Advice, Current Events, Mental Health, Teaching

The True American: A Love Story

Dear reader,

I’d like to share a childhood story: one of hope and love. I’ve written in second person to put my shoes on your feet (tongue-in-cheek.)

Imagine you are 4 years old. You can’t get enough of banana popsicles. You’re terrified of pooping alone, especially in the outhouse in your grandma’s village, which happens to be a ditch.  You love your mom. You don’t remember your dad.

After school, you and your mom go to a sand-brown, brick building. You wait for her on the steps. She walks in happy, she comes out sad. One day, she scoops you up in her arms and spins you in the air. “Lu ka!”she’s cries out. She’s gone mad over a green card.  Timing is everything so you ask for a banana popsicle. The two years she has spent raising you alone are over.

At the airport, you go down the escalator towards a man with brown glasses. “Jiao Ba!(Shout dad!)” your mom pinches your cheek. You yell as loud as you can. They’re laughing, hugging, crying. You haven’t learned about happy tears, so you start crying too.

You move into a white house with black shutters called the Jewish Service Center.  Having never set foot in a house, you’re certain it’s a palace. You don’t know your family is the live-in help nor that your dad works nightshifts at 7/11 and any parking lot that accepts Chinglish. You like your teachers, but not the kids. They pull their eyes into slits. None of that matters because you’ve discovered Happy Meals.

Imagine your first snow. The whiteness hurts your eyes in a good way.  A strange creature awaits you on the porch. Her disheveled hair sticks out of her trucker’s hat and owl-eye glasses.  “I’m Madeline,” she hands you something. “Hold this will ya?” Pop eye voice.

She sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistles. Streaks of color paint the yard like a Jackson Pollock.  Their purring emanates through your belly like tiny grandfather clocks. You are bewildered, flattered, overwhelmed. Turns out you’re holding a can of cat food.

5 years fly. When you’re not being cat-dundee, your nose is in a book. Madeline introduces you to lifelong friends: Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Gulliver.   You’re clueless about holidays: she brings you marshallow peeps. Her minimum wage is bank rolling your Americanization.

Happy birthday 9. Your family reaches the pinnacle of the American dream: property. They move outta there fast. So fast you don’t remember to get Madeline’s number, nor call, nor send Christmas cards.New school, new place, same loneliness.

Grow up. You equate money with success. You take shit from people you shouldn’t. You walk away from your country, partner, job. Volunteer abroad. Consume attention like drugs. Self-destruct. You’re so fucking lost. Start therapy. Learn about co dependence. Learn to say no. Set boundaries. You keep going to therapy. You don’t plan to stop. Discover meditation. Run. Re-educate on love. You grow healthy. Strong. You actually enjoy your job: how did Columbus claim land? He slaughtered children.  What do Leonardo DiCaprio and Standing Rock have in common? Fight global warming. How can we help? Eat less beef. Who was the first woman to make it to space? Valentina Tereshkova. Why isn’t her name in the book? “They thought girls were stupid,” your smartest kid says. Think, not thought. Ask questions. Never stop. Love is love is love is love.

Arrivez election results. For everything you’ve been teaching, the opposite stands. You shut off facebook cuz it just fucking hurts. Chimamanda, where art thou.  You’re safe for now, but what about everyone else? What about L? “Everything will work out,” he strokes your hair and smiles. Storm meet lighthouse.

You apologize to all your friends. “Orange is the new Hitler,” you choke on your jokes. “Trump tells the hard truth. Hilary doesn’t,” one blurts out. Your friend is one of the nicest people around.  So you give him a hug with 3 words: “Please fact check.” Be like Trevor Noah, you repeat to yourself. Commit to conversation even if it’s hard. How else will we understand what’s going on?

A sliver of silver shakes up the clouds. Madeline it spells. Once you’ve met a true American, you’ll never forget. Once you find your voice, you can never be silenced.

Dark days lie ahead. Fortify my friends.

Compassion. Wisdom. Love.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Current Events, Love, Mental Health

The Virgin Suicides: Fuck You Waldo Winners

When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set. -Lin Yutang

Soundtrack Chivas.

Dear reader,

This post is inspired by my tyrannical boss, Donald Trump’s latest assault on women, and the guy who took my virginity.

10 years ago, I met a boy named Waldo Winners(anagram). Though I’d learned how to play ‘baseball’ in high school, I waited for the home run. Waited for the cracker jacks with the free toy .

Enter Waldo: blonde, swimmer, International Relations major. Hot. Smart.Sweet apartment. Free booze. Friends with all my friends. Hark! The angels sing.

Before anything remotely romantic happened, I asked him if he was single. I’d seen him hanging out with a pretty, dark-haired girl. Let’s call her Paris since she was abroad the majority of this story. “Nah, we’re just friends,” he chuckled.

We kissed. We more than kissed. I wanted to be desirable: no more of the high school Mathlete guys turned down at dances. So I omitted my V card. My first time in 2 words? Awkward. Thrilling. Thanks to the inventor of tampons, there was no Carrie post prom sheets. I did, however, have a post coital panic attack in his bathroom. Indoctrinated to see sex as both sacred and shameful, I’d crossed over to the upside-down like Eleven on Stranger Things.

“Are you ok?” he knocked eventually.

“Uh… my contact fell out!” Maybe he thought I was taking a massive dump.

We spent almost every night together. Ordered Thai. Drank his favorite Lipton green tea. Jammed to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Crammed our friend’s room with newspapers floor to ceiling. Starred on youtube’s nipple muffins, a non pornographic portrayal of pure, sober, idiocy.

When it was just us, Waldo was sweet and doting. While I brushed my teeth, he’d mouth  “Olive you” instead “I love you”.   He generously paid for everything. He came from a family whose forefathers had the privilege of examining Barbara Bush’s vagina. Gyno-gold.

7 months flew.

