Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Plans for the rest of 2014" - revisited in 2017.

I came across this old blog post I did three years ago that listed the plans I had for 2014, and I am rather...bemused. The blue text is the original post from May 2014; anything in black was written today, August 10, 2017.

I plan on...
  • getting my credit card balance down to almost $0 by the end of this year. I have completely max'ed out my limit as of now, at the end of April, after spending moneys upon moneys on graduation gifts, birthday shenanigans, and just treating people to food in general. 
    • This ended up not even happening until 2017. I kept a steady credit card balance of a few thousand dollars (!!!) due to my fiscal irresponsibility. Who let me have a credit card with such high limits when I was in my early 20's?! ugh. 
  • foregoing my MBA this Fall, due to the sad fact that I still have about $30,000 in student loans as well as a barely-livable salary and an apartment in Fairfax County. 
    • I did end up foregoing my MBA, and I wasn't able to enroll in my deferred semester (Fall 2015) either. My student loans are down to only about $20,000, but my salary is almost double what it was! Not that that's saying much, of course. My 2014 salary was pretttttty low.
  • leaving my position as an Intern for DHS and getting into a permanent and higher-paying position, whether it be in public or private sector. 
    • I left DHS, but I ended up having to work retail/service for a bit. Noodles & Company and The Limited (women's fashion store) were my life for a few months. I ended up getting a job at U.S. Dept of the Interior as a contractor in December of 2014, though, and I stayed with them until June of 2017! I left for yet another higher paying job that I'm at now with the Defense Health Agency.
  • getting my body fat down to 11% (I have no idea what it is right now but I'm fairly sure it's not below 15%); I don't really want to gain muscle either, so that might just end up becoming 10-15 pounds to lose.
    • lmao this ended up completely failing. I gained a lot of weight in 2016 from caretaker depression (being my late father's caretaker for over a year really took a toll on me), and I have yet to lose that weight. I will now have to lose about 30-35 pounds.
  • going crabbing at least three times a month May through September.
    • I did go crabbing about 3x a month between May and August, and only because I wanted to bring home some crabs for my cousin to eat--his favorite food. He ended up passing away in August, though, and I think I found it difficult to go crabbing after his death. The season was already kind of winding down, anyway.
  • buying an actual box/frame for my mattress.
    • This finally happened in like December of 2014. I got a big-ass box for my mattress, this clunky black piece from Ikea with four drawers.
  • finishing at least two pieces of artwork.
    • nope. How hard is it?!
  • cutting certain people out of my life--and not pussyfooting around it, either.
    • I did actually cut a certain person out of my life--but only temporarily, because I missed her too much, and I loved her very much. It took her being somewhat inconsiderate of my cousin's passing in August for me to cut her out, and then my uncle passed away in November and I really needed someone there for me, so for selfish reasons, I wanted and needed her back in my life.
  • working harder to keep certain people in my life--and not pussyfooting around it, either.
    • I don't know how well I did this in 2014, but I definitely didn't do it well enough in 2015 and the beginning of 2016. Got into petty arguments, didn't care what people thought ("if they're mad, let them be mad").
  • watching all of Orange Is the New Black. I haven't started it yet, but I hear it's a good show.
    • I did at the time. But now, I have yet to finish even Season 2. :(
  • finishing the rest of Community and Weeds. Bonus: get through at least the second and third season of Glee.
    • I believe I didn't finish either Community nor Weeds. I did get through season 2 and a part of season 3 of Glee, though.
  • getting a tattoo of an octopus or starfish on my shoulder or hip.
    • Still hasn't happened. I have a tattoo of Gyarados on my hip right now, though.
  • writing the lyrics to and recording my voice for at least three original tracks--one of which I'm going to be rapping on. I know, I've only ever presented myself as a pianist or singer, but I really admire spoken word and rap and want to learn more about it.
    • Nope. Too shy. :/
  • taking a walk by myself during a big thunderstorm around my neighborhood.
    • This seems like a really reckless goal? 2014 me, what were you gonna do if you got struck by lightning??
  • making a spontaneous trip to a beach by myself--probably Virginia Beach or Outer Banks or even Ocean City. Who knows? It'll be spontaneous, after all.
    • It was never spontaneous, but I have done several beach trips between 2014 and now, and with close friends :)
  • getting something (less controversial) published on ThoughtCatalog again.
    • I did! But it wasn't until 2016 that it happened.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lessons Learned while taking care of my dad. RIP 2.3.2017

After being my dad's caretaker for over a year--living with him for a couple of months, going to his house every day thereafter, medicating him, scheduling his appointments and taking him to them, cooking food to fit his dietary needs, trying to diminish his alcohol intake--there are many lessons, as I'm sure you could imagine, that I learned that I am eager to share with the people I love, and people in general.


