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.


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.

in fire & flames

Disclaimer: During this time there are more important things to read; specifically, events and proper journalism of the current BLM movement to stay active, informed, and giving to change the injustice that has been happening for far too long in America. I have been actively donating, supporting and helping the movement in every way that is possible to me and encourage everybody to do the same.

This website is a journal dedicated to preserve the vignettes of my own life and is not in any way shape or form attempting to distract from this important, critical movement.

“A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth. And you will know the debt is paid.”

There is so much of my life I never want to forget. There is plenty more memories that I have wanted, begged and attempted to forget. I am twenty-six. Over twenty years of memories that fade more and more everyday, and a learned appreciation for every singular moment that allows me to feel.

All I want to do is write. Find the voice inside of me, breathe it into life and transcribe it into immortality. I don’t know if I want to live forever, or if there are memories that I want to live forever.

I was thirteen when it happened. I had come home after school. The house was empty. I climbed into bed for a nap and woke up to so many unusual noises. My heart jumped. I walked out of my room to peer over the staircase banister.

Two big men came from my brother’s room. I yelled his name in fear. I knew he wasn’t there, that these men weren’t his friends, but there was a small amount of hope.

They ran out the door. I ran back into my room. I called my oldest brother’s workplace. Said it was an emergency. There were men in the home. It takes twenty-six minutes from his restaurant to our house.

My breathing was shallow. Two minutes. The noises came again. I looked over the banister. They came back; moving quicker now. I locked my door. Locked the doors in the jack-and-jill bathroom. The bedroom next to mine. I climbed into an old, styrofoam costume that barely fit my body. Piled my dirty clothes on top. Sat in the closet. Four minutes.

My brother had a 911 operator call me. I remember her voice. She was sweet, calm. She sounded like the age I am now. Asked me to talk about anything. Narrate the situation. I focused on steadying my voice. My heart was beating fast. Tell my brother I love him I wanted to say.

I hadn’t told my brother I loved him since my father died. I swallowed it. Today will not be my day. I heard them come up the stairs. The pounding of their feet was so loud.

My brother locks his master bedroom. I heard the bang, bang, bang of them knocking it down. I heard the footsteps in the hallway. I heard the bang, bang, bang of the bedroom next to mine.

Then, a knock at the door of my room. The jingle of the doorknob. My breath was a whisper. My body was warm. His feet walked to the bedroom next to mine instead. So much rustling.

It felt like an eternity. In that closet. With that woman on the phone. I refused tears, emotions. I refused to feel. This numbing state I learned. This objective, neutral stasis. I was void of emotion.

They were so loud. Everything being thrown. Clanging. Banging. Stomping. Voices. “Hey what about in here?” I heard them in the hallway outside of my door. My heart felt like a live, caged animal.

I prayed to my father.

“No we have to go” My heart stalled. My breathing disappeared.

I heard a car in the driveway. Running down the stairs.

The front door open and slam. Silence. I spoke to the lady on the phone. “I don’t hear anything.” Another minute that felt like forever. Maybe two, three.

My brother’s voice echoed. “Jenny?” I told her I was safe. “Michael?” I yelled back. I looked at the phone to hang up. Thirteen minutes and twenty-three seconds.

I took the styrofoam costume off of me. Found the muscles in my body to move. Open the doorknob. My brother was coming up the stairs, his Kendo stick in hand. I ran into his arms, for the second time in seven years.

He held me. Then examined me. “Are you okay? Did they touch you? Did they hurt you?” I can remember his panicked face. He walked through the house. Pacing. Checking on everything. “Are you okay?”

“Yes I’m okay. They didn’t hurt me or touch me. I’m okay. They didn’t go into the room. They left me alone. Did you think they knew I was there?” It was a waterfall of word vomit. The cops walked through the front door. Two men, full uniform. They looked up at me as my brother walked from room to room.

They asked a lot of questions. Told my brother to stop touching things. Told me I was brave or something like that. They were very, very kind. I sat at the top of the stairs.

It took hours for them to finish. CSI came. Lots of paperwork. Questions. Details.

I asked my brother what happened. He told me he ran every light. Couldn’t even remember if they were red or green. Told me he pulled up to the driveway as the two men were leaving. Had his kendo stick in the car. Hit one of them hard until he fell to the ground, then the other. He grabbed one of them by the shirt. Had both of them at some point. One slipped away.

The cops came shortly after and arrested the one he was still holding.

They scolded him for his vigilante justice, but with slight jest. He said, “It was my little sister in there.”

I think a lot about this moment. How I felt. How lucky I was. I still can’t really sleep in new places alone anymore. I still can’t really sleep when it’s too dark outside. My mind races when I hear unusual noises. When I think too hard alone my paranoia sets in.

I hate being in a house where one person isn’t awake. My boyfriend sleeps alone a lot of the time. I have sporadic night terrors every now and then.

My friends, the guy I liked at the time, some of my cousins, everyone all told me that it was no big deal. For fifteen minutes I sat in fear. In cold, frightened helplessness. It was one of the first times in my life I have ever felt true danger. It was one of the only times in my life that it had ever lasted so long.

It feels like when you’re riding shotgun and another car drives in front. You yell at whoever is driving to swerve and for about fifteen seconds you don’t know if he is going to. It’s the exact moment of cortisol, adrenaline, and all of your favorite memories repeated for fifteen minutes straight. Then, without your control, scattered throughout your life at the worst moments.

