A few minutes ago, one of my Twitter friends asked a really great question.
My answer actually surprised me. A lot.
Having grown up in extreme poverty, I’ve always almost worn it on my sleeve with a profound sense of pride. Mostly because I was able to do things everyone said I couldn’t. I was/am proud of my accomplishments. I overcame a lot to get to a place of comfort. Not riches, mind you, just comfort.
Because of many other things that happened in my life, I never pursued money. I pursued knowledge. And the price of big paychecks never appealed to me. I’ve never respected people with money. In fact, I have a lot of disdain for them–which has both served me and gotten in my way.
A few years back, after thinking I’d left that old life behind–that I was finally stable and could breathe–I had some major financial setbacks. It was every worst nightmare I’d ever had since crawling out of all of it. I didn’t think I’d survive it. It tore up my entire sense of identity. But, in a strange way, it also rebuilt it and made me a lot better at working and staying true to me. I was really fortunate to get back on my feet, and I found a new confidence I never thought I had. I became unshakably convinced that I could survive anything. And it also made me rethink the things I used to think about work and money.
For me, money has always been a necessary evil. I’ve often wished for more so life would be less complicated. I have conflicting views about work and its connection to money. For my parents, and my grandparents, money was a means to an end. It meant we survived or we didn’t. Lacking money meant suffering indignities and working harder than most people could imagine. Work was the way to get money. It didn’t matter what you did–just that you did something that brought in enough to pay the bills. On-time. That’s it.
Work was not your life. It was not something you did into the wee hours. It was not worthy of overtime or mental anguish. It was getting up every day at 6 am, leaving at 7 am, and coming home at 5 pm. You didn’t make friends with your co-workers. You endured it. That’s it. And when you left, that’s when your real life began. Simple.
I was never of that school. For me, money meant I got what I needed. It meant I could learn. It meant I was exposed to people and places and things I’d never see if I didn’t have money. You worked to get money, sure–but working hard was also payment…in an odd way. Work meant approval. It meant exploring ideas and seeing what your talents were. It meant being seen.
I’ve never really liked work, but masochist that I am–I really like working once I’m stuck there. I find myself having a good time, in spite of all of it. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I like challenges. Mostly, I like doing things. No one has to tell me what to do. If I’m there, I’ll work hard. It’s who I am. If I’m loyal to you–if you’ve been kind–I will run myself into the ground to help you. If you’ve disrespected me, I’ll work as hard as a normal person–but trust that it’s not my normal–and you could get a lot more if you just said thank you.
My mother used to say I care too much. About what others think of me. About what I’m doing and what it all means. About the things things aren’t. I don’t like doing just anything. I like to know why. If I can connect to it, I’m happy. If I feel like a robot, I’m not.
I’ve struggled most of my life to find my calling. That right thing that would fill me up. That thing that wouldn’t feel hard. That thing that would pay my bills without stealing my life. I’ve made mistakes in this. I’ve compromised too much, only to believe too much in things that weren’t mine. Only to stumble into things that made sense. And then compromise for the meantime because there is always more work to do before I’m at the top of the stairs.
A girl’s gotta eat. And not die.
I don’t know what the answers are for me. I’d like to think I do, and that I’m doing them.
I am not ashamed of my past poverty–or even afraid of it anymore–though it took me a very long time to be able to say that. And that poverty? Well, it still lives inside me and can cut me sometimes if I’m not careful. Poverty can trick you into thinking you’re something you’re not. And it can make others believe it too.
I’m still amazed by how insidious it is.
It is not noble to be poor. Sometimes, I think I thought that. That I was somehow a better person just for that reason. But, I’ve learned there are some nice rich folk with morals who aren’t so bad. Though I probably will judge them when I first meet them.
There is nothing wrong with money or having enough. There is nothing wrong with admitting being poor is terrifying, and you’d rather have money. Because it opens doors and gives you choices. I will admit that.
I’d never exchange my life for some rich person’s. I gained so much knowledge of human nature and myself. But I wish it would have been easier for my Mama. I wish all of it wasn’t so hard and didn’t linger like moldy cheese. I wish I could help people who are in the situation I used to be in.
