A Great Holiday

I have had one of the best Christmas holidays in a long time.

I usually like being around family, but our options for “family” have been pretty limited since we’ve both been living in the United States.

We spent this Christmas eve with a couple of really awesome people. Then we spent Christmas morning exchanging small stocking gifts for each other (after 6 years together, we ran out of “big” gifts to give each other).

And Boxing Day ? I did laundry and cleaning–which are actually amongst my favorite things to do. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I enjoy housework. TubHubs and I have a running joke; he sometimes wonders out loud how angry he could make me… just so he could get me to go on a cleaning rampage (I clean to calm down).

Then tonight, we watched two movies in a row–Loopers and Inglorious Basterds–with a bottle of wine. Now we’re both browsing the intermets because we’re drunk. And yes, TubHubs combed his mustache the whole time.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

“Just The Spouse”

The only occasion I’ve proudly said, “I’m just the spouse”, was directly after a US Customs officer turned to me (having spoken with TubHubs already) and asked, “and what do you do?”

 

Sisters 

I’ve never had a sister. I used to laugh at girls who complained about their sisters taking their clothes or make up.

Today I realised… I have a sister now.

Coming home to Vancouver to my parents house, I notice some of my things have been raided. The work of my brother’s girlfriend, who stays with him often.

My pink hair brush, for example, on my brother’s desk. No doubt where she last did her homework. Some of my hair accessories on my brother’s windowsill.

Surprisingly, I am not mad. I’m not annoyed. I’m happy.

Andrea has been dating my brother for years. It never occurred to me that she would have any use for my things. The gesture of her just taking my things to use as her own feels so sisterly that I feel nothing but loved.

It funny to me that now that a personal boundary has been crossed, I welcome it. It’s a weird feeling to have another girl using your things, and to think of it as a compliment (she must think I have good taste) rather than disrespect.

It feels good to have a “sister”.

I should mention: Andrea has also done the chores usually reserved for family, like picking me up from the airport, and talking my mom down. So she’s a good sister that way, too.

Just a Saturday Morning

Woke up, read my book, got into an argument, had some coffee, back to reading my book, then I painted my nails in the childish color of lavender.

I felt the need to write about something important, but then thought I’d leave that for a weekday.

TubHubs is outside helping our landlord with some outdoor chores. Pretty difficult to stay upset at someone who helps other people do things for no personal gain. Okay, maybe some personal gain; he likes being outside in the sun.

It still amazes me how far I’ve come. If this had happened six years ago, I’d be bitching about the insignificant argument as if it was the end of the world. Four years ago, I would have resolutely told myself not to talk to him again for the entire day. Two years ago, I’d be throwing out “let’s just break up!” lines every which way.

But today, I’m somehow able to see our argument for what it was: a short, insignificant moment in which we disagree with each other about something, and then we moved on.

It’s funny–now that I’ve gotten to this point, I remember all the times my friend of 16 years has had to tell me, “I get that you’re upset, but what happened isn’t really the end of the world. Things will fix itself and everything will be fine.”

And this makes me think: how often did I feel too much? How often did I let my emotions get the better of me and wrecked havoc on my daily happiness?

The last time I really had to have a real, tear-filled “complain-fest”, was over two years ago. Somehow within that time, I stopped taking everything so seriously and things stopped looking like they were insurmountable, ever. Now when I get upset, or annoyed, I’m able to just think, it’s not that big a deal and just.. move on with my day.

It seems ridiculous to write about this; it probably even sounds immature that I didn’t learn to let things go until I was in my late twenties. But I’m just glad that I did evolve, even if it might have been later than everyone else.

I Fell Far From The Tree

In my life time, I’ve heard my mother cry once.

It was in the middle of the night, right after another one of their evening shouting matches. These had become so frequent that my brother and I learned to fall asleep to her shrill tones and his muted replies.

I was woken up by my father. He tugged on my arm and whispered for me to change places with him. He told me he’d sleep in my room and that I was to go sleep in their bed with my mother. Sleepily, I obeyed.

