Growing up well (1998-present)
Just 15 minutes ago, I kicked my little brother out of my room because he was lying on my bed, eating some potatoes I’d made earlier.
"You’re gross," I told him, and all he had to say for himself was that he could make potatoes better.
"Pick a contest, any contest," he said to me as I pushed him out of my room, greasy fork in one hand and the first four volumes of A Song of Fire and Ice in the other; my copies, of course. “I’ll do it better. I’m the best at everything.” He cackled when I shut the door in his face, and almost took my eye out with the fork.
My brother, when I wasn’t looking, outgrew me by 5 inches and counting, achieving my perfect height and ensuring that I’ll hate him for life. When I asked him once which he thought his best angle was, he responded, completely seriously, “all of them.” I have a good 5 and a half years on him, and he once called me ‘uncool’ (how dare he). He is actually the most annoying human being in the world, and I love the shit out of him.
We haven’t always gotten along so well. I like to say the disparity happened at birth - I’m stuck with a no-nonsense 8-letter name, first and last combined. My first name is so short my nicknames are longer than it. My little brother, on the other hand, hit the jackpot of names. His name is a whopping 19 letters and, not only did he get a middle name, aka what I coveted most from the ages of 4 to 16, but also a first name that I spent all of 2005 making silly nicknames out of, to his 7-year-old dismay.
One of my earliest memories is from around the time he was learning to crawl competitively. We were racing down the hallway, and I let him win, of course. In his x-month old excitement, he drooled all over me; it was disgusting. Sometimes, when he is preening in front of the mirror or asking me what I think of his stupidly expensive sneakers, I like to remind him of this.
I went away to college halfway around the country when I was 17. It did wonders for my relationship with my mother and my brother both. I had floormates who called their mothers like clockwork every night, some who still do. I bought my mother flowers online for her birthday, and she emailed me to say thanks. I will never be the perfect Chinese daughter, but I am better. We both are.
It isn’t hard to be, though, considering the volatility that had defined our relationship before. There is a shadow of it still that comes out every time we spend more than two weeks together. My mother is of a certain temperament, to put it kindly, and I’ve always been a combination of too sensitive and mediocre - but with the itch of potential it seems Chinese moms hate more than outright mediocrity. I ended up weathering it - the temper, exacerbated by the divorce - okay, but I always worried about my brother and his quick-trigger temper and quicker-trigger tears.
First year, summer break. I spent the whole summer at home, working a job I only took half-seriously and worrying that I’d just fucked up my second chance at the college selection process. My mom and I got into a fight, of course - I don’t even remember what it was about anymore, though I do remember it was particularly bad. There was a lot of door-slamming, and one secret phone call on my part to my father, which is how I know it was bad.
My brother, in a move that told me he’d have my back for the rest of my life, intervened an hour in, at the height of my mother’s temper. Another hour, and I was cocooned in his comforter while he sat at his desk. We were both sniffling, probably crying, and trying to pretend we weren’t.
"Thanks," I finally said, poking my head out from under his covers.
He passed me the tissue box, and said: “You look really ugly right now.”
011613. reflections on writing.
I had lunch with a few friends from high school today, some of whom I haven’t seen in years - some not since we graduated, all the way back in 2010. We caught up mostly in the ways girls who haven’t seen each other in a while do, and talked through boyfriends and fake IDs and school, all safe and noncontroversial. One of my friends asked what I was majoring in and, when I responded history and Chinese, the Chinese part always some kind of talisman against Asian-mom-disappointment, expressed surprise.
"I thought you were going to be a writer," she said, careless, and I laughed it off, saying that it had just been a high school pipe dream, that I wanted different things now, that, actually, I didn’t even write much anymore.
