September 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are days when you just can’t escape negativity. It follows you around, nipping at your heels when you try to kick it away before it becomes a fully formed monster leaving long, raw scratches on your life.

I suppose it started on Saturday night. My parents had gone to a family friend’s house up in the northern suburbs and didn’t get home until around 1AM, which is quite late for them. I was in my room, awake, and my mother came in to ask if I was going to church early with my dad the next day [I was]. Our family usually takes two separate cars to church because my brother refuses to wake up any earlier than he has to.

I needed to be in downtown Naperville to cover a 9/11 memorial service right after church, so we had previously decided that my mother would send me there before going off to teach at Chinese School. On Saturday night, however, mother told me that my dad would send me there instead. Sure, whatever. I stayed up until 3:30AM Skyping with B and only got four hours of sleep.

Sunday’s weather was good enough to keep me from hating myself for depriving myself of sleep, but I was still pretty tired. My brain was definitely not functioning at 100 percent. On the way to church, my dad urged me for the fiftieth time to apply to some government jobs from the website he sent me.

“Just get a job and make a living before you focus on finding a job that you actually love,” he told me. “That’s what we parents who immigrated from China had to do; we set aside our previous educations to learn about computers because those were the available jobs.”

I rolled my eyes and thought, I’d really rather not receive life lessons right now, please, but those thoughts are always tempered with the guilt of knowing that my dad won’t be around to give me life lessons forever, and someday in the future [hopefully not too soon, God willing], I’m going to shed tears because I didn’t spend enough time listening to my dad, I just know it.

In any case, the negativity materialized, festering with each curt response that I gave.

When we arrived in the church parking lot, we had to figure out what to do with my camera equipment [which I needed for the afternoon] because apparently my dad was going to park the car elsewhere to save on parking spaces in the constantly overflowing lot. Exasperated, I wondered why he had to be so nice and why he couldn’t just leave the car there just this once, jeez. He then said he would bring my stuff inside with him and transfer it to mom’s car when she got there later. I figured that to mean that he and mother would switch cars after church so he could drive me downtown in her car while she got a ride to the farther parking lot where his car would be parked. I wasn’t sure it made sense but I was late for worship team practice already so I gave him my stuff and went inside.

Being on worship team means having the privilege to stand onstage, which also means having the opportunity to scan the rows and look for my brother while singing. He didn’t show up, and I mentally scolded my mother for letting him “stay home to do homework” again.

After church, I called my dad, who was still on the second floor manning sound equipment for the Mandarin congregation. He came down and gave me my equipment and told me he didn’t know where my mom had parked her car. Then he went back upstairs. Confused, I stood around for a little while and then walked around the whole parking lot in search of mother’s minivan. I figured that he needed to finish up with the adult church service, so it would be best if I found the car and pulled it around to the front to wait for him.

Mother’s vehicle was nowhere to be found. Utterly confused and tired, I called her to ask where she had parked. She told me that she wasn’t even at church, that she had been too tired to come. What…the heck? First of all, missing a day of church for a family as involved in the Chinese Christian community as us is like playing hooky in high school. It’s extremely abnormal. Also, my mother skipping church meant that my brother automatically wasn’t even given a chance to attend. I mean, this might be negligible since normally he resists coming anyway, but I hate the fact that my brother’s spiritual well-being is so neglected in this family, not just by my mother but by all of us. The more he sees us placing God as second, third or last priority, the more reason he has not to care about his own salvation.

My negativity grew, although these were just fleeting thoughts in my mind as the most important question hit me: How was I supposed to get downtown?

At that moment, I spotted my dad and called out to him.

“What are you still doing here?” he asked me.
“Um…what??” I was flabbergasted. “Aren’t you supposed to drive me?”
“What?! I thought your mom was driving you!”
“She didn’t even come to church today…”

Even while typing out this blog post, I still can’t comprehend how this massive rift in communication happened. Obviously it was too much for me to expect my parents to talk to each other, for mother to tell dad about the sudden change in plans. This has always been a problem. I would tell one parent one thing, and then the other one would ask me the same thing later that day or week. Or one parent would call me to tell me something, and a little while later, the other one would call to tell me the same thing. I never understood why this happened; I always assumed that married people would naturally tell each other everything, that when I told my mom something major like “I got a boyfriend” that she would obviously tell my dad all about it. But no.

There have been times when I’ve exploited this fact, like when one parent is mad at me but the other one doesn’t know I’m in trouble yet. But as I grow older, the need to pit my parents against each other fades into a hesitant worry that their relationship is somehow abnormal.

Dad was nonplussed. He and I ended up walking a few blocks away to where he had parked the car. The whole way there, he kept asking when I found out mother hadn’t come to church [um, like one minute ago?] and muttering things like “terrible person.” I could see his cloud of frustration growing. The negativity was spreading.

He waited for me while I did my reporting, and I guessed that he hadn’t talked to mother because she was busy teaching at Chinese school for the whole afternoon. All I wanted to do after getting home was to take a nap; I was tired of fighting the negativity and just wanted to sleep it off. Alas, hours of importing and video-editing and rendering awaited me, so I isolated myself in my room to get some work done.

Eventually, my uncle came to pick up my dad to take him to the airport [dad travels to the east coast to work during the week]. Dad came upstairs to tell me that he had cooked some food, so I could eat it later when I got hungry.

“…Is mom not coming home?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, and left.

Mom came home an hour later and I could already tell just from the way she asked me “Where’s your dad?” that she wasn’t in the finest of moods. I was still working so I tried to drown out peripheral noises but I couldn’t avoid hearing my mom calling my dad, their brief conversation escalating to an abrupt ending.

My brother also picked that moment to go downstairs and complain about hunger [a daily occurrence]. Mother pretty much kicked him out of the kitchen so she could call someone else [her sister, presumably] and bitch about my dad. I could hear Larry cursing about “getting some fucking food” on his way back upstairs. The negativity peaked.

I angrily wondered why, if my parents were angry at each other, they didn’t just talk it out. For me, communication and understanding are the most important things in a relationship. I like to think that I’ve honed this skill from the inordinate time I’ve spent in long-distance relationships, in which problems can’t just be swept under the rug by the sometimes misleading comfort of physical intimacy.

In fact, sometimes I wonder if I’m more willing to date long-distance because that’s how my parents’ relationship is: My dad has been traveling regularly on business trips ever since I can remember. Logically, this should mean that my parents are masters of communicating with each other, right? Unfortunately, as I’ve already proven above, the opposite is true. They are abysmal at communication and conflict resolution and that trickles down to me and my brother and swells into the negativity that continues to thread its way into this family.

There’s so much that’s wrong here. There’s so much more I could write, pages and pages of analysis of my dysfunctional family from my teenage years until now. But how is it going to end?

At the moment, Larry has withdrawn to his lair after stuffing his face with Popeye’s. Apparently my dad’s cooking wasn’t good enough because it consisted of only vegetables, and my mom’s cooking also didn’t make the cut because he already had it for lunch. Dad won’t be home until Friday night. Mother is downstairs making phone call after phone call, catching up with old friends and wishing them a happy 中秋节. She has always loved talking on the phone; I used to attribute it to her outgoing nature, but now I think she’s just lonely. This family isn’t enough to satisfy anyone’s emotional needs.

As for me, I’m sitting in the guest room writing this in the dark because light will strain my tired eyes too much. I skipped dinner to work, and now it’s too late to eat a proper meal.
Besides, I’m already full. Of negativity.



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