I don’t believe in either/or anymore. I don’t believe that work is everything or nothing. I believe, maybe foolishly, that I can work hard and still take a lunch break. And it will be okay. Though a past me probably objects. Vehemently. I don’t believe I have to hate my job to earn a living if it’s not my purpose. I think you can do things just because you need to, and it’ll be okay. But if you set yourself up to hate it, you absolutely will. I believe that–if something really does matter to you–but pays you nothing and doesn’t take care of you–it’s probably not what you’re meant to do. And if it really is something you’re meant to do–you will find a way to use it to meet your needs. Sometimes, it takes time and creativity. And working 14 hour days. But you can change what your life is like. You just have to figure out what the needs are and ask the Universe to meet them.
I say all of this at the end of one of the worst weeks of my professional life. I’m working a job to get me somewhere else. And I don’t mind it–or, at least, I haven’t minded it for the better part of a couple years. But life changes, and you find yourself elsewhere–and you have to change, too. All of this stuff lands on you when you’re not standing up inside yourself. And, for many reasons, I haven’t been. But I did yesterday and today. And I changed things inside myself and rethought this in between. And let’s just say more change is coming. And it may actually surprise me. And it may make the rest of it make sense.
I had the urge earlier today to write something in tribute to my Mama. To tell you about her. But haven’t I been doing that every single day since she left me?
I had the urge to write a letter to her. But what more can I say–what can I say that I haven’t said already?
And how, exactly, do you convey how important someone’s existence was to you?
I don’t know. For me, there is not intentional anything here. Every moment of my life, I simply live it: a humble–yet healthy–dose of gratitude for that woman who fought for me every single day of my life–even before she knew I could exist.
I could tell you all these stories about her–stories that would make you love her in some weaker way than I do. Because who could love her more than me?
I could describe all the million things I loved about her. But, some ways, that would diminish her.
My life, truth be told, is just one big conversation with–about–for–her.
I guess that’s all I really need to say.
The weekend is slowly inching away, and I’m already feeling Monday’s unwanted arrival. I’m a little exhausted. Yesterday was my first real “outing” since my surgery–other than medical appointments. We ended up in my old neighborhood–for a breakfast of banh mi and mango boba. Then, to one of the local Asian markets for boba I can make myself, at home (since I’ve been craving them so much lately). I can’t really walk long distances or stand for long periods of time right now, so I ended up eating my food in the parking lot–people-watching–while J went in.
I’ve been missing home for a while now. It’s been worse since my surgery. That feeling of familiarity and comfort is what seems to motivate it. It was nice to sit in the parking lot–watching a little boy doing tai chi…an old man–all bent over–conversing with his daughter in Vietnamese…and the people driving insane hoopties through the parking lot. Such a departure from the life I have been living–where everyone is so generic and mannered. It was nice to feel the breeze on my face–even if I couldn’t browse the huge tea aisle or spend hours trying to identify obscure products.
We then went up to Boulder, for the farmer’s market, and got stuck in traffic. At first, we thought it was the construction on 36–or maybe graduation weekend–but then noticed the traffic got better after we passed a bunch of cows. We joked that everyone was slowing down to look at all the cows. Welp–as it turns out–these were fugitive cows on the lam.
Boulder was crowded. Even with many of the students gone. It was a gorgeous day. I got a tie-dye bandana. Because: Boulder. We stopped at Pekoe for more boba–jasmine milk tea this time–my current fave. And then, we went to Estes–stopping at the pie store for cherry pie–as always–hoping the sky would stop with the rain. It rained a lot yesterday–but mostly off and on, with rainbows.
Despite Trail Ridge’s closure, we had a pretty good time–touring some burn areas and seeing quite a few magpies, elk, and deer. It made me want to go camping and reminded me of the close association between life/death–and how beautiful the tragic can be. Around mid-day, I was pretty much a zombie, so we cut it all short and came home. Which was also interesting because whatever dam I’ve built up these past few weeks seemed to break a bit. I rounded out the night by watching the original Great Gatsby, asleep before it was even over.
At 4 am, my phone starting buzzing–practically nonstop. Forty bizarre texts and two missed calls later, I was pretty annoyed–called the person in question–talked to him to see if he was okay and was convinced he was high or unbelievably drunk. He assured me he was okay. I was pretty pissed about the whole thing. Especially since sunrise happened a few minutes later, and I was definitely not going back to sleep.
