Staying in touch

I had dinner tonight with an old friend from high school who has spent the summer in New York interning at a law firm. He will be graduating from law school next year and may end up accepting a job here, as well. As we were chatting over pizza in the East Village tonight, I kept thinking how crazy it was that we have known each other for 14 years now, and that just 10 years ago, we graduated from high school together. It’s like every time we see each other, we are aging a teeny, tiny bit more.

On the bus ride uptown afterwards, I thought about why I’ve managed to stay in touch with some people as opposed to others. He mentioned a few people tonight that I did like in high school, people I am actually Facebook friends with, but I don’t actively keep in touch with and vice versa. Some of us tried to keep in touch shortly after high school and somehow drifted, others abruptly stopped responding to e-mails and phone calls, and others seemed to have just disappeared from the face of the earth. I thought about this friend tonight. Why are we still in touch? He is a self-professed cynic, which may or may not be a healthy thing for me to have in my life considering how cynical I have become over the years. Maybe we’re still in touch because there’s some weird understanding we have of each other because we grew up in similar environments at home, and because of that, we can understand each other in a way that gets others befuddled. It’s that feeling that when you share a bad experience you have had with a parent, that this person will look at you, and just by that look, you know he gets it because he’s experienced the same exact thing almost play by play, and he will never, ever say to you, “but he’s still your dad.”

Sometimes, it’s the optimistic people in these situations who really can’t help you.

In two days

In two days, my dad is going to turn 66. That number just sounds weird to me. Maybe it’s because “666” is unlucky, or maybe it’s because as scary as it sounds, no man in the last two generations of my family on my dad’s side have lived past 64. It’s the second birthday he will be celebrating with my brother being gone from this world.

Last year, Ed passed away on July 22. It was unanticipated despite his struggle and constant discussion of feeling worthless and having no future. Last year was probably the only year when we did absolutely nothing to acknowledge my dad’s birthday because Ed’s death was so close to his 65th. Ed didn’t get to see our dad celebrate 65. He won’t be here to see him celebrate 66, or 76, or 86. Even if we were not a family to celebrate birthdays because of my mom’s religion and the dysfunctional relationship that my dad and Ed shared, this still makes me sad. Every day, our parents will grow older, and Ed will not be here to experience it.

A friend of mine, who is an only child, said to me that she is starting to feel the burden of being an only child in that she herself has the sole responsibility of caring for her parents in their elderly years. Sadly, I now have that responsibility, too, and it’s like I am an only child now that Ed isn’t with me anymore.

“Has X person contacted you?”

While it would be great if my entire wider family were functional and we all got along, that is simply just not true. You know it’s not true when you call your mother after work, and she asks you, “Did your Auntie X call you lately?” You answer no, and she says, “Good.” What kind of response is that?

It’s as though every time a family member contacts me, my mother hates it. She doesn’t want anyone reaching out to me or telling me anything. She especially doesn’t want me to tell them anything about my life, like where I have traveled to, what restaurants I have eaten at. Why? Because for some reason, all of those things seem negative to my parents because they can be spun in such a way that supposedly makes me look bad or snobby or careless.

My mother said to me yesterday while getting angry at me for getting exasperated at her, “You always think that your mom is so negative when I am trying to be positive. You are the negative one.” I think both of my parents define psychological projection.

Silent fuming

I’ve realized that I’ve found myself silently fuming over my parents and all of their negativity and flaws this week. In the last year, I’ve had moments or hours when I would go over and over in my head why they are so miserable and negative when I think about my brother and how he isn’t with us anymore, but they would eventually pass. This week, it seems to be a reoccurring thing that comes and goes constantly throughout the day. When I least expect it, I am getting more and more angry with them. I am remembering one event after another that they have managed to make more difficult or just completely ruin.

I realized tonight that maybe one reason these feelings are re-surfacing to the extent that they are is because the anniversary of Ed’s passing is like a reminder to me about all the anger I’ve had against them and how they helped drive him to the lowest point in his life. As much as I want to have a functional relationship with them, a part of me will never forget how poorly they treated him, especially when you compare their treatment of him to their treatment of me.