In groups, our dynamics changed. Just little things at first. A lack of attention.  Don’t be clingy, I thought. A message from an upset girl on his laptop. Don’t snoop. A lucid nightmare he cheated on me with someone we had just met. Just a bad dream. I shook it off. Whenever I got upset or brought up my concerns, he’d laugh it off or make me feel looney. What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy? (Thanks Bey). He was so good to me behind closed doors. I had no official proof of wrongdoing. Fine, he was a flirt, but who was I to change him?

On one of our rare nights apart, Waldo drunkenly attempted to piggy back a mutual friend. He broke his jaw on the pavement.  I spent weeks playing nurse. You know that SATC episode when Big gets heart surgery and opens up to Carrie at last? When you think: YES! She’s FINALLY getting the love she deserves. But as soon as Big feels better, he’s back to emotionally withdrawn. Like a hamster trapped by centripetal force, no matter how hard I worked, I’d wind up in the same place.

Then there was Paris. Her semester abroad ended and she came back to Boston. It wasn’t a big deal when he’d spend time with her, or walk her home after parties: he still came home to me. I respected their friendship. “She’s cool with us, right?” I’d ask. He’d flash that crest white strip smile. “Yeah, of course. But I think she likes me. I don’t want her to feel bad. Can we tone down the PDA?” I only ever saw Paris when we were out. She seemed like a nice girl. Small sacrifice. “Sure!” I nodded eagerly.

One week later, my guy friend sat me down. He’d been in the car with Waldo. He looked grim. “I don’t think they’re just friends.”

As usual, Waldo had a quick defense. “Why do people talk behind my back? They just make things up,” his voice trembled. “This always happens to me.” I didn’t want to believe him but he was on the verge of tears. My anger faded. I patted him on the back: “You can be honest with me.”

His eyes stared into with mine: “Cheating is disgusting.”

Two weeks later, while Waldo was out of town, I got coffee with Paris’ best friend. We ran in the same 20 strong circle, but had never gotten a chance to catch up one-on-one. 5 minutes in, I blurted out: “I’m so glad Paris is cool about me and Waldo…being together and all.”

“What?” she put down her coffee cup.”Since when?”

“Since she left Boston…”

“Impossible.”

“Huh?” I put my coffee cup down.

“He’s been with Paris. Since she left Boston.”

My chest bumped like a dryer with shoes in it.

“I’m calling her now,”she whipped out her 5 pound cell phone.

Me, Paris, her best friend, Waldo’s now ex best friend assembled for the grand inquisition. The four of us painfully unraveled a cunning web of lies. How he’d been in bed with me while in a long distance relationship with her. How he played upon our sympathies to keep us from finding out about each other.  How he knew exactly what to say, when to say it, and never got caught. (God knows how many other women were involved. Pure luck I am STD free. Get tested annually.) The magnitude of his deception was sick and impressive.

During all this chaos, he called me. I let it go to voicemail, then played it for the group. Waldo made silly voices,  chirped about his amazing trip back home in Minnesota. “See you soooooon!”he drawled. Click.

Welcome to the super shitty reality show nobody wants to be on. We made more calls. When the shock subsided, the breadcrumbs connected. Much later, we found out how he had done the same thing to another group at BU. We were not his first.

That night, I wrote him a message on Facebook: “I know what you did. Stay away from me and my friends.” That night, I rode the green line alone. Dear reader, that moment was my lowest to date: my virgin suicides. I wanted to hurt myself just to feel something.

Thankfully, I went home instead. The dam burst while my mom and I were alone in the kitchen. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. She instinctively guessed what had happened: “jiao cai liang chuan” (1 guy. 2 boats.)  For an old school asian lady, this was a huge breakthrough. A silver lining in the grey beyond.

In the following years, I self-medicated with my favorite drugs: far-too-fast love and promiscuity.  I jumped headfirst into relationships and took no time for myself. I was determined to exorcise his existence out of my head and scrape the touch of his hands off my body.

Shortly after World War III, Waldo had sent me an apology email about being an alcoholic. Delete. I never talked to him again. Until last year.

Before Ecuador, I wrote him a message about forgiveness. It took me a decade to feel ready. He responded: “you didn’t deserve the things I did to you.” Alas, the truth.

I let this experience break me for a long time. How could I have been that naive? How can I trust my partner to stay faithful? Not just with strangers, but with friends?  What if? What if? What if?

Only time, therapy, and decent men have tempered this fear. I couldn’t forgive him for the longest time because I could not forgive myself. We co dependents struggle with guilt (What did I do wrong?) and shame (What’s wrong with me?) in its extremities. What is co dependence? (Link to must read book recommended by my therapist.)

Remember: the signs of a sociopath, alcoholic, abuser, are not always obvious from the get go. You don’t go from kittens and fairies to Rihanna post Chris Brown mug shot. It builds up. Explosion inevitable. Falling debris.

To all the survivors: it’s not your fault. You did NOTHING to deserve it.

To all the beautiful souls who support us by listening, loving, enlightening:  THANK YOU.

To the countless others who still have no idea what consent, sexism, nor feminism means: FUCK YOU.

Fuck you Waldo Winners. I forgive you too.

writinginsoysauce

P.S. Waldo turned 31 this week. I hope you’ve healed enough to stop damaging others.

 

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Advice, korea, Love, Mental Health, Teaching, Womens Health, Writing

I miss you like crazy

Soundtrack: We Move Lightly

Dear reader,

A few days ago I was ready to give up on love. L didn’t get into the Masters program in Korea. His Barack Obama character, fluency in 3 ruling languages, 3.6 GPA, and caramel Gu Jun Pyo good looks, weren’t even worth an interview. He applied to smaller universities to increase his chances, but no dice. Given the sexism I’ve already faced at work(men looooove roomin’ with roaches), let’s address the pink latino in the room: his third world passport. My interview for Korea lasted the amount of time it takes me to eat a snickers bar. But I’m a US citizen with a pulse.