  • To get the most cliche'ed one out of the way, it really is true--the grief comes in waves. I was pretty numb for the first week. The first morning that I woke up after dad's passing felt a little empty, and I could feel a hole in the world (no other way to put it), but otherwise it was a regular Saturday for the most part. But after the funeral, it really hit me. I wanted to cry yesterday night at my a cappella practice because I realized I didn't have to be in a rush to leave anymore to go to my dad's house. I cried at Giant on Monday when a coupon printed out for Ensure, which I always bought for my dad to try and get his protein and weight in check (he liked the chocolate High Protein variety). I cried today at work when I realized it's only (and already) been nineteen days since I lost my dad, and there's the rest of my life to go knowing that I'll never make new memories with or speak to him again. I'm sure I'll still be crying about random things years from now. The grief and loss never really go away; you just learn to grow around it.
  • Note: I am not, in any way, an estate lawyer, and this is not intended to be taken as legal advice. This is just my personal experience. Have a "Last Will & Testament" in place, all signed and notarized. Having a "Self-Proving Affidavit" is also useful; this would mean that the witnesses to the signing of the will do not have to be present when you file the will to be probated (i.e. to be validated and recognized by law/court at probate court, which is usually a division of a jurisdictional circuit court). Unless you're under 18, you're never too young to have a will in place, especially if you have kids. In the will, you should note that the executor(s) has the power to sell real estate, if you own any property and if you don't plan on specifying in the deed who the house should go to (i.e. in my dad's will, it was a generic "divide my assets among my two children in equal parts" statement, but you can't exactly divide a house in half). Also make sure that if you appoint more than one executor that the co-executors can act independently of each other; explicitly state this fact in the will. The independence is never assumed or implied. Due to this, my brother and I must act in unison--that is, both of us must be present at every interaction regarding our dad's estate. Kind of inconvenient! If you intentionally do or do not let co-executors act independently of each other (i.e. the convenience of being able to get things done twice as fast vs. them being able to check each other), make sure that they trust each other; fortunately, my brother and I do, and I can see there being an issue of people trying to go behind each other's backs otherwise. Also make sure you have passwords, PINs, safe combinations, and other such things accessible by someone you trust upon your passing. You may also want to consider putting someone's name on your assets and certain liabilities--bank accounts, insurance, mortgages, titles--to avoid the administrative tasks of transferring things.
  • Your attitude makes a world of a difference in the way you experience life, and for me, gratitude is the best attitude. I honestly think I'm doing as well as I am because of this. When my dad went into a coma, I had so many things to be angry and whiny about (in my opinion). Instead, I did something that I remember seeing another friend do on Facebook, with the hopes that my friends, too, would feel inspired: I decided to start listing three things I was thankful for every day, rather than griping about the misfortunes I was facing. So, even though my dad was in a coma, at least we had access to health care that was helping to rehabilitate him, and palliative care to ease his pain. I also live in a time where there are apps to help me communicate with people across the world; I used WeChat to tell my brother to come back, and he did, and he was the one who was able to wake our dad up just by calling for him. While I stayed overnight at the hospital for two weeks, I had blankets to keep me warm in the chilly room. Seeing my dad in his condition made me realize how much I take for granted the fact that I can walk and move freely on my own, that I can breathe with no impediments, that I can scratch that itchy spot on my back on my own, that I can eat and drink on my own with no restrictions apart from allergies. I also realize how fortunate I am to have a job that is so understanding of my circumstances and lets me telework or take off as many days as I need. As I did this type of daily exercise, I realized just how much more stuff there is to be thankful for. From access to clean water (I have enough water that I can let my shower "warm up" before I step in) to being able to watch my dad die a peaceful death (rather than a painful or sudden one), from shoes that protect my feet (no tetanus or abrasions on my feet) to decent weather on the day of my dad's funeral (it could have been raining or snowing or freezing or even windier), it really is a "glass half full" mentality that is getting me through this. Let's get this straight, though: just because someone has it worse does not mean you are not allowed to grieve. That's like saying that because someone has it better than you, you are not allowed to be happy. By all means, grieve; Lord knows I have been.
  • Good or bad, rich or poor, royalty or peasantry, smart or stupid, healthy or not, we will all meet the same end. I suppose, then, that it's really about who would want to come to your funeral to say goodbye. What community did you create in your life? Did you forge lasting bonds, or did you push people away? Were you kind and empathetic, or were you egoistic and bellicose? How did you participate in this shared experience of life?
  • Along with that, funerals are for the living. I understand that, as a pile of ashes, my dad may not be able to hear me. I understand that if a god does not exist, then nobody will hear or answer my prayers. I understand that my dad's spirit isn't literally clinging to my arm as I walk through the rest of my life without him. But I was there to see the people who came out to support me, to grieve my grieving of him, and I take comfort in the fact that I am, indeed, not alone.
