memory

once upon a time, i hated my wedding

I believe history can be rewritten.

For a long time, my wedding was not a happy memory for me. Besides the fact that my father was not invited, my sister was in Taiwan, and my mother refused to attend, it wasn’t my style. If I had really known myself back then, I would have admitted it was not the kind of wedding I wanted. I’m not extravagant, but I do like to celebrate. I like parties and people and photos and public displays of merriment.

For a long time, I didn’t want to share our story. I was hurt and angry, so I told a story of hurt and anger. We never dated, we had a small, simple wedding, and then we were married. We postponed our honeymoon to start our life together. And there we were: married, poor, boring. The plan was to stay married forever. End of story. End of adventure.

But now I see it was just the beginning.

I travel less than I did when I was single, but travel is not the only kind of adventure. Love may not always be exotic and glamorous, but there is still excitement and risk when your heart is on the line. There is mystery in vulnerability and intimacy, and there is power and freedom when your heart is held with care. Five years ago, I gave my heart to Noah, and he has kept it well.

When I have a new perspective, I have a new story.

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Now when I look back on our wedding, I no longer feel hurt or angry. I feel thankful and nostalgic.

That was the day everything was new. My family was not there, but I was creating a new family. That was the day I chose love above everything else. I decided love was more important than my post-grad opportunities, more important than money, more important than a career. That was the day I started to become myself, because I finally felt safe to take down my walls. That was the day I stopped running from my pain, my insecurity, my fear. That was the day I chose home.

When I embrace the past, I allow it to bless me in the present.

We started talking on Skype. We had a long-distance friendship across 12 time zones. We were both intense, strong-willed, and a little aggressive. We were intent upon the best that life could offer and saw that life in one another. We chose each other and got married and keep choosing each other every day. We learn more about ourselves and who we want to be, we learn more about each other, and we keep falling in love.

I love our story.

I love how we choose what is right for us and follow how we believe God is leading, even when it seems crazy. I love how we prioritize relationships and community. I love how I am more attracted to Noah the longer I know him. I love how honor and unity have strengthened us in every way. I love how we support each other’s dreams, and that’s what makes them come true.

I love how each season has a new beginning.

Anniversaries are new milestones of old events. This year, it falls during my 38th week of pregnancy, on the eve of another new adventure. Phoebe is a product of our love and a reminder of how we can become new again and again. Our family can become new. I can become a new mother. We can tell new stories of old memories that have not changed — but with fresh eyes, the past can become new.

It is in reminiscing that we keep alive what time inevitably dissolves. And so our love grows and we fall in love again and again.

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soundtrack of my childhood

The soundtrack of my childhood is

Giggles and made-up words and stroller wheels on the bumpy sidewalk

Ice cream trucks and carnival music and peeper frogs at my grandparents’ house

It is my pencil furiously scratching on the yellow legal pad where I keep all my stories

Of little girls just like me and little girls I want to be

It is the deep, bellowing “Signorita!” at Vincent’s Pizzeria

Where a plain slice is $1.25 and I always pay in exact change

It is Maranatha music blasting from the living room stereo as my mother cleans the house

“You should be a singer,” we always tell her, but she thinks she isn’t good enough

My summers are

Slathered sunscreen, crashing waves, and squawking seagulls at Jones Beach

Smacking of bare feet on rough concrete at Manorhaven pool

The crunch of Frosted Flakes in red solo cups on family vacations in Massachusetts

Where my cousins are Long Island meets Boston and I can’t wait until I’m a teenager, too

//

But my childhood is also

Secrets and lies and hiding with the door locked and the lights off

Screams and broken dishes and slamming doors and if you go to sleep you won’t know

It is caught in the middle, it’s none of their business, and passive aggression always wins

It is indecipherable conversation among nameless relatives and foreign faces that look just like mine

The steady drip in the cold, damp basement bedroom in my father’s house

It is taunts at recess and “Can you even see?”

It is pretending I’m from Hawaii because no one would ever want to be from China

Pretending and make believe and believe enough to make it real

//

At midnight, when the streetlamp guards the empty road like a sentinel, the soundtrack is

The blaring whistle of the train two blocks away

The chorus of cicadas outside my 2nd story window

Decorated with the weather-worn “don’t forget me, firefighter” sticker, I don’t want to be forgotten

It is the sporadic thud of a green crabapple falling from the tree in the front yard

It is the snores of my mother’s boyfriend sleeping downstairs

The gentle breathing of my little sister in the bed next to mine

Whom I’ll always protect, I will always protect

My childhood soundtrack is not quite evening and not yet morning, but it is always there

Longing for the night and the adventures in my dreams

Longing for the day when my adventures begin

//

2015.03.08

***

Inspiration: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

“It’s not that I remember everything clearly. It comes to me unbidden, my history, in a fragrance I catch on the breeze, in the sound of the birds happily going about their joyous business of finding things to eat. It is a hint of eternity on the wind, a connection to seasons past, the memory of wonder, of longing, of knowing. I am still three and seven and twenty-two.

