Donor drive, year 4

It’s about that time of the year again when it’s time to start fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The organization has walks throughout the year, but the New York City ones across all boroughs always tend to take place between September to November of the year. I usually try to give myself about two months to fundraise. There are always the early birds, the ones who donate as soon as I send my first outreach email, and then there are always the people who donate at the very last minute because I suppose they like the thrill of being the last ones. I’m grateful to get any last dollar I can get.

I’ve been increasing my goal every year by a thousand dollars. The first year, I was so shocked that I reached my initial goal of $1,000 so quickly. This year, now that it’s at $4,000, it sounds like it will be far more challenging. I work in a remote office now, so I have less face time with the majority of the colleagues I work with. There’s also the weariness to consider of people who have always so graciously donated, but may think that they’ve already contributed “enough” to my cause. I wonder what this year will turn out to be.

I wonder if Ed is watching.


Dear Ed,

1461 – that’s the number of days that have passed since you left us. That’s four years, including an extra day for Leap Year. I’m late this year with writing my annual letter to you. I don’t really have any legitimate excuses other than the fact that Chris and I are moving, and packing takes up a lot of time and energy. I’m not trying to be a jerk about it, but I’m just being honest.

I really miss you. This move has been a lot more emotional than I ever imagined it would be. I’ve been living at this apartment with Chris for over five years now, and for just over the first year of that period, you were still alive. We never had the chance to have you come visit and know what it’s like to be in a real Manhattan apartment. Many moments as I’ve been packing up this apartment, I freeze and get upset, remembering how you never got to see this place, how you will never be able to see the new apartment or any place I live in ever again. That’s a really awful feeling, to know that you cannot share in these experiences ever again with me. You only got to see my roach-infested, non-ACed apartment in Elmhurst. I’m sorry that when you visited, it was the peak of summer, and I only had a fan for you to use. You really hated the heat and humidity of New York. If you came back in May 2012 like I asked you to after you quit your job, I told you I would have given you my bed in my room, which had an air conditioner. You never came, though.

I left a really shitty job this year, the same job that was basically cursed from the beginning because you died just days after I accepted that awful role. Something in my gut told me then that this wasn’t going to be good. And it wasn’t at all; it was probably the worst job I’d ever had in my life at the worst company. I never had a chance to tell you I was leaving that old job to go to this terrible one, and now I’ll never be able to tell you about my new job and new company, where for the first time, your sister actually feels like she kind of belongs here. I get treated fairly well. I have peers and superiors I respect. I think we’re really going somewhere here. We’re not short-sighted or delusional. We’re addressing real problems here. Nine years after starting full-time work, I can finally say all of that and be confident about it. I was never able to tell you that about the last job I had when you were alive.

I packed up all the frames you gave me, and once we move into the new place, we need to figure out what to display and what to put in storage. I still keep the glass frame with the picture of the two of us from the day I graduated from high school displayed – it’s the same picture in the same frame since June 2004. Every time I look at it, it hurts to know that ten years after that day, you wouldn’t be here. I never would have guessed this would have been the future. Sometimes, the future really looks bleak and depressing. It will always be in a prominent place in my bedroom, no matter where I live.

When we were culling things in the apartment in preparation for the move, I’ve refused to give away things you’ve given me. I feel like if I give them away, it’s like I’m giving up a part of you. But, I will admit one thing: I donated Joel Olsteen’s wife’s book that you gave me one year as part of my birthday gift. Sorry, Ed. You know I’m never going to be that religious. I’ve never liked Joel Olsteen. I don’t even like his wife. There, I said it. At least I’m being honest.

Last year, I told you that Trump was running for president. Well, guess what? The dumb fuck is really president of the U.S. now! Can you believe it?! You never cared much about politics anyway, and how could you with your constant internal struggles and your struggles at home. I don’t even know what you would say if you were still around today to read the news. Our mother actually thinks that Trump is better than Hillary Clinton!! What I can tell you is that he has no regard for mental illness, people with disabilities, or pretty much anyone who is not a rich, white male, so that should piss you off regardless of whether you pay attention to politics or not.

