rambling to remembering

what do you do when a trained professional tells you there may possibly be something wrong with the chemical composition of your mind?

well first, you think, fuck

then, second, you think, oh

then, thirdly, you think of all of the hundreds of times you or the people around you (or the people who raised you, grew you, lectured you, fucked you) told you this was a possibility begins to play like a movie reel in your head. the sound of click, click, click the ironic background music of your life’s I Told You So soundtrack. part one of probably, possibly a million.

the memories came out like a waterfall of emotions. a torrential storm of feeling, tears, sounds, words, noises. the audible, uncomfortable choking in your throat when the words that escape are the ones that have always reached back and around to squeeze, strangle, asphyxiate. the words that force their way back down your throat, into your stomach. the words that nest in your heart and whisper to you in the darkness when your mind is asleep and good sense is lost in dreams and noise.

it was the people that hurt me. the people that loved me. the people that scared me, frightened me, touched me, fucked me, forgot me, raped me. it was the people who sat with me in the darkness while my tears and wails and heart echoed in a vacuum. it was the people who held me when all sound left me, the people who chose me, who remembered me, who whispered to me. the people who carved into my skin over and over and over again and forced the scar tissue in my throat, mouth, thighs, the scar tissue inside the places I could only feel and not see. it was the people who shoveled me liquor into a quieter, sweeter, softer abyss.

but it was never people at all; just me and the versions of me. the little girl on the floor of her deceased father’s bed, repeating the words no, no, no into the knees pressed against her chest. the teenager on the floor of an empty master bathroom, staring at mirrored closet doors, carving her own wanting into her thighs, her neck, her spirit. it was the the twenty-year old in a cab; the eighteen-year old in an empty hotel room, the mosaic of nights spent on my own bedroom floor, making flawed decisions about men and women. it was the me: carving her own wanting further beneath the skin of herself.

it was the precarious still brown eyes staring back at every turn. the small, chubby hands clutching the tequila, the scissors, the knife, the cock, the despair.

it was the hope that maybe all of these were not me.

it was the slow discovery that each iteration was only another facet.

at each life event my mind declares a reckoning. an event of severe self mutilation to know the taste. an impeccable matter of self destruction to understand the feeling. it was seventy-nine days of boxing with Tyson in the ring of my own mind for the championship round of my mind.

Twenty-seven! This was your pact. You can stop now. We’re tired and sleepy and would like to rest…

It’s sweet at first.

You’ve accomplished everything on your list. Mom’s okay, the boys are fine, Luna will have a home, there are no sad children, no sad boyfriend

It’s bargaining now.

Not another fucking day of this absolutely mundane insanity...

It’s anger builds.

Well, if we’ll be here, then we might as well have some fun...

The migraine begins. The drinking starts. The bad decisions marathon.

The memories blurr.

What did you do you useless fuck? You don’t deserve to live...

The anxiety begins.

Look at you. You can’t do anything right...

The hatred replicates. The child cries.

I sat in the bathtub. Visualizing each step. The cold porcelain pulsates against a radiating migraine.

Who will find me? How will they feel? Will they be okay?

My fingers scratch crescent moons into the red-spotted galaxies of my palms.

Does it matter?

No, please, no please, no please… a muffled child cries. Her dribble and tears dripping down her calves and knees to puddle at her ankles.

We’ll be safer. It will be quieter. No more bad decisions, no more disappointments. No more urges, no more anger...

The child squeezes her eyes shut. Her hands pressed against her ears, her elbows at her side, fingertips massaging her skull. Dad, Michael, Mom. The names of her family continuing in succession. The thoughts of her lookalike niece, her growing nephew and her future memories cascade from the sky of her mind. the thoughts of her brothers’ tears and mother’s fears. the thoughts of becoming a past tense. of becoming the person people held only wishes and regrets about. the thoughts of becoming a picture frame on a mantle and a body in the ground. the thoughts of transforming from a living to a remembering.

the smell of incense fills my nose. the quiet, loud thudding of my heart echos in my ears. a human alone is a sad, dangerous thing. my mind triggers the smell of marlboro reds and my father’s cologne.

When people find out that my father died young they always ask what saved me. What got me through it. It was four boys, all unlike in dignity. I’ve asked them all at least once if God was real, how could this be true? Why would good people die and how could it all hurt so much? Faith in the middle of despair is a flickering candle in an unapologetic darkness.

The coolness of the porcelain tethers me to reality.

The memories slip, time slides; my brain is a cascade of all the things that happened before and all the things that may happen after.

I feel the calmness of my breath gathering my sanity.

If there is faith, there is afterlife.

My father will hold me again; as a warrior of demons or a victim of one.

