My mother called today with some urgency in her voice. I braced myself. She has a tendency to begin good and bad news in the same ominous way: “I have something to tell you,” she said. Continue reading “An Update From My Mother”
I don’t often write about my mother, but birth and mothers go hand-in-hand and both days are upon us. Continue reading “A Note on my Mother”
|In case you were wondering what an “obstructed view” at Carnegie Hall looks like.|
Last weekend, Tom and I went to California for a wedding. Continue reading “A Wedding, A Concert, Anxiety”
Greetings from San Mateo, California, where my brother and sister-in-law live with their newborn baby – my nephew – Dylan and their dog Poochy. Dylan is cute. In all the ways babies ought to be, as though cobbled together from various types of bread: with arms like just-baked dinner rolls, belly like a giant loaf of sourdough, hands and feet like delicate braided pastries and a gleaming, puffy face which, for some reason, reminds me of a doughnut. A glazed donut when he cries. Continue reading “What is Good Parenting?”
Leaving the theater on Wednesday night, I checked my phone and saw that my mother had called during the show. She left a message: Continue reading “Anniversaries: My Mother’s Take”
“You have it too easy,” my aunt said, said stroking my hair, “You’re not depressed. You just have difficulty.” Continue reading “Taipei Jeans: A Flashback”
By this time next week, my parents will have been in New York for one day. They are coming to visit me en route to Canada, where they’ll rendezvous with their retired friends to take in Canada’s fall foliage.
“It’s a good time of year,” I said, when they first proposed the dates, “It won’t be too cold, and there might be a hint of fall colors. And it’s about time you guys met Tom.”
My father grunted, “I don’t need to meet him. I’ve seen his picture.”
“Betty’s right,” my mother said. I could picture her smiling into the receiver. “It’s about time we visited her in New York and met Mr. Tom.”
The last time my mom came to New York was ten years ago, to help me move into NYU. I was eighteen and in New York for the second time ever. My brother and cousin Karen came with and the week before school started, we rented an old but clean two bedroom apartment near Greenwich Village. We bought breakfast foods from the nearby Morton Williams, made toast and fried eggs in the mornings and walked around the city, doing the requisite touristy things – we went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw the Statue of Liberty, took a photo or two in Times Square.
They accompanied me on multiple trips to the first two (or was it three) story Bed Bath and Beyond I’d ever been to, and made sure I had all the necessary dorm room items – scratchy sheets, a too-warm duvet, laundry basket, plastic storage bins, a desk lamp. There was also a shitty, three-cup rice cooker that always produced something closer to congee regardless of how much water I put in. For dinners, because there was no such thing as Yelp! and as I was coming from suburbia and emerging from an age where The Cheesecake Factory was a good restaurant, we ate at restaurants that have surely since been shuttered. There was however one Chinese restaurant we wandered into one evening, and which I continued to frequent after my mom, brother and Karen left. It was called Wok n’ Roll. A quick Yelp! search tells me there are many Chinese restaurants in and around New York with the same name, but the one I, and my roommate too, after I’d taken her there one evening, returned to time and again in Greenwich Village no longer exists. It helped me through some hard times, but the abundance of grease, sugar and MSG in the delicious orange chicken – no doubt it made the hard times harder.
That first week in New York, I ignored the lineup of orientation and welcome activities NYU held for incoming freshman, telling myself my family was in town and my time would be better spent hanging with them. I could, and would make new friends later. This is only partially true.
What happened when they, my familiar cocoon left, is that I cried on the corner of Washington Square Park for a good ten minutes as their taxi drove off. I could see my cousin Karen turning around to look at me from the rearview mirror until my tears blurred her face. They turned left and out of sight. I was alone in New York City.
A few months later, after a tear-ridden telephone conversation with my parents about feeling depressed and directionless, my mother bought a plane ticket and booked a hotel room. She would come to New York, she said, and take me home. Unbeknownst to me, my brother told my mother to calm down. He’d come to New York alone and bring me home. He called me one chilly December evening, as I was trudging home from another mind-numbing astronomy class, and asked what I wanted for dinner. He was at JFK, and would be in Manhattan within an hour.
I screamed, then said I could eat whatever. I was very fat then.
“Steak,” he said, because he always wants steak, “Let’s get a good steak.”
I forget where we ate that night, but I remember smiling across the table from my brother, feeling less anxious and happier than I’d been in a long while. I called my mother that night and told her I was coming home, that I was done with New York. For a while.
“Good,” she said, so was she. For a while.
I was sitting with Tom in his room, deliberating what to read before bed.
“Nope,” I said, thinking about all the unread books I had at home, “I’ve got everything I need right here.”
“Good,” she said.
“I’ve been thinking about your visit though,” I said, “Is there anything in particular you and dad want to see?”
“No, not really.”
“No like…scenic spot you guys really want to see?”
“No museums. And I doubt your dad will want to sit through any shows.”
I smiled. My father’s last trip to New York was some fifteen, twenty years ago, when he’d come with a friend cum business partner, Uncle Xia, and Uncle Xia’s sister. They had had a few steak dinners and attended a concert at Lincoln Center, where both my father and Uncle Xia fell asleep, snoring. Some minutes later an usher tapped my father on the shoulder, politely asking them to leave.
My father was sitting next to my mother, who had me on speakerphone. “I want to see Columbia,” he called out, “And that one park in the middle.”
“Bah. Central Park. It’s called Central Park.”
“I just want to see you and your little apartment,” my mother said, “And I want to meet Mr. Tom!”
“I know,” I cast a sideways glance at Tom, knowing he was anxious about meeting them.
“I’m going to get my hair cut tomorrow,” my mother said brightly, “I don’t want Tom to think, ‘My goodness Betty’s mom is a slob!'”
