When a tornado hits your airport

My last customer meeting ended at 2pm today, so when I was originally booking my round-trip flight, I wasn’t sure when they would have availability with me and arranged to come back on a 7pm flight. I called AA to rebook me onto an earlier flight, and they placed me on the 5pm flight. At the airport as I was finishing up some work emails, I received a cancellation notice for my flight. While on my computer, some massive grey clouds descended upon Boston Logan airport. For a while, I couldn’t even see through the window because it was like we were being fully drenched in endless streams of water. When the rain dissipated, I tried to go to the nearest gate to see if I could get on the next flight out. And I overheard that a small tornado hovered over the entire Boston Logan airport, resulting in countless cancelled flights, including mine.

I was imagining a tornado spinning, fully surrounding this airport, and imagining all these people, including myself, sitting there, typing away on their computers, reading on their smart phones, completely oblivious. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

I silently dealt with the flight rebooking and sat down. Unfortunately, not everyone was as quiet as I was because some rather overweight gentleman came barreling through the crowds of people surrounding the gate I was at while on his phone, complaining at the top of his lungs how mad he was that he had to rebook flights and hotels due to the weather here and how terrible everything is for him. And when he wasn’t done, he proceeded to call four more people to tell them the exact same story. His voice was nearly at shouting volume. Many, many people turned to look his way to give him disapproving looks. He had zero self awareness.

I realize that everyone has different coping mechanisms when travel plans do not work out, but is it really necessary to be complaining loudly so everyone within 200 feet can hear about how horrible your life is when a flight gets cancelled or delayed… when literally every single person standing around you is facing the exact same thing?

Overhyped Boston restaurants

While I spent four years in college in the Boston area and then subsequently went back very regularly to visit my then boyfriend for three additional years, there was always one restaurant in the North End I always wanted to eat at, but just never got around to because it was infamous for its long wait (they don’t take reservations), plus it was cash only. From what I’d heard, they were also pretty arrogant and had terrible service, but sometimes, that’s just what you deal with to get good food, right?

Finally, this work trip, some friends in the area suggested we eat in the North End, so I asked if we could go to Giacomo’s. We didn’t wait long; in fact, we waited just long enough for our third friend to arrive and got seated right away. It probably helped that it was a Monday night at around 6:30, too. But when we got seated and I took a look at the menu, it all seemed pretty standard. I couldn’t tell if these were all fresh pastas or not. We ordered the veal parmagianno, the fettuccine with mixed seafood, and the lobster ravioli, as well as the fried calamari to start. The fried calamari was mediocre at best, full of fillers, even fried onions and peppers! The veal and the lobster ravioli were delicious. The mixed seafood was all cooked well. But the fettuccine, although al dente, wasn’t anything remarkable. I wondered why a place this famous wouldn’t have fresh, homemade pasta as a default, or even an option on the menu… until I read a Yelp review that said you actually have to “know to ask” for the fresh pasta with a small uncharge. Why should an Italian place have that be an “off menu” item — isn’t that something so basic to their cuisine?! But almost to make up for it, the prices were pretty reasonable, especially for the North End of Boston; with one starter, three mains, and tax and tip, we ended up paying $26 per person, which is pretty unheard of in this part of town.

Giacomo’s has decent Italian food, but other than the for the prices, I’m not sure why this place is so popular and always has crazy lines. It seems far more overhyped than it should be. I definitely think that New York City is infinitely better for Italian food overall, for the range in price points, quality and variety of Italian dishes, as well as.. well, places that actually offer fresh pasta and don’t make it some senseless secret.

Monday, July 29th, again.

Ed died on Monday, July 22, 2013. In this year 2019, six years have passed since his untimely death, and with Leap Year in between, it also meant that it was also Monday, July 22, just last week, which means that today, Monday, July 29, 2019, is also the same Monday as when we held his funeral. It made me sad to think about this last night, to think about the general somberness and misery in our parents’ house that week, how I edited my eulogy for him on the Sunday before, and even argued with our idiot selfish cousin the night before about some reprinting he wanted to do on the program that I refused.

