Calling home and wanting to hear someone’s voice

When planning to fly back to San Francisco, I usually call home the day before. So I left work today, completely drained from a stressful and hectic week of work travel, work drama, and event logistics planning insanity for our annual user conference next week. I felt really cloudy and didn’t want to think about anything. I just wanted to veg out and not do anything productive. So on my walk to the subway, I called the house number, realizing at that hour, my parents would likely not be home. But in the back of my mind, I thought, oh, that’s okay. Maybe Ed will answer, and I can talk to him.

Oh, crap. Ed’s not here anymore. What the hell is wrong with you?¬†

I hate these moments of complete brain failure when reality hits me, and I actually still think my brother is alive. It still hurts… even after all this time.

Ed’s 39th birthday in Vancouver

It’s my first time celebrating Ed’s birthday outside of the U.S. It was just Bart and me today, so we had to make it worth it. We enjoyed the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the hotel’s Executive Lounge, complete with cold-pressed juices and even chocolate almond milk, wandered around Granville Island and enjoyed looking at all the local arts and crafts, especially the hand-crafted pottery designs. It reminded me of the ceramic designs that we admired while we were in Seattle together in 2004. I actually brought back a small little ceramic jewelry bowl from Pike Place Market during that trip that I placed next to my framed photo of the two of us together on our bedroom dresser.

We then took the ferry back to the West End and walked along the urban beach overlooking the English Bay. Walking through the streets of the West End, both residential and commercial, I found myself thinking that a lot of these streets felt like the ones I walked with Ed in Seattle 14 years ago. We walked through Canada Place and looked out at the harbor, admired the cruise ships and their massive fleets. I then sat with him at the bar of Miku, a well-respected aburi sushi restaurant in Vancouver, and we enjoyed the Miku Zen lunch special; he posed with the sushi and agreed with me that the wild British Columbia sockeye salmon aburi oshi sushi bites were truly the best and most memorable bites of this entire trip, if not ever. They were fresh, mouth-watering, savory, a little sweet from the Mizu sauce, and literally just melted as soon as they hit your tongue. We debated whether we would get another half order of the salmon aburi, but decided against it unless we wanted the bartenders to wheel us out.

We wandered over to a cafe in Gastown known for London fog lattes and enjoyed a large mug while gazing over at the Canadian baristas so naturally doing their day to day jobs and not even realizing that a little Bart Simpson was watching over them. Then, we headed back to Yaletown to pick up a slice of Erin Ireland’s “to die for” vegan lemon coconut loaf slice to save and enjoy for later when we’d be at the airport with lesser tasty options. We did some window shopping before heading back to the hotel, stretch our legs, pack up our last little bits, and grab a cab to the airport for our two flights home.

It felt nice to be traveling alone on my own today, to feel free and to go at the pace I wanted to go and wander around a little aimlessly, to stop at random places to take photos with Bart. I’m sure I almost mowed over a few Canadians and tourists alike with my speed walk and didn’t do my hamstring any favors today, but Bart seemed to enjoy himself for Ed. I hope Ed was watching today.

Happy 39th birthday, big bro. We ate well for you today and miss you. We’ll never stop thinking about you.

Family ties

Today, we received a phone call from Chris’s cousin to let us know that he and his wife were separating. It was certainly not news I was expecting at all; if anything, I was expecting that he would tell us that they were expecting another child, or there was some big career change move that we would have no idea about. Honestly for me, it was pretty devastating, and I didn’t even know what to say. His wife and I had grown close during our wedding planning periods since our weddings were not too far apart, and we actually learned in spending time together that we had so much in common, everything from our tastes in food and the way we like to travel to our general outlooks on life. We had many Whatsapp texting sessions every now and then, and so it’s hard to believe that now that they are separating that she’s technically no longer “family.”

How do we define “family” anyway, though? Is family just the legal ties, or the blood ties that bond us? Or, is it something less concrete and more fluid than that? She’s still going to be the mother of the child they will continue to share. She’s not the kind of person who would cut any of us off, so what type of relationship are we supposed to have, if any, to her? It’s not as though we live in the same city (or state, or country, or even continent), so it’s not as though we will need to deliberately avoid her or seek her out often.

I just felt so sad today — for them, for their daughter, for us, even. There will be a long road of unknowns coming up very soon.

Conversations that will never happen

In the summer of 2006, when I came back from a month in Shanghai, China, which was my very first time ever being out of the country, I returned home with lots of pictures and random souvenirs to share with my parents and Ed. Ed had endless questions about the way life was like there, what people were like, what the food was like. In his nearly 34 years, Ed had never held a passport, nor did he ever leave the country, though he did thikn about it in his last six months and asked me how he could apply. Sometimes, in our chats about China, he was so child-like that he’d just ask constantly variations of the same question and not even really realize it. Throughout the last week in India, I thought about things that Ed would have liked and responded positively or negatively to. Indian food was always one of his favorite cuisines, so every time we ate something new during this trip, I thought about how he would have enjoyed it.

