Her apparition passes through me

Motherless on Mother’s Day, it’s bittersweet to be on any form of social media. It’s hard to watch people on the street holding bouquets of flowers and line up in front of high-end restaurants.

I have something like love for a mother that doesn’t exist. I want to feel that warmth and comfort, the security in knowing someone will sacrifice anything to ensure my well-being and happiness.

I think about her when I felt the cold empty space when I sensed I was intruding on friends’ family functions. I think about her every time I receive kindness I don’t expect. I’ve thought about her whenever I feel compelled to clean up after others and no one notices. I think about her a lot when her words tumble out of his mouth. I think about her when I try to figure out how best to love others.

I think about her when I feel alone in ordinary moments:

a flip of a switch,

a voice at the door,

nearby footsteps,

a presence,

a creamy blanket,

a wiping motion,

morning rituals,

retrieving a glass of water,

letters organized neatly,

a purse,

a garage door,

a gentle touch on the shoulder,

quiet arms,

a doodle on my to-do lists,

words of forgiveness,

a dressing room,

freshly cut fruit.

I know what moms are supposed to be like, what they do, how it feels to be taken care of and loved unconditionally and treasured, to be comforted and looked out for, to be doted on, reprimanded “for your own good”. My mom’s mom gave up her life for her child. My mom wanted me to have a better life than she could provide. At least in my family, sacrifice runs in our blood.

A mundane domestic scene, yet somehow a poignant display of unconditional love.

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They used to say I had beautiful hands

[CW: Blood mention, some graphic details about scars and wounds]

Of the few childhood photos I have access to and from what my relatives tell me, I was once a baby with beautiful lily-white skin. Summer after summer of romping around in the dirt under the hot California sun, however, significantly darkened my complexion into my adolescence. I started to get mistaken for different ethnicities. Being outside so much without supervision often triggered my hay allergies and my arms and legs broke out in ugly rashes. It didn’t help that my face was also riddled with scars from roughhousing with the neighborhood kids and getting into very physical fights with my brother. Never one to think ahead or have much patience, I would always pick at and peel off the scabs on my face and come home with dirty, bloody fingernails and a rebellious grin.

My mother, not amused and decidedly concerned about my prospects as a presentable human being, went straight for the traditional beauty products. She came home with one of the most expensive things you could buy in an Asian supermarket: edible bird’s nest. It’s a rare delicacy that is known for its medicinal properties.

A quick Google search says that a case of these can be priced to upwards of $100, which goes to show how desperately my family wanted me to have a perfect complexion. 8-year-old me wasn’t into it.

Around the same time I started my first onset of pubescent insecurities, my Vietnamese family started to bemoan my deteriorating beauty as well. Their moisturized hands poked and examined my face and limbs like they were assessing fine china and clucked, “You’re pretty enough to get by. Once you’re older you can pay for surgery for that face.” It was the first time I learned that my face was something that needed fixing.

I’ve always loved wearing light pastel colors, but my family discouraged me from doing so (“They make your face look dirty, dark, unclean”). As I got older and gained some curves from puberty I was teased by my family for indulging in eating more than what was considered a ladylike serving. I learned to hate my thighs and my cheeks, and eventually started to pick at those too. Eventually over the course of high school I outgrew this and was able to focus my energies elsewhere until just recently.

I’m 20 now and my eczema came back full force when I moved into my current apartment. My hands started to become scaly and irritated. What started out as minor bug bites devolved into nasty wounds because when I scratch a bad itch, I scratch until I bleed. Sometimes I’ll scratch even further into the raw flesh. The skin on the back of my legs was the worst. They were two huge open wounds and for weeks it hurt to walk or use the stairs. I felt self-conscious about exposing my legs for the first time in years.

My skin is the ugliest it’s been in a long time.

In the midst of my dermatological troubles I got my second tattoo a couple of weeks ago after months of working with an artist to create the design. It felt good. It helps me feel like I actually am in control of my impulses and have the power to choose what permanently stays on my skin.

me and my tattclose up

I went to a dermatologist on campus for a consultation and he said that I needed to be gentler with my skin. Cooler showers, shorter baths, soothing lotion, protective sunscreen, and, as always, hydration. It’s easy to forget that our bodies are vessels that need to be taken care of before they start to revolt against us. I asked him if there were products I could use to lighten the hyperpigmentation of my darkest-looking scars and he shrugged and said, “You can’t quite undo the damage, but you can stop the habit and prevent it from getting worse.” Strangely, this was good enough for me.

Once, a lifetime ago, I complained to my aunt about how insecure I felt about the countless gruesome dark marks that disfigured me. She pointed to her face and said, “Look, I have them too. These are all battle scars. Each one has a story.” My aunt was looking pointedly at my then torn-up knees from a particularly embarrassing scooter accident. “When people look at you they won’t just see another girl. They’re going to see a warrior, a survivor. That’s something, right?”

Where have you been?

growing

I am the type of person who hates explaining herself. I would much rather hide under the covers, look away, recede.