You don’t visit as much anymore. Is it because you’re off doing your own thing and don’t need me anymore? The last time I remember dreaming about you, it was over two months ago, and I don’t even remember what happened. I just remember I saw you. I don’t have conflicting dreams of you dying or in pain or being tortured now. Now, I have dreams that depict you happy, or in the very least indifferent or expressionless. I’m not sure if the latter is a good sign, but it’s definitely better than seeing you die every time I go to sleep. Our mom is jealous that you visit me in my dreams but haven’t visited her in her dreams since 2013. She recently told me that still to this day, she’s only dreamt about you twice, both times in 2013. And since then, nothing. It’s okay; you don’t have to do what she wants anymore. You can do whatever it is that you please now. You don’t have to answer to anyone, and certainly not to our parents.

They’re coming to visit us for a week starting next Tuesday. Can you send good vibes over here and make sure she doesn’t harass me over how much we’re paying for rent or what I’m going to be doing with my future? Remember how she always use to taunt you about your future and how frustrating that was? Now, it’s all on me. I’m like her only hope, so if I screw up, it’s all over.

I miss you, Ed. I love you. I try to keep you alive as much as I can. I think about you throughout the day, every day, and hope that you’re in a peaceful, painless place. I have no idea where that is; maybe it’s in heaven. Maybe it’s in a different version of paradise somewhere out in the universe. I don’t know. But I love you. I still don’t fully feel like you have died, especially when I’m back home and I can feel your presence. I wish I could feel your presence here in New York. But I don’t think you bonded with New York enough during your short time here.

I love you. I hope you still love me and think about me, in whatever form you are in, wherever you are, somewhere out there. Your little sister still wishes she could see you again, alive and healthy, smiling those super straight, pearly whites. She even wishes she could see you take off your retainer when you wake up from sleep because those are the geeky, gross things we both do as children who had to wear braces. She still wants you to come back even though it’s selfish. Sometimes it still feels like the world is a big lonely place. You used to try to protect me, and now you can’t protect me anymore. Really, someone should have been there to protect you, but no one did. And I wasn’t capable of doing it. And now you’re gone. I have to fight feelings of regret every day.

I love you. I think about you before I sleep every night in hopes you will come back. I hope to see you every night even when you don’t want to come. Hope to see you soon, my belovedĀ gege.



P.S. The Snoopy you gave me will happily sit on the new couch in the new apartment. Chris keeps threatening to give him away to Goodwill because he says he’s fat and ugly, but I will make sure to protect him.

Family brunch

Today, with my cousin and his wife in town for a wedding, I met up with them and my other cousin, his wife, and son for brunch in Soho this afternoon. The food was good, and things kind of went the way I thought they would. My cousin’s son stood up on his seat and refused to behave or eat any of the food that was presented to him, my cousin’s wife who lives here barely made any effort to talk to me or our visiting cousins, or to ask about our lives, and my visiting cousins ate their food and made small talk about what they’ve been doing in New York, in their last leg of their trip in London and Paris, and how the wedding last night went.

I’m sure my visiting cousin sets up these meals because he wants us to have a semblance of a functional extended family. He wants to make it seem like we’re “normal,” like we get along and actually want to see each other. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t mind seeing him and his wife. They’re probably the most normal of the cousins on that side of the family in that they actually are relatively happy and healthy people, and they get along with most people and their families and try to be good human beings. But we rarely talk about anything that matters. I just started a new job. Why is no one asking me how the new job is going and what I’m doing there? Why is his brother not asking him about his Europe trip, which he just came back from? Why is no one other than his parents giving any attention to the little four-year-old at the table? Why aren’t we having a real catch up to discuss our actual lives and what is important?