But sometimes I look back at my poetry, like I did today - not all of it is good, obviously (in fact, most of it is not very good) - and I miss it a lot. I wrote this three years ago when I was 17, the winter of my last year of high school. In a lot of ways, that was one of the worst school years of my life, not necessarily grades-wise but personal issues-wise. The following school year, my first in college, was wonderful if only in comparison. I haven’t written much since, and I always joke about Iowa making me soft and complacent, but I wonder if it isn’t at least a little bit true. I was angrier, more annoying, and way more thoughtless at 17, but at least I did something productive with it. I was more idealistic, and lazier, too - I did want to be a writer, but never enough to subject my poetry to real criticism. I always wanted to perform my poetry, but never enough to stick it out through a workshop after the first day. To be fair, I still don’t.
I’m not sure what I want to say - I’m a little more introspective now that I’m older, and I also take myself more seriously (gag/lol). I write more of these weird pseudo journal entries for the internet which, in the long run, is probably better than writing pretentious poetry for the internet though that has also had the unfortunate side effect of me no longer writing pretentious poetry even for myself.
I LOVE NEW YORK THAT’S MY FUCKIN PROBLEM
BACK IN THE 917
AYO NEW YORK WHAT UP WHAT UP GET AT ME
asian supermarkets for dayzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tompkins Square Park (2011)
(San Sebastian, Spain, July 2010. R.)
I am fourteen the first time he turns me down, but I don’t think anything of it then. It is, after all, to be expected—I am thrilled he writes back at all. In a move that will define our entire relationship, I try to sound older and more clever than I am in my response. In my fourteen-year-old arrogance, I am completely convinced I have succeeded. He doesn’t write back, and if everything had ended there, I would’ve been satisfied. That first email was all I’d wanted, after all.
And so, I maintain that it is his fault anything came of it at all. Much later, he is the one to contact me asking if I was the one who’d emailed him so many months ago and, if so, he has something to show me. I would’ve said yes even if it hadn’t been. I was young but even then I knew one—especially if one is fourteen and terrified of her own reflection—doesn’t pass up chances like that. I don’t understand the humor in the email he forwards me but God knows that I tried.
In retrospect, how I admire my fourteen year old self—awkward, insecure, and uncomfortable still with being a teenager, where had I found the courage to be so frank?
I think about him most often late at night, when he was always, as he probably is now, in a foreign city I have only ever heard of and will be lucky to visit in my lifetime. I like to think that he would think of me sometimes, and maybe even more than sometimes, if the thirty-odd postcards, circa late 2008 to early 2011, are any indication at all.
I remember the first one best of all, because he’d sent it from a country I couldn’t even pronounce, but mostly because I was fifteen and giddy and it was the first time a stranger had known so much about me. I carried it around between the pages of some inconsequential textbook for weeks afterwards; I am sorry now to everyone who had to hear about it then. I am sorry still for the years after. I was insufferable, I am sure.
Sometimes I imagine that things would’ve been different had the one he sent for my eighteenth birthday, the last one, reached me, instead of being lost forever on a mailroom floor in a small Midwestern town six days before Christmas. Even now, I blame that post office more than I should.
New York, I know, had been a disappointment. He’d liked me better, I’m sure, when I was from Arizona, pining after a boy with yellow hair, brown eyes, a lucky left foot, and a good taste in poetry. I have never been to Arizona, but I imagine those are common there too.
Was I easier to swallow when I was two time zones away, as opposed to a few neighborhoods over? I wish I’d known better. Then I might’ve lied about that, too.
I am eighteen when I finally meet him. The first time he calls me gorgeous that day is after he’s walked me to the subway station after a dinner where he proves himself the kind of man who would take a second generation Chinese American girl to a dumpling place run by a young white man who shouts in heavily accented Mandarin Chinese at a cook who could easily be my mother. The second time is by email, after which he has never spoken to me again.
Mid-August, 2011. He calls me gorgeous twice, and that in itself should’ve been a tip-off—never trust a poet who paraphrases himself.
clare does chinese homework
and misreads the pinyin for 苦 (‘bitter’, ku, third tone), thinking it means ‘cool’ (酷 ku, fourth tone), and completely misses the point of the entire passage