At times there is within me an echo of the truth that I am eternal. I am connected to my present, my future, my past. So are you. We carry within us every age and every moment of our lives.”

dear anger

I was only a child when I met you, but I fell in love immediately.

You made me powerful. Decisive. Quick-witted and sharp-tongued. I didn’t realize how hurt I was that my father wasn’t the dad I wanted — wasn’t white, wasn’t athletic, didn’t try to understand me, didn’t know me. You were always with me on visitations with him. I didn’t know how to deal with him not being the person I wanted him to be, so you showed me how to be impatient, interrupt him, talk over and above him, make fun of his English, criticize his social skills, walk faster than him and leave him behind, shut him out, manipulate him, shout at him, mock his incompetence, irrational thinking, poor memory.

You put me on a pedestal when I didn’t get the attention I wanted. You filled me with contempt and taught me to despise others.

You introduced me to Apathy so I could have you both at the same time and feel invincible and impervious to the world. You convinced me that I didn’t need my father, that I didn’t need my mother, that I didn’t need anyone. You tempted me with an addiction to food, something no one could take away from me, so I could feel filled when I was really empty, and just indulge until I hated myself. You spurred me to be argumentative and to always win, so I wouldn’t have to accept any truth that I didn’t want to bear. Even the truth that my father had failed me. I told you all my secrets because Apathy said you were safe and harmless.

You and Apathy were jealous twins of a lover. You kept me disconnected from the world with the pleasure of power.

Maybe I saw you in my first boyfriend, maybe I subconsciously wanted to be in your control as I started being drawn towards others, like Love and Friendship and Joy. You kept me close and when you took the form of depression in him, I turned to Disgust to rid me of you, but Apathy had already taken more of a hold than I had thought, and I couldn’t see past Apathy to know you were still there. I loved this boy, but after several of his suicide attempts, Apathy convinced me he’d be better off dead. Since I was better and stronger than him, to care for him by letting him go, so the ones closest to him could really live.

I liked being chained to Apathy disguised as Love because I thought I was free — free from hindrance, free from you. I didn’t realize that the whole time I was with Apathy, you were hiding in a corner of the room, watching us, watching me, eyes always open, never blinking. I didn’t realize you had never left, that you tracked all my steps, that you were in the background of every photograph, that you were the uninvited guest at every party. You never said a word, but you followed my every movement like a shadow.

At Bible school, I was convinced you were gone for good. But still you hid, behind Religion and Rules, even behind the name of God.

When I was raped, I had no idea you were there. I thought I had gone from everything familiar, from anyone that knew me. You hid behind Confusion and Cultural Justification.

The Apathy I thought was Love in having healthy nondependent relationships progressed from not relying on people to not relying on God. The Apathy I thought was Strength in moving on and putting others’ needs before my own turned from being selfless to being isolated and proud.

I continued to escape with food and travel so I could distract myself and spend more time with Apathy. I didn’t know how to navigate the world so I sought Apathy to help me procrastinate and choose to not make choices, to not accomplish anything.

Anger, you’ve never left, but you’ve been more of a stalker than a faithful lover. I know it’s not all your fault, but Apathy doesn’t care to listen to me, and I just want a response. I haven’t felt true passion for anything in a while because Apathy has moved in and kicked my dreams and deepest feelings out of my heart so they’re just hanging out on the curb, waiting until there’s room for them to come back inside.

I’m opening my heart, but it’s pouring out there, and I’m standing in the doorway, watching the rain.

tales from the nondependent child, part two

It is a strange sense of imagined community to linger anxiously at the gate desk with other standby passengers, crumpled seat request in hand, praying desperately that it will be replaced with a shiny boarding pass — the most coveted of white paper slips. We represent diverse ages and backgrounds, and come with carry-on luggage of various shapes, sizes, and colors.

We stand isolated for a while, absorbed in our own itineraries, and then gradually strike up conversations. We compare positions on the standby list, boast of how many hours we have been waiting at the airport that day, nodding empathetically at the misfortune of The Overbooked Flight, and share our connection to Delta’s nonrevenue world, pleasantly joking with each other, “You should tell your son/sister/aunt to get a better priority!”