Oh, that’s because that stuff is too deep, and we don’t want to have deep relationships with each other. I got it.

Breakfast plans

My mom was really excited to see me almost every other day for the two-week period I was back in San Francisco for work. She’s so excited that she’s already counting down the days until she comes to visit us in New York in August. I am not quite counting down the days the way she is.

Mom: You always cook all this good food in New York. Are you going to cook all that food for me when I come?

Me: Umm, I can make you breakfast foods, but we’ll probably be eating out for dinner in the evenings after work. I won’t see you during the day because I’ll be at the office.

Mom: Eating out all the time is so unhealthy. You should mix it up when I come and cook for me! What will you make me?

Me: Well, I can make you granola or oatmeal or eggs. I guess we can eat lunch at home on the weekends, and I can cook.

Mom: Don’t worry about it! You work so hard! I don’t really want you to cook for us. I was just testing you!

Why is everything always a test for her with everyone? Does she constantly have to “test” everyone in her life? Isn’t this a sign that she’s miserable and looking for reasons to be angry at me?



I woke up this morning at around 5:30am after thinking that I saw my brother. What’s really frustrating is when you have very vivid dreams, and you wake up thinking that what you dreamt really happened.

In my dream, I was at our parents’ house standing at the top stairs of the back porch. I heard a familiar voice which sounded like my Ed’s, and I peered down the stairwell to see him there.

“Hey!” he called up to me, smiling. “You’re back!”

My heart almost stopped. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Don’t move! I’m coming right down!” I yelled back down to him.

I ran down the stairs to meet him, but he wasn’t there anymore. My eyes welled up in tears. Fucking hell. He’s really not here.

Minutes later, Chris arrived at the house with his roller bag, and he gave me a big hug. I immediately started sobbing. He had no idea what was going on.

“I saw him,” I wailed between sobs. “I know I saw him. He’s definitely here somewhere, but I can’t see him anymore.”

Chris said nothing. He just held me tighter. There was nothing to say. There’s nothing any of us can do anymore.

This may be the first time I can recall dreaming about Ed while being home. Usually when I’m back at our parents’ house, he doesn’t visit me in dreams. This time, he has. Perhaps a tide has turned.


I took a walk this afternoon to enjoy the warmer temperatures and decided to stop by Whole Foods to see what was on sale. Among sunchokes, mangoes, and buckwheat flour, I also picked up a whole heavy head of cabbage. I realize that since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve probably only purchased cabbage once, and it was to make a dumpling filling, not to eat it on its own. I brought it home, chopped it up, and stir fried it with garlic, Sichuanese peppercorns, Thai chilies, and a little soy sauce and Chinese black vinegar. It was a modified version of my mom’s stir-fried cabbage growing up. Sometimes, she’d stir-fry it with a little pork or dried shrimp, while other times, she’d simply add garlic, salt, and pepper to it. Regardless, when I took a bite tonight despite my minor additions, it was a familiar flavor, one that reminded me of eating dinners at our dinner table in that house atop a San Francisco hill. It’s a simple and humble dish — nothing fancy and nothing to jump up and down about, but the familiarity is comforting to me (and the added benefit is that after reading How Not to Die, I realized exactly how good cabbage is for you, especially the red kind!).

Today’s generation of parents complain and say they have no time to cook for their kids, which is how they justify giving their kids fast food, buying takeout many days of the week, among other junk food that isn’t particularly varied or nutritious. The thought stresses me out, too; when I come home from a long day at work, the last thing I really want to do is cook a full meal. That’s why most of the cooking I do is on the weekends, but the downside of that is that we end up eating most of the same food repetitively during the week, which also isn’t really what I want my future kids to do (and I’m sure they would whine). I wonder how I will balance all that in my own life. But because I associate stir-fried cabbage with my mom, I wonder if she ever really thought of the concept of “balance,” or if for her, it was just a given that she’d have to deal with two jobs — her paid work as well as raising two kids and running a household. My dad made his meatloaves and five-spiced chicken and baked “fried” chicken more as hobbies rather than to put food on the table; my mom’s goal was more practical: dinner on the table ASAP. I wonder if she ever resented my dad for never doing more around the house or cooking meals, or expecting her to prepare the majority of what we ate. I have a feeling if I ever asked this, she would not respond well.