Tonight, like I anticipated, my mother asked and obsessed over the same things I predicted. Since she knew I had dinner with my cousins’ cousins in Montreal, she asked me five hundred annoying questions about their family and made sure to add in the 100-dollar question, “I don’t mean to be nosy, but who paid the (dinner) bill?” There’s really no winning here no matter what answer I give. There are three possible answers: 1) I paid, which would infuriate her, 2) they paid, which she would be mad about because then she’d feel a massive, guilty need to re-pay them immediately because it’s impossible for her to truly believe that anyone would willingly do anything nice for me without expecting something in return as soon as possible, or 3) we split the bill, which also would drive her crazy because then we were all cowardly and none of us would take the initiative. Of course, when I said it didn’t matter and that my cousin paid the bill, she got annoyed and asked if I had bought them a gift. No, Mom, I didn’t immediately run to a store to buy them a gift after dinner because I’m not that transparent. But I will remember that they were so generous, and I will most definitely offer and pay the bill when they decide to come to New York eventually.

It’s a good thing that I’ve somehow managed to un-learn a lot of the stupid, negative things my mother has tried to teach me. I shouldn’t feel guilty when people are nice and pay the bill for me and feel like I “owe” them something ASAP. When I pay the bill for others, I shouldn’t feel like I am “waiting” for them to pay next time. It should just be what it is, and if I surround myself with good people, we should all be good and generous with each other. It doesn’t have to be negative if you can just look at it positively and think that maybe not everyone is out to “get” you.

Cousins’ cousins

Today, we arrived in Montreal, and we arranged to have dinner with my cousins’ cousins, one of whom lives in Montreal with their mom, and his brother, who lives right outside of Toronto but just happened to be visiting this weekend. It was a bit of a coincidence, but it was still nice to see them.

I realized after talking with the younger cousin, who is just a year older than me, how much different my life is since we first spoke at length in July 2007, when he stayed upstairs from my parents for a week with his family to attend my cousin’s wedding in San Francisco. At that point in my life, I’d only left the country once to study in China. my knowledge of the world was vastly different than what it is now. Then, I didn’t think much of his accent and didn’t really talk to him much about how he is tri-lingual in French, English, and Cantonese. Since then, I’ve traveled to over half of the states in the U.S. and have been to four other continents. He was asking me about my experiences in Asia and Europe, and I realized that I could actually speak about these things relatively intelligently and not sound naive and wistful about it all the way I would have seven years ago. He told me he still hasn’t left North America but really wants to visit Europe, and I felt a little sad. I know part of the reason he hasn’t left is because of the hold of his mother; I know the way his mom is, and I’m sure she tries her best to control what he does and doesn’t do.

Part of me just wanted to tell him to get the hell out of his house so he could be normal and lead a regular adult life… sort of the way I got out. But I didn’t want to cause any trouble, so I just encouraged him to find a friend to travel with and just book a trip. Maybe he will do it at some point, but hopefully sooner rather than later.

Cassis d’Île d’Orléans

Today, we visited Île d’Orléans, which is a beautiful (and relatively large!) island just a few miles outside of Quebec City. It is an idyllic island originally colonized by the French that is covered in lavender fields, fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, and wineries. One of the most interesting things about it was the widespread presence of cassis, or black currant. Chris was in heaven.

The first winery/confection shop we visited specialized in all things cassis – jams, syrups, candy, and wine and liqueur. We were given a free wine tasting of at least four different types of cassis wine ranging from light to cognac-like (creme de cassis). It was as though Chris was being transported to his childhood days of drinking Ribena, except this experience was much more suited for adults given the alcohol content of these sample sips. I originally thought that maybe it was just this one shop that made black currant products, but in every subsequent shop or winery we visited, they all had black currant items. That black currant flavor is so distinct and delicious, yet it’s such a shame we can’t check any baggage and bring this creme de cassis back with us. It’s the kind of liquid that you just want to keep drinking and drinking, not just for its pure taste, but also for its incredible mouth-feel that is one part syrupy and another part soft and velvety. I can feel my mouth watering as I type this now.

