He’s only 40, an age I’d still consider young for a doctor. I see the features of so many of my Chinese peers in his face, though he’s actually an Irish expat. Family and a restaurant sealed his parents decision to emigrate to the Emerald Isle when he was too young to speak. It explains why his conversational diction is impeccable while some spoken consonants are merged or lost, a familiar accent from being born into a Cantonese family. This immediately puts me on my guard. I’ve rarely gotten along with those peers; the culture hasn’t been kind.
But I’m not here for myself. I didn’t even make the appointment, which is why I don’t know what to say.
Thankfully, he takes the lead and takes his time. The questions cover a motley gamut, and I can tell how comprehensive his notes are through the clacking of the keyboard.
At some point he asks if anyone came with me, and I tell him who’s in the waiting room. He kindly offers to speak to her on my behalf, but she already knows. It’s the only reason I’m telling this story another time. I can’t help admitting how humiliating it is to be so dependent on others, to need people like her so desperately sometimes that I can’t imagine how I’d survive without them.
Without any change in his procedural tone, he says this sentiment is part of our Chinese guilt. We disappoint our parents by not being strong enough to live up to their expectations as self-reliant adults, but they prevent us from growing up by treating us like children and refusing to let us make our own decisions. He knows, cause he’s gone through the same thing. At the same time, he never condones my feelings, offering a reassurance that we all handle things differently, and that we can’t do it alone sometimes. It tells me he doesn’t just listen; he cares.
Before sending me off with a dose of Pristiq, he hands me a sealed envelope — on it written “emergency room letter” — and tells me to give it to the doctor at the Queensway-Carleton, while carefully suggesting I have nothing to lose at this point. It makes sense, but I’m not ready. Not yet. This is good for now. She’ll thank me for taking this step, one that’s as much for her as it is for me.
After, we hold hands in the car while waiting to be composed enough to be seen in public, bass lines washing over us like heartbeats, an affirmation of reasons for and the things I love.
Dear mid-20s co-workers: thank you for thinking I’m the same age as you.
I haven’t been able to come up with a way of explaining the absence. I guess I’m still figuring out where I stand at this particular moment, and what it means to keep going. Many days were lost to the flux of ambiversion, when all I was trying to do was survive the balance of how much space I needed with how much comfort I could only get from others. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned the importance of taking the time just to feel okay, which has mostly involved enjoying the games I’ve put off playing for so long, spending time with those who make me feel wanted+needed+awesome+loved, and drafting as often as possible.
My birthday came somewhere in between, a day I got to pick all the shows, eat dirty bird, and nest with the cats on me when they weren’t in the cuddle train. It made the whole day mine, not because it was something I asked for, but because someone wanted to give that to me.
I’m slowly letting my guard down, letting myself share new songs in the dark, so the positive experiences become a permanent part of me. Making new memories is a step towards soothing my history with heartbreak. The comfort I find in our embraces carries me through the time we’re apart, but feeling safe is still very foreign. Just touching fingers is a vulnerable step, and it’s like being on a tightrope every time I put aside my insecurities to make progress. Thankfully, she hasn’t let me fall yet.
Most recently, I started working at the busiest comic book shop in the city as one of the resident Magic experts. It’s left me trying to find my balance again, even though the job is part-time and never feels like work. The position mostly involves running the tournaments, trading/selling/organizing cards, and giving people game advice; things I already love doing in my spare time. A nice bonus is the fact that a new friend happens to be one of the regulars at the Modern Constructed tourney, and I get to root for him and see how he does between matches.
Shawn even came in to say hi and give me hugs on my first day. Reminders all around that make me feel worthwhile, instead of just believing it. It’s the difference between knowing something in my head to my heart, a gap I’m starting to bridge with help from the right people.
Daylight savings: bi-annual reminder of which devices in your house aren’t connected to the internet.
If you don’t want to date me, that’s fine, I get that, but you’re wrong and I hate you.
The Cuban sun burned especially bright on the day Katie and Seth got married, but the wind kept everyone comfortable while unlimited drinks made sure sobriety was never an issue. There’s something to be said about the exclusivity of destination weddings, cause they leave little room for strangers or acquaintances. Only the closest people will commit to plane tickets and accommodations. The celebrations are all the more intimate for it, and I’m always glad when I have a chance to be part of the that.
You never need to make a special effort to find the wildlife in Varadero; even on the resorts, birds will bravely snatch food at your feet, while stray cats toy with lizards and mice alike before eating them. And being surrounded by other people on their own holidays, whether they’re tanning on the beach or letting pretty girls cheat at limbo, brings a warmth to the atmosphere that even the sun can’t provide.
