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.


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 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.


My friend has had a dog (well, her mom primarily takes care of it and owns it) since 2010. In the seven years she’s had this dog, this dog has pretty much always hated me. Every time I used to come over, Tucker would growl at me and avoid my touch. From being a little puppy to a grown adult, he has refused to give me any affection.

Well today, for the first time in nearly seven years, this dog was excited and friendly with me. No growing, no barking — just licks and love. I couldn’t figure out what the difference was.

That is, until I asked what happened during our coastal walk and hike in Half Moon Bay all together with the dog, and my friend said it’s because of how much the dog loves being outside and off leash to wander around as he pleases. He feels free, so he’s happy to see everyone and anyone. He ran and jumped and rolled and scratched himself against grass and sand to his little heart’s content… and to my friend’s horror because she knew she’d need to bathe the little rascal tonight to rid him of all the dirt.

Dogs have such a simple life. I hope this little guy is grateful.


I’m not superstitious. Black cats are just cats that are black. Opening an umbrella indoors in a Manhattan apartment is just a practical way to get your umbrella to dry and not grow mold; it’s not bad luck. I don’t care about the number 13. Actually, I’m lying. I like the number 13 because everyone else is so scared of it, and I am constantly amused when I go into new buildings and hotels to see that the floors jump from 12 to 14. If you wanted to rent me an apartment on the 13th floor of a luxury building in Flatiron or Union Square for super cheap just because it’s on the 13th floor and no one else will even consider it, hand it over to me. Go ahead.

But I’ll be honest. The company I’ve left was always slightly tainted to me because just days after accepting their job offer, my brother committed suicide. And two days after that, I flew home to prepare for his funeral arrangements and to mourn my lost brother, one whom I never even told I was switching jobs. I questioned everything about life when he died, including… was this job really the right decision? Could I be a coward and go back to the job I was currently on bereavement leave from and tell them to ignore my resignation? Was his suicide at this time a sign that this was going to be a terrible place for me? But I couldn’t go back; I just had to move forward.

And so forward I went. And I learned quite a bit — not so much about useful career skills, but more about politics, massively inflated egos, lack of ethics, politics, politics, and politics. Nepotism was quite heavy in there, too. It was like the world I was shielded from all this time. Ed’s probably like, “There you go! Have fun!”

Well, it’s all over now, Ed. Now, it’s another new start, one I also cannot share with you over the phone or in person. I will always associate this company with your death.



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.



One year anniversary

It’s been a year since our wedding day today. It feels like ages ago, but at the same time, it also feels quite recent. So much has happened since that day that it’s crazy to think that 365 days have passed since that sunny day standing on an ocean bluff at the top of a tiny seaside town called San Clemente.

Chris is still annoying me in 2017 as much as he annoyed me in 2016, so not much has changed. To justify how annoying he can be, he recently sent me on article about how annoyance is a sign of a good relationship. The rationale behind this is that if your partner is still eliciting emotions out of you, that’s a positive sign. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. He’s no less annoying today than he was on March 25, 2016. 🙂 He did make fun of me less that day, though.

And as time goes by, we’ll get more questions like, “Will you be in New York for much longer?”, “Where will you be settling?”, and the inevitable and already many times asked “When do you think you will have kids?” I don’t have answers to any of that now; neither of us do. But I’m sure when we figure it out, we’ll let you know. Can’t we just enjoy life and stop checking things off our life “to-do” list?

The passing of time isn’t so bad after all. We’ll continue to get new shadows and wrinkles on our faces. We’ll have our cholesterol and blood pressure checked and compare them routinely. We’re going to get old and start shrinking together. These are all happy thoughts.

“Karaoke monster” friend

Tonight, we went to meet my friend visiting from out of town at a karaoke bar. She’s a self-professed “karaoke monster” who Chris finds particularly interesting, especially after she’s had a drink or two. Why does Chris like her? In the past, he has said that she seems confident, she can talk about anything and seem comfortable, and she doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. Chris doesn’t think this of a lot of my friends.

After a few hours of hanging out and having a lot of back and forth banter, I realized that I’ve never dated or been with anyone who really liked or got along with all my friends. I realize that’s a bit hard considering that I’ve never really had a single “group,” and so my friends are all very different from disparate parts of my life, but I’ve never had any partner readily accept all of them. One of my friends, who loves to co-mingle all friends as much as possible, once said that she doesn’t understand why people don’t “all just get along.” I think you only “all just get along” when you have no opinions and no desire to truly be yourself, because like Bill Maher says, if you are not offending anyone while saying what you think and being who you are, you must be a pretty dull person, or you are not truly being who you are at the core.

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.

Wedding scrapbook completed

It’s been less than a year since our wedding, and I’ve managed to finally complete our wedding scrapbook. It has all three days of our events, plus some of the planning documents (tasting notes, wedding day schedule) for it. It’s over 62 12×12-inch pages of memories. It’s crazy to think that we spent about 14 months planning this event that lasted three days and is now summarized into 62 pages.

I speak with a lot of people — friends, friends of friends, colleagues, and see so much negative wedding and wedding planning commentary. There’s always going to be a lot of stress in planning a large event with a group of people that is more than a handful, but when I flip through these pages and relive those three days in March, all I can think about is how worth it it was to have spent all that time and energy planning to be surrounded by the people we love most in life. It’s even more exciting when your friends and family still talk about it and marvel over how much fun it was, how delicious the food was, and how gorgeous my dress looked. It’s cliche, but I haven’t had a single regret about any of it, not even the money spent. This scrapbook is a reminder of a truly happy period, and is a seg way into the next happy and hopeful period of our life together.