Vieux Quebec

We’re back in Canada again after nearly a year, but this time, we’re visiting Quebec City and Montreal. It’s kind of sad when I think about it; I’ve been wanting to visit Montreal since college, when I was in the Boston area studying and knew that Montreal was just a (very long) bus ride away. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any friends who were that excited by the idea of visiting this city with me (well, it was probably college cheapness that trumped that desire). I was obviously never going to visit with my family, so it took being with Chris to come to Canada my first time (last year in Toronto to visit Ben), and this second time. And as an added bonus, we’re visiting Quebec City, too.

Quebec City doesn’t seem to have the international notoriety that Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver have, but it certainly has its charm and beauty that make it a unique place. It’s one of the oldest European settlements in North America, and a lot of the buildings have supposedly retained their general feel from 16th century when it was founded. Its skyline is gorgeous particularly because of the Chateau Frontenac, which is actually a Fairmont hotel now. Who would have ever thought that a hotel would dominate the skyline of a city as beautiful as Quebec City? It seems so odd and definitely is not something I would assume.

Calmest moments

I called my mom today after I got off work, and I could tell she was on edge because she kept asking me the same questions twice minutes after asking them the first time. I asked her what she was doing, and she said that she and my dad were getting ready to go visit Ed at the Columbarium. Since they weren’t here on the 22nd, they had planned to come see him after they came back from Monterey.

On the train ride home later tonight, I suddenly felt really solemn when I thought about all those times that Ed hated spending time alone with my parents, and all those calls he would make to me when both of them were not home to rant to me, or that brief period when he had a mobile phone, and he’d use it to call me to complain about them. As much as I love my parents, they always see the glass half empty and look for the worst in every person and every situation; it’s just the way they are, and I’m sure it has been shaped by life circumstances they have faced as well as bad experiences with others they’ve had. Ed knew this, and he couldn’t stand it. Even in their calmest moments together, Ed was always tense and uneasy; he never felt fully comfortable and was always scared of the next second when our dad would criticize him for doing something “stupid” or our mom would snap at him for something else nit-picky.

And when I thought about all this, I realized: the truth is that their calmest times together have been… now, when Ed is no longer of human form, and my parents go visit him on their own at the Neptune Columbarium. As depressing as that is, it is the reality of the situation. My dad can’t say anything to put him down, my mom is too overcome by her grief of losing him, now just over a year ago, that she can’t get mad about anything, and Ed… is just quiet and observes them observing him.


I don’t mean to be an offensive person, but sometimes it’s as though I have no choice but to say something that will piss someone else off. I spent most of my childhood being told that I had to be nice to everyone, smile and laugh, be charming, be agreeable, not stir things up. I’m sure the reason for this was a combination of my being a girl and being Asian, but either way, it’s not very conducive to making sure that people don’t think that you are a doormat, stupid, or have zero personality.

So I was on my way to dinner with some college friends, and I am telling one of these friends a conflict I am having. She immediately starts giving me advice, i.e. how to assimilate and be something I am not. She is dead serious. She is not even half joking. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I refuse to accept being a phony (and anyone who got anything out of Catcher in the Rye should know this, too), so I proceeded to tell her off. I told her that I am 28 years old working at a tech company, not in K-12 trying to “fit in” and struggling amidst cooties, boy trouble, and self esteem issues. If I can’t be myself now, when the hell am I ever going to be myself? If anyone has any desire to lead a meaningful life, s/he would not just walk around being a fake and doing things for the sake of doing them. At the end of my rant, she was obviously rendered completely speechless and just had this half stunned, half “you’re so evil” look on her face. So, I changed the subject.

Needless to say, I won’t be initiating any more outings with this person. In fact, I was reminded in this moment why I’d made no effort to contact her in the last five months since I saw her last.

One year.

