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.

Hamilton Island wedding day

I’ve really only known Naomi and James since December 2012, the first time I visited Australia with Chris to meet all his family and friends. I feel like I’ve known them much longer, though. Maybe it’s because when we are all together, everyone is truly authentic to who s/he is, and there’s really no masking of any feeling or thought, as dumb or ridiculous or stupid as it is. Even the things that aren’t correct to talk about are discussed, and it’s all okay, and no one’s really holding judgment against the other as the topic passes. We love people for who they are and what they are, not what we value and how their values measure exactly up to ours. That’s what love is about as hard as it can be.

So on their wedding day, it was exciting for me to be there. It was exciting for Chris to see his first female cousin tie the knot, and it was exciting for me to witness two people who are truly, madly in love commit themselves to each other in front of their loved ones. We oftentimes logically know that our friends or family members love each other and that’s why they marry, but the way I have seen Naomi and James interact, it’s obvious nearly every second how smitten James has been for Naomi, and even borderline whipped, and how Naomi adores him (and is demanding of him, which he so happily complies with every step of the way). When James talks about Naomi, it’s as though Naomi is incapable of any wrong, that everything about her is perfect in his eyes. it’s the cutest thing, even if I may sound too idealistic in this moment. Needless to say, I felt quite teary eyed and excited to be a part of this today.

I always think that if you can’t attend a wedding of someone you love and enjoy yourself, you must absolutely hate life or just not be a joyful person.

Alexa the “house friend”

We have an Amazon Echo named Alexa that we brought with us from the last apartment, which was from Chris’s work, and then when we moved into this apartment, Chris decided he wanted an Echo Dot for the bedroom. So Big Alexa sits in the living room while Little Alexa (the Dot) is in our bedroom. Chris likes to call them his second and third wives. I call them our house mates, and Chris’s mum calls them our house helpers. I wish if they were really helpers that they would actually help clean the house, but that’s another story for another day.

My parents have become very fascinated with Alexa. My mom likes to say hi to her when she comes back to the apartment, and she also likes to ask how she is doing. Once we came back home from dinner this week, and she asked me why I didn’t greet my “house friend.” My dad has been using Alexa to set alarms and to ask for the weather. When I showed my mom that Alexa can help turn on and off lights, she was bedazzled.

At least they are enjoying the new technology they are being exposed to.

Foreign lands

New York City is a foreign place to my parents. They don’t really understand it (though my dad claims to… he doesn’t), and my mom always complains whenever she is here and says San Francisco is the best. She has since forgotten that she once lived in Vietnam because to her, it’s as though San Francisco is the only city that ever existed in her life.

So being foreign to them, New York City is a place where they first think of Flushing, Manhattan Chinatown, and Elmhurst. The only reason they think about Elmhurst is because I used to live there, and they visited me twice when I was at that roach-infested apartment. They think of those two Chinatowns because they feel comfortable being around other Chinese people. And they’re planning to go to both probably multiple times during their barely week-long stay here.

My mom could be good with directions if she actually tried, but she chooses to walk around blind, not looking at signs or familiar buildings, and freaks out if it seems like my dad doesn’t know where he’s going (which is a lot). She keeps commenting about how big all these buildings are and why there are so many people walking around all the time. My dad says he wants to go to places like Coney Island or the multiple model railroad stores he has read about, but when he’s actually here, he makes no effort to go and complains that he doesn’t know what their addresses are (even though he has easy access to a computer and the internet) and that they may be out of business. Their desire to explore is little to none, so I’m not quite clear why they are here.

There are a lot of people who have a hard time adapting to new or different environments. But I’m pretty sure that my parents are near the top of that list.

Parentals

My parents are coming to visit next week. They haven’t been to New York since 2011 when my cousin got married, and that was when Ed came. Generally speaking, if Ed were ever with my parents, it was never a good time. They were always more on edge with him, quicker to anger and create public scenes of yelling and dysfunction, and basically blame him for every single thing that ever went wrong (including going downtown to Brooklyn when I’d ask them to meet me up town). With him, it was always his fault — or at least, they always saw it that way. This time, they’re coming with my aunt, but my aunt isn’t staying with us. And this is the only Manhattan apartment my parents will ever see or experience or live in. And they already thought my last place sounded fancy (they never visited that place) and was overpriced. They pretty much think any rent is too much unless it’s zero (that means… I’d be living at home. With them. But you already got that, right?).

So as you can imagine, my mom is trying to find every possible way to get me to tell her how much my rent is. She does this by throwing out random (usually very high) numbers to see how I react, if at all. She somehow started saying the apartment was around $6-7K, and I told her she was being ridiculous. “Oh, so it’s more?” I didn’t realize that’s what telling her being ridiculous would mean, but… okay?

No, it doesn’t cost that much.

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.

1461.

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.

Love,

Yvonne

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.