But I also thought about how although time has passed, although my parents lost a child and my dad had heart surgery in this time, they’re probably even more miserable than ever before. You’d think that if someone had heart surgery, they’d rethink how they want to live life. You’d wonder if someone had something so gut-wrenching and tragic happen such as losing a child that they’d make some positive changes in their life, create a new start. But our parents really haven’t done anything like that at all; instead, they barely float in their day-to-day delusional life, my mom with believing Jehovah will save her if she continues her preaching with her Jehovah’s Witness acquaintances and friends (despite never having even converted a single person), my dad with believing that if he just keeps organizing his pills, pulling more cabinet doors apart and breaking them, and accumulating more clutter and junk in the house that everything will be just fine. But it isn’t. It’s like a big accident waiting to happen. And that freaks me out because we all know that if anything happens like that, I’ll have to suck it up and deal with it.

I like to think that a lot inside of me has changed since moving out on my own, losing Ed, leaving my dysfunctional and constantly angry and resentful family. I worry less. I’m still judgmental, but I judge a lot less. Frankly, I also “care” less than I used to about even the closest people in my life, but I think that’s for the better. I used to obsess about whether certain partners were the right fit for my friends, whether they were really making the right choices for themselves, if X action was really going to produce Y result like they’d romanticize… but then finally I realized that what I perceived as “care” (or really, what my mom perceives as “care” which she instilled in me) is really a disguised form of judgment. There’s an innate sense of “I know what’s better for you than you know what is good for you” message in that, and that’s not really right, is it? I am more patient about some things, like when my colleagues are telling me they’ve had a bad day and want to discuss their parents’ alcoholism or their dad’s abusiveness towards their mom. But I’m also a lot less patient at the same time; I have a higher tendency now than ever before to cut my parents off, tell them when I think they’re doing something thoughtless or stupid, and just to tell them that they’re wrong and going to cause their own premature deaths. It’s not very Confucian of me, but I kind of don’t care. What I will tolerate from them has changed quite a bit. They may never fully acknowledge they are wrong about anything because that’s just who they are and what they always will be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t let them know they’re screwing up along the way. The truth hurts.

Ed is gone. It’s really terrible. I feel the most hurt from it every time I go back to San Francisco and leave again. I think the other thing that always gets me is the lives our parents are living and how they do little to nothing to acknowledge him in any way. I’m sure our mom does some self reflection and self blame from time to time; she’s told me a few times. But with my dad, as per usual, I’m pretty certain he’s just blocked it all out of his head. He has no methodology for handling and acknowledging emotions. Instead, he chooses to spend most of his time talking to himself, yelling and swearing in all the ways he would have wanted to if he had more courage and confronting all the people who supposedly have wronged him… including Ed and me.

Ed would be sad to see them today. Even though his relationship with them was tumultuous, I think inside, he just wanted to them to be healthy and happy; towards the end of his life, he used to tell me that he’d pray for our mom’s health every night. But we both always knew that was pretty much impossible.

Suicide prevention advocate in action

I’ve been fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) each year since my brother passed away, and this year will be my sixth year walking in their New York City Out of the Darkness walk to raise awareness. Given that I have been actively sharing my story through the fundraiser and via social media to spread the word, what this has also meant is that many people over the years have also reached out to me in need of help and guidance. I’ve been happy to be that shoulder and support for them, and if anything, I’ve felt really appreciated that they would remember me and my brother and how I’ve tried to increase awareness about suicide and mental health.

While in town in San Francisco this week, a former colleague who had left my company about two years ago reached out randomly on Facebook. She was always someone I respected a lot; she’s extremely intelligent and had a way of working with colleagues that I’d never quite seen before. I remember sending her note before she left, suggesting we stay in touch. We did that, but just over Facebook to date. In her private message, she said that her good friend’s son had attempted suicide and was currently under close watch at a psychiatric ward, and they were all terrified and had no idea what to do and how to help, and the first thought she had was of me. In her life, she said, she’d never met anyone who had talked about depression, mental illness, or suicide, except me, and she’s over 40 years old, and found this fact embarrassing when she shared this with me. She asked if there was a way for us to connect, and so I met her at a local coffee shop near my office here. We talked for over an hour about the situation, navigating through different options, and advising her on things they absolutely needed to do (and not to do).