Their bedroom was dark. The shape of my mother took up the far side of the bed. I crawled into my father’s side and tried to sleep… but couldn’t. I was afraid. The anger and resentment still hung heavy in this space they shared.

So I just rigidly lay there, hoping sleep would come. I wondered how many times my father had lain in this same spot, hoping for the same. I tried to will sleep to come by forcing my breathing to slow, relaxing my limbs.

And that’s when I heard my mother sob. She tried to stifle it, wanting not to wake me. The mattress beneath my body shook with her pain. I froze. I have never heard my mother cry before.

My image of my mother is of Constant Anger and Resentful Hatred. Our home is occupied by her daily discontent and tantrums. Going to school was the escape. In my child’s mind, my Mother was the evil Dragon Queen, the Blue Beard, Hansel and Gretel’s evil step mother who convinced her husband to leave them for dead in the woods.

So to witness the Monster in my own version of a fairy tale actually sob from pain and sadness–I froze. I did nothing.

If I was a sweeter child, a kinder child, I might have rolled close to her and try to hold her. I might have cuddled up against her and told her that I love her. But the cold, terrified kid I was, I did nothing. I felt pained hearing her cry, as most people would seeing a family member in pain, but at the same time, I didn’t want to cross that invisible line.

My mother has an invisible boundary to keep intimacy out. I have never seen her give or receive intimacy from anyone. Not from our father, not even from her sisters. She kept everyone at arms length. I know she must have held us as babies, but I have no memories her holding us behind what was necessary.

My father was a different story. I remember my father holding us in bear hugs so tight that we screamed that we were being crushed. I remember feeling my father’s love for us being squeezed into our being and I remember feeling safe, even though we almost couldn’t breathe.

So I did nothing. For years I held on to that memory. I excused myself from feeling guilty by telling myself that my mother wouldn’t have wanted any comfort. I told myself that I respected the wall of resentment she erected against us.

The truth is, I missed the opportunity of a life time. Had I ignored my fears of being turned away or rebuked and just comforted her, my mother might be a different person now. She might have felt less alone in all those years. She might have come to understand that the children she didn’t want to have were actually good things to have in her life. She might have had a few less resentments to live with for the rest of her years.


I don’t really know what made me write all this here. Once I got into a long term relationship and had my first “cry to sleep” night because of an argument with a partner… I started thinking about that moment more and more. I remember feeling so alone, so sad, and just wanting someone to understand. And I wondered if that’s how my mother felt.  I start seeing my mother and her life in a different way; not as My Mother the Monster, but as just another person I might know as a friend.

I saw all the struggles she had. The endless days being stuck at home with two babies, wanting to return to work but being told by her husband that she could not. Losing all of her friends and being cut off from the outside world. Being a stay at home mom was different for her; she didn’t have a car. She couldn’t have been able to go far with two babies on foot. Just strapping us in baby strollers to walk to the market was enough work, how could she have gone to visit friends?

I think of how alone my mother must have felt, as a 30-something year old mother of 2 young children. Now that I’m closer to her age back then, it’s become easier and easier for me to relate.


I’m not my mother. I know I’m not. I’m a happy person. I used to wonder if my mother had once been a happy person and life simply took that from her; but thanks to her sisters being too chatty with me, I know she wasn’t. She had been an angry child, an angry teen, and an angry young woman. She’s been angry her whole life.

Just a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to put all these things down in words. I was afraid of writing about her. I still am a little afraid to write about it, fearing that I’d see bits of her in myself.

But now I can say… we do share similarities. We’re both loud. We both like to argue. We both fear intimacy. But we are also different. I’m a happy, easy-going person. I let go of resentments. I move on. I know that I don’t have to live my life according to someone else’s wishes.

My sunny outlook on life, my freedom to live as I want; this is thanks to my mother. She saw the kind of kid I was, and she saw how the strict social environment in Taiwan in the 80’s and 90’s would have crushed me–just as how it probably crushed her in the 60’s–and she took us all to Canada. What a Taiwanese school teacher called “willful and un-lady-like”, a Canadian school teacher saw as “imaginative”.