I laughed, “He wouldn’t think that. And besides, at least you have hair to cut.”
Tom heard my mother’s loud laugh and gave me a look. He hears his name enough amidst flurries of Mandarin to know he is often the topic of conversation.
“Don’t poke fun at him,” my mother said.
“He can handle it.”
We discussed the weather (“I don’t know. It might be cold. It might be really cold. It might not be cold at all. It might rain every day. It might be sunny.”) then said good night and hung up. I turned to Tom.
“Did you hear my mom laugh?”
“I did,” he said, putting down his Kindle.
“She said she was going to get her hair cut for you, because she didn’t want you to think she was a slob.”
“I told her at least she has hair to cut.”
He rolled his eyes, “Har har.”
“They’re very excited to meet you.”
He groaned, suddenly looking very tired. “It’s going to be awful.”
I shook my head, patted his arm. There, there. I knew my parents and I knew Tom. I knew it would be anything but.
For the first year after my grandma passed away, my grandpa went to her grave at least once a week, sometimes twice. Now he no longer goes that often, but every two weeks or so, my uncle Jin will drive grandpa fifteen miles from Cerritos to the sprawling Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California, neither man speaking much in the car. Continue reading “Family Matters: Errands”
Thus far, everything has gone as planned.
I woke up, chatted with POI on the phone, went to the kitchen to have a bowl of Frosted Miniwheats then went to the driving range with my mother. We discovered that the golf club in the neighboring city is quite nice, and not too expensive. We each hit one hundred balls, mine going much further than my mothers’ which prompted her to ask me for tips.
I have had exactly one “lesson” from my brother, who used to play semi-regularly when he lived in California. Bend your knees. Stick your butt out. Keep the left arm straight and your eye on the ball. Swing.
I swung a good twenty, twenty-five times before I ever made contact with the ball.
For golf, I had not beginner’s luck but second timer’s luck.
Two weeks ago I revisited the driving range in New York with POI, who likes the game, preferring to have a beer or two to loosen up. We biked to the waterfront driving range and I watched him play before hitting a few on my own.
“You’re pretty good,” POI noted.
“Hm,” I said. I agreed. But as with most things I do (or eventually give up on) consistency was an issue.
My mother, I observed this afternoon, would like to be able to drive the ball out much further than she currently does. Her range hovers around 100 yards, usually just below.
“I’m terrible,” she kept saying, but her shots were consistently straight. The sound her driver head made upon contacting the ball quite appealing.
I recorded a few of her swings on my iphone, saying things like, “Keep your arm straight,” and “Lift the club higher when you pull back,” in Chinese, but was aware that the entire situation was very blind leading the blind. I wondered if the more experienced people to our left and right were chuckling to themselves.
My first thirty or so shots with the driver were consistent too, until I discovered I was terrible on the irons and much better on the woods. I used the driver to hit the last twenty balls, none of which went as far or straight and flat as the first thirty. Consistency, where’d you go, I muttered to no one. Still, my mother was impressed and said it was a shame I didn’t start earlier.
“I wasn’t interested back then,” I said, shrugging.
She thought my tips were good. I’m pretty sure we both imagined it, but she seemed to be hitting just a few yards further by the end of the bucket.
“Take lessons when you get back to New York,” she said, when we were finished. I nodded. That might not be a bad idea.
We came home and had lunch. My mother fried a fish – scallions, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine – and my father suggested we finish off the coffee ice cream.
“Time to buy more,” he said, “though no one eats it with me when you’re not home.”
Everything as planned, this Saturday afternoon. Then I went to my room, called POI. He picked up and I started to cry.
The vestiges of our morning conversation. In POI’s words, I had tried to start a fight because I felt he hadn’t called enough over the past two weeks.
“But we talk every day,” he had said in the morning, though by “talk” he meant “text.”
“It’s not the same,” I said, because it’s not, “And remember. It’s a privilege to talk to me on the phone.”
Eventually we were laughing. We had hung up shortly before I left for the driving range, he feeling as though everything was resolved because there had been nothing wrong to begin with, and I feeling a hairsbreadth better, but mostly needy and uneven.
I spent the last two weeks telling my entire family that I was happy in New York, in my relationship, in school (which hasn’t started).
“This time around it’s very different huh?” my cousins asked, “So different from your first time.”
“Yeah,” I said, “So different and so good.”
It’s true, but I worry about my internal consistency, none of which is documented via the usual channels. What makes me feel happy and steady and at peace one minute and another, say, when I’m packing to leave one home for another, off-kilter and confused? I didn’t want to pull POI into this monologue – the “home” question. The what are we how are we who am I what is the future question. What comes tomorrow and the day after and the month and years and incredible vortex after? I didn’t want to pull him into the one-woman fray, but I had to, because it’s sort of what you sign up for when you date someone with a lot of words.
“I feel strange,” I said to him now.
“I don’t know,” because at that point I didn’t. But we talked and just a few minutes later I knew.
The fact that there were two sets of keys on my dresser, one with a Prius key and another with cards to the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Fare. The fact that I was packing again, taking a few more items of my room with me – things I had thought, when I set them down on whichever particular surface, would stay for many years if not forever. The fact that I spent several days mulling over whether to bring said items – because do they belong at this home or the other? The fact that I’d come back this time, filled with the comforting confidence one has when one returns to a familiar city with familiar, loving faces, only to arrive and feel as though I’d forgotten to bring something important.
I told POI so, though not in those exact words. When I cry the words seem to drip down my face and I often can’t say anything for interminable minutes.
“I think I get it,” he said.
And maybe he does. But more importantly, I got it.