Friday, January 17, 2014

Indeed, Candy Crush. It *is* a saga.

Yesterday I took a break from my marathon house cleaning and I thought, “I’ll just play a quick game of Candy Crack Crush!” I just updated the app a few days ago because I’m awful at updating my apps, and I discovered the joy of the “daily booster wheel” (you’re right, Kim, those jelly fish are a crap prize). So there I was, feeling like a Price is Right contestant, about to spin that little wheel, when Candy Crush stopped me to ask if I would give the other 400 people on my friends list a helping hand. As I was about to hit “accept all,” I saw it: “give Kwi Suk an extra life! She’s been stuck for _____ days.” For those of you who don’t know who that is, it’s my mom. Apparently none of us geniuses thought to delete her rarely used facebook account. I sat there, stunned for a moment, looking at that sweet picture attached to her account.

The Christmas that picture was taken was a stressful and momentous one; it was the first time my parents met my partner—ten years into our relationship. In my family, we don’t do things halfway. They didn’t just come to meet her. We packed my entire family in that apartment we were living in at the time: my parents, Kim and I, my sister, my brother, his wife and his two little babies. The visit was for some *ridiculous* amount of time.  In the middle of winter. In Bloomington. For those of you who live here, you know that means that you are largely housebound on those wintry-mix kind of days because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to always “git’er done.” There were lots of board games. But you can imagine that there were some tense moments, as well. Kim, the only one of us who had to leave the house to go to work, was granted some brief moments of reprieve. I was grateful for that. In truth, though, it wasn’t completely awful. In fact, in many ways, it went better than I could have imagined. Especially because it was my brother and my mom who, after days of mounting tension, had the blowout fight that year. You can’t imagine my relief that someone else had finally ruined Christmas. (Sorry, bro. I mean, odds are it was bound to happen, eventually.) As my parents, my sister and I departed for New York for an additional few days, my mom took a moment to say something to Kim. I think what she said was something like, “thank you for taking care of April; you’re a good girl.”  But later she told me what she wanted to say was something along the lines of, “If I had to pick, I couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law.” Um…awkward, since she’s not actually a “son,” but let’s not get hung-up on the small details. All kidding aside, it was a big step for her, and I appreciated the gesture/sentiment. She never looked back; she loved Kim after that and thought she was the best thing since store-bought kimchi (sorry, I’m reaching here). But in that picture, there are no traces of that tension or awkwardness.  

Also, this. Because it’s too sweet not to include. 

And this. 

So I sat there staring at my iPhone, wondering if it would be the thing to push me over the edge. Instead, I laughed at the incredible awfulness and irony of the moment. I “accepted all,” and then I spun that wheel and got another stupid jelly fish. Not cool, Candy Crush, not cool. That’s kind of how this process has been for me, though. It’s like the universe keeps extending these morsels on its giant silver platter, “a little grief for you today, ma’am?” “No thanks,” I say, “not right now,” and then I go about my day. What’s wrong with me? I can probably narrow down the number of minutes that I’ve spent crying about my mom’s death to the span of a single hour—a few minutes here, another minute there. It’s not that I don’t feel sad, and it’s not that I don’t feel like crying. It’s just that, for some reason, I don’t do it. Instead I endlessly defer it, “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” and all that. 

The problem is, I feel like I’m reaching the end of some allotted grief period. That’s silly, you say? Perhaps. But it’s also kind of true. When someone dies, we expect and fully support a period of mourning. People look at you with their sad eyes and alternately skirt or approach the topic depending on their personality. Then slowly, something shifts. It’s not that people mean to push the grief aside, but after all, life does go on. Any Downton Abbey fans out there? Well, the most recent episode explored this very thing—the various rates at which one is expected to reenter society with a kind of acceptance and forgetfulness concerning the deceased. It goes something like this: “Of course we don’t want you to forget, but let’s also not remember so much…so often. It’s a downer.” The Dowager Countess would say something like, “don’t be a defeatist. It’s so middle class” or “this sort of thing is all very well in novels, but in reality, it can prove very uncomfortable” (Ep. 2.8). Better yet, how about, “stop whining, and find something to do” (Ep. 3.3). Of course I’m misappropriating quotes, but you get the point. It’s not that I’m looking for the sad eyes or the awkward grief encounters. I never knew exactly what to do in those moments, anyway. Sometimes I admitted that things had been difficult. Mostly, however, I smiled at you because that’s what I do, and I was too inept to say or do anything else, even in the face of your condolences and tears. But I’m feeling the shift. Don’t worry; it’s not you. It’s me, and my own internal set of pressures about social acceptability, blah, blah, blah. I’ve wondered, recently, what I’ll do with this blog. How much longer will people want to read about this process?  Should I shut it down and start a new blog. Should I stop blogging altogether? Should I just transition this blog to something else? Should I just keep doing what I’m doing and seeing where it leads? I don’t know. I haven’t answered those questions yet. I’m guessing I won’t answer them today.