It was a muted summer, with a room with a view. It was getting drunk with friends for the very first time. It was relocating and standing up for myself. It was my head in his hands, listening to him tell me to be safe. Too bad I’m not so good at that.

People like my brother are troublemakers. People like me are trouble-seekers. Once I moved away from family for the final time I locked myself in crisis mode and now I can’t seem to get out. I pick fights and I push buttons. I kick up dirt and slam my palms against chain-link fences. When all you’ve ever known is the transience of stability, it’s hard to get comfortable.

It was a wringing of the hands and rapid thoughts, heart beating so fast at the danger I couldn’t see. I spent days on end blankly refreshing the browser again and again hoping I’d find connection. I sat very, very still in a city of commuters. Every morning I woke up to the sound of children playing and praying next door. Every night I begged for sleep so I wouldn’t be tempted to literally tear my skin off. I walked barefoot around the block asking the homeless where the hell I could buy some chocolate milk at 1am, glints from stray cats’ eyes and dusty neon signs lighting my way around the city. Keys failed. Pills failed. Dismissive comments from my therapist failed. Sex, anger, and intoxication were the only things that made me feel alive.

When I started to try to separate myself from the things that were making me feel detached and unreal, I started to become completely unhinged. I started to feel everything that I had numbed before. There was jealousy and loneliness and so much anger.

However, there was also effusive love and friendship and intimacy and everything else I had almost forgotten. There were soft amber lights and laughter. There were arms wrapped each other’s shoulders as we stumbled down the streets in a joyous haze. For the first time in months, everything I wanted to say started to pour out and, instead of repelling others, it drew my most treasured friends closer. I became an open wound: stinging, putrid, raw, exposed.

I am a walking healing scar. I have never felt ready, and I don’t know if I ever will. I can’t emphasize how scared I’ve been of change and of my ability to function. For a brief moment each day I come back to the apartment, however, I smell cooling pastries on the table and sunlight peeking through the blinds. I go into the room and smell skin on blankets and turn on the comforting fairy light draped over our bed and I remember that this home’s been worth it, he’s worth it, and I’m certainly worth everything that’s happened.

Still Knocking

This is a crane fly.

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There have been so many crane flies in the house. I hear them knocking into the walls relentlessly through the night with their long, ugly, gangly legs. Everyone seems to agree that they look like monstrous versions of mosquitos except harmless. Somehow their sheer size and unwanted gaze is enough to make me writhe. When they fly they fly erratically and grossly, with their clumsy legs dragging behind them as if their entire body structure is nature’s mistake. They whirl around my exposed lamp and bump and smack right back into the walls. I’ve been trying to figure out if, like moths, they are looking for the moon.

Crane flies keep spinning against the ceiling now. They’re like spiders that can fly, fear and confusion on wings. I hate this sound.

There are four or five shriveled crane fly corpses on the windowsill in the kitchen, their legs tucked in like fingers into a fist, artifacts of a quest for freedom. Last night one of them managed to perch awkwardly on the side of the structure right underneath the naked bulb of my lamp and I thought, “What are you going to do now?” I don’t think it knew either, and it flew away someplace else of its own accord.

Once a crane fly suddenly crashed into the glowing screen of my laptop, looking for a way out of the darkness.

It’s hot. The crane flies are almost worse than my self-doubting. I feel itchy in my own skin. I want to peel it all off so my exposed flesh throbs and glistens and takes in everyone else’s light. Every small, disgusting thunk of the ugly crane flies is the same answer to uncomfortable questions.

Did I change my major before I even knew what I was getting into? Yes.

Did my lips say “yes” when everything else said “no”? Yes.

Did I fake an emotion again? Yes.

Did I blow exorbitant amounts of money on temporary hits of happiness? Yes.

Did I spend another 45 minutes stewing in envy for the features I’ll never have? Yes.

Am I longing for human connection? Am I tired of being invisible? Yes.

Did I lie about the progress I was making? Yes, yes, and yes.

Is this a self-whipping of sorts? Yes.

Crane flies are knocking against the walls again, so I opened my window to let the hum of my neighbor’s AC overtake the sounds of confused legs against hardness over and over and over again.

Things are jumbled up and backwards. I spend my waking hours thinking about how nice it’d be to return to sleep. I experience anger much more readily than I ever have. I love my aunt now more than ever, and I resent my mom. My brother gives me better, much more succinct advice than I have to offer these days. I’m without a plan. 

My academic adviser told me, you can’t dive into everything all at once.

I can’t lean against the headboard of my bed without sliding the mattress along over and ending up on my back. I’m already sick of this city, where it stinks and where months ago a teenager stood on the edge of the overpass nearby–that was the highest point he knew–with sirens all around him trying to convince him to live.

All my life I’ve held on to that tantalizing thought, “it will get better” and “there’s something good waiting behind all this” and it’s happening again. As soon as I make a decision to withdraw from a situation I don’t agree with, I’m confronted with a quiet thought that says “Isn’t this what you wanted?” “No” “Then what do you want?”