  • You can only lead a horse to water. My dad was, for a vast majority of his life, an alcoholic (aren't most Koreans, on some level?). I could keep replacing the soju in his bottles with water, do a sniff test of every liquid in the house, take away his driver's license, take away his car keys, beg and plead with him to stop drinking...but he had a hidden stash somewhere I couldn't ever seem to find. He would call a taxi to get to the ABC store. He would send for an errand runner to buy it for him. He would scream at me until I cried and let go of the bottle I was about to throw away. I could do as much as I could in my own power, over my own agency, to stop him from abusing alcohol--but it was ultimately up to him whether he let the bottle touch his lips or not.
  • This is something that took me a while to learn, only because I felt so guilty about learning it. It’s important to take care of yourself, too. As much as my dad needed my help, there were times when I needed to just take time for myself. Just one night here and there not having to go to his house so I can go straight to sleep at night instead of driving 25 miles to his house, one night here and there where I hung out with my friends or boyfriend, one night here and there where I was just at home by myself watching TV with my dog. It was for my own sense of sanity. I truly burnt myself out in the whole “set myself on fire to keep someone else warm” sense, and I was destroying and neglecting myself while I was trying to put his needs before mine. But I am human. I am a person too, and I need care, too. Self-care is important.
  • Anger accomplishes nothing. At best, it will coerce or intimidate people into doing what you want them to. But at worst (and as is most common), it will break off once-meaningful relationships, deter people away from you, and really only hurt you in the end. I read in Anger Management for Dummies that anger fuels the "fight" in the "fight-or-flight" instinct we get when we are confronted with a threat. We are not animals of instinct anymore. We are beings of higher sentience. Let's act like it. Sure, use the fervor to fuel you into sharpened decision making or light a fire for some passionate belief. But do not inflict your anger upon other people. This past year has been a rehabilitative effort for me as I work to get my abrasive attitude and anger problems under my own control, and life is so much better (and things get done more easily) when I am not angry.
  • It is better to err on the side of compassion and care than neglect. That is, it's better to care too much than not care enough--especially if it ends up making a big difference in a life-or-death situation, or other drastic circumstance. I personally believe that the whole "you will regret what you don't say more than what you do say" thing is really true. That's why--especially as it seemed like dad's death was getting more and more imminent--I started speaking my mind more, despite my fear of retribution (our family has never been affectionate, and me speaking my mind has almost always been met with some sort of punishment). He needed to hear this. He needed to know I forgave him along time ago for his wrongdoings. He needed to know I love him. He needed to know that actions speak louder than words, and words can hit harder than fists. He needed to know that it is never too late, that even if he lives one more day, he can live that day right.
  • My dad led an unnecessarily painful life, and I attribute that to him being a broken person; he didn't know how to function as anything more than a shell or a reflection of a "normal" person. But people are not born broken. Something or someone breaks them along the way of life. I mentioned this in my eulogy, and I'm glad I did, because I was able to tell the people in attendance at my father's memorial that if they are to do just one favor for me, it is that they live a life of healing in a world full of broken people. Let's get this straight: being broken does not reflect that something is intrinsically wrong with you. If anything, it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself stronger, like torn muscle. I'm not ashamed to say that I, too, have been broken in many ways throughout my short 26 years of life so far. But so far, I have also survived 100% of the worst days of my life. I have conquered, I have learned, and, most importantly, I have deepened my empathy for people. 
  • I was a very, very devout Christian in my teenage years. Then, to be very honest, I took some epistemology and philosophy courses, and I became less Christian and moreso agnostic/theist. I don't believe there is absolutely nothing out there, but I also don't believe as wholeheartedly in the Christian rhetoric anymore, especially with the picture of God that the Bible paints; how is a Perfect God so angry, jealous, temperamental, and steadfastly ignoring of our pain? And I know to the still-devout Christian, I sound like a typical believer-led-astray-by-Satan case, or maybe just someone who isn't "listening when God speaks." But I digress. Before my dad's passing, I was ambivalent at best. Now, I almost feel like I have no choice but to believe. Maybe it's because I so strongly want to believe I'll see my dad again someday. Maybe it's because I want to know that we aren't trying to live righteous lives all for nothing but secular consequences. Maybe it's because I want to feel like I have a "purpose." Maybe I because I refuse to believe that human beings are the end-all, be-all to intelligence and knowledge and the whole universe's order. But my bottom line is this: losing a parent (or anyone close to you, really) shakes up your schema of the world. With such a loss, I think your mind actively works to try and make sense of the tragedy.
---