I went back to cleaning after failing to beat that dang level for the thousandth time (I’ll take some of those extra lives, peeps). Eventually, I came to that gallon-sized Ziploc bag underneath the bathroom sink that’s full of my mom’s old cosmetics, various makeup brushes, etc. that she left here when she returned to Korea last August. Every time I come across it, I push it a little further back in the cabinet. This time was no different; I pushed it back again. “Another day,” I told myself, “I’ll deal with this another day.” And so it goes. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lost and Found

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a lost and found box for life? You could occasionally peruse its contents to locate “things” you’d lost along the way: “Oh, look! It’s my self-esteem! I can’t remember the last time I saw that” or “Hey! Look at those life goals! I’d completely forgotten they existed!” Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. While we might find a pair of sunglasses or a phone in a state similar to that in which we lost them, it’s unlikely that we ever find these other intangible things—if we find them, that is—in quite the same condition.

Around here, 2013 has been a year of profound loss as I said goodbye to my mother, and it’s been extraordinarily difficult, over the past few weeks, to see beyond that heartache. The thought of entering a new year without my mother is unfathomable. I can’t help but think of all the things that she’ll miss. I keep expecting her to call. I keep picking up my phone to text her the latest pictures of Bennett’s antics. Most days, I’m still waiting for the weight of my mother’s absence to sink in, the loss suspended somewhere just out of grasp. Other days, however, it knocks me over and takes my breath away.

But it has also been a year of equally profound discovery, and I would be remiss if I didn’t let myself acknowledge those things that, in my mother’s absence, have sprung up quietly, dissipated suddenly or simply ceased to matter. In some ways, I’ve grown up occupying the negative space around my mother. I’ve spent time trying to shape myself around her, in relation to her, against her. My choices, though they’ve been mine, have always found her at their center in some way, wondering if she’d be angry or pleased, disappointed or proud. Like any tiger mom with *real* skills, she always claimed that the pressure I felt to “perform” or “succeed” was somehow a thing of my own creation, and sometimes, I actually bought into that.  Sometimes, she actually bought into to that. Despair and loss, however, have a way of bringing us face to face with those things hidden in the otherwise unfathomable depths of ourselves. During those last few months together, she began the process of making space for me. It was an uncomfortable and disconcerting experience for someone so used to being constrained by the shape of another person’s desires and demands. Gone were the caveats and qualifications. Gone were the insurmountable mountains of her expectations. And eventually, of course, she was gone altogether.

Losing my mother has felt very much like a void that no amount of time can fill. But lately, finding no resistance in that space that she once occupied, I’ve begun to discover the potential for a kind of fullness or wholeness. What have I kept back? What have I denied or written off for fear that it wouldn’t be enough…that I wouldn’t be enough? This is what she offered me in those last months. After a lifetime of “buts” and “if onlys,” she said simply: “you are enough.” My mother can’t be replaced, and I’ll never stop missing her. But the funny thing about absence is that it always, inevitably, makes room for something new. She understood that as she chipped away at the hard lines of herself. She’s given me space to grow into myself more fully, to see around those things—be they hers, or mine—that took up so much room.

People say that “time heals all wounds.” I’ve begun to think, however, about the way that it is time, itself, that wounds us with its relentlessness. So many of us spend our time looking back, planning for the things to come and trying to keep up with the everyday. There’s never time enough, money enough or peace enough to assess the damage incurred daily. Certainly, there’s even less time to reflect on the ways in which things wear on us year after year. We patch ourselves up, push things aside and power through…at least I have. And suddenly we find that we’ve lost whole parts of ourselves, whole histories, whole lifetimes of desires. No, what’s lost can’t always be found, but as I enter 2014, I’m fortunate enough to have found some time. The hard work will be accepting it without guilt or shame, without pressure to perform in some way, without buzzwords like “idleness” or “privilege” compelling me to fill my time endlessly and frantically. Instead, I’ll try to spend some time breathing into that space of being “enough.” Perhaps I’ll rifle through that box of old selves, discarding things that no longer fit, exploring things that might be worth trying on. Whatever it is, after a long season of loss, of losing, and of feeling lost, I welcome this season of discovery, of finding and of being found.