Father’s Day dreams

I awoke this morning from a dream where I was in a large, eclectic market, one that is reminiscent of the beautiful markets we browsed and inhaled recently in Oaxaca. Only this time, instead of being with Chris, I was with my brother. I turned a corner into a brightly colored stall to see my brother sitting at a low, round table, painted pink. He had wax paper lining almost the entire table, and on top sat at least a dozen different Dominican pastries. Some were filled with guava. Other looked like rolls. A few others looked like cheese breads. But they all looked and smelled delectable. Ed peered up at me and asked me to sit down.

“Look at what I picked up from the market!” he exclaimed, clearly proud and joyful of his edible finds. Before I could even sit down and take a bite, though, our mother appeared out of nowhere and started yelling at him.

“Why did you buy all this junk?” she yelled. “We can’t eat all this. It’s not good for you. You should have asked before getting us this! What a waste!”

Ed’s face immediately soured, and I was put off, as well. It was like real life once upon a time all over again: Ed being happy about something, then immediately having all the happiness drained from the situation because our mother decides to ruin the situation and make everything negative. Then, my dad appeared out of nowhere and didn’t say a word. How typical.

It was like my reality but in another country. And well, it was a dream. Or was it?

And, a happy father’s day to you, too.

U.S. naturalization ceremony

I originally planned to be in San Francisco from Sunday through Sunday to maximize time with family, friends, and colleagues, but I had to cut it short when we received a notification a couple weeks ago that Chris’s naturalization ceremony was scheduled for this morning. He had applied to become a citizen last August after all of the political nonsense that this country is facing with Trump being president. Trump as president has really spurred a lot of people to become more politically active, which is great news. Chris wanted to have his voice heard, so this was the result.

You’d think that if you were being sworn in to become a citizen of a new country that it would be a celebratory event, that it would be an occasion that would be happy, full of smiles, music, and praise. Well, that was not what I witnessed today. As soon as we entered the courthouse, all of our phones and any “smart” device were confiscated, neatly placed into a “smart phone cubby” that was organized by medallion number. No electronics of any sort were allowed into the building; they’d hold it for you. Then, as visitors sat down, the new citizens had to have all their paperwork organized and ready for when the officers needed them.

And, it’s no wonder that they ban all electronics and thus recording devices because it is absolutely disgusting what you’d see if I actually videoed what I saw today. As a country, we should be ashamed of how we treat newly naturalized citizens. There was not even an ounce of warmth, of respect, of anything positive in that room in the entire three-plus hours I sat in there waiting.

I witnessed some of the most inhuman interactions today. There was a line to get your papers checked, and a second line to get a second check done. It wasn’t clear that there was a second line given how people were organizing themselves. An officer says to someone walking towards the line, “Are you lost? The line is right there!” as though he’s some total incompetent blind person. Another officer berated another person who didn’t have her papers organized as though she was a little child; this new potential citizen was at least in her 40s. Every interaction I witnessed made me more and more angry. I was just bracing myself for how they were going to treat Chris when he got up there.

When Chris finally got to the front and was showing his papers, the interaction seemed pretty benign; no meanness or tone of arrogance coming from the officer, which was not what I’d previously witnessed.

Two hours later of waiting with no electronics, phones, or books in hand, the “ceremony” began (can I add that there was a rack of magazines that were roped off that said “do not touch”? How more evil can you possibly be when you’ve stripped everyone of their smart phones?). We recited the pledge of allegiance, a judge came out to give a speech to basically encourage everyone to vote… because of course she would do this since she’s a lesbian with a family, and has her own agenda to push.

She said that of all the judges she’d spoken with, this ceremony was what gave them the most joy in their jobs. That was total garbage, every word out of her mouth; they got to sit in there in their robes for ten minutes to talk about the hopes and dreams of becoming an American, yet they didn’t have to sit and wait through the last two hours of being stripped of electronics, being dehumanized in line, talked to like children, or the last five, ten, fifteen, or however many years it took all these people, mostly people of color, to get to this dehumanizing room to get ‘naturalized’ today. Everything about today’s ceremony was crap; there wasn’t even a moment where I thought, if I were getting naturalized today in this room, I’d be ecstatic, proud to be here. We were both just eager to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. All I could hear out of Chris’s mouth were expletives under his breath. And I couldn’t really blame him. But I honestly could not feel that happy, either, even though his “status” would be changing. It was a truly terrible experience for the entire three hours we were in there.