I would like to thank David T, who lost his own father back in November, for holding my hand through the rocky terrain of logistics and grieving that come with losing a parent. Who knew there was so much crap to take care of once someone passes away?! I would like to thank my brother, who made it back in time from Hong Kong to see our dad one last time so that dad wouldn't have to pass away never having seen his son again. I would like to thank my boyfriend Mason N, who, despite coming from a much more different background than mine, has been a wonderful source of understanding and emotional support. He was able to even bring my keyboard to the hospital so I could play and sing for my dad as he passed (which was, incidentally, both his first and last time that he's ever heard me play piano and sing), and that is a priceless memory I will never forget. I would like to thank Mr. Gam, my dad's friend, who has been an irreplaceable and invaluable source of friendship and reliability for my dad. I would like to thank everyone who has donated to my dad's YouCaring page (and special shout out to Jen Roh for suggesting I create one in the first place). I would like to thank my mother, who was able to transcend her own feelings about my father and come to the funeral to support me. I would like to thank everybody who came to visit me and my dad in the hospital; I have your names written down in my diary so I will never forget. I would like to thank everybody that was there in person and in spirit at my dad's funeral to help me say goodbye.

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to e-mail me at alicejpark90@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I will win.

Depression wins. Too often.

When I was struggling with depression, I didn't imagine a future for myself. I couldn't. It was impossible, in that mindset, to believe that there would ever be a future where things would stop being so shitty. It wasn't pessimism per se; it was just all I knew, this misery, this cloud that never lifted. A Plato's Cave of indifference. I could almost physically feel it--around my neck, on my shoulders, in my lungs, around my rib cage, on my eyelids. If things wouldn't stop being shitty, why continue into a shitty future? What if the future is even shittier than the shitty present? Even if I get over this shitty phase, another one will surely be upon me soon..?

Babies cry when they're even slightly uncomfortable because it's literally the worst thing they've ever felt in their short little lives. Crying doesn't seem to bring you the same catharsis as it did before, as you transition into maturity and learn about all the other glorious pains life has to offer.

Logic almost ruined me when I was depressed. My misery would beseech probability: if I've only been alive for 18 years and life is already this shitty, how much more shittiness is waiting for me in the next 18 years? Why extend pain--life--if I can just cut it short? I have no control over my emotions--why not take control over my life and what happens to it? I'm not good for anything anymore--what's the point of me staying around? Sure, in the short run, people might be sad, but in the long run, people will be okay, and they will be stronger for it, right?

Depression lied to me. It knew exactly which lies to tell me because it lived in my head, knowing what I would or wouldn't believe. It knew me. It was me. It knew everything I dreaded, everything I hate, everything I feared. It knew what happiness was, and it didn't allow happiness in. It didn't allow anything in, really. In a weird way, it actually comforted me and relieved me of a lot of my fears. Fear, after all, is a natural response you have to some stimulus that you think will threaten your life. Fear then rests of the assumption that you don't want to lose your life and that you value it. I didn't. I didn't flinch at loud noises. I didn't panic in emergencies. I stopped being afraid--and not at all in a courageous or willfully-determined sense. It was fearlessness in a most hopeless, void resignation.

Depression used my own thoughts and logic against me. I couldn't rely on instinct and emotions anymore; I had none left. It nested in my mind, and it fed on itself. I felt guilty for being depressed, and that guilt fed the depression further. I wanted to be able to magically obey my closest friends and start enjoying things and going out and liking myself again, but when I couldn't or didn't want to, I felt like a failure, and that shame fed the depression further. I know certain people got exasperated and annoyed with me, and even downright cut me out of their lives because they couldn't handle the burden of me being the way I was. That's what I was--a burden. This only strengthens the argument that I might be doing some good by committing suicide. I can't be mad at the people who left. They have their own problems, after all. They don't follow the same logic that I do. They don't know. And that made me feel even more alone.

Suicide in the face of depression is not cowardly nor selfish. Suicide is the logical answer that I arrived at when I was depressed. I was not afraid of anything, and I was only thinking of the good it may have ended up doing to others. I couldn't even think enough of myself to be selfish. Perhaps people would band together in camaraderie and mourning, and I would create something beautiful in the wake of my death. Perhaps people will be relieved that I am gone. But suicide is not to be romanticized in any way.

Depression is not just sadness. Please don't look at it as attention-seeking or determined pessimism. Please don't dismiss it as a phase or inferiority. If you would rather sneer and turn away and be absorbed in your own certainty that you know what's right for a depressed individual without even wanting to understand them, then it is you who are cowardly and selfish.

Stop the negative stigma of antidepressants and therapy and psychiatry and psychology to treat depression. Depression has symptoms; it has treatments that may not always work; it has fatalities; and it deeply affects and even debilitates people. It is like any other serious illness. We should treat it like one. And just like any other serious illness, depression requires medical attention. Suicide is, as Robin Williams says, a permanent answer to temporary questions and problems. It's so unfortunate that he could not let himself take his own advice.

I am winning. There are days when I feel I am losing, fading. But I will win, so long as I fight.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I'm okay. It's okay.

It's like a silent panic. Like I'm underwater, and any struggle on my part is only going to hurt me. I feel very alone.

I do have both parents, living (for now). They got divorced when I was 6, and communicated solely out of necessity through written letters. I do have a sibling. He is a half-brother, on my dad's side, 20 years my senior. He is turning 46 in two months, and our dad may not be alive to wish him a happy birthday. I do have aunts and uncles and cousins on my dad's side of the family. My dad removed himself from them 22 years ago, when Uncle June--his older brother--pulled the plug on my comatose grandmother. "You killed our mother," Dad said. "For that, I will never forgive you." 

In those 22 years, his older sister (Aunt Jannie), his older brother (Uncle June), and one of his nephews (cousin Tom--uncle June's youngest son) passed away. All from cancer. Jannie's was brain tumors. June's was esophageal, and later, lung. Tom's was pancreatic. 

Dad's is liver.

I do have friends around to help me, too. Friends who will link arms with me as I walk through our family's go-to funeral home to plan out my dad's cremation. Friends who will refer me to family lawyers upon me realizing that dad doesn't have a living will. Friends who will walk me through the legalese of death and the dying: durable power of attorney, Medicare coverage of in-home hospice care, acquiring death certificates to close accounts. Friends who will come by my dad's house to fix our internet so I can work from his house as I stay with him for the remainder of his days. 