While in NYC, I survived a long distance relationship for 5 years. We both lost loved ones to cancer. We were laughter and light: the only salve to unbearable numbness. Until we weren’t. I changed. I used to want a diamond, now I’m good with a tattoo. I used to want babies, now I prefer passport stamps. I used to drink like a Bostonian, now I don’t need booze to bare all.

First cut is the deepest

The last time L and I held each other was May. If you read the post about my abortion, then you remember my devastation. Our goodbye. I felt his absence most acutely during my first month in Seoul. A meteor shower, in celestial harmony with Quito’s blood red moon, welcomed me to the Han River with 3 of the nicest teachers and their plus 1’s. Not for one instant did they make me feel like a 7th wheel. Instead, we inflated vagina-shaped lawn chairs and cuddled a little black dog named Tux. Feasted on fish tacos. Gawked at bike-size Afghan hounds(the dodo bird of toy breed Korea). Discovered Daiso, the dollar store equivalent where bitch I’m rich. Admired boy piggy-back girl, crutches n all. Matching couple outfits.

I was having a fucking blast, which compounded into resounding sadness upon seeing my super single bed.

L and I couldn’t make any of these memories in the same time-space continuum. Share a coffee. Take a walk. Binge watch LOTR. And let’s talk about sex. Per OTNB memoir: after 3 months of abstinence, you could’ve spit on me and I’d sizzle. Rio Olympian, starved out for the gold. Sure a big mac is a quick fix, but I’d rather wait for the Shake Shack (grand opening in Gangnam July 22!) 

IUD. Not DIY. 

Don’t fret: I’m armed with 3 letters: I.U.D. “Expect 3 mild cramps,”the gyno said. She held up a silver tong the size of timbuktu to pull my uterus out so this tiny piece of plastic could go in. Any tattoo artist will tell you I have a high pain tolerance, but this was intense. I had to take deep birth-video breaths and find my happy place: instinctively L’s face. After a minute or 2, she patted me on the back, “Good job! Some patients faint on the table.”

Ladies, this is not to scare you, but to prepare you. Take ibuprofen before you go. I got the hormonal IUD cuz I prefer no periods whereas the copper one may give you worse ones. Like a pair of shoes, try out different kinds of birth control till you find one that works best. Liletta is good for 3 years and I don’t have to do anything.

Given my gamut with womanly health, one burning question remains: why do we call weakness a pussy? Who came up with this flawed concept? Did they ever have a period/abortion/baby/IUD? If you punched a pussy and a penis, who do you think would be standing first? “You’re such a testicle” makes way more sense if you ask me. Or we should just stop using gender-specific body parts as insulting adjectives altogether.

Taiwan Thanksgiving 

Thank universe L’s back up plan to study Chinese in Taiwan went through. I booked my flight for September stat. I made it a priority to see him. So when he completely forgot to research hotels and call my therapist from Ecuador…I flipped a shit. It didn’t matter that he recognized his mistake immediately and apologized. 

I wish I could tell you I rolled like ghandi. Instead I chose the worst of two evils: fight and flight. Stage 1: mad as hell: “What the fuck? Am I the only one trying here?” Stage 2: weeping willow. “You hurt me. You really hurt me.” Stage 3: lost girl. “We should break up.” 

I didn’t sleep that night.  Perhaps, the debris wasn’t all due to L, though the residual pain created a perfect storm. In my anger, I forgot everything that L had shown me. I lost faith in him and myself.

When L faced failure, I expected some semblance of guilt, jealousy or stress to bleed over. He did the exact opposite. He stayed proud. Excited. He never made me feel like I was leaving him behind. His capacity for forgiveness is something I’m still working on. When I go bananas, he’s got just the right box. (That’s for you TEFL)

It’d be too easy to give into old habits. To cut and run, like a bat out of hell. For many of us, it’s far simpler to give love, than to receive.  Carson McCuller writes: “the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved.”

The morning before Boston, L surprised me with his college diary. Bold move buddy. I perused 4 years of the mind of someone who shares great visions and horrible nightmares. Few people understand me on this level: how blessed I am to know one. No matter what, we will make our greatest effort to learn from our love. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.

In 3 weeks, I’m visiting L for Chuseuk( Korean turkey day). 6 days with bae! He may try again for Korea or I may head to Taiwan later on. Then this chinita will apply to NYC Teaching Fellows. Uhhhh, subsidized Masters of Education for only $8K what?! It’s one of the only affordable on campus programs out there. I refuse to go into debt for higher ed. Plus, I’ve gotta get certified pre-UAE.

Master of None

No relationship exists without fears, worries, doubts. No show on TV explains these WTF moments in modern romance better than Aziz: long term relationships are tough. You can’t just expect a big, roaring fire right away, right? You know, you can’t put the big logs in first. You start with the small stuff. Kindling, all right? Then you add that, *then* you put in the big logs and *then* you have a roaring fire. And that’s a good relationship. But be careful, sometimes kindling is hard to find, you know? Good wood. So, don’t take it for granted.

Folks: tend to your fine pine. For me, that means continuing therapy.  Eating cake and patbingsu. Working out. Teaching kids that ‘different’ is good. Finishing the first draft of my self-help book…tentatively titled The Co Dependent Diaries: A Teacher Tells All. 

Remember: distance makes the heart grow stronger.

To me. To you. To L.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Family, Mental Health, Travel

The Noonday Demon: Dear sister

Dear sister,

The scariest day of my life was neither earthquake nor pregnancy. It was when I received a message from your best friend on facebook.

On May 26, you showed up to work. You stopped talking. 911. The ambulance rushed you to New York Presbyterian. From Boston to Brooklyn, our parents drove through pitch black. You were sedated most of the month. When you were lucid, you did yoga. You sketched. Faces juxtaposed upon faces.