Dear Ed,

I can’t believe it’s been a year since you decided to leave this world. In fact, even though you decided to leave me exactly one year ago, one year ago today, I was not even aware that you made this decision to leave and jump off that bridge. I was at home, on the phone with my friend and eating dinner. I thought it was just any other night. I had gotten off the phone with our mother just a bit before, and I was telling her about my plan to go to Toronto with Chris to visit his brother that following weekend. And then a couple hours later, she calls and leaves a calm, urgent voice message, and when I call her back, she tells me that you are missing.

It wasn’t until tomorrow one year ago that I knew for a fact that you were missing… and dead. I knew it. I could feel it. I can’t remember any other 16-hour period of my life that was worse than that time, when I felt more helpless and like I could do nothing at all. I just kept hoping and hoping in my mind that you were still out there somewhere, breathing, eating, walking — just alive. The world became a blur to me and nothing else really mattered as long as I knew that you were fine.

And then our dad called me early afternoon on the 23rd and confirmed the terrible news. And I honestly just felt like dying at that moment. I wasn’t sure if or how our parents or I could get through this. How was I supposed to live knowing that you, my big brother, decided life wasn’t worth living anymore and committed suicide? How could I live with myself always wondering that if I maybe had done one extra thing for you or said or not said something else that maybe you’d still be with us today?

It was like my whole life changed from that point onward. My hatred and anger for our family increased exponentially – for all of its dysfunction and negativity and lack of genuine care. My levels of sensitivity heightened to a point where I was always finding myself tearing up or crying over things that I’d never really gotten emotional about before. My impatience became greater, and I found myself getting more irritated by sayings or people that I never would normally have issues with. My consciousness of what it means to be “empathetic” grew, but mostly because I felt like 90% of everyone around me had no idea what the hell that word even means or how they were supposed to act around me knowing that I had just lost you, and not just lost you in a “natural” way, but to suicide. I was already someone who had a smaller group of friends, but it’s like this happening only proved how much smaller that group had to be in my life because I didn’t like the way a lot of people responded to me after that.

I want you to know that despite all the pain and tears in the last year that I’m not mad at you for leaving. In fact, I can’t even remember a time when I was angry with you in the last 365 days. I can’t blame you for not wanting to be a part of this world. I feel this spiraling sadness and feel even worse when I think of how lonely you must have felt all those years because no one really understood you, and I wasn’t physically there enough to comfort and encourage you. I still have moments when I curse myself and think I didn’t do enough as a sister to help you. You’re the only one in my life who would be happy for me because you just are and because you love me, not because you have anything to gain from it. You’re the only one who could understand me in your exact way because we grew up in the same house with the same parents. You’re the only person who will ever have the exact same blood in his veins as me.

A lot of people think that because I’ve gotten a new job, done a lot of traveling, continued socializing and working on different projects that I’m just fine without you, that maybe the pain isn’t there anymore, that maybe you are no longer top of mind to me. Only morons would think that way. I think about you every single day, if not every single hour, even if just for a second. Even though you died, I have to move on with my life to make sure I can stay sane, to prove to you that life is worth living and amazing things really can happen on this earth. You left too early, Ed. You didn’t even stick around long enough for Chris and me to take you out to Indian food to celebrate your 34th birthday. Well, I’ll admit — that’s something I’m kind of pissed about.

Did you see us when we were in Brazil, and Chris proposed on Sao Conrado beach with all of those hang gliders constantly landing on that brilliant white sand? I thought about you a lot that day. I’ve thought about you a lot every time I share the proposal story because I wish I could have called you to tell you myself and hear you get excited for me…. because I know you would have been despite the profound sadness that enveloped you. I’ve caught myself tearing up when I share the story because I always remember you and how you will never physically be here for me to tell, and you will not be here the day we get married.

It’s okay, though. I always feel you, and in my heart, you will never be dead. You still live on in me, in my life, and all over San Francisco whenever I go back. I love you and miss you so much, Ed. I hope you always remember that wherever you are and no matter where I am. Life has to end, but love doesn’t. Our love will never, ever end. And I will see you again — in this life, sadly only in my dreams, and in the next life, when you are waiting for me to join you when I am ready.