Yet I have never felt so alone. My brother is somewhere not in this country, and I can only communicate with him via email and sporadic texting. My remaining aunt and uncle--dad's younger sister and brother--are too wary of coming to see my dad, given their vicious separation 22 years ago. My mom doesn't know any more than I do about the logistics of death; she can't help me any more than I can help myself. Dad has no friends; he has managed to push away every single person in his life, except for me. Because, ironically, I am like him. I am stubborn. I will not be pushed away. 

I feel so much more alone each time a phone call to a friend goes unanswered. I feel so much more alone when I ask someone a question about lawyers and wills and hospice care and they simply say, "I don't know." I feel so much more alone now that it's the holidays and lawyers need breaks, too, so they're not picking up my calls, even if I somehow got a direct line to their personal number. I feel so much more alone when my brother responds twelve hours later to a question I ended up figuring out the answer to ten hours beforehand.

But I can't imagine how lonely my dad must feel. 

I have many amazing friends. I am very fortunate. I am, in fact, not alone. This is just something I have to do on my own, I guess. I just wish there was a mom or sibling or close friend of his to also share this emotional (and legal) burden with. But I'm okay. 

It's unsettling to see your own dad cry. Your dad, who used to frighten you with his loud voice and drunken slurs and hurtful hands. "There's nothing to be scared of anymore," Mom said. I stopped being scared of him years ago, I assured her. He is but a frail shell of the man he used to be. At 90 pounds, with hair falling out, missing a toe, sporting a bloated belly from gastrointestinal problems, barely able to sit and stand on his own, there's nothing to be scared of--except his mortality. It all became apparent when he started crying in front of me today. And in that moment, he was just a little boy to me. Not the intimidating, cold person I had resigned to accepting as my father, but a scared little boy. He apologized to me. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I was a bad person. I'm sorry you missed out on a father's love. I'm sorry I was such a bad father. I'm sorry," he sniffled. I kept my tears in, by some miraculous effort on my part. 

My dad shouldn't die believing he was a bad person and that nobody loves him. He was good to me in his own way. Or at least, he tried his hardest. For that, I love him. He just never could get ahold of his temper and anger. Broken people are like that, I suppose. And if it wasn't for the way he raised me, I wouldn't be the independent, self-motivated person that I am today. I have my flaws, but I like who I am for the most part, and it's because of him. Yes, my dad was temperamental and easily-infuriated and emotionally stunted and was an alcoholic, but I know he loves me and wishes he could have done more, or so I'd like to believe He was highly misunderstood and very, very particular about how things should go and how people should behave. Listening to his apology made my heart ache for him. I don't want him to die like this. Not like this. "That's not true," I said. "You were good to me. Look! I'm happy and I'm healthy. I grew up well. Don't be sorry to me. I'm okay," I smiled. "It's okay."

He looked at me and wiped away his tears. "Really?" He asked, like a child looking for reassurance that things will be okay. "I've still wronged your brother. Your mother. Your brother's mother. Everyone..." I think he notices as much as I do that nobody is by his side as he dies, other than myself.

We have never been an affectionate family. At least, not past my early childhood. I remember him doing very loving things. Always taking me crabbing and to the aquarium and to kings dominion. Singing "Oh My Darling Clementine" and "사랑은..." to me. Letting me play a game with him where I would step on his shadow and he would yell "ouch!" and pretend to be hurt. But at some point, every "merry Christmas," "happy birthday," and "I love you" to him started to be answered with a stiff and slightly embarrassed "okay." But I know that's his way of saying, "You too." It's okay. 

Close friends, as I leak the news, are asking how I'm doing, that they are sorry. 

I'm okay. It's okay. 


Thursday, April 9, 2015

How adulthood is slowly steeping into my life

When I check a guy out, I look at his left ring finger. I didn't have to worry about this before.

The thing I most look forward to at the beginning of each day is the end of that same day when I can be back in bed to fall asleep. I wearily groan at the number of hours left in the day before this can happen.

I've started noticing age thresholds and requirements. 24 years old max for Miss America pageant? 25 years minimum to rent a car without all the excessive fees? 26 years old max to be under my parent's health insurance? 25 years old minimum to be a House Representative? 30 years old minimum to be a Senator? 35 years old minimum to be a president? That's ridiculously young. Wasn't there a time when I thought 35 was incomprehensibly old? Also, the demographic surveys that ask for your age in range intervals... You're either 17-24 or 25-33 or 34-45 or 46-55 or just plain old "55+". What the fuck.

I find myself actually laughing at 'jokes' that 'older people' tell in speeches and meetings and at the office. Is my sense of humor fading with my youth?

I have an Excel spreadsheet with a budget plan, delegating my money down to the dollar for car insurance, renters insurance, rent, phone bill, cable, electricity, groceries, savings (yeah right), lunches, and "other expenses" for the next six months, denoting when I get paid, when I can expect extra income, and when I can expect to maybe get caught speeding and have to pay off a ticket.

I monitor my credit score.