Dad sent me an email about praying. I had no idea he believed in god. You refused to take medication. Every second we waited, you were getting worse.

We had to go to court. The judge ruled that you had to take medication. When you got out of the hospital, your first request was a large cheese pizza. Hope.

Fear

At the airport, your hands trembled. At the restaurant, you walked out. Mom ran after you. Earlier that week, you had opened the passenger door while she was still driving.

On June 12, parallel to the Orlando shootings, I had a nightmare. We were on a plane. Sordid yellow, oxygen masks dangled. I screamed for you to wake up. But you didn’t. I awoke to a silver lining. That day, you put on a coral blue dress and pearls for some fine dining at Not Your Average Joe’s. Glow.

Come midnight, you stopped feeling good. You were shaking so hard you couldn’t put your sneakers on. ER.

The meds were too strong, but you had to keep taking them. I’m so glad you came home the next day. I’m so sorry it hurts.

Frustration

The hospital bills were astronomical, even with insurance. There was a minimum 8 week waitlist to see a doc near home. What happens to those who cannot afford to wait?

On sleepless nights, you came to my door, wiggling the handle, asking over and over: “Can I come in? What are you doing?” I had to lock it. You’d walk over to our brother’s room and do the same thing. Whether I was teaching, laughing, talking, you’d tell me to stop. I never knew if something I said would trigger you. I took phone calls outside.

It was extremely frustrating when you said and did inappropriate things. I worked out every day to keep calm. When I didn’t react, you’d turn to mom. You could always get a reaction out of her. It scared me to see you feed off that.

When you weren’t sleeping, you were eating. I know what it’s like to feel powerless over food. Eating when you’re bored. Eating when you’re anxious. Before Ecuador, I tried to force myself to throw up. I’m lucky I stopped. For so many, it’s a life long struggle.

Change

While the rest of the family tries to change your behavior, I know it won’t make a difference.  You cannot force someone to heal. Mom worries. Dad lectures. Alex tells you to get off your ass. I want to tell them to leave you alone: “Can’t you see she’s depressed?”

But I don’t. I am also recovering from my codependency. I cannot control, fix, save others. I can only offer my unconditional love and support.

What can I do?

I use every tool I learned in therapy. I accept others as they are and build a fortress of solitude around my heart. When it’s too much, I make my muscles scream so I don’t have to.

During my cool downs, I think of our New York moments: your sharp, dry humor that makes me eyes rain. Tuesdays with Sherry.

What Would Nandy Drew Do?

I rummage through your room. Your shelves are stacked with LSATs when you were so determined to become a lawyer. “Drawn Out” shows hellish sketches by a man who lost his dad at a young age. He drowned himself in sex, drugs, rock n roll. When he finally sought a psychiatrist, he discovered he’d been reenacting a “living death”. 40 years old. Illumination. I know you’ll find your lightbulb.

Still, the million dollar question remains: What happened?

There’s no easy answer. Here is my educated guess. Only you, mei mei, can discover the rest.

You were 16 when you stopped talking to dad for a month. 6 years later, you stopped talking at work. Since graduation, you’ve felt pressure to figure out your life. Worked multiple jobs. Said yes when you felt no. Your law office boss made you her personal assistant and punching bag. “She says one thing, but means another.” A sense of inadequacy amplified. Great bosses are rare. Horrible bosses abound. Not only is their behavior is accepted, but promoted. We know the world does not operate on fairness: see season finale Game Of Thrones. Sometimes it’s good to be a quitter.

In the media, whenever something terrible happens, family and friends are shocked, “we didn’t see this coming.” Kill my cynicism. You don’t know til it happens to you. Any questions about whether this is an illness have been erased. It is a cancer of the mind. It is every bit as deadly. “Do you have any family history of this?” the doctor asked. Our parents were confounded. We don’t know what it looks like because it hides in plain sight. Remember when Nai Nai would talk to herself for hours? Her moods fluctuated at lightning speed. When I lost track of time playing outside, she hurt me worse than dad. If there happened to be a romantic scene on TV, she’d turn it off. “Do not trust men,” she’d rage-rant.

I was 12 at the time. Grams is 82 now. She didn’t get a second chance. You do. I’ll be here.

Hope

On June 29, I dreamed of Mary Lynne for the first time in years. Dressed in white, we stood in the kitchen. “Sherry will be OK,” she held my hand. I got my visa to Korea the next morning.

She’s right. I’ve seen you get better. You show interest in life. You hang out with your friends. You got a job at the deli. You go to the gym.

We laugh now. We talk about boys. L said he prefers me paler so I wrote a mini-novel back, loosely titled, “Best love me no matter what color F@$%^&!” You offered sage like wisdom: “tell him you’d prefer him…bigger.” Turns out I misread his message. Glad I didn’t hit send. PMS is real. (L’s still the greatest)

We whatsapp while I’m on Seoul’s, clean-as-a-dream subway. Free wifi, shopping, food stalls, and public bathrooms. All underground. Welcome to the future.

You told me your greatest strength is courage. You told me your greatest weakness is fear.  I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.

I love you. I’m proud of you. You are fighting the hardest fight of your life.

A fine line separates a fighter and a warrior. One is motivated by reason, the other by purpose. One fights to live, the other lives to fight.

You’re both.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Ecuador, Happiness, Loss, Mental Health, Philosophy, Teaching, Writing

再见: Born is a new beginning

Dear reader,

I had to leave Ecuador early for a very personal reason. Yes, I had to get home because of my sister but mostly it was because of me. I debated sharing this publicly, but if I am to maintain the integrity of this blog, then I must. I ask for your compassion and openness when reading but I do not expect it.  Writing helps me heal. It’s like a pomegranate: you want to jump to the juicy bits, but the process can be very messy. This story will elicit many opinions, and in some cases, judgment. It’s OK. It’s taken me a long time to get here and I plan to stay true.

