I know that I’ve written about this in prior never-to-be-sents, but I’ve never quite linearly talked about my GI illness in 2005 and all the ways it has affected me.
When the symptoms were first appearing, I saw multiple doctors and none of them could figure out what was going on. Doctors have the same temperament as pro athletes, so they really hate uncertainty. The first doctors I saw dismissed my illness as a melodramatic overreaction to heartburn. What later ballooned into a major blood clot was at first treated with Maalox.
I began the night I was finally hospitalized by lying scrunched up in a fetal position on a bed in the ER. The wait felt like hours. Ray was at my side, staring without expression as I writhed and heaved and talked as if it were the end of my life. It felt that way. I would drift in and out of consciousness from the agony. At some point, I sent Ray home because I actually felt bad for taking up his time. Some time after that, a doctor at long last decided to admit me but not before accusing me of faking my misery.
“How come you only moan after I’m gone?” he said, and the implication was that I was seeking attention.
But it was true. While he was examining me I had forced myself into such composure that it was practically subservient, and only when he left did I unleash the flood of pain I had labored to levy. One reason I did this was because I thought that he could get a better diagnosis if I pulled my shit together while he was with me no matter how much it hurt. The other reason emerged as the crazed exclamation so typical of pregnant women in the movies when they are in labor.
“I’m Asian, goddammit!” I screamed. “I LIKE BEING POLITE!”
I thought about this moment just now. About half an hour ago the mayor had passed through a cafe in the Outer Richmond where I was grabbing lunch. I didn’t know he’d be there, of course. I was nibbling on my Irish curry pasty when the first of his entourage came in and made a beeline for the cashier to tell her that the mayor was down the street and that he was touring all the small businesses in the neighborhood. Suddenly I had it in my head to mention all sorts of grievances — but it ended up being like the time on The Golden Girls when George H.W. Bush came to their house and instead of giving him an earful like she planned, Dorothy just bashfully stammered, “Bush!”
I know that because he is only a local official there isn’t much that Ed Lee — who, by the way, resembles in person any number of uncles in my family — can do about this infuriating federal “sequestration” thing. But it would have been a good opportunity to confide in him how terribly heartbreaking it is. It would have been a nice chance to have a normal conversation with him. If I had thought of him less as a mayor and more like a teacher or a church elder, I would have said, “My parents have been civil servants all their lives. They are one of the few middle class success stories that are still around. I look up to them. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Instead, I shook his hand and said, “Mr. Mayor, it’s an honor.” (I didn’t even vote for him. I voted for some lady from the Marina district whose claim to fame was that her husband owned a restaurant in Rincon Tower.)
But the most pressing challenge for prochoice activists may simply be that abortion is legal. In a dynamic democracy like America, defending the status quo is always harder than fighting to change it.
It’s an old story not limited only to the abortion movement — in any movement, once you’ve won, the fight is over. And you take it for granted. I witness it every time I go to the Castro feeling alienated by the upper middle class standard of living and the ethnic homogeny.
I have to plan the next six months. I, literally, have to plan the next six months. And I hate that “literally” is used so often and so incorrectly, but this time I really am talking about the next six months from January to June.
I have to save money for two trips (three, if I count my annual pilgrimage to Comic Con). The first trip will be in May, which seems far now but, like Christmas, can be here and done faster than I thought.
Selma is getting married in May. She and her fiance live in Wisconsin but her fiance is from upstate New York. I admit that I have had some trepidation about going to Buffalo — it is not a name that elicits excitement, to be honest. But then I thought about the fact that it will be May, which is sometimes good, nearly summer-like weather on the east coast. I also thought about Buffalo’s proximity to Niagara Falls, which I have been to but I was too young to appreciate it (even though I do remember those waterfalls, which are epically enormous enough to be forever etched in my mind). As a tourist, this should be a fun trip. As one of Selma’s friends, my heart is outrageously overjoyed. I could cry. As usual.
I am thinking about what stories to tell about Selma. Our friendship is so internalized that I just don’t think anyone but either of us would get a kick out of reminiscing about tidbits like how we used to abbreviate “as usual” to AU in our instant messages — and also, there is the matter of how neither Selma nor I have ever met each other up until her wedding. Yeah, even now, Linc, I have known Selma since we were 12, and today is her big 3-0, but we have never met in person. Our entire friendship has been conducted online, virtually, via correspondence, whatever you want to call it and sometimes I did wonder if she were really a fat old perv or, perhaps, an algorithm. Perhaps she is one or both of those things. I would not be very surprised if I landed at BNIA and found a sentient kiosk looking for me in the Homeland Security-approved waiting area.
At first, Clara was going to be my plus one but then she backed out because of her budget. I said to her, “It’s okay. Selma’s my friend anyway. It’s not like if Spencer were getting married.”