Anybody 16 and younger disgusts me with their rude manners and tactlessness and stunted social skills and dependency on technology.

I don't know any of the new pokemon. Not even the starters. Not even the region. Is Ash Ketchum still the protagonist on the show? Or is it a new guy?

There are 'listicles' coming out about the decade I grew up in.

I am suddenly very aware of my fertility and the fact that I am, indeed, not getting any younger. I start half-considering freezing my eggs, or maybe even selling them. I then start considering whether I want kids at all.

I get excited about savings, discounts, coupons, and deals.

I have more business/formal clothing and dresses than casual clothing. And I like it.

I play around with facial expressions in the mirror to see if I have any new wrinkles.

I pay attention to commercials and infomercials.

I say "when I was your age" to my friends' younger siblings and to my cousins' kids.

I'm actually not completely terrified to network and socialize with people in a professional setting. I don't know when it happened, but I suddenly have the confidence and self-assurance to talk to people without panicking or feeling awkward.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where are you?

Growing up, I had a dysfunctional family. Who doesn't, right? Still, I feel I was deprived of the sense of "family" during my childhood more than my friends were. My parents divorced when I was just entering the first grade. My older half-brother, who was 20+ years my senior, moved out of my house after an altercation with our dad when I was just four or five years old, and I wouldn't see him for at least another decade. I only met my mom's side of the family once, as they all live in Korea; to this day, I don't know who all of my uncles, aunts, and cousins are in Korea. My dad forbade me from ever seeing his side of the family, and I never dared question why he hated them so much. I just obeyed.

Still, mama knew me better than I knew myself, and knew that I would one day crave for a sense of family, if I wasn't already. She went behind my dad's back to get me to start seeing his side of the family. The matriarch of the family, aunt Jannie, who I rarely ever saw. The eldest male in the family, uncle June, who potty-trained me and sympathized with me about my dad and "his ways." The youngest male in the family, my "little dad," who owned a popular restaurant in one of the biggest Asian marts in northern Virginia. The youngest female in the family, Kathy, who sadly gets dubbed as "the crazy one" and the drama queen of the family.

Aunt Jannie passed away from brain tumors in 2004. It was at her funeral that I was re-united with my own brother, and the first time I hung out with all of my cousins as a "grown-up" and not just as a child. We played poker, they let me have some beers, and my brother won me some seed money for college in poker. I would start seeing the family more regularly--and not just during the 4th of July and New Years--for the next few years. Then, I went off to college and spoke to nobody but my mom. I never heard from my brother, I heard from my dad maybe once or twice a year, and I was once again only reunited with my cousins during the 4th of July and New Years.

I graduated college after four years of learning just how selfish/selfless I am, how much I want to belong somewhere, how much I crave love & affection from friends and family, and how I can drive myself into madness with thoughts of loneliness and remorse. Shit happened during those four years. I lost quite a few friends, I gained many more, I learned secrets about still others that had been my friends this entire time that I was oblivious to. I was ostracized, I was celebrated, I was hated, my character was questioned (by both others and myself), and I was still loyal (to others, but not to myself). I lost myself, but found myself in the way I care for the people in my life. I lost myself again when I realized I care too much for the other people in my life and not enough for myself. I pushed myself. I took things for granted, and appreciated them when I lost them and promised myself I would learn more about gratitude as I entered the real world.

Graduation day, mom told me about you. And I realized just how mortal we all are.

Certain things stopped being important. I don't care if that boy loves me or not anymore. I don't care what that girl is saying about me to her sorority. I don't care if plans are cancelled, because I have somewhere more important to be anyway. I don't care if I have to spend a ton of money on gas to drive 90 miles to Maryland and back just to catch a feeble dozen crabs. I don't care if I got three useless degrees from university, because your degree was useless, too, and you still did very well in life. I don't care if much of our time together was spent in silence, watching television and drinking beer. I don't care that you never asked for anything in return, because I still wish I could have done more.

Where are you? Why are you gone? How did this happen to you? You were the best one out of all of us. Can you come back, somehow?

You were the protective, funny, street smart, cool-but-dumb, don't-fuck-with-my-family older brother that I had always wanted. Of all of us, why did you have to go? Why wasn't it me? It could have been any of us. The illness clearly runs in our family. Why was it you? Where are you? Can you hear me?

After you left us, I started working in food service. I know you would have given me so much shit for that: "Why is your life going ass backwards? You're going from working in government to serving food? Can you at least hook me up? What's good there?" And then upon learning that we had no seafood or barbecue dishes, you would have scoffed and walked out. Your dad passed away two months later, following you to the afterlife, a father going after his son. Is there an afterlife? Where are you? Can you hear me?

I then picked up a job in retail. You would have still given me shit for delving further into the service industry, but then begrudgingly would have told me you respect my work ethic and that "you gotta do what you gotta do to get by." I was working 60-70 hours a week dealing with other people so I wouldn't have to deal with myself and my grief. My dad didn't show up to either your nor your dad's funerals, by the way.