Chapter 1: Mother’s Day

2 weeks ago, the night before Mother’s Day, I found out I was pregnant. Moments earlier, L and I chatted hypothetically about a What If situation since I was a week late. This kind of talk is always fun and can swing both ways. It becomes pretty clear whether you’d be on your own or fully supported. I’m relieved to say it was the latter.

So when the 2 lines popped up on the test, I handled it like a pro. Let’s call Stage 1: The Sailor.  F bombs decimated a 5 mile radius. I dropped expletives no teacher should ever be caught saying. Stage 2: The Exorcist. Animalistic wailing, rolling on the floor. My personal favorite was Stage 3: The Superman. Visualize your worst hangover, getting to the top of the Six Flaggs ride, and realizing you have no seatbelt. Cue emotional disaster. My family was going through so much already with my sister. How was I going to tell them I got knocked up thousands of miles away? How could I have fucked up so badly? The ugly demons of shame, guilt, disappointment surged in molten torrents. Any insult you can think of, I came up with worse. I felt utterly and completely alone.

But then there was L. He held my splotchy, snot-covered face in both hands. “Everything will be OK,” he said. Though I still felt like a planet out of orbit, I knew with inexplicable certainty he meant it. There were no magic words, but rather the feeling of safety in the storm, a hot bath after blizzard. He believed it would be OK, so I allowed myself to believe it too.

The following morning, we celebrated Mother’s Day in Ibarra with his family.  Surrounded by moms, many of whom I had met that day, I was certain of one thing: god loves a good story.

Chapter 2: The Decision

As someone who holds parenting in high esteem, I knew I was not ready to be a mom. From the moment I found out, to before and after.  Regardless, I dug deep to address 4 BIG questions:

1.What kind of financial support could I offer a child?

Bills, Bills, Bills.  If it’s this tough to budget for rent and food, then budgeting for a baby is just not in the cards. Educators, one of earth’s most valuable resources, are paid jackshit. That’s just how the dice rolls until we get legislation to change. Lower that pay bracket for volunteers, then scratch it out completely with an economic crisis.  The bright side? If you want to find out whether you love what you do, then work for free. Answer guaranteed. I do love teaching.

2.What kind of emotional support could I offer a child?
Limited. I am still working through deep rooted issues from my childhood. Though this is the strongest I’ve ever felt, the journey has just begun. There’s plenty more room for improvement.

3.Could I honestly say having an unplanned child would be a responsible decision?

Thanks to therapy, I am learning the power of no. Codependents have trouble setting boundaries because it is our coping mechanism to say yes. We often had to appease volatile adults in situations where No was simply not an option.

I refuse to raise a child until I am ready. Though the decisions that led to the pregnancy were irresponsible, my decision after needed to be the exact opposite.

No.  100% no.

4.What kind of parent would I be with unfulfilled dreams? What kind of example would I be setting?

I am teaching in South Korea this fall. I plan to get a Masters of Education and teach in the Middle East. Someday, I hope to write a book worth publishing. These goals require time and commitment. If I gave up on my visions, or delayed them significantly, would I be happy? No. Would a child, one of the most perceptive beings in existence, pick up on that? Absolutely.

If and when I choose to be a parent, my child will become priority number 1. In the footsteps of Mary Lynne, I’d like to adopt too. But the time is not now.

To the moms who have sacrificed everything for their children(including mine): I am confounded by your devotion. I am humbled by your resilience. I have the utmost respect for you. That’s the beauty of it. It is YOUR decision to make. Not mine. Not anyone else’s.

Chapter 3: The Call

Unless a girl or woman is raped or the baby causes physical harm to the mother, abortion is illegal in Ecuador. President Correa said he would rather resign than legalize abortion, both of which sound like best case scenarios. Females, especially those with limited to no resources, seek secret clinics with unregulated and often unhygienic practices. They put their lives at risk because the system leaves them with no other choice. By taking away choice, we are endangering the lives of our sisters, mothers, children. Our best friends. By taking away choice, we knowingly hurt, and oftentimes kill, the bodies, souls, and aspirations of our women. How would you feel if someone took away your choice in any other arena? Who you love? Where you live? Where you work? Who you talk to? What you believe?

Though there can be positive purpose in religion, I have trouble understanding those who use god shaming as the reason why abortion is wrong. god is pure love. god is free will. If god does not cast the first stone, then what gives us the right to?

Regardless, this is not about religion or politics. It is about the human spirit. I firmly believe the choice to choose is a fundamental human right.

That being said, none of this prepared me for the call home. L had to pull the car over in the breakdown lane because the thought of telling my family brought on a full blown panic attack. One week prior, I had told my mom I was happy. Instead of being happy for me, she had reminded me of my numerous ‘failed’ relationships.

I love my family deeply. They have also inflicted the deepest pain. The two are not mutually exclusive. Asian culture often uses intense shaming as a tool for motivation. Being daddy’s girl meant hearing “you’re worthless” instead of “I’m proud of you.”  Abuse was special delivered by fist(and slipper ai ya) and tied with an “it’s for your own good” ribbon. Re-education is direly needed.

My sister answered the phone. It was the first time I had heard her voice in a month. Cue tear fest. Sherry immediately guessed. “You’re pregnant,” she listlessly mumbled before passing the phone to my mom. I braced myself for the worst.

Another thing I am sure of: life is wraught with surprises. As someone who used to blame her mom for standing by and staying with a man who hurt us, in that phone call, I have never been more thankful. “Come home,” my mom said. “We will help you. Please take care of yourself.”

I had the phone on speaker the entire time.  L understood every word, no translation needed.  In times of strife, your bond either grows, or the underlying issues come crawling out. I am learning that love is nothing without compatibility. They are different beasts. Bound by time, trial and error.