A fond repeated memory I have is of the days when I’d see my mom eating something different than Ed and me, and I’d look over at her dish and ask what she’s eating.

“Leftovers,” she’d respond, mid-mouthful.

“Leftovers? You mean yesterday’s salmon?”

She’d nod.

“It smells different, though,” I’d say.

“I added nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) to it,” she’d say.

“Can I have some?” I’d ask.

“Yvonne, you eat your food I cooked. This food is old, and I don’t want you to eat old leftovers.” She’s getting annoyed at this point and just wants me to eat my food and shut up.

“But you’re eating the leftovers. Why can’t I eat them, too?” I’d ask.

“Because your mommy doesn’t want to waste food, and someone needs to eat it. Just eat your food.”

“Can I have some of yours? Please? It looks good.” Somehow, she always made her “old” food look good. And in my eyes and nose, it always seemed to smell and taste better than what was on my plate.

She’d stop eating and smile, like her heart was melting that I wanted to eat the “old” food when she wanted me to eat the “new” food. “Well, the nuoc mam does make everything taste better,” she’d say. And she’d proceed to add a few spoonfuls of her food into my dish.

Everyone has happy memories of their childhood. This is one of mine.




I had a random Lady Gaga station going at the gym this morning, and suddenly her song “Speechless” came on. Ever since I can’t remember, I don’t pay as much attention to lyrics as I used to. But when this song came on, partly because of the way she was singing, I started listening, and even though I was running on my treadmill, I could feel my eyes tearing up as I listened to the words she sang. On the surface, this song seems like a sad love ballad, the kind where you know the relationship is doomed and at least one side of the couple is just in denial. But this song seemed more complex. The more I thought about it, this song isn’t about that type of love at all. It’s about something else. She belts out in the beginning:

Could we fix you if you broke?
And is your punch line just a joke?

I looked up the song afterwards. She said it was her favorite song on her Fame Monster album of 2009, and it was actually written about her father’s refusal to have a life-saving open heart surgery. He said instead of getting the surgery, he just wanted to live his life. Her mother was terrified, as she was. But she felt hopeless, as she was on tour at the time and had no way to be there with him physically. So she wrote this song as a plea to him to get the surgery. Her dad would call her every now and then after having a number of drinks, and she would sit there on the other end, completely speechless, having no idea how to respond to him. She was terrified she was going to lose him, and she would not be there with him when it happened. He eventually had the surgery. Every time she performs this song live, she gets emotional thinking about how she could have lost him if he hadn’t made that decision.

That’s how I used to feel about Ed when we’d talk on the phone. I tried to encourage him, tried to say everything and anything to help him keep going. There were so many moments I was speechless and could barely say anything. Nothing I was going to say felt like it would help. Other times, I rambled on and on in the calmest tone possible to get him to see that I cared and worried about him. But at those points, I don’t think he could hear or understand my feelings anymore. Everything got blocked out for him.

I couldn’t fix him when he broke.