We ended the day with a beautiful omakase dinner with two good friends and drinks downtown. We had to have something to look forward to after such a crappy U.S. government experience. But this marks the end of my love’s immigration hell. This is truly the end.

And as Chris reminds me, now he doesn’t need me anymore and could divorce me. Heh.

This used to be my garden

When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard of my family’s house. Then, when I was wee tall, it felt like a big garden, a place full of mysteries and things to be uncovered. I played with different bugs, chased butterflies, smashed snails (no one likes these hideous things eating our plants), dug holes and buried things. I occasionally tried to grow plants. Some worked out (snow peas, cherry tomatoes, and some didn’t (endless variety of flower seeds that I cannot even remember all their names). I rode my tricycle in ovals around it, failingly attempted to learn how to bike in it (it was too small), and horsed around with my brother and our super soakers. When Willie, my incredibly intelligent pet parakeet, was around for seven years, he used to sun, sing, and take little bird baths out there and keep me company. Once, he even escaped from his cage and chased a hummingbird. That yard is full of fond memories for me. It was like my happy place in a not so happy home. My grandma made that yard into a true garden filled with gladiolus, birds of paradise, Chinese new year pink blossoms, her very proud apple tree (which produced dry and tasteless apples, but at least it looked good), Asiatic lilies, dahlias, and other gorgeous plants.

Once she died, the garden died. The entire place went into disrepair because my mom didn’t have the time to maintain it, and my dad didn’t care to take care of it even though he talked about caring about it. Weeds overtook the blossoms, and the flowers gradually stopped blooming. My dad occasionally tried his hand at things like rhododendron, lilies, hybrid tea roses, and star jasmine, but it never really stuck. The place of calm and beauty that was once a part of that house was gone.

When I came back home this morning after an early morning flight, I went downstairs into the yard. It just looks worse and worse every time I go home: the fences bordering off neighbors are chipping and discolored. Piles and piles of dirt are everywhere. It’s weeds galore no matter where you look. What was once grass is now a bunch of yellowed, hay-like crunchy stuff. But there are some hints of life of things my dad has tried and successfully grown, such as rosemary, English lavender, and a single Double Delight hybrid tea rose shrub that is managing to survive despite having most of its leaves covered in some speckled black disease. There’s even a beautiful cymbidium orchid that is now blooming in the corner of the yard, away from what you’d see when you take a quick glance around. It still looks like hell, though. This is certainly no garden or paradise, and I’m certain if my grandma were to be reawakened from the dead to see the state of her yard, she’d probably drop dead on the spot.

It’s strange, though, to think that this yard used to feel so big to me, and now it feels so small. Yes, I’m bigger and obviously an adult now; decades have passed since I used to spend long hours out here. But the way I look at it is so different, everything from the size to the scale to even the way the apple tree and the fences look. It used to be so comforting, a mini escape. But now, it’s not happy anymore. It’s depressing and not even a fraction of what it used to be to me.

It’s like that Madonna song “This Used to Be My Playground,” with the chorus that goes:

This used to be my playground (used to be)
This used to be our pride and joy
This used to be the place we ran to
That no one in the world could dare destroy
This used to be our playground (used to be)
This used to be our childhood dream
This used to be the place we ran to
I wish you were standing here with me

It’s all been destroyed.

Chicken tenders

My mom never enjoyed cooking; she has always done it out of necessity because she married a man who didn’t cook and pretty much expected his wife to cook for him. So she  learned a bunch of basics from her mother-in-law, her sister-in-law, and ran with it. One of the things that was always on rotation growing up was chicken tenders. She used herbed shake’n’bake type bread crumbs, coated flattened chicken pieces in egg, then dipped them in the breadcrumb mixture, and pan-fried them in a little oil. They were always one of my favorite things that she made, and I always looked forward to eating them.

Now that I’m an adult and am experimental with cooking, I made my own version with herbs, garlic powder, homemade panic breadcrumbs, and grated parmigiano reggiano. I baked them and was pretty impressed; they’re like the adult and more sophisticated version of the chicken tenders my mom made. I think she’d be pretty satisfied with these if she were in New York.

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.