Whether I would have turned out like my mother if I had grown up in a similar social climate, I can’t say for sure. But I can say that despite my mother being the “Monster” in my childhood, her decisions ultimately gave me the best chance to grow up a happy person, and that’s something I can never thank her enough for.

Things I Remember About My Father

The most intimate moments I remember of my father are these:

Once, when we sat in the living room of our small apartment while he cleaned out my ear. I sat on a stool, with my head on his lap. My father shined a lamp over my ear as he carefully extracted ear wax from my ear. I had had an ear ache.

Years later I knew that ear wax wasn’t the cause of ear ache, that instead it was infection. But still I can remember feeling better just sitting there on a tiny stool with my head on my father’s lap.

Then another time, I was much older. My father’s pinkie finger was infected. A bad manicure. It physically pained me to see the swollen nail beds. I pulled my father’s fingers into my hands, up against the bright bathroom lights. I poked and dabbed at it with tissues and a needle, all the while wishing I could magic the infection away.

My father and I aren’t close. We know virtually nothing about each other. We haven’t lived together since I was 10 years old.

But these 2 pieces of memory are still precious to me. And I only remembered them now because of a scene I read in a book.

Back From the Land Down Under

I’m back, and yet I’m not.

Jamie and I spent 3 weeks in Australia visiting with family, and I loved all of it. I fell in love with his family, who accepted me as part of them, now that we’re married.

What I remember, most of all, is what Jamie’s father kept saying to me the summer before this last. Summer 2013 was when we last visited them. Jamie and I wouldn’t be married until mid 2014, and we weren’t yet headed in that direction.

I eat slow, and so did Jamie’s dad. Each time this was brought up, Rod would look up at me meaningfully, and say, “I’m glad to have another slow eater in the family.” That meant so much to me. I fell in love with their family then.

Now that we came back, we can both feel the loss of family. We don’t enjoy living here in America. We love each other very much, yet we also realise we need other people in our lives. Other people who love us and who we love.

So we’re planning. We’re going to get ourselves home. Soon. It’s not easy, but we know we need to do it.

How to Love a Monster: A Candid Reply to a Painful Question

I have a cousin who is a homo-erotic pedophile.

When I was 10, he was 13. My little brother was 3. My cousin was living with my family and I because we had adopted him. His father (my mom’s little brother) has always been in-and-out of jail, and his mother was out of the picture since he was a baby (she abandoned him).

One day, my mom & my grandpa (my father didn’t live with us, so my grandpa stood in) took my older brother out to shop. It was just me, my cousin, and my little brother. We watched TV.

At one point my little brother asked me to take him to the bathroom. My cousin volunteered to take him instead. I think nothing of it.

Until a few commercials pass by and they are still not back. My brain automatically goes back to the one memory I have when I was 5 years old and my cousin (who was 8 years old at the time) had me pinned to the floor behind a couch at my grandpa’s house. My cousin had tried to “make out” with me like we saw in movies. I remember saying I didn’t want to “play that game” but he continued to insist anyway.

While I never told adults about that time, I always felt there was something not right about it. Perhaps that was why I never told the adults about it.

Regardless. That moment when it occurred to me that something might be happening to my little 3 year old brother, I went full berserker-rage.

I started pounding on the bathroom door (locked) and making all sorts of threats against my cousin. It only took a short moment but I realised I could pick the lock with a toothpick, and I did.

Long story short, I break into the bathroom to find my cousin leaning over my little brother, who was naked and on the floor.

This time I told the adults. Not about me, but about what had happened to my little brother and what my cousin did. I remember sitting on the steps waiting for them to get home and my cousin crying and begging me not to say anything.

My mom, who has a violent nature, beat the living shit out of my cousin that day.

My cousin was then taken to live with my aunt (another one of my mom’s siblings) and no one ever spoke of what happened again.


The worst thing to come out of everything that happened is seeing the effect this had on my grandpa.

