My Girl Scout Duffel Bag

One benefit to a long-term post-surgery recovery process is that you can de-clutter your apartment when the mood strikes. I’ve been discovering books, stationery, letters, stuff that I had forgotten about or thought I had lost all together.

Letters my father wrote before he got dementia.

A teeny cross, hand-painted in El Salvador–a gift from a friend who passed away decades ago.

And my official Girl Scout duffel bag from 1972, which I used on those awful troop camping trips when I felt ostracized and alone. I had so loved being a Brownie, but then we moved (as we did, every two to three years) and my new Girl Scout troop was not so friendly. I would leave after a year or so.  And how is it that this dark emerald green duffel bag is with me today, 15 houses later?

Inside I find half a dozen bags. I can donate some of these to my local thrift store, but I also discover a beautiful woven bag with sturdy leather handles from Kenya–a gift from my boss, decades earlier. And a simple cotton book bag imprinted with my college name.

I am a bag lady, because I may need to pack up my belongings any day to move across county or state lines–as we used to do in my childhood. I’ll hold onto my duffel bag for now.


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Never say these things to an Asian

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article “things you should never say to an Asian” after I told him about a recent experience.  I did not read the article but I chuckled because I could already divine some of the content.  After decades of living and working in major cities in the USA, I am still asked questions like “do you know English?”  or “You don’t speak with an accent”.

I consider the last statement to be a question because the person expects me to respond with an explanation.  How is it possible that I look Asian and yet do not speak with an accent?

Late last year I was asked both of these questions on three separate occasions and I railed against the gods.  FML. In a city like New York??  I told a few of my friends—those who are Asian and could shake their heads knowingly as well as those white friends who commiserate with minorities. A white gay friend sent me the link to the aforementioned article.

I told one of my closest (she’s Asian) friends that people who look like us will always be subject to this kind of prejudice in this wonderful country.

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I am surprised to find a person important to me opens the door

I traveled softly in warm air, clouds and stars, surveyed our planet from my safe pillow-filled boat, landed my craft on a speckled whitegolden shore, stepped into salty shallows that slapped my ankles, stepped inland as Lyndsay spoke, into the forest that allowed me passage—you may close your eyes—I shut mine, place your hands on your stomach, I lay my hands on my breath, follow the guided imagery of Lyndsay Morris, Yoga calm leader of the last session of a long Friday, evening, a week ago at the SeaTac Marriott conference Center, my final two clock hours from the Washington Association for the Education of Young children before leaping into the northbound snarl of weekend-has-come traffic. Lyndsay instructed us to clamber into our individual pillow-filled boats, enjoy the gentle ups and downs of breath and wave coinciding, rocking to safety—the forest with no marked path, no sign of patterns or trespass, I came, as Lindsay’s kind candy voice describes, upon a red-doored cottage of safety, and knocked. You are surprised, she said, to find someone important to you open the door—and her voice vanished and I am with him. I am with him. He lives. He stands. A man at the welcoming threshold. My crying greets the wonder. I cry for the discovery. I cry to have missed him these thirty years. Missed his baritone chuckle, his silliness—introducing a shrub to a friend, This is Vibernum Carlesi, as you are Mark Banner. I let the tears drip off my face, my eyes still closed against the room full of strangers. With eyes closed, I am with my grandfather at the door of the safe cottage. I worked to return to the regular breaths of Lyndsay’s lesson, to hear her say, “Listen to what this person has to say,” and she falls silent to give their words full sound in our ears. I tried to hear him, always wise or teasing, but cannot leave my party of discovery. He is here. He is here all the time. I can come back. I can be with him again. He was here all the time. All the time. In his life, too. He was here, a grandfather of the mind. My grandfather of the mind. We must open our eyes to the fluorescent lit SeaTac Marriott Conference Center Snoqualmie room number two. We must complete evaluation forms. We must debrief. Lyndsay asks what might happen if you do this with children? An unknowing attendee says, They might cry. I wave my hand from the back corner table. Some see my wet face. Not just children. I leave early. Not to take my tears to privacy, but to join the northbound snarl, to meet my friends, to eat, to watch a play—Death by Design—and keep my secret. He is waiting for me. When I return to the red door I will wrap my arms around his skinny warmth and kiss his dry smooth cheek.

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Date Eliot?

I saw Eliot Spitzer at my health club a couple of years ago. At that time he was not in the spotlight, this was before his re-emergence on CNN and talk shows.  He seemed to be alone, he was in business attire, and he appeared to be another health club member in transition–either before or after a game or working out. Hanging in the lobby area, probably checking his crackberry or smartphone. I was laughing and joking with the staff, like I usually do when I arrive. I spotted him in my peripheral vision. My first impression was positive. The man is not bad looking.