“AHAHAHAHA,” I added quickly. “SPENCER GETTING MARRIED. AHAHAHAHA! AHAHAHAHA!!”
“AHAHAHAHA!!!” Clara echoed in delighted sarcasm.
Then we looked around the apartment and quit abruptly.
“Aw hell,” I said. “She’s not even here.”
This kind of cheap humor has recently served me well. Since Pop and Ma went back home to Maryland, I have been in a very severe funk. Until their visit I did not realize the profundity of this emptiness I have carried with me and manifested as never-to-be-sents, online dating profiles, and the occasional overindulgence of craft ice creams. I have not yet discovered any existing articulation of the loneliness that Pop and Ma have left in their wake; oddly, it is similar to the kind of sorrow found in R&B songs, of which I have been listening on my way to work.
Not too long ago I would have retreated into the kind of deep interior cultivated by the upbringing of a shy, writerly only child. But now I reach out to my friends for the smallest yet most meaningful moments, like teasing Spencer, who is three years older than us, and has shown little interest in the opposite sex (or any sex) even when she’s not around. Or teasing Spencer to her face, and getting pinched or slapped in return.
I have also thrown myself into Andrew Solomon’s enormous new tome. (In college, when I was trying to understand my feelings of depression, his book The Noonday Demon was a profound and defining literary experience for me.) For weeks since it arrived at the store, I had been flipping casually through the behemoth that is Far From the Tree but since Pop and Ma left I have fully zeroed in on reading that book from beginning to end, which is a project that may take a few weeks. Months.
I have always been envious of people who like reading fantasy books because they always get to have books the size of dictionaries to accompany them and be a kind of friend. I just can’t get into fantasy, Linc — elves, dragons, and shires. It’s not for me. Far From the Tree is the size of a fantasy book and I am treating it like the same kind of adventure. And you know what, Linc? Even though it is non-fiction and sometimes too clearly reflects the real world, I have found an utter fascination that could have only been fueled by Pop and Ma’s unexpectedly profound visit. I am reading Far From the Tree not just to fill a void but also as maybe a beacon lighting what it might be like for me to have my own kids. Here I am trying to sketch a first draft for life beyond these next six months.
Since Mary lives in Brooklyn anyway, I asked her if she would like to be my plus one. But these days she is back in school for nursing and the wedding will be at the tail-end of her semester, so as of right now it seems like I may be going to the wedding solo.
On Pop and Ma’s last night in San Francisco, we took the F-Market streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf to take a final round of snapshots and have a nice meal. I had just come from a long day at work and was glad to be with my parents, and to have had being with them to look forward to. I miss that, Linc. I miss looking forward to seeing them after work.
The ride from their hotel to the wharf is a long one, especially when so many tourists board the streetcar and pepper the operator with all of their questions about where to go and how to get there. At one point, I yawned and then tumbled softly onto Ma’s shoulder.
“You’ve had a long day. Take a nap,” she said. I miss the gentle tone of motherly affection that I had known all my life before this journey of supposed and supposedly necessary adulthood.
Pop and Ma’s own day had been filled with hopscotching from one Filipino restaurant to another, enjoying the variety of motherland foods that are not as widely available in Maryland. I wish I could have spent that day with them.
“So, you know that we have to learn French before we go to Paris, right?” I said sleepily.
I felt Ma’s shoulder press into my cheek as she shrugged.
“Eh,” she said.
Somewhere around the Montgomery Street stop, I fell asleep.
I changed my Facebook profile photo to the Penguin… penguin.
As in, the penguin used by the publishing company Penguin Books. As in, one of these days, I should look up who designed that penguin, originally. As in, this is not for my “secret” Facebook account that I kept for close friends only but the real one, which I reactivated because it seemed the simplest way to send Ma all the pictures that I took on my phone while she and Pop were in town for Christmas.
As I write this never-to-be-sent, they are flying back to Maryland.
I miss them.
Sometimes I tend to idealize them — which is probably why I called up Ma last month, before she booked her flight with Pop here, and talked with her about the possibility of my spending Christmas back in Maryland this year. And every year, to move back.
But like with every family, like with every human being, we need our space from each other — and, yet, the good stuff always outweighs the bad. I’m now at an age where living with them in close proximity, at least much closer than the 12 years and 3000 miles I’ve put between us, seems reasonable. And something that I really, really want.
The other day, Pop was joking about moving to San Francisco to become a janitor. Ma and I just stared at him.
“What?” he exclaimed in rebuff. He was laughing but he was also speaking with all seriousness. “If it’s full time with benefits, then I’m all set.”
My astonishment turned into consideration. “We can save money if we live together.”