I think of her once more: grateful, calm, strong. Confident. Passionate. Furious. Steady. Her hands loosen. Her heart relaxes. The breath escapes. The control gathers. It was me who dropped the tequila, the scissors, the knife, the cock, the despair. It was me who once held happiness, laughter, hope. Creativity, intelligence, wonder.

It was me who picked up the shield, the sword.

In the shadows behind the tears of death the Valkyries await our valor for judgement.

On the battlefield of life the enemies are just camouflaged innards and sometimes we are just alone, dazed and confused with funhouse mirrors and reflections of an us we refuse to want to know.

When I was younger

When I was younger I used to dream about the kind of man I wanted to conquer me, the kind of man that was meant to devour me. When I was younger I used to dream about only having one who knew the taste of me; the feel of me, the scent of me.

When I was younger my mother used to tell me dirty jokes with mirth in her eyes and a smirk on her lips. Her pupils shone and a laugh slid from her throat. When I was younger my mother told me be careful who you kiss because from there it’s only slippery. I was eleven, frightened, confused, stunned.

When I was fifteen I was in lust with a Chinese-Vietnamese boy who smiled my name and begged for the first kiss from my lips. I was fifteen, frightened, with my clothes pressed against a boy and his navy blue sheets and the word No repeating through the air. I was fifteen when I saw his frustration, his hardness, his sadness. I was fifteen when I saw the disregard. The selfishness.

I was fifteen, in the kitchen of his home with his mother who told me she was disgusted by my fatness. That she was surprised how I could be Vietnamese if my mother allowed me to end up this way. I was fifteen, frightened, staring into the eyes of a boy who looked away.

When I was seventeen I met a Mexican man who smirked my name and promised me fairytales in first kisses. I was seventeen on my first date at my childhood wharf, impressionable and cradled under a twinkling Christmas-lighted sky surrounded by laughter, lightness. I was seventeen with a man women swooned for, who cupped my face with his hands and breathed promise into my heart. I was seventeen when I said Yes to someone else’s lips. I was seventeen when I felt special, seen, adored. Charmed.

I was seventeen, in the pink painted bedroom of my own home with New Years Champagne on my lips when I found his girlfriend of five years plastered against the same lips that stole mine. I was seventeen, frightened, understanding my mother’s slipperiness.

When I was eighteen I met a mixed boy running away from home who craved the rest of my firsts. I was eighteen, in my first hotel room without my mother, trembling, shaking, crying. I was eighteen when I held the remaining porcelain childishness of myself and violently smashed it against soiled white hotel sheets. I was eighteen, forlorn, pressed against cool white tile with hot tears puddling into my own chest and nobody else to blame.

I was eighteen, staring at his proud smile, with reddened eyes and ruptured skin he later told me he never noticed.

A Korean man drove me home after while I told him the story. I was only eighteen when he asked if he too could have a taste.

I was eighteen when I sat in his car, poor, broken, alone and one hundred miles from home. I was eighteen when I said No, and I was eighteen when he opened the doors of his car and dropped me at a bus station, leaving with the words Call me when you change your mind, I can change your life.

I was eighteen when a Twitch viewer sent me money to cover my overdraft, my bus ticket and a hot meal. I was eighteen when I sat alone, sobbing, on the first AM bus out of San Francisco with an old Asian bus driver that looked like my father who told me I looked like his daughter. I was eighteen when he told me that life has a way of always turning out alright.

I was eighteen, hardened, learning. Hopeful.

When I was twenty I swiped on an Italian Artist in New York who looked nothing like the men in my life and everything like the men in the magazines. I was twenty when I sat on his couch and was melted by his smile. I was twenty when he asked to kiss me and I was twenty when he was gentle, kind, slow. I was twenty when I learned how tongues could pass through smiles and hands could happily, consensually fumble for jeans. I was twenty when I learned how eagerness could be matched and sensuality could be sprouted from adoration. I was twenty when I learned of desire, of heat, of the kind of chemistry that can trickle from two minds and kindle into fire between four legs.

I felt the muscles under his skin and discovered derivatives of passion, of need, that could be possible without fear, revulsion, obedience. I felt the ripples in his stomach echo into deeper ripples of me; pressed the embers of his body against my lips and drank from the freedom of fire from my own creation.

I was twenty when I discovered the traction in my fingers started to fight the slipperiness of my mother’s warnings.

I was twenty, on my back with a smile, in a city for lovers, with a man I’d never see again and a memory set to repeat.

I was twenty when I discovered that the best kind of slipperiness was found nested, resting inside of me.

On August 17th we say Happy Birthday, Papa 🎈

I was a sobbing, inconsolable mess. I texted my oldest brother.

Do you think Dad can hear me from anywhere?