I don’t know, but it’s not this.

I’m not as daring or reckless or brave as people seem to think I am. I’m also still knocking around hoping for a different answer. No one seems to know what I mean when I say I want to go home, or when I say I am homesick. 

I can’t sleep. I regularly stay up past 2 so I can guarantee I will knock out as soon as I close my eyes, because otherwise I will rearrange limbs and what-ifs a hundred times before I lose consciousness. That’s how I know it’s summer.

 

 

The Reasons Why So Many Female Celebrities Avoid the F-word, and Why We Should Care

The Reasons Why So Many Female Celebrities Avoid the F-word, and Why We Should Care

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    Shailene Woodley of recent Divergent fame has recently come under fire from all sides by variousfeministbloggers for telling TIME magazine in an interview she is not a feminist. An excerpt:

      TIME: You’ve talked before about being conscious of the kind of messages that you’re sending to young female fans when you’re       taking on roles. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

      Woodley: No, because I love men, and I think the idea of “raise women to power, take the men away from power” is never going         to work because you need balance.

One of the major reasons this matters, apart from the innate inaccuracies of her interpretation of feminism, is because just two months before this interview, TIME published a blatantly contradictory piece entitled Why Hollywood Desperately Needs Shailene Woodley with a byline that proclaims: “The 22-year-old Divergent star turns out to be the outspoken feminist role model we’ve been waiting for.” Perhaps not.

Read the rest of this piece I wrote about the importance of celebrities who identify as feminist on Community Village!

What I Am Is Tired of You Asking What I Am

Mixed American Life

Once at work I was approached by a couple of older white men. I greeted them with the usual “Hello, how can I help you?” to which one of them paused before asking, “Where are you from?”

Tight-lipped but cheerily I answered, “I live in Sunnyvale not too far away from here.” The two men looked at each other and the bald one tried again, “But where are you really from?” to which I answered with “Well, I was born and raised in San Jose but I moved here for middle school. Now what can I get you today?” They were persistent and kept at it: “But what are you?” and so on as I smiled my customer service smile and completed their order so I could get to the next customer.

These experiences are not limited to strangers, but also by young children I come across, classmates, and coworkers…

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Blessed, or I’m going to be okay because it’s almost spring

Walking around on campus I have noticed that the school has been planting calla lilies and daffodils and all the other trees have burst into bloom. People are praying for spring but instead the sky has given us rain, rain, and more rain. Inside of warm buildings surrounded by warm bodies I’ve been watching the rippling puddles from tall windows, and at night in warm blankets I’ve been listening to the content sound of the gutter’s gurgling of the day’s showers.

I see there’s a fire bell above the women’s restroom where the twigs of a bird’s nest stick out in all directions proclaiming, “This is our home!” It’s strange to know these creatures are unaware of their house’s purpose and that in the event of an emergency, they’ll be the first to know when their earth shakes and screams but they’ll also be the first to flee the scene. But we have been safe thus far, and as long as we’re safe they’re safe. 

The school’s swimming pool is surrounded by a high, narrowly slotted fence through which the sun can slip through only as a series of slivers. When I walk down the sidewalk along the border it becomes a celestial flashing camera telling me, “This is your life, this is your life, this is your life.” I feel I have a lot of figurative flashing cameras reflecting my light back to me. They are reminding me that I’m not obligated to whatever’s happened in the past or what my future holds, especially considering my return to social media and especially considering all the people I’ve found are still rooting for me. 

Still, I wear combat boots for as long as I can until the sun is warm enough to coax my toes out from under the black laces and convinces me I don’t have to be at war with the world anymore. I wear hoodies and scarves for as long as I can until the wind I felt has always been pushing me away changes, and becomes the breeze that pulls me into spring.

The latest taste of heat I’ve felt was when I burned my knuckle on the popper at work a few weekends ago. The crinkled, fish-shaped scar has finally started to peel away to reveal delicate pink skin that reminds that the body fights for us to begin anew.

And yet last weekend I hurt myself again and my skin has opened up again in anger, filling in the spaces I tried too hard to create to distance myself from pressures threatening my head. The healing is ugly, and the scar looks like a set of lop-sided lungs, but self-forgiveness sweetens the process.

My emotions build upon themselves until I become angry about being angry, sad about being sad, ashamed for being ashamed, guilty for feeling guilty. Everything is amplified, magnified, increased exponentially until I catch myself wishing I didn’t have to feel at all. At the same time I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I think I’m getting better. I feel better in this moment, and I can’t express how happy I am to be happy.

My brother reminds me that I am in a different space now, and that the last phase of my life has long been shed, and that it’s time to create a new space for myself. 

My thoughts buzz along telephone wires and my patience is the red of traffic lights when my uncle’s voice tells me to”BRAKE. BRAKE” as he holds the sides of the car even though I know I am far from danger.

As the seasons stutter from one into the next, strangers all around me raise their voices to politely bless me. I say thank you, always surprised at my newfound state of blessedness, and walk along.