Dear Ed,

In the last five years since you passed on this day, I’ve occasionally awakened in the morning, feeling bad that it’s been some time since we’ve spoken. “I really need to call Ed to catch up,” I think. And then suddenly reality hits me, and I feel like a total idiot because the realization that you, my big brother, the only person who shares the same blood running through my veins, are dead and have been dead this whole time, grips me, and I sink into a miserable abyss. Sometimes, it is still a shock to me that you’ve been gone all this time even though it clearly doesn’t make sense.

The American playwright Thornton Wilder once wrote, “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” That could not be more true. In the last five years since you’ve left this earth, I also consciously wake up to the feeling of gratitude for everything I’ve been fortunate to have had: good health, my loved ones, my experiences — my experiences with you for the 27.5 years we shared on this earth together. I still grieve you, and sometimes I still feel broken that I’ve lost you, but above all, I am grateful for what you taught me, how you selflessly loved me and gave me things, both material and not, that have helped shape me into the person I am today. Because of you, I try to live each day with meaning, with purpose, to prove to you that this life is worth living. I always did love a challenge; I still want to prove you wrong in this case.

I still see you everywhere, and I hear you everywhere. It doesn’t seem to matter where in the world I am. I can still feel you with me, even if the thought is unrealistic or just flat out absurd. When I listen to songs like “Silence” by Marshmello and Khalid, or “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga, I think of you and think you would have liked those songs. When I was in India, I kept thinking about how you’d like certain dishes we were eating, or how you’d grimace at all the wild animals walking amongst us in the streets. When I’m at work chatting with my colleagues and enjoying my time with them, I wish you could have had similar work relationships that I’ve been privileged and lucky to have had. There is an entire world of experiences that I believe you were robbed of. And it hurts me sometimes when I think… why am I so lucky to have these experiences, and you were not? It’s just not right. It’s not fair at all.

I’m sorry that this world could not keep you safe. I am sorry that I could not keep you safe. I am limited in my ability, in my reach, in my grasp of you. I’ll never stop being sorry for the wrong that was done to you. It’s a pain that never seems to stop for me no matter what I do.

I love you. I miss you. I hope to see you in the next world I will call home. And I hope you will be waiting for me.

With love and longing,

your little sister Yvonne

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.


“Somebody That I Used to Know”

My new manager is in town this week, and he took both the success and services teams based here in New York to dinner tonight. My parents-in-law also arrived just for the evening tonight since they are en route to Toronto this week for an event, and so I decided to leave the dinner a bit early to spend some time with them before bedtime.
Towards the end of the time at the dinner table, a colleague and I were discussing with our half of the table relationships in general and how we’ve each gotten together with our spouses. We left early together since he has a longer commute back to Long Island. He walked me to my train stop since it was en route for him to Penn Station, and we continued our romantic relationships discussion. He asked me about my relationship before Chris, how and why it ended, and if I still kept in touch with the guy.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to… he didn’t,” I said to my colleague. “He said it would be too awkward and painful,” especially since we almost got engaged. My colleague told me he had repeatedly tried to get in contact with his ex-girlfriends just to have a coffee or drink together, but they repeatedly refused. They want nothing to do with him.
I told him I get it, though. When you think about it, it’s a pretty painful situation. In almost every breakup, it’s usually one side that initiated the breakup, while the other side didn’t want it. In the time you were together, you probably knew each other intimately in both an emotional and physical way, and once you break up, all of that is also broken, as well. All the shared truths, the intimate details of each others’ lives, the vulnerabilities… it’s all wasted knowledge. All that time spent together is like a sunk cost. The time you spend with people, whether it’s platonic or romantic, in some way can be seen as an ‘investment’ into building a relationship of some sort. But once broken up, neither can do anything with that knowledge. It won’t bring you closer because you’ve broken up, never to return to that same intimate state ever again. You know each other and are aware of each others’ existence, but you are strangers once again. That person is just somebody you used to know. It’s just like that Gotye song that Christina Grimmie and Adam Levine covered for “The Voice.” It’s a bit tragic when you think about it — time spent, invested, that is ultimately wasted; a relationship that once had its glory moments that has essentially died, needing to be buried or cremated. You need to forget it to survive and move on.
“Somebody That I Used To Know” – Gotye
Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember
You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over
But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No, you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No, you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Somebody (I used to know)
(Somebody) Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Somebody (I used to know)
(Somebody) Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
I used to know, that I used to know, I used to know somebody