Yes, I really do.

Thank you love you.

I found a Bhuddist temple in Vegas. A golden, red-draped oasis in the middle of a bright summer heat.

My girlfriend took me, her steps echoing behind me on the rough gravel.

It was a plot in someone’s backyard; the red banner still shone with a display of luck and well-wishes for the New Year in Vietnamese.

It was simple, calming, littered with incense sticks and persimmons holding dreams, wishes, despair; fruitfulness and rot. Desperation paralleled by profound hope.

I touched the incense packet sitting at Bhudda’s feet.

This is so cool. How do you do this? My girlfriend looked at me and smiled.

I don’t really know. I smiled back, remembering my father’s instructions from my first funeral, my first altar. You light it, think of a prayer, and bow in respect.

The white lighter gleamed with sunlight near the incense tray. I picked it up, hasty, rushing. My fingertips burned on the scorching metal.

My girlfriend smiled again, reaching for the lighter in her purse.

I had come to temple on Father’s Day: desolate, filled with regret and despair at the choices of my mid-twenties. Lost, forlorn, angry at unknown gods and vengeful towards my own faith.

I lit my incense stick, the embers flared orange-golden. If this was a telephone to my father, what would I possibly want to say?

In the drive over I thought of all the things I wished for. All the things I wanted, and kept wanting. In the drive over I remembered the due diligence my father had for my wishes. The seriousness of completion for the most mundane list of ten-year-old things. A Sanrio notebook, stationary, pens. A day off, a trip to Costco; Cháo Gà at the place in San Jose one-and-half hours away, equal computer time to my brothers, a Hershey’s white chocolate and Oreo bar. The newest demin jacket from Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat, a matching Eckō Red tee. A forehead kiss, a goodnight story. For Superbowl Sundays to not be done on my birthday weekend and my father’s special nước-mắm-five-minute Prego spaghetti with a side of his Costco steaks.

I thought about him in his last year of life: the rapidly multiplying grays, the prolonged sighs, the slower shuffle of his feet and the violent snores in his sleep. I think about his tired, cold, stiff hands and valleys of forehead wrinkles, crows’ feet and smile lines.

I thought about the bliss he extended, the happiness he proudly shone to simple child-like eyes. His exuding gratefulness to the world for my existence. I thought about the joints that creaked in his back and his uneven legs when he picked me up. The way he smiled so widely walking me down the stairs, the excitement in the way he asked me about my sleep, my dreams, my thoughts. The absence of complaint.

I am twenty-seven now and exhausted. Burnt out, checked out, sobbing from 10-, 12-, 15 hour days. The tiredness sinks into my own skin, threatening forehead wrinkles, crows’ feet and smile lines. It will be 9 years of this for me. I remember my father when he died; 53 years of multiplied exhaustion for him. A duitiful first born son in a family of 8. A fascinated teenage scholar using textbooks as shrapnel and debris helmets. An emaciated almost-highschool graduate, a refugee-turned-Hong-Kong-prisoner. A fresh immigrant in America, alone and starving and charming; burdened and determined. A newly minted husband in the projects, bruised, bleeding, sore, strawberry-farming hands.

A newly minted father with an expectant, extravagant, wanting housewife and mounting debt. A forty-year old girl dad obsessed with her mother’s whims and selfish whines.

I sat in the drive there, thinking about him now: fifteen-years free, painless, happy. Light.

I held the incense clapped against my fingers. I bowed in prayer. The anxiety lifted, the incense flashed a montage of my father’s mirthful, teasing face. What if the bow isn’t from respect? But a natural, wishful hope for an incense-stick-shaped microphone to the ethereal.

My mind cleared. The warmth of the sun cradled my back, my neck, my arms. The warmth of my tears cradled my cheek, my lips, my chin. The words were easy.

Hi Papa. Happy Father’s Day. I love you so so so much. I miss you today.

I just wanted to say thank you so much. Thank you for the boys. Thank you for your love. Thank you for my Mom. Thank you for always watching us. I wish I could take you to the Steakhouse in the woods, but I still miss your instant-noodle-tom-yum-lettuce-and-flank-steak.

I’m going to be okay this year, I promise. Your little girl will be okay today.

I love you always.

Memory

Even the oldest of us was young once.

I remember being a child, surprised by pictures of my father when he was half the age. The sepia tone colors, faded edges; how the only wrinkles were on the photos and not his face. The full head of hair, emaciated body and bright smile.

The tragedy of each decade of life is how much of it is spent mourning the passing of the previous one.

I’m sitting in a bedroom of old memories; comforted by ghosts of young girl who once was. I told my therapist once that the sessions were like stepping into a room filled with filing cabinets I couldn’t see the end of. They were painful, random, hilarious, gut-wrenchingly sad, and deliriously happy.