Chapter 4: The Goodbye

In 3 days, I had to pack up and say goodbye to my students, my friends, my heart. Last year, L got screwed over at the airport by some racist vigilantes out to get anyone South of the border. They took him into a dark room and screamed until he signed the no admittance papers. It didn’t matter that he was intending to visit a friend. It didn’t matter he’d been a foreign exchange student in Oklahoma, or graduated from Taiwan with a full scholarship, or had a job in Ecuador. He is banned from the States for 5 years unless he re-applies for a visa successfully.

I knew I was going home alone. The good news? Before we met, I had decided to teach in South Korea and he had applied to a Masters of Economics in the same country. We want to become citizens of the world before settling down. Kismet.

My last day teaching at CEC happened to coincide with oral exams. The class had to create and perform original TV skits for Fabian’s class.  One student built a Bill Nye the science guy air ionizer: wires, fires, and all. Another group created a Judge Judy style trial about a wife and husband’s custody battle over their preciosa cat. I died laughing watching a game show where each contestant was an emotion from Inside Out. My students blew my damn poncho off.

When I announced the news, their faces were kittens left in the rain. We hugged. They chipped in their hard earned cho chos for a bouquet and fancy chocolate. Fabian surprised me with an Oreo mousse cake. He thanked me for helping him become a better teacher. I told him to stop making me sob.

To the beautiful souls of Ecuador, I am so blessed to have spent 9 months with you. You’ve shown me the darkest of dark and lightest of light. Thank you for teaching to be brave.

Chapter 5: The Homecoming

Jetblue, I love you. My flight home was a breeze; greeting my family was not. I arrived on my Dad’s birthday. The man I used to be terrified of was born the same day I came back…pregnant. Impeccable timing. I took a deep breath and recalled what my therapist had said. “You supported yourself in NYC for many years. You’ve had a rough patch financially with making a life transition. You’re relying more heavily on others for money, but you can pay it back. Money is just money.”

“Healthy detachment, my dear. It’s about holding space,” my spirit guru Jerry would say. Luis agrees, “Whenever they’re mean, add it to the don’t give a fuck box.”

I hugged my mom first, then brother, sister, dad. It was physically apparent my sister was sick. She couldn’t hold a conversation, but showed up with a smile, and that’s infinitely more than what I had hoped for.

Now here comes the logistics. Though there’s plenty of information on google, I would like to provide you some personal insight. The doctors at Planned Parenthood were so kind and informative. Our support for PP to receive government funding is everything. Under 8 weeks, the pill to terminate is 98% effective. I felt nauseous the first day and experienced bad cramps.  I was lucky because it was like having a heavy period: more uncomfortable than painful. Everyone’s body chemistry is different so please do your research before making this decision. With all choices in life, there are risks. Please, please, please USE BIRTH CONTROL. I was on it for 7 years, but the hormones were making me too moody. In addition to condoms, there are non-hormonal methods of protection.  Yes, you can still get pregnant on your period. No, you can NEVER be too careful. Don’t take a chance like I did. I am blessed to have conceived with a devoted partner, but it was still traumatizing on a multitude of levels.

I was instructed to dissolve the meds in my mouth for 30 minutes. Tears streamed down my face as I played one of my favorite songs on the piano Canon in C by Pachelbel. Mother Nature gifted the sun of spring. I felt god and the universe with me every step of the way.

I am not going to use the word fetus to soften the situation. I was carrying a baby, a growing life, created from pure joy with the man I love. I’m sorry that I had to say goodbye. In Chinese, goodbye or 再见 (zài jiàn, pronounced zuh-i-jee-anne) means see you again. 再见: born is a new beginning.

The following day, I had a particularly poignant moment when a dusk grey, tea-cup sized bird perched outside my window. Its onyx-black eyes pierced mine. I have never seen a bird like that. I can’t help but feel this tiny soul was sent to cushion my grief.

Chapter 6: Beloved

I wish there were a different word for love. I don’t think I’ve loved myself properly for many years. Beneath my confident demeanor, I’ve discovered my greatest fear is being unloved, unworthy, inadequate.

L and I may not have known each other for long, yet every day, even when we are apart, has been a great one. We fight our worst sides to be better for each other. We aim to be PP: present and patient. We turn towards each other, not away. Most importantly, we take it one day at a time. I wasn’t sure it was possible to feel this complete on my own and simultaneously with someone else. There’s the underlying fear that if you put all your eggs in one basket, what happens when the basket breaks? Well, I found a sturdy basket and I’ve got some great eggs. No pun intended.

Remember: nothing is impossible unless you believe it is so.

Dear reader, if you’ve gotten this far, I’m honored. You are not alone in your pain. You are not alone in your shame. You are not alone in your doubt. You are certainly not alone in your devastation.

You are loved. You are precious. You have a purpose. Embrace whomever you see in the mirror. Forgive your mistakes. We are only human after all.

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

再见,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Ecuador, Mental Health, Philosophy, Teaching

Faith: and then the earth trembled

I have a confession to make: I was not wearing pants when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit. The perks of being too comfortable in your apartment. Luis, Jared, and I stood in our doorways staring at each other as the floor trembled. I giggled hysterically at the prospect of dying without pants. Then I prayed. Out loud.

After the 4th floor stopped shaking, we walked to SuperMaxi to stock up on necessities: chifles, choco chip cookies, boxed wine. Foch, known for its nightlife, was a cold somber scene. Cops, frightened faces, everything was closed. That’s when we knew it was serious. News trickled in about how badly the coast was affected. The sadness came. In terrifying circumstances, I gripped onto faith.

Ever since I could remember, I have prayed. I do not know if god is a man, woman, alien, unicorn. I do know my little chinita self has whispered, spoken, hummed to an unseen, unknown entity. Wind in trees.

rivwr

1. Faith

22 years ago, when my little sister was still in the womb, I was very jealous of the oodles of attention she was already receiving. I asked g money for no little sister. I quickly realized faith is not all powerful.