Sky of Red Poppies

For the last month, I’ve been reading Zohreh Ghahremani’s book Sky of Red Poppies, which is a book about two girls’ controversial friendship during the rule of the Shah, and into the Iranian revolution. I finally finished it on the plane ride back from Miami today, and as the plane descended, we got to the part of the book where Roya, the main character, learns that after she’s moved to the U.S., her brother got killed during one of the protests as an innocent bystander, and her family kept his death from her for months, if not years. No one mentioned his passing to her over the phone when she’d call; they’d insist that he was busy, not there, or “just didn’t want to talk on the phone.” She was filled with so much shock, despair, and outrage.. she didn’t even know how to mourn him properly. As soon as my eyes reached these pages, they overflowed with tears. I felt knots in my stomach. I don’t even know these people… they’re all fictional, just a story in my head. But it hurt so much to read this. Sibling death is too close to me, and to think that it would be kept a secret is just so devastating. I used to have nightmares of things like this happening, of my brother or my father dying, and my mom never telling me… or telling me months after the fact. These are the moments when I miss Ed and really wish he were alive and healthy.

Sore leg, sore mind

Who knows if it’s because I strained my left calf during my Land’s End walk on Sunday, or if it’s because of being idle while lying flat on a bed flying from SFO to JFK, but my left calf is hurting. I woke up this morning limping, so I decided to stay home and work remotely. I was able to do some water therapy in the evening at the spa in the building, and I feel a bit better now.

I still feel hyper emotional, though. And I am still spending a lot of time thinking about Ed. I started going through old AFSP messages I’ve written about him and old e-mails from the time he passed away. I just really, really miss him right now. Maybe the trigger was going home and being at the house we once shared.

Whoever said life was fair never said how fucking hard it can be.

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.

“In Loving Memory”

I was sorting through a few things in my old drawer at my parents’ house this afternoon when I came home. I do have a number of my own belongings in the desk, but for the most part, my parents use it as additional storage. One familiar piece of gold card stock paper was on top of a bunch of other paper: my wedding program from almost two years ago now.

Obviously, I recognized it and immediately knew what it was. I read through it, as I hadn’t done that in a while even though I made a whole wedding scrapbook with all the random papers and things from that three-day period. But as my eyes traveled to the bottom, I read the one line that always made me so sad, even though I was insistent on having in on there: “In loving memory of Edward Y. Wong.”

The goal of having Ed everywhere at the wedding in different ways wasn’t intended to be a sad thing to do; it was a way to inject him into the wedding and be a part of it so that he’d still be a part of our life, even after his death. It was meant to be a celebration of him and his life, of what he meant to me. But I couldn’t help but tear up when I read this today. And then I just started crying. It’s been nearly two years since my wedding, and almost five years since he’s passed, but I still am not over it. It still makes me cry to think that he wasn’t at my wedding even though I clearly knew he was not. But to remember it stings so badly. It shocks me when I think of the time that has passed since he died. I always wonder even though it’s pointless if there was anything I could have said or done differently, if I could have expressed my love for him more. I think we both knew we were at the end when I started repeatedly telling him I loved him on the phone that July. I’d never done that ever. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even told my brother I loved him verbally before that month. Maybe I could have hugged him more or called him more. I don’t know. But I think about it anyway.

I know most people didn’t care about him. They thought he was average and forgettable. Most of our relatives say they miss him, but do they really? Probably not to be honest. They thought he didn’t do anything with his life. But none of that matters to me because he’s my brother. I still love him. And I just miss him so much right now. Today’s just one of those hard days.

