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moments

Whenever I think of my trips home, I think of the last moment as my parents watched me walking away

 

 

I started getting it, bit by bit, that the thing between parents and children, the thing that ties you together is that all your life, you are forever watching them walking away.

[The inadequate, rough translation mine]

I read this in a book by Lung Ying-tai, a renowned cultural critic in Taiwan, on my plane ride back to Chicago in December 2009, and I have not completely stopped crying ever since…

 

It has proven difficult for me to write about my trips home because whenever I think of them, I think of the last moment as my parents watched me walking away.

The last moment, at the airport, right before I turned around and headed towards the exit, ironically named “the entrance of emigration” in Chinese on the airport sign.

The border always carries something more than simply arbitrary and abstract. The pang was so visceral that I found it hard to breathe right before I steeled myself and determined that this hug was going to be the last hug. I turned. I walked towards the police officer, handed him the passports and boarding passes. I told myself every time, “Don’t cry this time,” before turning back with a raised hand towards my parents merely a dozen steps away, my mother waving with a smile on her face saying goodbye to the kids, my father teetering on his cane, his figure stooped, his expression stoic. He looked so small even though you could still see traces of his healthier self when we made fun of him by comparing him to the Happy Buddha. I squeezed my heart into a smile on my face. I waved one last time and quickly stepped into the customs area. And then, they lost sight of me.

This is always the moment when my tears start beading along the edges of my eyes until they get so heavy that they roll down my cheeks. I cry because I know my father is crying at this moment as soon as we are out of sight.

My family has learned to have the tissue at ready because, like me, my father is especially susceptible to crying.  I didn’t become privy to this family fact till when in college, we watched Graves of the Fireflies together, I turned around at one point and saw my father’s face wet with tears. I moved the box of Kleenex that I was holding in front of him. He acknowledged it by pulling a handful of tissues from the box and blowing his nose throughout the movie.

I tried to wipe the tears away so I was not embarrassing myself in front of the airport security. Perhaps they have gotten used to seeing people in tears as they pretended not to notice the fact that I was heaving and hicupping from trying to act normal. My 12-year-old patted me on my back, “Mom, are you ok?”

I nodded and gave him an embarrassed smile.

“You cry every time we leave.” He said, perhaps not quite understanding the possibility of such heartache.

I am always grateful that the act of leaving lasts only until the x-ray machine. I will soon be sufficiently distracted by the procedures, the logistics, and the anticipation for the dreadful 20-hour trip back to Chicago.

 

CODA: If I were writing in Chinese for a Chinese readership, I would have mentioned this prose essay, “Retreating Figure” (Bei Ying, 背影) by the famed Chinese poet/essayist in the early 20th century, Zhu Ziqing, which has become part of the collective cultural memory. The title is literally “Rear View”: you can understand why it is not really the best choice in this case. You could defuse the unintentional comedy by calling Zhu’s moving essay about his father “Seeing Father from the Back” but it detracts from the one-two punch the short Chinese title delivers. Sometimes there is simply no easy translation. In “Retreating Figure”, Zhu described his leave-taking with his father as the older Zhu saw his son off at a train station. The father crossed several train tracks to purchase some tangerines for his son for the train ride. The writer vividly described his father’s endeavor as he climbed down and then up the platforms, crossed the train tracks, and then back, stopping in between his arduous journey to wipe the sweat off of his brows. No emotions were transcribed into words between father and son, or on paper, and yet this is one of the most moving pieces of literature I have read. I close my eyes and I can see the back of the older Mr. Zhu walking away as this image is overlaid with the image of my father, standing there watching me as I walk away.

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I will do pretty much anything Morgan Freeman tells me to

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You see a lot of interesting people every morning near the train station. There is Mr. Jim, the Salvation Army guy, who is the staple presence inside the building even in January, when people think they are done with their charity giving. I love coming into work and seeing Mr. Jim sitting on his stool next to his red bucket. He always has a jovial smile and a firm handshake for you.  Then there is the guy who hawks “designer” purses and hats, sometimes scarves and gloves. The guy who occasionally sells boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts, right on the side of the street. In the middle of the sidewalk across the street from the station, on most days when it is not pouring or freezing, you will see a bespectacled old lady sitting in her beach chair. Sometimes when people walk by they will greet her like an old friend. On some days, this old lady will be accompanied by an old gentleman. The two of them sit side by side in the midst of the current of people rushing towards the surrounding buildings.

When I came into work this morning, as usual, I stopped by Dunkin Donuts to get my customary “Large with cream and sugar” and as a treat, a bagel twist in Jalapeño cheddar flavor.  The old lady was not there today so the old gentleman was there by himself. As I rushed towards my office building, he extended his hand, the subtle movement of his hand pantomimed the question in jest, “Is that coffee for me?”

I recognized the glint in his eyes and the faint smile at the corner of his mouth. For the first time I noticed how much he looks like Morgan Freeman.

aka god.

“Of course!” I smiled and handed him my coffee. I looked at the paper bag in my other hand, “How about a bagel?”

“Thank you so much! You made my day!” He broke into a dazzling smile, “Take this!” and handed me today’s Chicago Redeye.

I took one look at the front page and I knew.

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God is trying to send me a message

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Seriously.  If this is not a message from god, I don’t know what is…

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This one will be short. It just happened, and I want to make sure that I capture this moment…

I worked from home today as I have been able to do when my co-worker travels since there would be nobody else in the office but me. As I was lamenting internally how much my job is killing my soul, I sighed and said to my son who was doing his homework at the kitchen table as I, “Make sure you find a job that you love when you grow up.”

“Do you love your job?”

“No.”

“Why don’t you do something about it?”

*sigh* “It’s inertia. It’s a good job. It pays well and allows me the flexibility to raise two children.”

“Well. When we grow up and are out of the house, I want you to be someone that you want to be, ok?”

This brought a shock wave to my being that I am failing to describe. I put my hands to my face and cried.

“Thank you. That’s one of the kindest things anybody has ever said to me.”

“You are welcome.”

All of a sudden I remembered the words Fuck Yeah Motherhood used to describe her teenage son, “Occasional glimpses of the man he will be are awe-inspiring.”

That’s what I am feeling right now.

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I shall dub thee… John Mc”Cane”

October 25, 2009 no manual for parenting

Warning: This post should be filed under “Things I find to be extremely amusing only because my kids said/did it and you probably wouldn’t give a rat’s ass which I am perfectly fine with but I still need to write this down so that I will remember this moment when I start losing the memory […]

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Who wouldn’t love a giant pink puff that squeaks?

September 12, 2009 no manual for parenting

We don’t have cable (not because we are so chi chi, la di da, holier than thou, but because we are cheap… frugal, and know that we have no will power whatsoever when it comes to moving images on the screen and we will just sit in front of HBO all day and yell at […]

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Moment: JetBlue & Southwest tweeting each other…

February 10, 2009 mark my word: twitter will doom us all

Saw this on my Twitter homepage. It strikes me as really adorable. I do hope that the actual airlines remain competitors since a collaboration between the two little giants (and they are really not little any more despite the images they are trying to cultivate…) will be the end of low airfares.