My grandfather was a wonderful person. He was there for me when my father wasn’t. When he lived with us, he was the only one to keep my mother sane when my father couldn’t. And when my cousin was abandoned as a baby, my grandfather took up the job of raising this little kid that no one wanted.

My grandfather loved my cousin as his own son.

That day when my mom beat the shit out of my cousin, a part of me felt triumph, but when I saw the pain on my grandfather’s face, I lost it. I understood in that moment that no matter how terrible and hurtful my cousin’s behavior was, he was still that little abandoned baby in my grandfather’s mind–and to see my cousin being punished broke his heart. I feel that seeing this happen to my grandfather in turn broke mine.

I feel that eventually I tried to understand my cousin, and I tried to see him with the eye of a parent. I could do this by envisioning my own little brother who could be a pedophile, a monster. I studied Criminology in school and I focused on pedophilia. I had a thirst to understand how to forgive.


What I found is this: pedophilia is a mental illness. It is only classified as a mental illness because there is no other way to describe it. It’s like people who are attracted to furries or people who are attracted to dead people. It’s an innate urge they have inside their brain that they cannot completely control.

And when I think of that with my cousin.. I feel sad and sorry for him. Because he has a part of him that is harmful to society, yet at the same time he cannot tell his brain not to be attracted to the things that attracts him. And because of this thing that he cannot control, he must be ostracized and prosecuted.

If I look at him with the eye of a parent, I hurt for him. I can’t begin to understand how it must feel to be prosecuted with hate for something that you cannot control without assistance. It’s like putting an alcoholic in jail after a drunk driving and having the rest of your family just write you off and disowning you.

I think of how alone my cousin must feel. I think of how people see him as this disgusting monster and how he must hate himself for thinking that it is true. When I think of that, it hurts. It hurts because I don’t think anybody deserves to feel unloved by their parents or family for having something they never chose to have.

I’ve asked my cousin before, when we were older, what he thinks of his “illness.” He said that life would be very wonderful if he could just be a “normal guy” who was attracted to the “normal things.” There is nothing he wants more than to be “normal”.

Being attracted to the things he is attracted to is not only a “forever-alone” sentence for him, but it is also a “hated-for-life” sentence as well. No matter how well he adjusts his behavior in order to fit into regular society, he will always know that there is a part of him that is hated and despised. He will always know that people like him should just be dead so that everyone else can live in a happier society.


So when you ask “What the fuck were you thinking…” I think your parents see your brother as a child who they love. I think when you have your own child, you will understand just how difficult it is to hate your own child, even if it is a monster.

Hereditary

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but whenever I cried, I only ever cried from one side of my face. My right eye would get puffy, my right nostril would be running. If I cried especially hard, then my right eye would begin to get sore.

Then the next morning, I would have a lop-sided face, like Two-Face. My right eyelid would be a lot thicker than my left eyelid until the swelling subsides.

I have never tried to understand exactly why this is until I recently remembered a portrait of my grandmother that I always thought was odd. According to my mother’s family, I look like grandma. This was brought up during every large family gathering. This provoked me to to scrutinized every photo of my grandmother every chance I had as a child.

In most of the photos I saw of her, she looks fine. However there is one portrait my grandfather had always hung up where ever he lived. In this portrait, my grandmother has one eyelid (her left) larger than the other. I didn’t make the connection until last night during an especially contemplative moment–it hit me that the portrait was taken of a woman who may have been crying the night before.

And this is intriguing.

Growing up in my family, I saw so much fighting between my parents that I escaped heavily into the fantasy world of happily ever afters. For that reason, I always assumed that couples who have stayed with each other until one of them died must have had perfect relationships. It didn’t occur to me that there would have been any horrific pain if the two people have stayed with each other until the end.

The photograph is a sudden reminder that a woman in a perfect marriage with six gorgeous children could possibly be sad. It’s a reminder that even when a person could have as much happiness as you think any person could have, there are always going to be moments when pain seeps through.

What’s shocking is that I’m only realising this at 28 years old. It’s helped me realise that not every little annoyance is a reason to run.

So this is how I say goodbye to the delusion of happily ever afters.