I thought about the conversations we’d have about the dals, the pooris, the mostly vegetarian meals that we had. I imagined him asking me about the lack of beef due to the sacredness of cows, asking if idlis, dosas, or vada were really filling and satisfying enough, as I don’t believe he’d ever had any of those things before other than dosa. I imagined him asking if the gulab jamun was as gross and greasy as at India Clay Oven, the Indian spot we used to have lunch buffet at in the Richmond District back home. I’d tell him about the endless varieties of Indian sweets, the milky ones to the semolina-based ones, and how I would think he’d enjoy trying all of them. I thought about telling him about the traffic, especially in Agra, where we walked among cars, “autos,” cows, goats, and even chicken, and how freaked out he would be by all that madness. I’d tell him about how persistent the beggars and the auto drivers were to get our business, and he’d shift and get uncomfortable, wondering if he could handle all that himself if he were to travel to India.

But as I sat on the return flight yesterday, eating my meal, thinking about these potential conversations, it hit me that none of these conversations were potential; they were all just in my head. They could never have the potential to happen because Ed is no longer with us. I could have these fictionalized conversations with him in my head or in my dreams, but they’d never be able to happen ever. There’s no possibility that these conversations would happen because he’s been gone nearly five years now. These are futile thoughts — to think about conversations that will never happen, chats that a brother and a sister will not be able to have because they are separated by life and death.

 

Father’s Day dreams

I awoke this morning from a dream where I was in a large, eclectic market, one that is reminiscent of the beautiful markets we browsed and inhaled recently in Oaxaca. Only this time, instead of being with Chris, I was with my brother. I turned a corner into a brightly colored stall to see my brother sitting at a low, round table, painted pink. He had wax paper lining almost the entire table, and on top sat at least a dozen different Dominican pastries. Some were filled with guava. Other looked like rolls. A few others looked like cheese breads. But they all looked and smelled delectable. Ed peered up at me and asked me to sit down.

“Look at what I picked up from the market!” he exclaimed, clearly proud and joyful of his edible finds. Before I could even sit down and take a bite, though, our mother appeared out of nowhere and started yelling at him.

“Why did you buy all this junk?” she yelled. “We can’t eat all this. It’s not good for you. You should have asked before getting us this! What a waste!”

Ed’s face immediately soured, and I was put off, as well. It was like real life once upon a time all over again: Ed being happy about something, then immediately having all the happiness drained from the situation because our mother decides to ruin the situation and make everything negative. Then, my dad appeared out of nowhere and didn’t say a word. How typical.

It was like my reality but in another country. And well, it was a dream. Or was it?

And, a happy father’s day to you, too.

U.S. naturalization ceremony

I originally planned to be in San Francisco from Sunday through Sunday to maximize time with family, friends, and colleagues, but I had to cut it short when we received a notification a couple weeks ago that Chris’s naturalization ceremony was scheduled for this morning. He had applied to become a citizen last August after all of the political nonsense that this country is facing with Trump being president. Trump as president has really spurred a lot of people to become more politically active, which is great news. Chris wanted to have his voice heard, so this was the result.

You’d think that if you were being sworn in to become a citizen of a new country that it would be a celebratory event, that it would be an occasion that would be happy, full of smiles, music, and praise. Well, that was not what I witnessed today. As soon as we entered the courthouse, all of our phones and any “smart” device were confiscated, neatly placed into a “smart phone cubby” that was organized by medallion number. No electronics of any sort were allowed into the building; they’d hold it for you. Then, as visitors sat down, the new citizens had to have all their paperwork organized and ready for when the officers needed them.

And, it’s no wonder that they ban all electronics and thus recording devices because it is absolutely disgusting what you’d see if I actually videoed what I saw today. As a country, we should be ashamed of how we treat newly naturalized citizens. There was not even an ounce of warmth, of respect, of anything positive in that room in the entire three-plus hours I sat in there waiting.

I witnessed some of the most inhuman interactions today. There was a line to get your papers checked, and a second line to get a second check done. It wasn’t clear that there was a second line given how people were organizing themselves. An officer says to someone walking towards the line, “Are you lost? The line is right there!” as though he’s some total incompetent blind person. Another officer berated another person who didn’t have her papers organized as though she was a little child; this new potential citizen was at least in her 40s. Every interaction I witnessed made me more and more angry. I was just bracing myself for how they were going to treat Chris when he got up there.

When Chris finally got to the front and was showing his papers, the interaction seemed pretty benign; no meanness or tone of arrogance coming from the officer, which was not what I’d previously witnessed.

Two hours later of waiting with no electronics, phones, or books in hand, the “ceremony” began (can I add that there was a rack of magazines that were roped off that said “do not touch”? How more evil can you possibly be when you’ve stripped everyone of their smart phones?). We recited the pledge of allegiance, a judge came out to give a speech to basically encourage everyone to vote… because of course she would do this since she’s a lesbian with a family, and has her own agenda to push.