I miss talking to my sis. I cry a lot thinking about how lost she must feel in the hospital. How alone even with visitors. Her drawings show duplicate visions: two eyebrows, two mouths, juxtaposed onto the same face. I am visiting Sherry end of May. I would love nothing more than to hug her.

My lifey(lifetime compadre) Xtina who is also a therapist visited my fam in the hospital. She translated a difficult subject for my parents so well. When you have a fever, the meds provide a temporary but lifesaving relief.  My sis refuses to take medication so she is going to court to defend her case. If she loses, she will have to take the meds. So we wait.

Mental illness is a dark stealer of loved ones, yet I have faith my sister will be OK.

Faith is not a blanket reason for why bad things happen. Bad things happen for no reason. We can either find purpose, or not. It is a choice.

It’s the possibility of parallel universes. It’s found equally in creation and destruction. It’s minute particles, the ones undiscovered by science, that connect us all somehow.

It’s never feeling completely alone, even when I feel incredibly lonely.

It is action. With your help, we raised $5000 to buy supplies for earthquake victims. Paypal the phenomenal corydack(at)yahoo.com.

Faith is an umbrella.  I have lost and found it infinite times.

2. Speak

Faith helps me cope with fear of rejection. I am empowered to speak my mind.

In the application to teach in Korea(EPIK), I was required to report any visible tattoos. One girl posted that she was rejected because of hers. I could’ve taken the easy route and lied about my Princess Mononoke, a piece easily hidden by clothing. But I didn’t want to. I love my art. I do not believe in conforming to social or cultural stigmas to get a job. Guess what? My request for an interview arrived 1 day after the earthquake. Truth worked in my favor. I passed the interview. Now onto massive amounts of paperwork before I am officially accepted this fall

Another case study: a well known recruiter for Taiwan called Hess asked me to submit a head to toe photo. Immediately the warning bell went off. What does this superficial request have to do with my teaching credentials? Why do they need to see my body to qualify my mind?  After reading some bad reviews about how Hess works with schools who prefer white males,  I wrote this:

Not surprisingly,  I received a generic answer about how their interview process isn’t for anyone. I withdrew my application.

Why poke the bear when I so badly need a paying job in August ? Because I would rather hear a firm NO for being true to myself than an exuberant YES to a false persona.

3. Love and Hate

Some days I love my body. Some days I hate my body. I cannot down a pizza like I used to. I am allergic to booze, caffeine, lactose, honey. And butterflies. That’s right. Butterflies. Why not? My body is going down the list alphabetically. Time feels like my enemy. People say “Oh, you haven’t aged a day.” Thank you kindly. However, I am aging every day. How can I come to terms with it? Working out helps. More importantly, I try to forgive my imperfections.

The hardest working woman I know Ms Stephanie Park just launched her website The Healthy Hour! She makes cooking healthy look doable even with a New Yorker’s schedule. Plus, she features a delicious OREO recipe. Enough said.

The-Healthy-Hour-Taline-Gabriel-Raweo-Raw-Oreo-Vegan-Dessert-Recipe-01-268

4. I cannot do this alone 

Last week I had a serious bout of the flu for the third time this year. I didn’t want to pay for a substitute teacher when we teachers are barely getting paid, so I worked all week. I was so sick I couldn’t walk 4 flights of stairs to my own apartment without dry heaving.

I cannot do this alone. Nor do I want to.

I have met someone very special. When I least wanted to, when I told everyone who would listen that I would not open my heart again…naturally, the universe threw me a curveball. I met Luis in TEFL class. We were both trying to become better teachers. He has undeniably become one of my best friends. He is not a project. He does not need saving. He does use a painful past as an excuse for his actions in the present. In fact, he is profoundly patient. Kind. Giving. Balanced. It is not the uncertain, burning, obsessive, roller coaster dynamic my co-dependent self has chosen too often in the past. Whether we are together or apart, I feel what so many others have talked about. Peace. It is so nice because it is easy. I am understood on an intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual level. We are not halves of a whole. We are both wholes that happen to complement each other quite nicely. L teaches Chinese. He texts my mom in mandarin. I am writing this post in his class right now, surrounded by giggling girls, and I am so damn proud. Outside, the sky pours buckets. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

This life I’ve chosen can be a solitary one. You do not have the comfort of your friends from home. You do not know who you can trust, though you pray someone is willing to help.

To those beautiful people who have lent a helping hand, I have not enough space to fill these pages, but I hope you know who you are.  I am beyond grateful.

Thank you for keeping my faith.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Books, Ecuador, Mental Health, Travel

Colombia Calling: a series of unfortunate events 

Before my grandmother survived a stroke and heart attack,  before my little sister was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, before I learned through therapy I have a condition called co-dependency, before Ecuador stopped paying its teachers, before Colombia called…

I had a beautiful dream.

Immersed in deep blue sea, a giant orca whale faced me. Terrifyingly close, awe inspiring. Zoom out. The orca swam in a glass ceiling above my bed. It wasn’t clear who was the one held captive. A mermaid entered the water: only she was accepted by the orca. Trusted.

It is all connected:

Days later, at hangar beatz, a DJ played haunting whale sounds. The next morning, my sister called with the news about my nai nai. My mom and sister had to cancel their trip to Ecuador. So I decided to go to Colombia. A series of unfortunate events began. Yet, somehow, magic remained.

1. Pre Colombia

My friend and I got lost trying to find a concert, stumbled into free Colombia movie week right when the film started. Los Viajes Del Viento: The Wind Journeys. There is an accordion off between two men, matador vs bull, in a dust filled ring. An audience member, driven into a frenzy, stabs the protagonist. The knife misses his heart thanks to the instrument. I didn’t understand half the words, but I understood the whole meaning. Music does that.