The last time I saw my mom was on a trip she took to see me in Ottawa, along with a few other family members visiting from out of the country. I had table tennis practice one night, and instead of dropping me off, they decided to come watch. So five of us piled into her van, and halfway through the drive, my vision started growing blurry. I’d been working full shifts, then entertaining the guests every night, and my body decided it didn’t want to continue cooperating. With the aches getting sharper in my head, I told her I couldn’t play. She sharply asked why. I explained.
My mother has always been an emotional driver, and on top of that an “emotional” person when she doesn’t get her way. With me riding shotgun, she decided to make a U-turn into oncoming traffic. It was an attempt to go home in a huff, except there are things to consider when doing this in a vehicle, like the fact that everyone around you is also moving in their own giant metal sledgehammer. When we crossed over the median, I saw an SUV heading towards me at full speed, and in that moment, there was only the distinct realization that this is how I died. It was something I’d always wondered, and the satisfaction of my curiosity was greater than any sense of fear of what was about to happen1.
But we were saved by the grace and reflexes of the person driving the SUV, who slammed on his/her brakes, and there was no collision. My mom continued speeding back home in her mood, like she hadn’t nearly maimed us all. I knew in that moment she didn’t care about me or my well being; all she cared about was how she couldn’t show off her son in front of the family, and how that made her look.
I never looked her in the eyes after that. And when she left, I never saw her again. It was already her last chance. Proof that I still didn’t mean anything to her as a person, that I was just an ornament to her my entire life.
Fast forward many years later. A phase where I find myself learning about hate and forgiveness, how to let go of one and practice the other. I decide to contact her again, letting her know that I’m not ready to forgive her yet, but I’m open to talking. She asked what there was to forgive, as if she had no idea what she did wrong. I thought it was an odd thing to say; after all, how did she explain why we hadn’t spoken in years? I made no assumptions though, and brought up a few things to refresh her memory, the incident above being one example.
All she could say was that she was going through a difficult marriage, so I should understand why she acted the way she did. Then she meekly tried to mask her guilt with excuses about making sacrifices for me, as if a child’s acceptance or forgiveness is something that can be bought and this is why she owes me nothing. Through it all, she refused to apologize, or even acknowledge that she ever hurt me. Perhaps saying sorry would mean admitting to herself that she’s done these horrible things to her only child, her fault things got so bad he cut off all ties, and that reality would be too difficult for her to deal with. To this day, she’s in complete denial about her role in any of my suffering, and she doesn’t even care enough about me to feel bad about it.
I’m learning to accept that my mom would rather give up the chance at reconciling than do something as simple as apologize, cause it means her sense of pride is more important to her than her only child. This is exactly what makes her a bad parent. Separating myself from her so many years later was just as easy as the first time.
If only I wasn’t still dealing with the after-effects of her influence; I’m only now learning not to judge myself the way she did the entire time we were in contact, how not to hate myself for being less than perfect, how not to feel worthless when I don’t have constant validation. So many of my demons can be traced back to her. Parents are supposed to nurture, instilling strength and confidence and stability, while helping their children explore a sense of identity. Instead, she dangled love and favour and reward in front of me only if I met some ridiculous standard in school or played the piano or did exactly as she bid. Otherwise, I was a bad person, the child she didn’t want.
It’s been somewhat traumatizing to re-experience these triggers again when trying to resolve issues I’m dealing with now. Sometimes I hate myself for being so broken, but it’s easier to forgive my mistakes and accept myself when I realize such a toxic person has had so much influence on my life.
Darren stopped by for a stay on the way to Montreal for his first multi-day holdem tournament. The first and last nights ended up being the only ones we had to ourselves. Otherwise, it was a mix of friends and strangers, sativas and incidas, coming and going through the house each day. I’m glad he was along for the ride, even though I’m always up far too late when we’re together, and it’s getting harder on my body as I get older.
It’s feels like I’m a different person, living a different life, every time we hang out. The distance between us means the change we experience is always significant enough to notice. This time my relationships have changed the most cause I’ve started compartmentalizing people, appreciating them for their strengths instead of expecting everyone to live up to some lofty set of expectations. My needs have always been the same, but I’m getting better at making sure they’re met after finally figuring out what they are. I’m also better at reading people, detecting undertone, and understanding social interactions, thanks to Shawn’s expertise rubbing off on me.
In terms of self-improvement, I’m trying to be more understanding of the world at large, while reducing my hate and increasing my patience. I’ve also started to analyze and resolve the triggers that keep me from being the person I was meant to be. The struggles I used to have only a few years ago seem so adolescent in comparison to the things I’m working on now. My priorities have matured, or I’ve grown in ways that have made old issues obsolete.
I’d never have realized any of this if Darren hadn’t showed up to pull me so far out of my regular life that I lost track of what day it was and the women I’d loved and the feeling of cold. I learn as much about myself as I do about him when we’re catching up.