When she told me she could no longer continue I felt the grief in my throat. Loneliness, darkness. The key to the filing room lost in the black, cavernous depths of my own overwhelming emotion.

You feel too much.

You shouldn’t let things get to you.

You’re a good-for-nothing crybaby.

Each decade they always regurgitate the same lesson in different dressing. The negatives of choosing to continue.

The past few years I took the advice. Slid most of what I could behind so many erratic sins. Folded the rough edges of myself into something unrecognizable; uncriticized, unremarkable.

My brother asks me over the receiver, “How do you feel?

I breathe. Close my eyes so I can see his. Listen to his voice. The decades of memories I have attached to it make it so hard to lie. “Afraid, insecure, confused.” I am choking on my own words.

“How can we get Jenny’s groove back?”

All of what we are morphs into comforting laughter. Tears spill onto my neck, matting my hair to my face.

My sister in law asked me how old I was three times this week. I answered wrong every time.

Time feels nonlinear. Emotions and feelings trapped in stasis paralyzes perception.

I want to remember this feeling. Cling onto it and freeze the words, the moments, into letters across a page.

I want to remember the cold winter of my life. The brutality of confusion and daze mixed with aimlessness and abandon.

I want to remember each day of snow; of icy fingers and blurry eyes. The terrible feeling of immobilization and the crippling of my own mental sabotage.

I want to remember the long winters and the frightening nights. The cold, distant thoughts that come repeating, crashing and constant to shore. When I’m still, alone and quiet I can feel the rippling of all of my negative thoughts barreling in like water rising to a boil.

I want to remember this winter and all of the sober, throbbing pain.

I want to remember that winter comes to bring the spring.

I want to remember that even the iciest of tears will melt into the ground to regrow gentle, warm life.

I want to remember that ‘lost’ means possible to be found; and ‘sad’ just means capable of happy.

I am drowning, but I am not drowned.

The sounds of a house with a family of seven feels a little like chaos made into heaven.

My mother used to light apple cinnamon candles to sweeten the fishiness that lingered after cooking. She would make five course meals and scrub the kitchen spotless, light candles and tuck herself into the couch while the rest of us clambered through like hungry savages.

I remember so many nights with vivid clarity. Rarely yesterdays or previous weeks; but previous moments decades ago. I lived my childhood as my father’s princess: delicate, unused feet and alarming superstitiousness. My father and mother filled my head with stories of ghosts and spirits and the monsters that came for bratty little girls that didn’t listen to their parents. Fairytales of princesses and royalty protected by ancestral presence. Stories of magic that could exist in bloodlines and good people.

I remember it was the time between 3 and 4 in the morning. I remember my brothers snoring, the rareness of an unbridled house so quiet and so dark. I remember the coolness of the hardwood floors when I crawled out of bed and my tiny toes shivering at each step. I remember peaking out into the darkness of the hallway, tiny nightlights plugged into the wall like stagnant, watchful fireflies with dancing glow.

I remember peeking into my father’s room, his one leg out from under the covers and his arm wrapped around my mother. I remember their snores–the way my brothers and parents together sounded like an unsophisticated chorus even in unconsciousness.

I remember I was eight or nine or ten. I remember feeling clear headed, focused. Wide awake and out of place. Not like myself. I remember walking down smooth tiled stairs for the first time alone after midnight with surety that didn’t belong to me.

I remember smelling the apple cinnamon. The bright fire from the kitchen once I touched the bottom of the stairs. I remember walking casually, trepidation and fear at the edges of thought. I remember feeling the flames, the warmth. How the candle glass had shattered and the fire stretched across the bar counter, almost dripping down the sides.

I remember turning on the faucet. Grabbing a tall glass. I remember it took three or four pours, and a spray of the kitchen nozzle for good measure.

I remember the smell of the flames extinguishing over the marble. I remember walking up the stairs and back into my shared room. Tucking my feet carefully into my sheets. Closing my eyes and falling asleep.

I woke up the next day, late, to the sounds of my mom in the kitchen and my family awake. I remember believing it all to be a dream.

I remember walking down the stairs once more in the light, feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. The kitchen island was empty of candles or glass, my mother was washing her hands in the sink. My brothers were at the dining table. I sat on the barstool, staring at my mom, thinking of how to ask.

Then I remember my father. Coming from behind my mother, looking at my face, my eyes. “Did you break glass downstairs last night? There was water everywhere.”

He smiled.

“Yes. The candle caught on a big fire.”

“Good girl” I remember his Vietnamese. The excitement, pride in his voice.

I remember how nobody else was listening. I remember my father believing me, the silence of his smile that came after. No questions, no suspended disbelief.