I got a job with the government around a month ago. Sub-contractor, actually. You would have given me shit for that, too. "You suck so much that you can't even work for a contractor for the government, but you work for a contractor for a contractor for the government? What's wrong with you?" You were such an asshole. You had a way of making fun of me for absolutely everything, and I loved you for it. Any time I fucked up in life in the past few years, I would tell you, and you would just laugh. You would help me realize that mistakes are just funny stories you can tell to people in the future (and to your cousin with cancer that will make you sheepishly realize that things could be worse). You helped me see the humor in life. You would sometimes tell me about your own similar fuck-ups--which actually ended up being worse than mine--which made me feel better. There was one fuck-up of mine where you didn't even want to know details, because you knew I was so ashamed, and it was no poking-fun matter. But you helped me out anyway, shoving a wad of cash in my hand and telling me not to worry about it. And I knew you knew what it was. But neither of us spoke about it out loud, and that's when I really started to get who you were as a person.

You were the one that really helped me feel like I finally had a family. You brought us together. You always talked shit at poker nights while smoking your cigars, wearing those stupid sunglasses, bragging about how you've got a huge dong. I knocked you down a peg, when you referred to your manhood as a "Jimmy Dean bratwurst," by replying: "I think you mean Vienna Sausage." Weirdly enough, I think this is when you started to respect me--when 15-year old me made an unexpected dick diss.

I have more time to myself now. I've quit my retail job. I only work about 60 hours a week now, but 40 of those hours are a desk job where I honestly have nothing to do, and so I am left alone with my thoughts--the thoughts I refused to acknowledge about your absence, about uncle's absence, about dad's self-alienation from the family, about the evanescence of life. And I've been fucking up a lot lately with friends and my mom and finances and job stuff and friends and ambition.

I need you to laugh at me again. Where the fuck are you?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Rest In Peace, 'Donger.'

You wouldn't think that when you hold your baby as he takes his first breath, you would one day be holding him as he takes his last breath. It's not something I've ever considered, at least.

It was my college graduation day--May 11, 2012--when my mom told me that cousin Tom has cancer. What kind? I asked, as if there were any good kind of cancer I could hope for. She didn't know how to translate it from Korean into English. 췌장암, she said.

Pancreatic cancer.

When I returned back home from school, I started visiting Tom every weekend I could. Sometimes just to watch Nats and Redskins games with him, sometimes just to play with his dog, and sometimes to eat some good old seafood with him. Why did it have to take cancer to bring us closer together? Nonetheless, I'm glad he got to taste some Hot N Juicy and Chasin' Tails cajun seafood before he went, and that I also got to bring him some live catch of my own.

"He's in a better place now," people tell me. Where is he? And how is it better? As someone who doesn't believe in a heaven nor hell nor nirvana nor any other sort of life after life, this consolation means almost nothing to me, but I wish it did. It's times like this that I wish I believed.

"You were so good to him," Aunt Kathy tells me--the youngest aunt in the Park family. "I know you were." I felt like I didn't do enough, though. And I know there were others who did more for him. I could have taken him to a Nationals or Redskins game. I could have taken him with me to my crabbing and fishing trips. I could have done a Marvel movie marathon with him and watched some stand-up comedy with him. But I didn't. When his mom and Aunt Kathy and others tell me that I was "good to him," I feel like I am being commended in a way a helpless child could be commended for chipping in loose change to help pay a mortgage.

He is 19 years my senior; most of the Park cousins are considerably older than me and had grown up together, and I was the baby. My very first memory of Tom is when I went over to his house to visit my aunt and uncle with my mom, just a little after my parents had divorced. He walked over to me and stuck his foot in my face and then laughed when I got scared; I thought that he was going to smother me with it. Always the jokester. He continued making us laugh even after he was gone. As we were going through his things, one of the very first things we found were two very--let's say, explicit--DVDs in his top drawer. James handed them to me before I knew what they were and said, "Do you want these?" Also, I myself have been known to steal stupid things--giant stuffed toys from Kings Dominion, dinnerware from my campus dining halls, souvenirs from vacation spots. Imagine my amusement when we were going through his things, and I saw two green fold-up chairs in his closet and room that very clearly said "Patriot Center" on them--from his alma mater, George Mason University. I also found a sketchbook with drawings by his 14-year old self. They were actually pretty decent. He and I are more similar than I thought. On the paddle he got from his fraternity, which was placed on his casket, I learned that his nickname was 'Donger.' I'm not sure why, but it somehow seems appropriate.

While he was battling his illness, there were a good amount of times when we thought he was reaching his end. Whether he was particularly beat up from chemotherapy, or when his stent had a blockage and he vomited everything he tried to keep down, or occasions when he got delusional and unaware of his surroundings. But each time, he somehow pulled through, and the next time I would see him, he would be his usual snarky self, laying on the couch watching TV with his dog while his brother James cooked some spicy pork outside on the grill. He was invincible. I got used to thinking that no matter how horrible his condition got, he would recover. I foolishly thought there would always be more time. Only, last week, he decided he couldn't fight anymore. He was done. He got to play one last round of poker with our cousins and his friends. He got to have a proper farewell with a lot of people. He requested that "Amazing Grace" be sung at his viewing, and I hope I did it justice--although I'm sure if he were alive to witness it, he would have told me that I sucked and booed me off the stage.