He’s more attractive in person than on TV, I thought. He was eavesdropping on my banter and I turned to look at him. He smiled broadly. Oh my, he’s cute. Then I remembered all the stories. Why he had to leave the governorship. Client no. 9. Well, no one’s perfect.

It’s a theoretical question: would I ever date him? He’s age appropriate. Tabloids say that his marriage is over, he lives apart from his wife, she did not publicly support his recent run for city comptroller. He’s fit, he’s between jobs although not exactly on SNAP, his kids are grown, he lives in the city. He’s smart, well educated. But apparently he has had unprotected sex with prostitutes, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on this service.

OK, so if I ever want to have sex with him I’ll have to see his blood test results.  We’ve all made mistakes. Doesn’t he deserve at least one gym date? One friendly game of tennis and drinks afterward?

I wonder.

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Unhealthy pain

I always tell my doctors/therapists that I have a high threshold for pain.  I usually laugh when I say this. It’s an Asian thing, you know, the obligatory piano lessons as soon as you can walk. The pre-med training. All those years of white-knuckling it.  But there’s a limit, even for me. When walking to/fro my neighborhood farmer’s market is too much for my hip, when the trip home seems like an eternity, when I have to stop to rest my aching hip…I’ve reached an unhealthy level of pain.

Don’t discount it, I tell myself. Don’t give in to habit. What is the pain telling me, what is its story, what course of action must I start? When do I clear the decks so that I can have surgery? What obligation/responsibility/fear stands in my way? What is more important than my health and wellness? Is surgery the answer?

Pain, you’ve been my companion for so long. If it wasn’t physical, it was emotional or spiritual pain. Am I having trouble letting you go? I am more accustomed to these latter forms. Excruciating physical pain, you are something new. I don’t want to get used to you.

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Loveless sex, I don’t wanna be ya

Of course I knew it was a mistake. I knew it before, during, and after. I had known that for many years, that loveless sex is not for me. But sometimes you say Yes because you’re human, it’s a full moon, it’s been a while, and you want a mid-life adventure.

He wasn’t a stranger; I had known him for a year and he had made his intentions clear. Intellectually I clearly said No. So instead of meeting in person, we engaged in sporadic texting and phone calls. A few amorous texts at the right time and I gave in.

Afterwards I deluded myself and imagined him as my boyfriend. He played along for a couple of weeks then he was done. He knew better, he knew how the game was played. I learned that no one is too old to make mistakes.

Now, many months later, I have vestiges of pain and pleasure from that night. Mostly pain. But now I can cross that off my bucket list. Loveless sex—been there, done that, hate it, won’t do it again.

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August is the cruelest month

For most of my adult life, August has been the cruelest month. It wasn’t always this way. I used to get excited about the start of a new school year, saying goodbye to the long hot summer and going back to the classroom where I could overachieve and be teacher’s pet. Years ago, I noticed that I would easily fall into a brown study during August. Why this pattern? What about August?

I was just getting on my feet as a full-fledged adult, I was 23, I was working as a paralegal in a large law firm, I was paying all my bills, and my mother told me that she and my father were leaving the States. My brother would go with them. They were leaving in August and if I wanted to, I could join them. Move back to Asia. Where I was born.

I have a vague memory of saying goodbye to my brother at JFK–he had left his job and house in the Midwest, flown to JFK to begin his journey to the Far East where he would begin medical school. By then I had already said goodbye to my parents, who had left ahead of him. My father had shaken my hand. My mother was too distressed to touch me.

A few weeks later I was in the hospital. I had suddenly contracted a kidney infection and oral antibiotics could not heal my chills and fever. My entire mind/body was ailing. Over the next 12 months I would fall into a depression, become obsessed with a new boyfriend, quit my job, and start a very difficult journey of my own.

Today I look back at my 20s and feel grateful that I survived those tumultuous years. Grateful that I eventually found a therapist who literally wrapped me in her arms and, more importantly, helped me to figure a way out of a disastrous marriage and the mental chains that held me. A therapist who helped me see how my silent hidden grieving over the loss of my family and death of my mother was unhealthy and causing me to cling to inappropriate men.

Today I understand why August is a cruel month for me. It’s not just the heat and humidity that sap my energy. It’s the memory of that August many years ago. My body remembers, and I can simply acknowledge it. Eat some healthy food, see friends, laugh, watch tennis, get a massage, and look forward to September.


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