For the last month, I’ve been reading Zohreh Ghahremani’s book Sky of Red Poppies, which is a book about two girls’ controversial friendship during the rule of the Shah, and into the Iranian revolution. I finally finished it on the plane ride back from Miami today, and as the plane descended, we got to the part of the book where Roya, the main character, learns that after she’s moved to the U.S., her brother got killed during one of the protests as an innocent bystander, and her family kept his death from her for months, if not years. No one mentioned his passing to her over the phone when she’d call; they’d insist that he was busy, not there, or “just didn’t want to talk on the phone.” She was filled with so much shock, despair, and outrage.. she didn’t even know how to mourn him properly. As soon as my eyes reached these pages, they overflowed with tears. I felt knots in my stomach. I don’t even know these people… they’re all fictional, just a story in my head. But it hurt so much to read this. Sibling death is too close to me, and to think that it would be kept a secret is just so devastating. I used to have nightmares of things like this happening, of my brother or my father dying, and my mom never telling me… or telling me months after the fact. These are the moments when I miss Ed and really wish he were alive and healthy.
Who knows if it’s because I strained my left calf during my Land’s End walk on Sunday, or if it’s because of being idle while lying flat on a bed flying from SFO to JFK, but my left calf is hurting. I woke up this morning limping, so I decided to stay home and work remotely. I was able to do some water therapy in the evening at the spa in the building, and I feel a bit better now.
I still feel hyper emotional, though. And I am still spending a lot of time thinking about Ed. I started going through old AFSP messages I’ve written about him and old e-mails from the time he passed away. I just really, really miss him right now. Maybe the trigger was going home and being at the house we once shared.
Whoever said life was fair never said how fucking hard it can be.
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.
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.
I was sorting through a few things in my old drawer at my parents’ house this afternoon when I came home. I do have a number of my own belongings in the desk, but for the most part, my parents use it as additional storage. One familiar piece of gold card stock paper was on top of a bunch of other paper: my wedding program from almost two years ago now.
Obviously, I recognized it and immediately knew what it was. I read through it, as I hadn’t done that in a while even though I made a whole wedding scrapbook with all the random papers and things from that three-day period. But as my eyes traveled to the bottom, I read the one line that always made me so sad, even though I was insistent on having in on there: “In loving memory of Edward Y. Wong.”
The goal of having Ed everywhere at the wedding in different ways wasn’t intended to be a sad thing to do; it was a way to inject him into the wedding and be a part of it so that he’d still be a part of our life, even after his death. It was meant to be a celebration of him and his life, of what he meant to me. But I couldn’t help but tear up when I read this today. And then I just started crying. It’s been nearly two years since my wedding, and almost five years since he’s passed, but I still am not over it. It still makes me cry to think that he wasn’t at my wedding even though I clearly knew he was not. But to remember it stings so badly. It shocks me when I think of the time that has passed since he died. I always wonder even though it’s pointless if there was anything I could have said or done differently, if I could have expressed my love for him more. I think we both knew we were at the end when I started repeatedly telling him I loved him on the phone that July. I’d never done that ever. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even told my brother I loved him verbally before that month. Maybe I could have hugged him more or called him more. I don’t know. But I think about it anyway.
I know most people didn’t care about him. They thought he was average and forgettable. Most of our relatives say they miss him, but do they really? Probably not to be honest. They thought he didn’t do anything with his life. But none of that matters to me because he’s my brother. I still love him. And I just miss him so much right now. Today’s just one of those hard days.
I was at work today, getting all frustrated by these manual tasks I had to do in this new application we’re leveraging at work to document all our tasks. What a great birthday, I thought in my head. This application really sucks.
And then my colleague pulls me aside and tells me I need to go to the kitchen ASAP. Hmmm, do I get CAKE?!
Our office manager organized a birthday surprise for me and had everyone (who actually showed up to the office, that is, since it was snowing today) sing me “Happy Birthday,” and also made me a cake — it was a two-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. It looked so professionally done that I honestly thought she bought it and was joking, but apparently she wasn’t.
“No one has ever made me a cake before!” I exclaimed. I was truly in shock and so overwhelmed to know she had actually spent the time to bake and decorate this cake just for my birthday. “Actually, someone did bake me a cake once… it was when I was five. But that was a long time ago!”
And then the memory hit me — the first time I could actually remember my mother getting jealous. My aunt, who lived upstairs from us, always used to bake with me. She’s the reason I got into baking and ultimately cooking. She said we were going to bake my birthday cake together, so we actually baked a cake together and decorated it, complete with vanilla frosting and rainbow-confetti dot sprinkles. I was so excited to have this as my birthday cake.
My mom crushed it by telling me she’d already bought me a cake and that would be the cake I’d pose with for my birthday photos. I told her I didn’t want that cake, that I wanted the cake I had made with my aunt. My mom refused and said her cake was the cake we’d put the candles on. I was not happy, but I didn’t say anything. At the time, I didn’t realize it was jealousy. But looking back, it was very clear that was what this was about.
If you were to look at the photos from my fifth birthday, you can see that the cake I made is off to the side, without any candles. The candles are on the chocolate cake my mom bought me… which I actually didn’t like because it had some weird cherry flavoring that was too strong for my five-year-old taste buds.
That was the beginning of the jealousy and irrationality. I just didn’t know it yet then.
But anyway, isn’t it funny how these random memories get triggered from so long ago?
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.
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.
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 beloved 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.
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.