I want to ask him if he believed in magic too. If his superstitions were only for luck or warding off evil. If he believed in guardian ancestors or dead fathers that could turn into watchful angels.

I want to ask him if he’s here. If he’s near. If it’s him I feel in the quivering darkness; in the pits of my loneliness. If it’s memory, or if it’s this reality.

I want to ask him if it was my fault for not saying Good Luck for the first time the day he died. I want to ask him if it was because I refused to talk to him on the phone the hour before he died, if I could have shared any kind of magic to keep him. I want to ask him if it’s a cumulation of these and more that have led me to be an unlucky girl in love and genes.

I want to ask him how not to be scared of the dark. How to drive a car, change a tire, smoke a cigarette or make a sports bet.

I want to ask him to learn how to swim with me, ride a bike, travel the world. I want to ask him to take me back to Vietnam. Ask him where he grew up, which tree it was where he broke his leg, what kind of soaps he made in Hong Kong that got him thrown in jail, the harbors he crossed, the journeys he traveled through.

I want to ask him how he was always so strong, how he became so confident, so charming. I want to ask him how to know which boys are bad for me.

Ask him how to stop myself from going back to the people and the things that hurt me.

I want to ask him to walk me down the aisle. I want to ask him for my first dance.

I want to ask him nothing and tell him a million things.

I want to say thank you, for the four boys he gave me to answer all of my questions, and the 12-and-a-half years of bouncing happiness.

To him, there were no questions.

To him, I was always magic.

the father, the spirit, the holy ghost

I don’t want to forget about my Dad anymore. The dreams I have of him now are just a scent, a feeling. A lingering aura.

I used to dream of him in full physical form. His Ralph Lauren cologne, receding hairline and crow’s feet riddled smiles. I used to dream about running into his arms and the feeling of a Versace button up and sports coat wrapped around me.

Somebody asked me Why aren’t you over it yet?

My heart fades at the answer. Can you be over it?

I dated a boy once whose mother held the same sadness. The joy of being a father’s princess, and the desolation of having been a father’s princess.

She was in her fifties. A picture of her running into her father’s arms decorated the wall of her bedroom. He was brilliant, kind, so funny. A one-in-a-million man. She told me. A smile in her face and a broken heart in her eyes.

He had died forty years ago. His death propelled her into a millions-a-year career.

I wonder if people ask her Why aren’t you over it yet?

It seems like we create around us everything we desired to recreate the feeling of everything we once had.

If I close my eyes and cry enough my mind fills the room with the smell of his cologne and Marlboro-Colgate forehead kisses. My fingertips simulate the feeling of his designer silk shirts and Costco wifebeaters.

When pain comes, my father’s memory returns. My father’s arms reach within the sadness. In happiness there is often emptiness.

His death brought an angel to my corner.

People ask me if I believe in god. Some days there are just too many demons. Sometimes it is terrifying to be so loved.

I am stuffing my mind with new moments I feel like I don’t want to forget. The memories of my father don’t fight to be replaced. I can feel his crouched-down hug, his massive smile. The way he used to pat my head.

Life is meant for the living.

I can feel him kiss my hair. I can see his face as he walked me to my first Kindergarten class. His Heineken father’s belly, white wife beater, black-and-yellow Adidas track pants and slides. The gold and jade rings. Tan baseball cap. I remember the Camry keys in his hand. His wide smile. How badly I wanted to run back into his arms.

My hands gripping my purple Beauty-and-the-Beast backpack. Be strong. Have a lot of fun for me. You can’t cry.

I remember his hands on my arms. The forehead kisses. A daughter of Hao Van Vu can’t cry. I thought to myself. I sucked in my tears. Blew air into my cheeks to stop the sharpness in my eyes. He chuckled so proudly.

I puffed out my chest and walked into the procession.

I remember my father’s eyes. The sadness. The kindness. The deep browns.

I cry less for him every year. I know he smiles more for each lessened tear.

This is the journey of our past.

Somber

The house is still. A shell of our former home. The cat sits in your old office. She rolls over, rubbing her face on the carpet indentations of our old bed.

She meows from room to room. The echoes of emptiness meow back.

I know I can’t leave. I know there is immeasurable sadness left. There was melancholy that rotted our foundation. Love that bled, mixed, formed and shattered the drywall.

My brother asks why I want to spend more nights here.

It wasn’t always like this.

Witch doctors in Vietnam are superstitious about homes. They walk the grounds, float from room to room. Touch the walls, string crystals from window frames and dried herbs on door frames. They tell you about the residual energy and continued currents.

They would walk this home and tell you there was war here. Our fights would vibrate through their fingertips. The shock, then the stillness. I want to close my eyes in the hallway. Press them to notice what can only be felt with eyes closed and chests open.