Ma scoffed. But then we found ourselves strolling past the General Services Administration skyscraper, commonly known as the Federal building. The three of us took a moment to take in the futuristic architecture. Ma asked why it seemed to be glistening from within and I told her that I had heard that the building was partly solar powered. The conversation shifted to the possibility of her transferring from her post in Washington to something here, with the GSA. With the chance of our little trio of a family living together on the same coast again.
But they are used to their lives on the east, and anyway, it seems a little crazy to me that they would make such a big life transition at their respective stages in life. Like most people enamored with a place they enjoy visiting, their entertainment of the notion of residency is thrilling only in the moment and very different from the reality of daily living.
Still, I miss them. And I didn’t think the emptiness with their absence would feel so profound.
How was your Christmas? Other than your new haircut, I have not heard much from the grapevine about your off-season life. I did, however, read about a former Yankee who got into some trouble for domestic violence.
I also read more details about that crazy Justin Bieber kidnapping plot. I had heard about it before but I never bothered to read more about it because, well, frankly, I don’t like his music and also he looks funny. All my life, Ma has loved reading tabloids, and I found myself flipping through Star magazine — which as we all know isn’t the most credible source of journalism, but I do have to give them props for having been around so long. They are a glossy little magazine now but I remember when they were still tabloid size and the pages felt like public restroom tissue. Anyway.
Justin Bieber’s dad is crazy hot! I read that he did some jail time back in the day, and now he’s built so fucking hard because he teaches martial arts all day and sometimes even serves on Justin’s security detail. (Hah hah, I said “hard.”) Also, and here’s the most important part: he’s 38! (Okay, the most important part is that, even though he is divorced from Justin’s mom, he actually remarried and has two other kids.) He’s not that much older than me! He is practically of my generation!
That is the most I have ever written about Justin Bieber. And I can’t believe that in the most I’ve written, I’ve written about lusting after his dad. Ew. (And yet, well, not-so-ew.)
Reading about the kidnapping plot made me shut that Star magazine and slide it to the furthest end of the table on which it was perched. For a fleeting moment, I blushed at how one of the details about the plot was that the crazy kidnapper dude was gonna go through with it because he was pissed that Justin never answered his fan mail.
I’ve been writing these never-to-be-sents for about three years. They are not meant to be sent but are instead a blogging conceit. I’ve gotten compliments for them but I am sure there are just as many unkind thoughts about them floating around. (By the way, I don’t like breaking fourth wall like this.)
After I pushed the magazine away, I took a breath and thought about my life. It was Christmas Eve. I was at work. (Ma had come to visit me and bought Star in the process. But when she was done with the magazine she asked me to share it with my coworkers instead of just tossing it. Because that’s how moms think.) I couldn’t get any time off during their visit but my boss was nice enough to structure my schedule so that I wasn’t at work all the time (while still getting in all of my full-time hours); anyway, I like my job. I didn’t mind being there. The notion of not being able to spend every hour with Pop and Ma made me sad, but were I in a job of which I thought lesser, it would have been a crushing disappointment. Instead, it seemed to me like the best of two worlds, and that my life, for everything wrong I often saw with it, was in fact also filled with abundance. If the real you ever stumbles upon these never-to-be-sents, then you will see that they are just one component of my life, which I sometimes have to take a step back to appreciate. Even if stepping back to appreciate it means reading a Star magazine article about someone crazier than any of this.
New Year’s Eve is not for another few days. There is this weird little period that I get to myself between Pop and Ma leaving and my buddy from the east coast flying in with his girlfriend. It’s weird because so much seems to be happening, like how I’m getting used to being without Pop and Ma again, and trying to get back into my regular life with Clara and her fiance, and then having to adjust for my friend being here. And work is, well, I like it a lot but it’s also still work. Anyway, I don’t know what, exactly, I mean by having to “adjust” to my friend being here. I think I mean that when someone who is a good friend visits you and you haven’t seen them for a while, you tend to put up a front. You walk a fine line between buttering up your own life while highlighting all the good things that have truthfully happened in it. I wonder what wonderful things I can tell them about my life while we have been away from each other — that I abandoned a good marketing job to toil in bookselling? That I spend my free time writing letters to an imaginary boyfriend? Yet, I do like being a bookseller; and I like writing these never-to-be-sents.
Ma dropped a bombshell on me during our last dinner of their visit: she used to be a bookseller! At first, I couldn’t believe her. I thought that maybe she was confabulating so that we could have something to talk about. But also I thought that my memory of our beginnings in Alaska was pristine: I had recalled that she held down three jobs, as an optometrist and a receptionist and she even flipped burgers at McDonald’s, but I certainly never remembered having ever visited her at a bookstore. It was impossible.
But those three jobs that she held down when I was four years old were in fact four jobs and she proved it to me by peppering me with questions about our procedures for receiving inventory and stripping the covers from unsold magazines. (Bookselling procedures have changed very little in all this time, by the way. This is probably something that the industry should really act on sooner than later. But anyway.)