Our eyes are glued to the TV monitors, giddy with excitement when the number of unclaimed or unreserved seats increases (“Did you see that? Now there are THREE OPEN SEATS!”) Our faces display our disappointment as the gate area grows crowded and passengers obediently line up to board. As each new person moves swiftly down the jetway, we exchange crestfallen expressions and make the occasional phone call to a loved one at our destination, “I don’t think I’m going to make it…”

Our hearts beat faster as soon as the gate agent announces the final boarding call over the loudspeaker, a glimmer of hope when it is publicly warned that all passengers who have not yet boarded will have their reservations cancelled. We glance around nervously, emitting a collective groan when a tardy revenue passenger comes rushing into the gate area, spewing the same old alibis we have heard so many times before, excuses of “Security was backed up!” or “I thought it was Gate A12!”

With only two seats left, we lament, “There is just no way we will get on.” And then the gate agent calls for MAC/T, with no answer. We all move up one space on the standby list. “Until the door is shut, there is always a chance,” we comfort each other, only half-believing our whispered condolences. The next person on standby gets a seat and we all cheer, secretly and obviously wishing we could take their place.

And then — but oh, it was impossible! — the gate agent calls my last name. My hand shoots up in the air in case she can’t see me standing right in front of her as I exclaim, “Yes, Brown! Here! That’s me!” and it all happens so fast. Looking back at my old teammates with an optimistic farewell salute, I hand over what has transformed into my winning lottery ticket and wait for my boarding pass to print out from the scanner. The gate agent promptly gives me my scrap of precious paper and I look down in admiration at that glorious combination of numbers and a capital letter that will be my little home for the next couple of hours.

I hurry down the jet bridge as the gate door locks shut behind me with a final click. That’s it. No more passengers. The flight attendant greets me with an obligatory smile, and I openly receive it and feel genuinely cared for. As I walk down the aisle, some passengers glare at me with the plausible assumption that I am the irresponsible latecomer who is the sole cause of their delayed departure. But no! I was at the airport hours and hours before any of you!

I find my assigned row in the back of the plane. A tiny, uncomfortable middle seat between two very large humans never looked so inviting. I hastily brush the crumbs off my seat from its previous occupant and shove my backpack under the seat in front of me. I fold my hands sedately over my fastened seatbelt and take a deep breath of relief. The plane has yet to take off, but I am floating on clouds with an adrenaline high and feel on top of the world. I am the adventurous standby risk-taker, the victorious traveler, the flying conquistador.

I am the nondependent child who still has her wings.

memory from the city i should actually live in

“No, that’s okay.”

It was a late afternoon in March 2008. My friend-of-a-friend stranger-status travel-buddy-turned-eventual-friend was hanging out in a nearby cafe. I don’t remember why he wasn’t interested in climbing the tower, but I remember that I had not been able to do so the last time I was at Notre Dame, and hey, it’s not every day that I’m in Paris. And I love views from above.

I stood in line outside of the cathedral. I waited for a while, in the cold, in the light rain, bare hands stuffed in the pockets of my thin black-and-red checkered jacket, looking for warmth that wasn’t there. I watched the passersby, as I always did, probably wishing that a cute boy at whom I could smile and giggle was standing with me, as I usually wished in times like those. Romantic ideals of western Euro trips hold fast.

I climbed the 387 steps loosely sandwiched between the rhythmic footsteps of other tourists, echoes of complaints and jokes and foreign tongues bouncing off the walls. The procession stirred the listlessness of humidity and history that permeated the air of the narrowing heights. At the top, everyone rejoiced in the exodus from the congested staircase and hastily spread out in both directions.

The air was dim and fresh, the way a city seems haphazardly washed after a misty shower, in the transition when night takes its turn to bathe the world in shadows.

I asked a group of not-fully-adults who looked about my age if they wanted their picture taken. They posed eagerly and affectionately with each other, and I wished I was part of their group, or atop the tower with any friends at all. One of them gestured courteously towards me, wondering if I, too, wanted my picture. I automatically shook my head with a polite smile, the way I would when a Nigerian Prince emails me about transferring large sums of money.

“No, that’s okay.”

Except that it wasn’t a scam, it wasn’t manipulative or complicated; it was just a stranger returning a favor, and I declined without taking a second to recall that photographs are the one thing of which I never have enough.

Maybe one day, I’ll visit again, breathing in my favorite city in the world, the one that Buzzfeed confirms I should actually live in (so of course it must be true), and I’ll have someone take my picture in front of the distant skyline.

With the view of Paris behind me, for the memory of Paris before me.