I was afraid of asking him out of the fear of offending him, but I finally did, because others have wondered the same thing when I tell them about him: "Why have you been fighting for so long? What makes you want to keep living?" He had no wife, no kids, and I guess for some people, if you don't have those things, then you don't really have anything to live for. Of course, they would be wrong. He had his cousins, his brother, his adorable niece Alexis. He had his mother, who was holding his hand in her sleep when she awoke to his grip loosening as he passed away; she wailed "my baby, my baby" over his body through the morning. He had his father, who collapsed on the front porch as he watched the coroners cart the body away. He had his friends, his Alpha Chi Rho fraternity brothers, his job. He had all the people that showed up to his viewing, funeral, and burial ceremonies. Indeed, when I asked him why he was holding on, he responded by saying, "Alexis. I was fighting for her. But I can't do it anymore." It's damn near miraculous that he made it over two years with pancreatic cancer, and I am in awe of his resilience.

I think of all the could-have-been's. Having been a bachelor all his life, would he have found love and settled down if it wasn't for the cancer? Would he have liked Kevin Hart and Louis C.K.? If he ever did meet any boyfriend of mine, would he really have given them a "beat down," as he always threatened to do whenever he thought I was dating somebody? "He better treat you right, or we'll give him a beat down."

They simplified his life so much in the funeral program. August 27, 1971: born in Korea. 1977: immigrated to the United States. Elementary/Middle/High school. George Mason University (English Major). Work at a bank. Work at a mortgage company. August 28, 2014: deceased at 5:20am. There was so much more to him than that (as there is to anybody, of course). The district, regional, and state wrestling championships he participated in and won. The countless people he helped out that were in trouble by giving them all sorts of money and resources without expecting anything in return--myself included. The Treasurer and Vice President positions he held with Alpha Chi Rho. The crass dick jokes. The amazing shrimp barbie recipes. The surprising secret artistic abilities. So many other things that I myself will never get to know about him firsthand.

At his viewing, his mother wept at his casket while his father repeated, "It should have been me, I should have gone first." It will take an eternity for me to forget my aunt's cries of "my baby, my poor son" over his body.

The day I found out from James that Tom's condition was rapidly deteriorating, it had been almost two months since I had last seen him. You always think there would be more time. How did I let almost two months go by? I am a fool. I am a coward.

Last Tuesday, August 26, I went to his house as soon as I got the word from James. "Good to see you," Tom greeted me while he was drinking some soup. I tried to contain my shock at his 80-pound frame. He looked like a skeleton with skin stretched over his bones. I kept him company in his room while we watched the Nats game, and that's when he started to lose it.

"Hey, is the game on?" he asked, his eyes closed. I was confused, and didn't realize what was happening to his mental state..
"Yes...? We're watching it right now," I replied, worried. He stayed silent.
Then, a few moments later: "Oh, man, do you need anything? Are you okay?" he said, his eyes half-open.
"What?" I laughed. "Do you need anything? You're the one with cancer, man."
He paused and then chuckled. "Wait, sorry. I thought you were in labor just now. Must be hallucinating," he mumbled. More silence. Suddenly, he started rambling on in gibberish and groaning, and I cried openly in front of him, knowing he wasn't aware of it and thusly couldn't make fun of me like he had in the past when I cried for him. I caught the words "plastic Indian" and "sing sang sung steam," but didn't make sense of much else--not that those phrases in themselves make any sense.

I couldn't stay to watch him anymore, but he was slowly regaining his coherence. I walked over to him and told him I would be back the next day, and that we would watch some Louis C.K., as he had never heard of him before. He groaned in agreement--I think. Then, something I had never said to him before--something I rarely say to people in general, but especially anybody in the Park family, because they (we) all think lovey-dovey stuff is cringe-worthy: "I love you." Gratifyingly enough, I got an "I love you, too," in return.

The next day, Wednesday, August 27, I went to his house. It was his 43rd birthday. He was bedridden for most of the day. I went to his room, sat down next to him, and placed a hand on his sharp hip bone. His hand slowly reached over to meet mine, and though he couldn't speak, the gesture spoke volumes. Later, while I was in his living room with his parents and friends and brother, we heard him hop out of bed. He appeared in the hallway right outside of his room, saw us, and said, "What's going on?" We looked at each other in surprise.
"It's your birthday! This is your party!" we exclaimed. He grinned like a little kid, then went back into his room. Seeing him in the hallway was a harrowing view; with no shirt on, we could count each rib, each vertebrae.

Thursday, August 28. I woke up to a voicemail from James. "My brother has passed away. My mom says he went around 5:10, 5:20." I will never forget how cold Tom's skin felt on my lips as I kissed his forehead before his body was taken away.

I will live twice as hard for him. I don't have room for fear or apprehension or awkwardness or anxiety anymore. And there will always be room for tomfoolery (how apt of a word!).

If there is a heaven, I would like to think he's feeling "aw shucks"-abashed at how many people are mourning his death and how many people cried at his funeral. There's probably unlimited cajun seafood up there, with lots of steak and cigars and football and wrestling and fishing and poker.