The undercurrents of all two hundred nights stuffed with love. Hope. Desire. The thousands of good-mannered wishes whispered on the rooftop. All the dreams we laid to rest underneath a Vegas sky.

This home was ours. I was yours. You were mine.

It would be easier to hate you. To leave. To bury this carcass of a home and scrapped futures. It would be easier to forget. To pretend it was always terrible.

I can still hear our silly laughter chasing the stairs. The trails of clothing littering the laminate. I can still feel my heart jump at all of your little pop-out scares. The tightness of your arms around my skin. I ache for the annoying sound of you playing video games. My body still looks up searching for the tenderness of your lips against my skull, cheek, the tenderness of your lips tracing my tears, erasing my fears.

They are exploding out of my throat now. An overflowing fountain of bittersweetness. There is no bottling, no removing, no running. I am learning that emotions are not items to be thrown around in trash bags or locked into drawers.

They are living entities, entitled to their pounds of flesh and pain. Feeling is a gift. The harbinger of death is followed steadily by one of life. The Norse call this Ragnarök. I call this Fucking Awful.

I am looking to tarot. To religion. To superstition. To history, scripture, story.

We were child lovers harnessing fire to synthesize dynamite.

I sit on the staircase of this hallowed out home, bawling my eyes out in front of two maids and a cat. I am reciting every single inspirational, motivational, twenty-dollar Target slogan I’ve ever seen.

Courage is grace under pressure. Courage is grace under pressure. Courage is grace under pressure. Courage is grace under pressure.

Feeling is better than forgetting. We are still my favorite love story.

The fresh paint smell pollutes the air. I, too, want to shatter these walls. The sound of breaking glass and screeching Vietnamese of my childhood ring my ears. I see us in my childhood home, recreating all of my mother’s and father’s fights. Reenacting the steps of what I had once believed the greatest love I had ever known.

Again, the tears explode out of my chest. There is an aching that punctuates each heartbeat. Heavy reminders that there are parts of me left still living.

Breathe easy. The sobbing becomes choking. The tannins of love dry the air in my throat. The maids are mopping up the floor.

The cat sits at the top of the stairs, a white lamb purring amidst.

I will tell the Witch Doctor these memories are to savor, not to sage.

It seems, my love, the children had created fireworks, and the adults are fingering the debris.

Coming undone

When my father died I repeated to myself over and over, It’s better to have loved and lost than it is to have never loved at all.

Sobbing, crying, blubbering. Thirteen.

When I lost my first boyfriend to excessive nonchalance, I repeated to myself, over and over, It’s better to have loved and lost than it is to have never loved at all.

Sobbing, crying, blubbering. Breaking out in stress-induced hives. Twenty.

When I lost my second boyfriend to two coasts, separate worlds and different generations, I repeated to myself, over and over, It’s better to have loved and lost than it is to have never loved at all.

Sobbing, crying, blubbering. Terrified, alone, suicidal. Twenty-four.

When I lost you, to things I have yet to understand, I am repeating to myself, over and over, It’s better to have loved and lost than it is to have never loved at all.

I am sobbing. I am crying. Blubbering. Confused, shaking. Self-destructive. Twenty-six.

Insomnia eats at my mind. My therapist says that my body is being devoured by the withdrawal from the separation of yours. My mind understands. My heart has not. I am shivering. Feverous. Shaking.

It takes two minutes after I wake up for all of me to remember. For one minute and fifty-nine seconds every morning I have to convince my mind it was not a bad dream. It is a depressive reality.

I am no longer yours, and you are no longer mine.

I walk into our old home. A graveyard of memories from our best hits. The phantoms of your hands follow every square inch. I remember the first day we moved in. The mattress on the floor of the master. Fucking in the foyer. The two staircases, the rooftop, the shower, the floors.

The billion-and-one kisses. The bear hugs. The fleeting touches. The hand holding. The Bhuddists believe we live many lifetimes. I want to spend a million of them under the blanket fort of crocheted stars. In the stillness of your arms, the assuredness of your forehead kisses.

I want to remember us by that night, and none of the ones after. I was blessed by the polarity of your love. Two suns in a singular universe. Fights and fucking that shook the neighborhood, quivering galaxies.

I have never felt such vivid tenderness, sweetness, such eager rawness. I have never felt so connected yet so distant.

I loved you to distraction. I wish we could’ve loved to absolution.

I have made a million-and-one mistakes, but I am so grateful for the us suspended under the blanket of stars. The Off-white rosé, the polaroid camera, the market charcuterie.

I have made a million-and-one mistakes, but it’s better to have loved and lost than it is to have never loved at all.