Buca di Beppo

After arriving in the 88-degree city that is Phoenix, I spent the afternoon wandering around the hotel property, admiring the oddly placed herb and vegetable garden situated right alongside the outdoor pool, rolling my eyes at the tomato-red vacationers spraying themselves with sunblock in a futile resolve, and ceramic ironing my hair for tonight’s wedding rehearsal dinner. I signaled for my ride to take me to the restaurant, and when I got to the hostess desk, I asked for the Friedman wedding rehearsal party. The hostess only heard the “wedding rehearsal” part of my question, so she led the way to a table deep into the (huge) restaurant, and when we arrived, I recognized… no one. Not Ellis, not her parents… no one. “Here we are!” the hostess said to me. Everyone at the table, who looked like they were all half-way through their dinner, looked up and smiled awkwardly. One empty seat was remaining and beckoned to me. I lowered my voice and said to the hostess, “Is this not the Friedman party?” “Oh, no!” the hostess exclaimed. “This isn’t! I’m so sorry!” The entire table started laughing and one person even offered to let me sit down and join them, but I politely declined and went out with the hostess and waited for my friend’s party to arrive. I was the first to arrive. At least I wasn’t late.

When everyone did finally arrive (late), I greeted the family and friends and spent a good amount of time catching up with my friend’s dad and chatting up her famous grandpa, the one who I always heard about as the very smart heart surgeon, the “pappy” who my friend loved to bits. Her parents were exactly as I remembered — extremely warm, friendly, and eager to hear all about me.

“So, I’m pretty certain that since graduation, you have not worked at all,” my friend’s dad said to me in a matter-of-fact tone. “I follow you on Instagram, and if I know nothing about your life, all I do know is that all you seem to do is eat, cook, travel, eat some more, and travel again. You’re always traveling! When are you not traveling?!”

I laughed. “Well, I do love food and travel.” I explained to him that I actually do work, but my work since graduation has never been sexy enough to warrant my photographing any of it. “Food and travel are so much prettier to take pictures of!” I told him.

This is why Facebook and Instagram can never be true representations of any of our lives. We want to share with others what we love and find the most dear to us. The things that are not attractive or cool or sexy — we withhold those from view.

Who wants to see me creating pivot tables in Excel or writing emails on a Macbook Pro, anyway?


Sibling hangout

Tonight, I met a friend visiting from out of town for dinner, and over two hours, we caught up on everything that’s happened since we last saw each other, about eight months ago. She’s here for a brief work trip, and as a result, only spent about half an hour with her mother (her family is in New Jersey). However, she did spend a full day wandering around Manhattan with her younger brother, who is four years younger than her and who she gets along with very well.

I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of envy when she said this. It must have been really nice to spend the day aimlessly wandering around New York with her little brother, with no real goals in mind and no agenda of topics to discuss. After we parted ways, I thought about how I tried to encourage Ed in 2013 to visit me in New York so that we could do just that – wander the city aimlessly and see what piqued his interests. I rarely got to spend large blocks of time alone with Ed, but the few that we did have, I remember quite vividly and fondly. It’s strange to think that I haven’t spoken to or heard my brother’s voice in over 3.5 years now. It seems like such a long time, but time has passed too quickly. Even as time passes, I can still hear the sound of his voice in my ears. It seems ridiculous, but I still occasionally think about what it would have been like if he did decide to come and visit in the spring of 2013. Maybe he would have left feeling renewed and hopeful. All those possibilities are gone now, though.

It’s been a while

I woke up this weekend to look up at the framed photos of my brother on my wall, and I wondered why he hadn’t come to visit me in my dreams for a while. As Chris has noted, my dreams of him have evolved over the last few years. In the year after his death, we had all these scenes of him committing suicide in different ways, of fighting with my parents or telling me he was sorry that he left me. He insisted he still loved me and cared about me, but he had to leave. Gradually, the dreams have become better. Sometimes, he’d appear out of nowhere, and I’d run up to him and throw my arms around him, hugging him tightly and yelling how happy I was to see him again. Nowadays, in the last few months when I have seen him, we’re just doing ordinary things together: walking, talking, eating, watching TV. On Saturday night, I dreamt we were just sitting at a table while eating sesame noodles I made for us together. We said nothing to each other. All I heard was our chewing and the smacking of chopsticks against our bowls.

I’ll never quite be at peace with him gone, but as the years go by, I think I am more at peace with the fact that he is at peace, even if I cannot physically see him again.