“So when I see this same resignation in the accustomed voices of the adults around me, lash at me, insult me, criticize me—call me ignorant, but I feel infuriated nonetheless. Children reflect what they see in the world around them and so I loathe the adult who complains but does nothing to change their circumstances. What then, can we expect our young people to do? We are all but reflections of each other. “
“How was your day?”
“Text me when you get home so I know you’re safe”
“How are you?”
“I hope you’re feeling better”
“Have a good day today!”
“I miss you”
“Can you come over?”
“Can I come over?”
“Can I see you?”
“Can I call you?”
“Want something to drink?”
“Watch your step”
“Let’s watch a movie”
“What are you up to?”
“How is your day so far?”
“It will be okay”
“I’m here for you”
“Do you need anything?”
“Are you hungry?”
“I just wanted to hear your voice”
“You just made my day”
You don’t have to hear “I Love You” to know that someone does. Listen carefully. People speak from the heart more often than you think.
I’m busting my ass cleaning out my mom’s bookshelves and junk that has accumulated the past 20 years. I’m literally wearing a face mask because there is so much dust. She keeps policing me while I’m moving around shit. Things escalate. Eventually I tell her I don’t want her paying my medical school tuition anymore. She says, “What about everything since you were born?”
Sometimes my parents are crystal clear examples of people I never want to become. If you are going to keep a tab on all the money I have caused you, then why have me in the first place?
m: “so what did you think of suitcase clinic?”
v: “it was good. I like helping people. I just don’t get a boner over it.”
this is after we debriefed with our classmates volunteering at clinic. mostly debriefing consists of people saying what they learned and what they enjoyed from clinic. mostly people gush about how much they love healing people. Sort of like verbal pats on the back, although it’s meant to be a time of reflection.
t: “I like your bangs!”
m: “Thanks, they’re really uneven…” (They are. it’s like someone took a bite out of them. Nobody has been honest about it with me yet.)
t: “Yeah, but that’s sort of what I like about them.”
what do I crave for when all I see on my fb newsfeeds are my eager beaver classmates posting links to medically related articles that interest them? Always saying, “hey guys, look at this article, it’s related to what we talked about in class today!” So many npr links. So many gushing, sunshiney, overly-involved folks. I don’t know why I get so bristly when I see these things, but in my head I think, nobody is really that interested all the goddamn time of what we are doing. Being a medical student is not 100% of who I am. It does not dominate my facebook posts.
I crave for authenticity, honesty, and hard truths nowadays. I like that my classmate tells me my bangs are uneven. I like that my classmates tell me I look like shit, because goddamn I feel like shit, it better show on my face. I like that my boyfriend admits that he felt drained after volunteering at clinic, because it is extremely draining! It is not always warm and fuzzy like everyone says it to be: we are treating people who have severe medical problems who will most likely not be fixed with multiple bouts of OMM, but more likely by some broad sweeping public policy about housing, employment, or healthcare that won’t happen in our lifetime. I like that the girlfriends of my friends don’t feel pressured to be friends with me. That we can just come together, coexist for a rave, respect each other, and not feel that annoying need to be best friends, swap instagram accounts, and exist on the periphery of each other’s lives. I like the honesty that exists within my group of friends of medical school, that we don’t feel obligated to go to Vegas even though everyone else is. I like the feeling of coming into one’s own. Of having your own goals, of being true to yourself, even when there is so much pressure to conform.
Being together with all my relatives at my grandfather’s funeral was unexpectedly not terrible. Somehow, his passing made everyone breathe a little easier. He suffered in the end and he passed peacefully in his sleep. People came far and wide to pay their respects. But it was also a chance to come see each other, and see what the years had done to us.
My grandmother, who has always taken on the role of a dutiful wife, the passive, quiet, patient one whom everyone loved dearly, suddenly was alive again. When my grandfather was still with us, she sat like a statue by his side, 24/7. She took care of him, even though she was bent over with arthritis and 92 years old herself. She sobbed over his body and pleaded for him to open his eyes one last time. Her body, twisted in all joints with arthritis, shook and rattled with grief during our private viewing of his body. Yet she was also making jokes about all of us the same night, her mind crystal clear as she reached 20, 30, 40 years into the past and dragged forth events, people, places. Suddenly, she can hear all of us again. Maybe she chose to go dormant when my grandpa got difficult. All the fighting must have just turned her ears off. Now, rosy cheeked, she makes fun of us all, laughing when she forgets our names, demanding us all to get boyfriends. My uncle made jokes about me eating my own snot as a kid. My cousin recalled a time when we were so scared of a clown doll that we named it “stupid katoopid” and threw it away in a dumpster in fear of retaliation. Memories that I’ve long forgotten.
My cousin. I always complained about not having a sibling close to my age, but now I realize that she was my childhood. We were inseparable as kids. Troublemakers. So much of my memory during those years were all the adults (and our respective sisters) yelling our names in annoyance, “Iris!! MEGAN!!”.We’d roam around outside, breaking into neighbors’ backyards, climbing trees, catching butterflies, playing hours and hours of N64. Harassing anyone who came our way and took our shit (always mild-mannered boys). Running wild in temples. Wearing our ugly animal shirts. Truly not a care in the world.
Somehow in college, I had decided that we weren’t close anymore and didn’t want to try to be close. She followed sports and started working for Nike, and studied abroad in Spain. I protested various social justice issues at Berkeley and was planning on going to med school. I didn’t see our philosophies ever matching. She’s in Texas, I’m in California, and it’s doubtful our paths will ever cross. I closed a mental door on her, telling myself that everyone moves on and it’s no use trying to create intimacy with people just because they’re blood. Years passed, and we stopped spending christmases together. Lives got busier and we missed each other at major gatherings.
Roaming my grandpa’s old backyard, we sat down on the porch swing and had a conversation that wove the past and the present together. Each push of the swing swung the conversation forward and backward in time. We’d alternate between old memories and questions about relatives we hadn’t seen in years, and if those kids were from the first or the second marriage…? She’d bring up something from the past, and I’d have to think for a few minutes before a trickle of memory came back. “Remember that time when…?” And I felt bad that I couldn’t remember with the clarity that she could. When I shut the door on her years ago, I had lost these precious memories. “Remember when…?” We laughed and laughed at the sweet chaos of childhood. Interspersed within these memories were questions about our family. There were, and still are, gaping holes in the history of our family. I filled her in with what I knew. She filled me in with hers. During the years that separated us, we had gathered different information about what happened during certain years. For the first time, we were putting together the pieces of our family’s past together. I had forgotten that someone lived a life parallel to mine, with the same family backdrop and inevitably, with the same questions. I only regret that I had mentally shut her out years ago: who knows how we could have helped each other?
My mom’s side of the family might be complicated, but like my teenager cousin said during her eulogy, “Everyone was born for a reason,”. My grandpa had his faults, definitely: his patriarchal ways caused all of my aunts and uncles to run away at one point or another, and to the end he played favorites and said nasty shit. But he created us: this huge and sprawling web of a family, who traveled far and wide to come and see him go.
Maybe we didn’t come for him. Maybe we came for each other. It’s hard to remember how deep blood runs, but when you finally see each other, it all comes back.