One, singular, definitive moment in my life where I have ever had to feel danger. I am lucky my brother is a superhero. I am lucky those men didn’t want to hurt me. I am lucky that I have never had to feel that again.

I am lucky, still, that when cops see my brothers with weapons our skin color alone protected us from prejudice. I am lucky, still, to live a life that is not in constant danger. This is a situation where one of the worst things happened but the best possible outcomes followed shortly after.

This is a situation where racist people will try to tell you it was the skin color of the people who broke in that mattered. This is a situation where the same people need to be reminded that it was the skin color of my brother and I that actually mattered, and how disgusting it is that it is ever something that comes into consideration.

There are people of every skin color will hurt you. There are people of every skin color that will protect you. We do ourselves a disservice when we do not treat the people we meet equally.

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.

Latency & Lessons.

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.

My necklace.

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.

x, 1

I started therapy the other day. A fulfillment of a promise I made to myself this year. One of many.

I hope you know everything you tell me is confidential

I know. I laughed, nervously. It was over the phone because of my newfound anxiety. Her voice felt like the first warm apple pie during a long winter. Was everything she told me confidential?

I cried within the first fifteen minutes. The kind of crying that waterfalls from your eyes with minimal sound and no force. The kind of crying that happens when everything of you is unbelievably exhausted.

I’ve been having anxiety attacks, aggressive, frightening, panic attacks. My stress has been leading to insomnia, causing an inability to focus or have regular, normal emotions. I no longer like being outside. Around people. I have developed an aversion to crowds, strangers, public spaces and unknown places. All of my previous favorite things. I cancel plans and miss flights because I find myself sobbing uncontrollably and screaming at myself, irrationally angry. I am the opposite of who I used to have always been.

Two years ago I had more hours in a day than I’ve ever had before. I suffocated myself in exponential growth and obsessive learning. I excelled in everything I attempted. One year ago I began to see the fruition of my wildest dreams.

A few months ago I started reading more biographies. Studying documentaries. Reading articles and psychological studies. Trying to find an explanation for everything I knew that started feeling wrong with me.

In autobiographies very few people mention their own crazy. They hide it in a bliss of madness; the insanity is laced through the brilliance. Most people who write about themselves romanticize their own psychosis. Or maybe it’s more simple and less sinister. In your own worldview, your mistakes are footnotes in all of your greater creations.

In biographies, secondhand accounts, witness statements–these same people are crucified for their short-comings. Their failures, mental breakdowns. These people (inventors, singers, actors, musicians, writers…) become known as divas, bitches, assholes, eccentrics… famed for their talents but colorized, largely, by snippets of mental instability. They are successful “but” brash, angry, arrogant. They are great but human.

My brother once told me that living is being in a constant state of flux. I think of my mind like this: a pretty jar floating in the ocean, perfectly buoyant, surfing with the tide. And when I’m sad or not right I close my eyes: the same pretty jar, swept by currents, swirling in a typhoon. Loud. All-consuming. Suffocating. I don’t know why I was led to believe I couldn’t ask for a life raft. A pulley through the rain. I don’t know why I was led to believe I had to fight the sharks and the tides and the fury.

I lived through it alone a lot. Through the years since my father had gone. I thought it was a yearly affliction that was attached to my weakness. A parasite bonded to my insecurities: a simple issue caused by my simple lack of enough.

I didn’t know it was a possible symptom to the conditions of existence. I didn’t know it was a prevalent side effect to just being sometimes.

We are, by evolution, chasing a perfection unallowed. A race of billions praying for a profound.

I attempt to cope superficially yearly. Different methods. Breaking quarterly. Wondering why a house isn’t enough when built on unstable ground. I fight constantly with who I am, measured up next to who I should be, who I think I want to be. I close my eyes and who I am never matches with this woman in my dreams and I wonder really who put her there. This whimsical waif made of diamonds and designer that speaks with poetry, sounds like velvet and fucks like magic. This beautiful being that was all the best parts of me at once with none of the disparity. I close my eyes and dream of the purity of my heart, mind & soul in harmony.

Intimately when I’m alone what do I want most? In the dark of my bedroom, bare skin under white sateen sheets. Who am I when all the rest slips away and it’s only me at night?

If tomorrow can be designed, what do I want most? The bills paid in advance, clients to be overjoyed, employees ecstatic and productive. Business partners impressed; vacations planned, wishlists emptied and cravings sated.

 The tiny waist and beautiful curves. My own full lips and hopeful jawline. Smiling whites and slanted deep brown eyes. Soft skin and a happy glow.

At one point of my life I had all of these separately but never all at once. I want to be in love with myself like how in love I am with others. I want to be in love with myself like how in love others are with me.

I’m half a bottle of wine in and I’ve been drafting this post for two months. I’m buried in irrelevancy; dipped myself behind the curtain to do great work for people in front of it. I always wondered if I could live, survive, love myself without the vanity. My therapist says vanity is human and there are a hundred levels of it.

We’re six or so sessions deep now. She told me about the duality of my soul: the disapproving mother and the overtly loving father. When you’re three and barely cognizant your mentality is forming without your choice. When you’re twenty-six and sobbing your mentality snaps back to these pointed stages, like a rubberband in the dark. Without your choice.

I want to write a million and two words. Scream at the mountains and pray to my father. I am overwhelmingly loved by so many except for myself. I know I am severely flawed, but have always tried to do good, even at the expense of everything else.

I am behind in every goal I have ever wanted, but I am alive. Happy. Working. Trying.

Were these all the goals I actually just needed?