I’ve been lying on the ground lately thinking about why I feel so down. I haven’t left the house in the past two years, why did the past five months affect me so harshly lately?

The recluse, the dreamer, the writer slash romance seeker. I am stifled, baffled, ruffled. The first year of my seclusion was spent making copious amounts of love and intimacy and passionate disagreements. My second year of my seclusion was attempting to figure out the mental and physical affects the first year had on me.

The third year is now. Specifically a month ago. I miss myself. I miss the tequila nights and mimosa mornings. I miss the white wine and caviar.

I miss traveling in tiny outfits. I miss not fussing with the fat on my body; I miss being in a body I was the most comfortable in. I miss being slightly vain and exceedingly proud.

I miss the taste of my own cooking, the feeling of my own satisfaction with disregard for another’s.

You dying made me reevaluate the value of my own living.

I want to be here, but not like this anymore. I hope that everyday this year will strike change. I hope that everyday this year I will stop living in the inbetween of who I am and what I feel.

I hope that I don’t fail myself again.

For you.

Vietnamese is a tonal language. This means with a switch of the tongue or a stress in the throat, the simple word for Mother, Ma, in Vietnamese can turn into the word for ghost.

My mother was born well-off. A fancy fisherman’s daughter. The youngest girl in a family of six located on the beautiful beaches of Southern Vietnam. Maids in the house, silks on her skin, prestigious school books stacked on her desk and bounties of food in her stomach.

The Vietnamese war is historically a hundred years old. The Americans intervened and it quickly worsened. Her oldest brother was drafted. He was returning home after a long absence for a short, well-welcomed break. A few of his platoon followed. My mother adored him. She was younger than the age I was when my father died. He played with her on the sandy beaches, and doted on her like my oldest brothers had done endlessly for me. She told me he was the one who taught her how to hide mischievousness behind duty.

There was so much excitement on the day he returned. He paused in playing with my young mother to look over his shoulder. I imagine her laughter was an amplified, brutishly free version of what it is now.

A few feet away his platoon mates were tossing a live grenade. The pin was pulled. My mother says he ran fast towards it. Yelled at her to run faster away from it. His whole body jumped on top, and his separated, scattered body, splattered away.

She told me this story devoid of tone. She told me this story when I told her I hated my brothers. She told me this story with her eyes afar and her voice even.

In our culture, every piece of the deceased has to be collected and buried, otherwise they cannot have safe passage to the afterlife. There is a window of  time, starting from death, that their passage must be completed, otherwise their souls are stuck tormented on Earth for the rest of time.

This day was the day my mother found out how long it took to collect pieces of a favorite brother shredded by one, singular explosive. This day was the day my mother discovered that love meant picking up bloodied, squishy flesh between her fingertips.

His platoon mates lived. Everyone else on the beach lived.

Months to a year later her father traded all they ever had for safe passage on a docked American merchant ship. The conditions of this were that they could not leave until signaled, and that once signaled, they must immediately leave.

My mother told me they waited weeks on the boat. Rationing. Restless. Her second oldest brother, now the eldest, decided at week three it was all bullshit. He left the boat, saying he would return shortly. He was a rowdy soul who missed running, playing, and the debauchery of chasing women.

Within three hours of her eldest brother leaving, the alarms sounded. The Viet Cong had arrived. The boat left port within minutes. The passage to America was long and arduous. It would be years until my mother would see her brother again, and even longer, still, until she would enjoy a life that resembled anything of her childhood before death.

Her father grew angry. Dissident. He was an old-world, hardened Vietnamese man, heavy on traditions and culture; transplanted into an ever-changing, ever-confusing American world. My mother was fighting a war for feminism she didn’t even know existed. She says if you look closely at her body you can still see the fissures of the bamboo that once struck.

My mother’s mother had lost all six siblings before puberty. Fought for her life, seeking refuge in a mountainside while she watched her own brothers and sisters waste away from famine. One night she fell asleep with a family, and the next morning crawled out under decaying corpses, an orphan.

I don’t know more of her story. But it seems, from my mother’s blood, we are women cursed with the loss of those who we chose to love most.

I was the fifth child my mother and father had. I was the first child my mother did not want.

Before I could remember, my obsession was words. By the time I started kindergarten I read more, faster, and with more vigor and interest than anyone my teachers had seen. I was a Vietnamese American child, speaking in two tongues but consuming only in one. By the time that I was seven I had amassed so many Accelerated Reading points they wrote my name in the newspaper.

I told my mother. It’s going to be on Sunday.

That’s great, baby.

The days before my parents got into a fight. She left home and returned a week later.

I never saw the feature.

My teachers used to write letters to my parents. Paragraphs that had to be stapled to my report cards to obsess over my excellency.