It was a gut-wrenching situation, and while I do not wish this situation upon anyone, it just goes to show exactly how prevalent mental health is ignored and how suicide ideation and attempts are so much more frequent that we could possibly fathom. She just kept expressing how helpless and alone they all felt. This friend was like a sister to her, and her son was like her own nephew in terms of how close they were. I kept prefacing everything by saying that I wasn’t an expert, that I certainly did not know everything there is to know, but she insisted that just having this conversation openly and without needing to think before she spoke was what calmed her down so much after this horribly intense week. I told her I’d follow up with some resources that might help her and the family, and that I’d be in touch.

If I could help save just one person’s life in my efforts of being open about my own experience through Ed with mental illness, that would be enough for me to know that everything I have done in the last six years has been worthwhile.

When everything is filled with drama

I had plans this morning to meet my friends for brunch and some time at the botanical gardens, and given timing, I told my parents that I would meet them at the Neptune Columbarium, where Ed’s niche is. I said I would leave the Golden Gate Park area at around 2 to meet them. Somehow, despite telling both of them this twice, they both “heard” me say that I would meet them at the Columbarium at 2pm. My mom called at 2pm as I was waiting for an Uber to pick me up, and she was panicking as she always days, asking me where I am and why I am not there. I repeated again what I originally said, and I can hear both her and my dad in the background claiming that I never said that, that I said I would meet them at 2pm. I told them that they both didn’t hear me correctly and that I was on my way.

Then, as I spent time at Ed’s niche, they both left me alone and wandered around, getting their free coffees from the front office as they always do, and sitting in their car. It’s a great way to bond with your dead son, making sure you are always getting free refreshments from the place that you spent tens of thousands of dollars on his niche at.

I got back into the car, and they immediately started arguing over where to eat for dinner. I told them that I didn’t mind, that they could choose; it wasn’t a big deal to me. My mom gave me an icy tone, saying she wants to “show respect” to me and have me choose. That’s her not-so-thinly-veiled way of saying that I should choose and “care.” I truly do not have a preference, so I said she could choose since she ate at these places more. Then randomly, my mom started marveling over the visit they had with us to the Salesforce Tower roof yesterday with Chris, and she said she really enjoyed the oat milk latte we ordered for her. Dad said out of nowhere that the free latte was tasteless and bland, and he had no idea how anyone could drink something like that. I told him he rarely drinks lattes and doesn’t know what they are supposed to taste like, plus he probably just had the oat foam. In his usual childish and defensive tone, he said I was wrong. Then, he continued to talk to himself and repeat the word “tasteless” about 10 times on our ride home.

Even after we got home, I could still hear him muttering “tasteless” over and over. This is after he not only had a free and beautiful visit at the tallest building in San Francisco to get a 360-degree view of the city, but he also got free coffee and food there, plus a gondola ride and a walk through the Salesforce Park with me, which he got annoyed about within ten minutes of walking around and said he wanted to leave.

I’ve read so many books and articles about mourning, about parent-child relationships, about death. One of the topics that seems to come up repeatedly is that once someone is dead, you start realizing that you end up missing all the things they used to do that would annoy the hell out of you and increase your blood pressure when they were living. For Ed, this could mean asking me really basic questions that I felt given his age, he should be aware of, or asking me the same question three times over the course of 30 minutes. In my parents’ case, it could mean… hey, one day, when my dad isn’t here anymore, I might actually miss how childish he is and how much mothering he needs. I could end up missing how he needs to ask you the same question three times in three different ways in an hour just because he probably wasn’t listening to your answer the first or second time when he asked. I could possibly end up longing for how ungrateful he is for experiences that I expose him to and how little appreciation he has of pretty everything in the world, whether it’s a beautiful view or a free coffee drink (that someone else is ultimately paying for, one way or another). For my mom, I will probably end up missing how she panics over my safety every second of the day, how she insists on packing me oranges or kiwis in my luggage even though I could easily buy these same fruits in New York, how she is overly critical of me and pretty much every human being on earth.

So when I get annoyed, I have to step back for a second and say to myself, maybe I should be grateful they are pissing me off right now and showing a complete lack of gratitude for how kind and generous Chris and I have been with them. Maybe I should be thankful that they are sitting here, able to complain and criticize everyone. Maybe I should be grateful because of the fact that they are actually still alive, and not everyone is as lucky as I am to have one or both parents still alive.

Annoying family meals

Chris and I planned to have dinner with my parents tonight, but my mom told me last minute that she wanted to bring one of her good friends, as well. I think we all know the reason she wanted to do this: she loves being able to brag about how well her daughter is doing, whether it’s explicit or implicit. I really do not like it, but her friend is actually not the most boring of the people she spends time with, as she actually talks and seems somewhat cultured, so I figured it would be okay.

