I’ve either been late or completely missed my therapy session for the past four weeks.
She called me out on it.
When I was three or four my mother and father bought me a beautiful jade bangle. It matched my mother’s bangle and my father’s ring. I absolutely hated it. I thought it was clunky, aged, ugly. She had cut me a fresh apple or peach. Quartered, but left whole. Wrapped in a damp napkin. Put on a plate or a bowl. She handed it to me, distracted by someone else of her age. She looked at me for a whole five seconds. Don’t run. I looked up at her, lingering when her eyes left. She had done the floors that morning, and I could tell because of the acrid bleach smell. The smoothness beneath my feet.
I walked a little out of sight. I can remember the exact floor plan of that two-story home. The carpeted living room but tile kitchen, tile dining room. It was 1998 or so and open floor plans didn’t exist, just those wide, door-less arches that connected common areas.
I knew she wasn’t looking. And god did I run. Just in a circle. Just for no reason. Back to the archway of the kitchen. And I fell. Slammed into the tile. Jade bangle first, plate second. A little too dumb, a little too young to properly brace a fall. I looked up and saw my mother run to me. I started sobbing. The bangle was in pieces, mixed with the ceramic. A lot of me was glad. What an ugly thing.
My mother scolded me in a half-assed manner. Reached to clean the fruit, the floor, the smooth, sharp pieces of bangle. The plate. She looked at me with equally edged eyes. I told you not to run. It was her friend who asked if I was alright.
In this household you do not get comforted over mistakes you were told not to make.
In my childhood I was only given a few pieces of jewelry. The jade bangle. A gold necklace. And a small, heart-shaped amethyst necklace, also in 24k carat gold. I remember when we bought it. I was eight or nine and we had just moved to a new house. After a six month sleepover at my uncle’s. I was holding both of my mother’s and father’s hands as we walked into a well-lit jewelry store.
My mother told me it had been too long since he bought her something. She passed through the displays. Her sapphire birthstone glistened in a corner collection. She pointed. My father laughed. She moved her finger to the left. An amethyst. A small, fingernail-sized heart amethyst. Oooh that one. She pointed. I jumped. Pulled on their hands. I smiled so widely it turned into gleeful laughter.
I didn’t know what jewelry was before then. What it cost. What it was supposed to make you feel, or why it made you feel. I didn’t know anything beyond the rings worn for marriage. And here I was, barely entering puberty, with my father putting something around my neck that made me so damn happy.
I wore it every day until the baby hairs in the back of my neck caught on the clasp so badly they tangled in knots. My mother took it out and told me she would have it cleaned.
My father let my uncle stay with us for a short period. He was a vagrant. A funny, boisterous, always-drinking, always-laughing man who wore a religious uniform of a gold chain, grey wifebeater, and track pants that went swish swish. He paired these with flip flops, cigarettes and very long pinky nails. He had dark, tanned, hard skin, and a single lesson for every hardship, pain, issue or argument: Ain’t no thang but a chicken waaang!
We were a family of 7 people and four bedrooms. One bedroom was always my parent’s. One for my eldest brother, who had a long term girlfriend and, to my father, had earned the right as a man. One for the rest of us. And, the last: for whichever friend or person or buddy in my parent’s lives that needed it the most.
A few weeks later I asked my mother if I could wear my necklace again. The look on her face told me we forgot about it. We went to where she had put it down last. In the bottom row of squares of her jewelry box.
This, and a set of her sapphires and silver were missing. My mother told me she misplaced it. Would find it soon. I knew, for an entire decade of my life, my mother grew up without many things of her own and would never nor has ever misplaced anything of value or not of value.
I looked down and huffed. By the time I looked back again I could feel my mother’s anger. It quieted the world around her. Her whole face, her whole body grows hot. The way it looks. The way every single muscle tenses. She walked into the bedroom, grabbed my phone and called my father. I remember the screaming. Get him out or I get out. Something like that in angry, biting, violent Vietnamese.
One day I came home from school and my uncle was gone. My father died a few years later. My uncle was murdered for heroin in a motel parking lot.
I bounced around homes. Came back to the one I grew up in. I was fifteen or sixteen or somewhere in between. My mother and I had got into an aggressive fight taking me home from school. She slammed the door of the Lincoln Navigator my father bought her so many years before. I sobbed into my own hands. The kind that makes you lose your breath. The kind that’s in between panting and hyperventilating. I had never felt so alone.
I self-soothed. My eyes were red, swollen, puffy, throbbing. They were dry and raw. In this household you do not get comforted over mistakes you were told not to make.
She had left the car keys in the cupholder. I lifted them.
I rubbed my eyes raw once more. Picked up the gold strand. The amethyst felt like a heavy, weighted diamond. The gold setting that held the amethyst was bent, but the heart was still intact.
Thinking of the story now I am sobbing. There are so many words. So many lessons in this life. There are a million my father has taught me. A billion more he never got the chance to.
A decade later I have been loved and admired enough to have received many more pieces of jewelry. Some of the most expensive purposefully lost. But in my entire life I have never had one more purposefully found: this small, necklace with a heart-shaped, semi-worthless stone that was, at one time, worth the height of my happiness.
It was four in the morning when I started this piece. My mind was wandering and my head was not so right. There were words and patterns swirling in my head. I told her I would not be late again. And if I was, I would write about why I was late. And if I wasn’t late, I would have a piece of writing to share. Pieces of my thoughts. The things that linger from memories that have yet to fade.
I spent another forty-five minutes looking for the necklace. Wondering what the lesson was worth if I still lost it in the end.
I always think that I don’t do well alone. That I’ve always been an amplifier, never the sound. I can understand more people, more viewpoints than most. Because I’ve spent my life being internally raised by two split souls: my father, my mother. The saint, the sinner. The giver, the taker.
My father would never have bought me something I cherished so much if my mother had never shown me how to cherish it so much. My father would never have been my father if my mother did not charm him, entrance him, tease him, keep him.
No matter how alone I feel, my father, my mother, my brothers and all the people I have ever collected and kept have always made it not so.
The necklace was stolen, broken, pawned, returned and once again, lost. The necklace was $100 when we didn’t have $100. It was a yes to what should have been a no. The necklace wasn’t love, but a reminder of love.
I was never stolen. Only broken, returned, and often times again and again, lost. I am not my my mother. I am not my father. I am not the people who have never loved me. I am not the people who have ever disliked me, hated me or ignored me. I am not my failures, my lack ofs, my shortcomings.
I am a reminder of all of the people who have ever loved me. The books, places, things, ideas that I love. I am the constant creation of everything that I have worked hard to decide that I am. I am not an echo, a mirage, a memory. I am real. My actions are real. I am important.
I can be the sound. If I want to be the sound.