It seems, for every singular word my mother didn’t read about me, I had to read ten thousand more.

When I was nine I looked for a deeper connection to my beautiful mother. I snuck into her nightstand drawers. Found her Danielle Steele. Her collection of Scottish Highlands smut. I traced their embossed covers, studied the Fabio men, long-haired, willowy white women. I opened each book, fingered the spines and read faster than all the records I had beaten at school.

My face went flush. I could hear someone coming up the stairs. I shoved them back into the stacks they belonged. Ran into the master bathroom. Felt the porcelain of the toilet on my forehead. Perhaps a million or more words I had ever read by this time. But never those ones. My mother, too, was a reader. Like me. Different, but the same.

Nightly I would peak at what my mother was reading before bed. Wait until she fell asleep or forgot. Read all the pages. Attempted to understand.

Anything that was my mother’s curiosity was mine. An unperceived, perceptive child.

It is easy to say you love your mother. It is easier, still, for some to say they don’t.

My mother has done my hair a total of three times in my life. The first time I was six. She burned me with a curling iron three times: above the ear, on the side of my ear, and behind my neck. She was curling it because my father’s sister asked her why she never did it. She told me I fidgeted too much and lacked obedience.

The second time I woke up early, for the first time in my life, for the first day of third grade. I begged her. With tears in my eyes. She said no. I said, in front of my father, all of the other mothers do it. She yanked me up the stairs. Pulled my hair aggressively and taut into a pony tail. I can feel the memory of how hard she pushed the bristles into my scalp to smooth it out. Her upper lip was curled and I refused to look in the mirror. The redhead who sat next to me had a fishtail braid, tied with a yellow sunshine gingham ribbon. Her name was Lauren. I pulled my hair out before recess.

The third, and final time I watched her get ready for work. I was in sixth grade. It was the night before picture day. She had rollers in her hair. I told her she was beautiful. She was in a good mood. I told her I wanted to look like her. She preened. She took her leftover rollers and pinned up half my hair. Make sure you sleep still otherwise they will fall out. I nodded. Ok, you know how to do the rest, right? I nodded.

In the morning, we took them out together. I was so happy I could’ve cried. My mother and father told me I looked beautiful. A boy named Wendell told me I looked like a Castlevania character. I didn’t shower for days, trying to keep the feeling. My mother keeps this photo next to my brother’s Air Force one on her car dashboard.

I moved away at eighteen the second I had the chance. I felt vindication. Then guilt. Then shame. Then, only sadness.

There are few things in my life I have found more complicated, more confusing or more painful than the relationship with my mother. I have written one hundred and thirteen letters to my father. Less than a fraction to my mother.

There are always less words to the living.

My mother and father never taught me how to ride a bike, drive a car or race a scooter. There was no participation in bake sales, open house nights or parent teacher conferences. Your report cards were your own secret and dinner was a possibility.

Family time was waiting until 3am when dad came home from work, and attempting to not fall asleep before school.

My mother and father taught me ingenuity. Creativity, strength, the power of sheer will and belief. The lengths a child will go for time and attention.

My mother taught me charm. The magic in the right outfit, the sparkle in a proper lipstick on the right night. She taught me how to make men happy, and, conversely, without control, how to drive them insane. The latter, still, twenty-six years later I struggle with.

My mother taught and guided my sexual spirit. My mother taught me that anything that was not an astounding YES was a resounding NO. My mother taught me that a boy who wanted to dry hump me at seventeen was not a boy who was to be kept or kissed.

My mother taught me that her love for me as a whole was confused, but her need for me to be protected, vigilant, and strong were unquestioned. My mother taught me that my sexuality was mine alone to explore, and there would be no person who could stop or press it. My mother taught me that a colorful life will be lived in between shades of various grey, and that people have varying palettes.

My mother taught me that loss is life, and not living is weakness.

My mother may not have taught me many things, but her lessons were the foundations of thousands more. My mother taught me that, despite her best efforts, if she could not break me, nobody else could.

My mother did not teach me how to be a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. My parents did not teach me how to be in love, or how to be loved. Only how to stay. How to fight. How to make the walls shake. How to make love. How to scream. How to cry. How to laugh. How to be impulsive. How to break plates. How to buy many fancy cars. How to make a lot of money and do many grand gestures.

My therapist is teaching me how all of these, individually or as a whole, does not equal love. My therapist is teaching me how all of these, individually or as a whole, is not the epitome of love.

My therapist is teaching me how, my story, and my mother’s, does not have to end without love.

My therapist is teaching me how my mother has taught me one of life’s most important lessons: what was once loved can never be lost. That the child can still live, even while the adult forgives.

Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.