The conversation really just ended up being between her friend and me. We talked about her recent travels, her cruise, how well her husband, who is pretty much bed-ridden, is doing. And of course, she asked about when we were going to have a baby. She’s personally devastated because she has no faith that her oldest child, her son, will ever meet anyone and be serious enough to get married; then, her daughter, who has been married for over seven years now, seems to be facing some fertility issues. So as a result, she and her husband have decided they will not have children. And because she is so close to my mom, she claims she looks at me like her “second daughter,” so she has all eyes on me and a potential growing belly.

I told her she’d find out when anything new happened. I left it at that. But that answer apparently was not enough, as she asked a second time. “When will you have babies?”

I’m not really sure what kind of a different response you expect when ten minutes have passed, but it was not fun. And to add to the annoyance is my mom saying, “I’ve been waiting and looking forward, but I’ve heard no news!”

And then Chris, to stoke the fire, said, “We have no plans!”

I left to use the restroom. And Chris let me know afterwards that my mom and her friend proceeded to have a 1:1 conversation about why we were not having babies: they travel too much for fun, they travel too much for work, what are they going to do with travel once they have a baby; they might stop traveling; no, they will continue traveling.

When I hear conversations like these, I always wonder: are people choosing to have these pointless conversations because they truly have nothing else to discuss at all or look forward to?

Coffee and snack breaks

Every time I come to San Francisco for work, I feel grateful that I have a number of colleagues here who I like, value, and appreciate, even beyond work, but I feel conflicted because I rarely get as much work done as I would like. The reason for this is because I end up spending a lot of time catching up 1:1 or in small group settings with them, whether it’s over coffee/tea, lunch, or snack breaks, that I never end up getting all the tasks I originally set out to do done.

The way that I circumvented that this time was by front-loading my month to ensure that the majority of my calendar was free while I was here this week. It’s the end of our fiscal quarter, so while sales is scrambling to close their last deals, I’m pretty much done with my planned customer engagements and can calm down a bit and catch up on other “nice to have” tasks that I don’t always have time for.

It felt much better this time around. I didn’t have to feel as rushed or time pressed. I actually could enjoy myself and my catch-ups, and I didn’t constantly have to check my phone for messages, emails, and the time. It was a “relaxed” state of work for me.

Back 12 years later

In the summer of 2007, I had a summer internship at Fleishman Hillard, which is one of the largest public relations firms in the world, in their downtown San Francisco office. I was working for its technology practice with a very large and busy team. It was located at 555 Market Street, which I’m assuming it still occupies, one of two twin towers that shares a grand entrance complete with a ramp that runs over a waterfall and pond fixture.

Today, I went to its twin building for a customer visit, and it felt a bit funny for me to be entering these buildings again, 12 years later, as a working professional, visiting from New York to meet with one of my customers. I no longer work in public relations (and thank God for that), but I still am in the technology sector. I walked in, feeling grateful that I left PR to pursue technology for many, many reasons. Life would have been very different if I had continued in that career path, and it would have felt pretty lifeless and boring. That entire summer was painful at work, and I waited every day until 4:30 or 5 when it was okay for me to leave. That office was a sea of politics and favoritism, and knowing how low the pay was and how unattractive the benefits were made it even easier to turn my back on it.

A lot is wrong in the technology industry, particularly when it comes to women and people of color. But where I am today is far, far better than the choices I left behind from my college internships.

Sea of whiteness

Chris and I were traveling today from New York to San Francisco for work on the same flight, and we both requested an upgrade via miles. Due to a system malfunction, AA failed to properly process his credit card for the mileage upgrade, so he got skipped over in favor of two people behind him on the upgrade list. I got upgraded in advance of our flight, so I was already set up in business class. He was not happy about this.

So I set myself up in the first row of business class, and as the flight attendants shut the plane doors to complete the boarding process, I stood up to take a look back at the rest of this cabin. Lo and behold, as with nearly every other upgraded flight I am on, it’s always the exact same view: a large sea of white men gracing the entire cabin. The few exceptions are the occasional one or two white or South Asian women, and of course, me. In this case, every single person in business class was a white male except for the white woman seated next to me and myself.