She said that of all the judges she’d spoken with, this ceremony was what gave them the most joy in their jobs. That was total garbage, every word out of her mouth; they got to sit in there in their robes for ten minutes to talk about the hopes and dreams of becoming an American, yet they didn’t have to sit and wait through the last two hours of being stripped of electronics, being dehumanized in line, talked to like children, or the last five, ten, fifteen, or however many years it took all these people, mostly people of color, to get to this dehumanizing room to get ‘naturalized’ today. Everything about today’s ceremony was crap; there wasn’t even a moment where I thought, if I were getting naturalized today in this room, I’d be ecstatic, proud to be here. We were both just eager to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. All I could hear out of Chris’s mouth were expletives under his breath. And I couldn’t really blame him. But I honestly could not feel that happy, either, even though his “status” would be changing. It was a truly terrible experience for the entire three hours we were in there.

We ended the day with a beautiful omakase dinner with two good friends and drinks downtown. We had to have something to look forward to after such a crappy U.S. government experience. But this marks the end of my love’s immigration hell. This is truly the end.

And as Chris reminds me, now he doesn’t need me anymore and could divorce me. Heh.

This used to be my garden

When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard of my family’s house. Then, when I was wee tall, it felt like a big garden, a place full of mysteries and things to be uncovered. I played with different bugs, chased butterflies, smashed snails (no one likes these hideous things eating our plants), dug holes and buried things. I occasionally tried to grow plants. Some worked out (snow peas, cherry tomatoes, and some didn’t (endless variety of flower seeds that I cannot even remember all their names). I rode my tricycle in ovals around it, failingly attempted to learn how to bike in it (it was too small), and horsed around with my brother and our super soakers. When Willie, my incredibly intelligent pet parakeet, was around for seven years, he used to sun, sing, and take little bird baths out there and keep me company. Once, he even escaped from his cage and chased a hummingbird. That yard is full of fond memories for me. It was like my happy place in a not so happy home. My grandma made that yard into a true garden filled with gladiolus, birds of paradise, Chinese new year pink blossoms, her very proud apple tree (which produced dry and tasteless apples, but at least it looked good), Asiatic lilies, dahlias, and other gorgeous plants.

Once she died, the garden died. The entire place went into disrepair because my mom didn’t have the time to maintain it, and my dad didn’t care to take care of it even though he talked about caring about it. Weeds overtook the blossoms, and the flowers gradually stopped blooming. My dad occasionally tried his hand at things like rhododendron, lilies, hybrid tea roses, and star jasmine, but it never really stuck. The place of calm and beauty that was once a part of that house was gone.

When I came back home this morning after an early morning flight, I went downstairs into the yard. It just looks worse and worse every time I go home: the fences bordering off neighbors are chipping and discolored. Piles and piles of dirt are everywhere. It’s weeds galore no matter where you look. What was once grass is now a bunch of yellowed, hay-like crunchy stuff. But there are some hints of life of things my dad has tried and successfully grown, such as rosemary, English lavender, and a single Double Delight hybrid tea rose shrub that is managing to survive despite having most of its leaves covered in some speckled black disease. There’s even a beautiful cymbidium orchid that is now blooming in the corner of the yard, away from what you’d see when you take a quick glance around. It still looks like hell, though. This is certainly no garden or paradise, and I’m certain if my grandma were to be reawakened from the dead to see the state of her yard, she’d probably drop dead on the spot.

It’s strange, though, to think that this yard used to feel so big to me, and now it feels so small. Yes, I’m bigger and obviously an adult now; decades have passed since I used to spend long hours out here. But the way I look at it is so different, everything from the size to the scale to even the way the apple tree and the fences look. It used to be so comforting, a mini escape. But now, it’s not happy anymore. It’s depressing and not even a fraction of what it used to be to me.

It’s like that Madonna song “This Used to Be My Playground,” with the chorus that goes:

This used to be my playground (used to be)
This used to be our pride and joy
This used to be the place we ran to
That no one in the world could dare destroy
This used to be our playground (used to be)
This used to be our childhood dream
This used to be the place we ran to
I wish you were standing here with me

It’s all been destroyed.

Chicken tenders

My mom never enjoyed cooking; she has always done it out of necessity because she married a man who didn’t cook and pretty much expected his wife to cook for him. So she ¬†learned a bunch of basics from her mother-in-law, her sister-in-law, and ran with it. One of the things that was always on rotation growing up was chicken tenders. She used herbed shake’n’bake type bread crumbs, coated flattened chicken pieces in egg, then dipped them in the breadcrumb mixture, and pan-fried them in a little oil. They were always one of my favorite things that she made, and I always looked forward to eating them.

Now that I’m an adult and am experimental with cooking, I made my own version with herbs, garlic powder, homemade panic breadcrumbs, and grated parmigiano reggiano. I baked them and was pretty impressed; they’re like the adult and more sophisticated version of the chicken tenders my mom made. I think she’d be pretty satisfied with these if she were in New York.

Red eye dreams

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.

My brother making jook

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.