Homemade birthday cake

I was at work today, getting all frustrated by these manual tasks I had to do in this new application we’re leveraging at work to document all our tasks. What a great birthday, I thought in my head. This application really sucks.

And then my colleague pulls me aside and tells me I need to go to the kitchen ASAP. Hmmm, do I get CAKE?!

Our office manager organized a birthday surprise for me and had everyone (who actually showed up to the office, that is, since it was snowing today) sing me “Happy Birthday,” and also made me a cake — it was a two-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. It looked so professionally done that I honestly thought she bought it and was joking, but apparently she wasn’t.

“No one has ever made me a cake before!” I exclaimed. I was truly in shock and so overwhelmed to know she had actually spent the time to bake and decorate this cake just for my birthday. “Actually, someone did bake me a cake once… it was when I was five. But that was a long time ago!”

And then the memory hit me  — the first time I could actually remember my mother getting jealous. My aunt, who lived upstairs from us, always used to bake with me. She’s the reason I got into baking and ultimately cooking. She said we were going to bake my birthday cake together, so we actually baked a cake together and decorated it, complete with vanilla frosting and rainbow-confetti dot sprinkles. I was so excited to have this as my birthday cake.

My mom crushed it by telling me she’d already bought me a cake and that would be the cake I’d pose with for my birthday photos. I told her I didn’t want that cake, that I wanted the cake I had made with my aunt. My mom refused and said her cake was the cake we’d put the candles on. I was not happy, but I didn’t say anything. At the time, I didn’t realize it was jealousy. But looking back, it was very clear that was what this was about.

If you were to look at the photos from my fifth birthday, you can see that the cake I made is off to the side, without any candles. The candles are on the chocolate cake my mom bought me… which I actually didn’t like because it had some weird cherry flavoring that was too strong for my five-year-old taste buds.

That was the beginning of the jealousy and irrationality. I just didn’t know it yet then.

But anyway, isn’t it funny how these random memories get triggered from so long ago?

In my thoughts

Every new year that begins leads to my birthday in just a couple short weeks, and as the week approaches, I always think of Ed since he passed. I remember how he so generously gave me all these gifts every year, how he always made sure to wish me a happy birthday even when I wasn’t home… except that last year when he died. He was too depressed to call me, too gone from his mind. And I knew something was definitely wrong that year, more wrong than ever before.

And that was it. He’s been gone from my life for 4.5 years now. Four and a half years just flew by, and somehow, I got here. The age of 32. One year away from the age when he jumped off that bridge. It’s like I have aged, yet he hasn’t. He just doesn’t age anymore.

I wonder if he’s still out there somewhere, watching over me as my birthday descends. I wonder if he thinks about the gifts he could have given me, or the cards he would have gotten me that had corny messages. I wonder if he wonders if our dad will actually call me instead of sending me a pathetic e-mail wishing me happy birthday in a single line. I wonder if he thinks that one day, my dad will finally treat us both equally and just not acknowledge my birthday.

I wonder what he thinks of how our parents’ lives have progressed since his death. He probably sees them flailing and thinks, “well, what a surprise.” They have no material reason to worry: they are both retired, they collect Social Security payments and pension checks, they both have a healthy amount of savings that could allow them a comfortable lifestyle if they chose. But they don’t choose that. They rather wallow every day and stress out over things that don’t matter, pick fights in their heads with random and innocent and well-meaning people. If anything, my parents have mentally gotten worse since my brother’s passing. The level of paranoia and distrust has increased. It’s only getting worse by the day. I wonder what Ed thinks of all of it. Does he have some smug self-satisfaction that his parents will never be happy or satisfied with anything? Does he feel sorry that I still have to deal with all this and try to rationalize irrationality? He’s more likely to feel sorry for them. That’s just the kind of person Ed is.

It’s the same feeling every year around this time. I just wish he could be here and healthy. I wish he had someone to love him the way Chris loves me. Maybe he’d still be here if he did.