, and the fury in her response was obvious. That’s inhumane, she said. “That’s worse than not even trying.”

I get that parents live in their own delusions and always think that their children are the best and that they’re perfect…. but his mom needs to realize that her son is severely lacking, and getting him a quick-fix wife is NOT going to be a solution to these types of insensitivities and lack of care for others.

Always short

Time is always so short the older you get. I remember being in those miserable elementary school classes, wondering why class was so long and unbearable when I had teachers who barely taught me anything. I still look back on elementary school, particularly my third through fifth grade years, and think they were a complete waste of time. I had incompetent teachers, classmates who generally were numb skulls, and what I actually learned during those years were with the help of my brother.

Now, time always feels like it’s not enough. It’s not enough to study for an exam (or, it seems that way with a work exam), it’s not enough to get up to speed with a customer, it’s not enough to see a travel destination, and it’s certainly never enough time to properly and fully catch up with family and friends when you have limited time in specific geographies. Chris’s mother was saying we barely got to spend any quality time together. We really only had the breakfast the day before the wedding as true 1:1 time. But Chris’s argument was that we spent every meal together… though all those meals included wider family members, and we know that the more people there are, the less you can focus on any individual. I feel for his mum when she says that, and in fact, it kind of mirrors how my own mother feels when I’m in town. She never feels like it’s enough time. They’re both probably right to a degree. But that’s the way life is – you have to make the most of what you have, and it’s never going to be perfect.