Moments later, we found ourselves on stage at Casa De La Cultura, dancing in circles with the locals to live folklore. I ran into one of my old students. Spontaneity at its best.

I met a beautiful rose at Cafe Democratico the 1st night I discovered Afro Colombian jazz. Spirited away by drums, pipes, wind flutes, a french girl’s raspy African tune.  A doctor without borders led our chorus to Redemption Song.

On cue, a true accordion player appeared at 3 am. No such thing as coincidence.

2. Bigger in Bogota

My airbnb in Bogota was located in Chapinero. As with any host or neighborhood, do your research, but people lie. Turns out, the southern tip was filled with addicts, junkies, hooker motels, and the host’s brother had smoked something before we got there. I slept to soothing night sounds: crackheads yelling PUTA outside. The bedroom door wouldn’t close, so we set up a Conspiracy Theory style trap: suitcase, book, glass box. Lamp close to bed as a weapon. We were in pain from fresh tattoos, scared, yet could not stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. You can tell a lot about your bond in the face of the unexpected.

In a rush to leave the next day, we left the keys upstairs, only to realize the 10 foot black iron gate was locked. Naturally, we scaled the gates of Mordor while the neighborhood watched. Chapinero remembers.

We escaped to my friend’s uncle’s apartment in Chia, the sunny equivalent of Cumbaya. He took us to the salt mines of Zipaquira. Interestingly, I almost ended up teaching there instead of Ecuador because one of the WorldTeach cohorts dropped out. At the time, my decision came down to one thing: I wouldn’t have missed my little sister’s college graduation for the world. Full circle.

One cannot sum up a city in 2 days, but I will say this: Bogota has STYLE, asian people(dodo birds!), diversity(we got a lot of smiles) and an excellent asian chain restaurant called WOK (1st pad thai and khao soi in 7 months. Freaked out.).

Day: Better to take a taxi

  • Museo del Oro
  • Candelaria
  • Plaza Simón Bolívar, especially Friday evening SEPTIMAZO(be careful)
  • Monserrate Cable Car(Bogotá is huge)
  • Teusaquillo. Parque Simón Bolívar. (picnic)
  • La mina de sal de zipaquirá
  • El teatro callejero

Night: ALWAYS take a taxi. Underground scenes reco’d by a Bogota friend

  • Cafe Cinema
  • Latino Power
  • Latora 4 Brazos
  • Matik Matik
  • Chorro de Quevedo

3. Magic in Medellin

Took a free walking tour with the amazing guide Pablo. Stayed at a wonderful airbnb with Arthur Leroux. Barrio El Poblado is like the West Village of Colombia.

Medellín has one of the most pristine, spacious metros I have ever seen. It’s their beacon of hope. They do not eat on it. They do not scratch graffitti on the walls. The train reflects the love of its people.

In 1995,  a bomb exploded inside a Botero bird statue(famous for painting large, round figures) downtown, killing a girl as young as 7. The government wanted to remove the destroyed statue. Ring Ring. Botero called: no you must not do that. If you remove it, the people will forget. You remove the memory.

Instead, they built a replica, unbroken, next to the original. Bird’s the word.

Paisas are entrepreneurs. You buy in because of their optimism, resilience, courage.

Day

  • Piedra Del Penol (2 hour bus from Medellin. Epic views, a real life stairmaster 650 of ’em, go EARLY bc traffic back to the city is insane)
  • Metro cable hasta Santo Domingo (ver favelas) /Parque Biblioteca ESPAÑA
  • Jardín Botánico de Medellin (gorgeous architecture)
  • Museo de Antioquia
  • Parque de los pies descalzos
  • Plaza botero
  • Pueblito paisa
  • Rio claro Valley
  • Museo de arte moderno

Night

  • Este lugar de la noche, calle 67 con 55
  •  Yagé bar, calle 68 con 96
  • Tinto Tintero, carrera 43 B-10. Thursday Jazz in el poblado (LOVELY!)

4. Post Colombia 

Ecuador is in an economic crisis. Only the military has been paid due to the threat of a coup. And cancer hospitals(hopefully!). Teachers and everyone else are the bottom of the barrel.  The government owes us but we may not be paid for years. I have faith. I have faith in myself as a teacher: I am working for my students and out of love for the profession.

I may be deported for writing the above. But it is the truth. My family survived communism. I refuse to live in fear in the face of oppression. As a US citizen, I have more options than many others. Let the stress kill you, or keep hunting. I choose numero dos.

Now onto harder subjects…

My heart crumpled when I heard about my sister. I was the first one to get the call. You can imagine how it feels to be thousands of miles away. Helpless. Useless. So I worried, and worried some more. My therapist, who normally just listens, called me out. I am so glad she did. She said this: You need to stop. Stop trying to save others. Stop trying to fix others. You are responsible for you. You are not responsible for your mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents. You spend so much energy worrying about others. You need to take care of yourself. You are a teacher. You are in Ecuador. These are your responsibilities and you must focus on them. Learn to say no. She lent me a book.

Co-dependency means you try to save, control, fix others, to the point where you no longer take care of yourself. People who grow up with any -ism or abuse in their family often have this condition because we were forced to care take at a very young age. It is up to me to refuse to be a victim. I need to put my own needs first and stop rescuing. Let others lead their own lives. Love and care but practice healthy detachment. 

To my nai nai, my sister, to everyone going through a difficult time: we are not lone islands, but we are all responsible for our own lives. It’s OK to put yourself first. Release the guilt.

Pablo’s words resonate: Colombia is a swamp of quicksand. We sink, and sink, and sink. The mud has reached our ears. But we hold on. We hold on to the tiny branch. We fight for every breath. We do not let go.

Find the branch. Hold on tight. Rise.

Love,

writinginsoysauce

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