I couldn’t believe it. In the middle of our conversation, I took out my phone. Pop was on the other side of the table savoring the grilled salmon he ordered. Ma didn’t mind that I had taken out my phone. She smiled warmly and asked, “Are you texting?”
In fact, I was texting just about everyone I knew with her startling little revelation.
“The apple, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Ray texted back.
(Wow. I haven’t seen him in… months.)
Ma was disappointed with the seared mahi mahi she ordered. She said it tasted dry no matter how many lemon wedges she kept squeezing over it. Afterward, the three of us spent the last of our last evening together snapping pics around Fisherman’s Wharf. Later, when we took the taxis that would take us our separate ways, I came back to my apartment to find Clara ready to ease the pain. The presents that she and her fiance had gotten me were still under the tree waiting to be unwrapped.
“I wish he could see your face right now,” Clara said of her fiance, who by that point was already asleep. I had just unwrapped his present to me: a leather shoulder bag, fit for a writer, or someone posing as one. I was as stunned as my sixth grade self unwrapping a Super Nintendo. They also got me a crazy bunch of coffee. I should be set on coffee for the next couple of months! As for the presents that I had given them, which they opened back on Christmas morning, Clara told me they were pleased as well.
Then my phone rang.
“DId you get back home okay, anak?” Ma asked. In the background, I heard Pop asking, “Is that Rommel?” We had been apart for less than half an hour but I couldn’t believe that they were already merely voices over the phone.
I was running my hand over the shiny surface of my new bag while reuniting with the pang of knowledge that Pop and Ma were still in the area but leaving soon. My chest felt really heavy, Linc. I needed someone who wasn’t me to put their hand over it, someone like you.
So I smiled, even though I had to take a long breath to do it. And I felt better.
I was putting up more event posters around town when I ran into Ray in, of all places, Japantown. I haven’t seem him since… July, I think. For no real legitimate reason, really, except that time-honored tradition of different schedules, and separate lives. I still text him and talk to him on Facebook, but we’re not hot and heavy like we used to be. Oh, I’m sorry: I totally did not mean that homosexually. Or maybe I did. Anyway, going into 2012, we hung out nearly every weekend, if not nearly every day. Also, I briefly thought I was in love with him — wait, I’ve written about that, right? It happened in Vegas. (Of course.) Things were predictably weird after that but soon enough we hung out like usual; that is, until I moved in with Clara, and got this new job.
If I had been a few years younger, say, in my mid-twenties, I might have swerved to avoid him. (No wonder so many women, and gay men, prefer the May-December thing.) Instead, I listened to my first impulse, which was to call out to him in happy reunion. “Hey,” I cried.
“Well hello sir,” he said, as in old times.
We shot the shit about this and that. He’s gunning for a promotion. How I’m loving my lower-paying but soul-gratifying job. There was no mention of previous drunken confessions.
From Japantown I ended up in the Tenderloin. The hell? Well, in Japantown, I was targeting cafes for posters about an event we’re having that concerns San Francisco history following World War II. Japantown is part of a larger neighborhood known as the Fillmore, or Western Addition, and the shared Japanese and African American history intersected primarily at World War II. Ah, see! The mind of an events coordinator.
Don’t ask me what I was doing in the Tenderloin. I was not selling my body or otherwise trying to get fucked up. Go to my store’s online calendar of events for this week and try to guess why in the world I would think that I could do outreach in the Tenderloin of all places. Bet you can’t. That’s why I got this job, bro. I got this.
It was nice seeing Ray again but I don’t know when we’ll hang out next. Maybe he’ll call me up one of these days to invite me to his wedding. Who knows. It seems like no matter what I do to grow up, someone else is buying a house. Getting married. Having babies. It’s as if God were playing a cruel joke: Joe, when you are small, I will imbue you with the mannerisms of an adult. When you grow up, I will leave you only with the memories.
Now, I am rewarding myself for a full day of work by partaking in a Spam-based dish from a Hawaiian restaurant that I have come across in my events coordination travels. Don’t judge me for gravitating toward Spam. I’m Filipino, dammit, and so is half of you.
Guess who should walk in? A regular from the store! How on earth that guy has managed to wander from that downtown bookstore to this hole-in-the-wall on the outskirts of my comfort zone is astonishing to me. There is an old saying about how coincidences happen because we make them too easy, but I wasn’t laboring to make this happen. Luckily, this regular customer isn’t one of the crazies, like the woman who always farts without seeming to know it, or the guy in the fedora who has been reading the same page of Jurassic Park ever since I started working there. This guy’s only crime is that he hangs out at the store every night; lingers to such length that we are always having to think to ourselves that please, please, please leave man because it’s time to go home! and then never buys anything.