We have a legacy of racial inequality that we cannot escape, as much as people want to assume that race does not affect or factor into everything. Once someone claims he is sick and tired of viewing everything through a lens of race, that’s when you know he is blinded by his own privilege and the injustices he may never have had to encounter himself. Why is that? Because it is such an extreme privilege to not have to think about one’s race in daily interactions, how we are treated, how we are looked at. At this point in my travels, I shouldn’t be that phased by this view behind me. I should accept this as the reality of travel. But it still irritates me a little bit every time, particularly with these transcontinental flights. I am a tiny part of that change, but fliers like that white woman next to me and/or Chris are not enough.

Six years since.

Dear Ed,

As we approached this date, I was in denial that it had really been six years that have passed since you died. I don’t know if it’s my heart and my mind’s way of not getting over you, but I still don’t really think you’re dead. Realistically, I know you are gone, but in my body, I do not feel this is the case. You still feel very much alive to me; maybe it’s just my internal organs’ way of denying the truth of your death. Or, maybe it’s my body’s way of saying that it is fully aware that a part of you still exists out there and is still connected to me.

It was hard this year for me to turn 33. It doesn’t seem like a particularly remarkable age or number, nor is it considered some milestone age. But the core reason is that I didn’t really think it made sense to be turning the same age as you were when you took your own life and died. At age 33, I have lived a very different life than you had, and in many ways, I felt like I wasn’t that worthy of what I had, that it would have been better if you had at least enjoyed half of the privileges and experiences I’ve been so lucky to have. Our lives were not even at all. And how could I possibly be the same age as my big brother? I kept asking myself. None of that makes sense at all. The whole point is that you’re supposed to be my older brother. That means you are older than me. But now, you aren’t. I couldn’t wrap myself around this. I just felt so upset. Logically, it makes sense. But I still didn’t want to accept this.

They say that everything heals in time. Grief eventually is replaced by gratitude, it is often said. Yes, I am grateful for our time together. I am grateful for having you in my life as my big brother. But I don’t think I will ever fully heal from your death… your untimely death, your suffering, your pain. I’ll be honest and say that as time goes on, the more and more I seem to meet people I truly believe are absolutely useless, have no purpose, and are just a waste of space, self-serving, self-seeking, and overly entitled human beings that probably shouldn’t even be called human beings. And then, I think of you, and I think… why do these people get to exist, and you do not? How is that possibly fair? If anyone with half a brain thought about this, there’s no way to rationalize that life is fair. Life is so far from fair that it hurts when I think about this.

Our mom has aged exponentially since your death. I don’t want you to worry about it, but it’s true. It’s like she really just doesn’t care how she looks anymore, puts together the most random pieces of clothing, and walks out of the house. She says, “it doesn’t matter; I’m old now,” as though older people shouldn’t want to look and feel good. She thinks she is somehow undeserving of looking and feeling good. It’s so sad. If you can believe it, she probably worries and panics even more after your passing than before. She really loves you so much, and she occasionally mentions it in quiet moments with me. I know deep down, she blames herself and goes in endless circles thinking about what she could have done differently. I know it doesn’t matter anymore because it won’t change things, but I can tell just from how she talks about you now that she definitely feels this way. She misses you every single day, even if she never fully appreciated you when you were here with us. I am guilty of that, too, though. I think we all are.

You know what is the most frustrating part about all of this? That I know no matter what I say or do, that I will never get to see you again. I still dream that you faked it all and that you never really died, that you faked your death, got a fake dead body and had it stuck in a casket to resemble you. It was never supposed to be like this. I never thought life would end up this way. I never thought I’d be married, living in New York, missing my dead brother who died by suicide. We were supposed to be in it together until the end, Ed. I still remember when our mom used to talk to each of us after we’d have fights when we were little, and insist that we had to find a way to get along and “show love.” Because one day, she said, our parents wouldn’t be around anymore, and we’d only have each other, and we’d have no one else who would unconditionally love us. So we had to look out for each other and stick together. That has been lost now for us, for me. Sometimes, I still feel really lonely when I think about you and how you are gone.

I miss you so much. I love you. I hope you are safe and at peace. I also hope that you still think of me with love. Because that’s the way I think of you, even when you were being annoying and insane like most siblings can be. Please don’t forget me. I’ll never forget about you.

With all my love,

your moi moi Yvonne