Hours later, we started unraveling the puzzle of his last night and can only think he was roofied at a local bar. He had random scrapes on him and looked like he’d been punched in the face. He also couldn’t seem to string thoughts together–hours later–and is missing most of last night from his memory. Scary shit.
Oh, and our power went out, too–which also pissed me off because some construction peeps caused it again. This pretty much happens every weekend, so I wasn’t’ really amused. SO, I’m a bit tired and unnerved. And, then–of course–it’s Mama’s Day. Which isn’t exactly easy.
For Mama’s Day, I wanted to share some photos from yesterday. There’s too many to post all of them, so there will be more in a few days. It’s been a while since I’ve taken photos with my DSLR. (I actually almost forgot how to change lenses!). Here’s hoping your day is going a bit better than mine, and you can actually hug your Mama today. If you can’t, consider this a big ole hug from someone who gets it. <3
Boulder sky, on the way home.
RMNP. People milling about after gawking at elk.
New Saigon has added a quick casual version of its longtime sit-down restaurant. A big gentrified, but still good. Great bread.
Doggy at the Boulder Farmer’s Market.
Renegade cows in Boulder’s Open Space, just off 36.
Child’s memorial on Alameda.
Man walking down Federal, a fairly common sight. Even in winter. A pedestrian was hit and killed about two miles north of here later in the day.
My father’s favorite bar used to be near here. Federal is full of billboards–at least, now, they’re advertising higher ed and not liquor.
The sit-down part of New Saigon. Remodeled since I’ve been here last. Nice to see they’re making some money.
Adorable doggy on Broadway.
Lady walking across Broadway. We left right when all the yoga classes let out.
! ! !
Okay, I wish I could figure out how to make all of the above bigger and sparkly, but my brain is completely fried.
I’ve been on the phone all day today, and I’m still going strong. A week’s worth of work in one day? Heck yes. Outpacing my whole team in one day? Heck yes.
But it’s Friday, and HOLY HELL did I need it to be Friday.
So, that’s all you’re getting from me. A big fat smile. Just squint and then stretch your eyeballs really big and it’ll almost be as big as the smile on my face.
And, yes, I AM silently cackling.
Like a ninja.
Or a hermit crab.
With a cape.
I might drink an actual beer today (yay, peche lambic!) and I’m definitely eating a beautiful grilled cheeseburger with sriracha and bacon aioli. And, perhaps–if I feel fancy–some PIE.
This will be my first beer of this year. I am slightly scared. Tomorrow: Boulder and the farmer’s market. And pictures. Whee. I get to leave the apartment!!
Take that, surgical scars.
It happened in December of 2004.
She died–passed. All those words that mean she is just not here.
Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with people who have survived the loss of their parents. All of us walk around this planet with war wounds, trying desperately to figure out what our lives are about now–who we are now–who we can be now…how we can continue without them.
For me, my Mama was everything. My best friend. My constant ally and cheerleader. A big pain in my ass, too. But someone who witnessed every part of who I was–good, bad, amazing, ugly, perfect. She was there for every moment that meant something, and most of the ones that didn’t too.
Until a few days before my Mama actually got sick, the idea of her being human–vulnerable, truly sick–never ever crossed my mind. I was a naive 26 year old, still wet behind the ears (as she often said), and I had enough knowledge to navigate many different places. But, in the end, I relied on my Mama for so many things. Her leaving left a massive hole, and–nearly nine years later (wow)–I’m still grasping.
I tell people it will never be okay. It won’t get better or easier. I will miss her every day of my life–notice that she’s not here–want to share something with her. Not even one day. Missing her accompanies every shitty moment and every amazing moment. It doesn’t matter. I tell people it gets different.
Every day, every year–Hell, sometimes every hour. I have no idea how I’ll feel about things that were okay a year ago or even yesterday. The grief surges and reclines at its own whim. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. In fact, often, the more time that passes, the worse it feels.
I am better at coping with it, though. I am (usually) able to feel it coming. On those days when I feel off and don’t know why, I hibernate–if I can. I have tools that make the feelings easier to swallow.
But sometimes, it still gets me when I don’t expect it. When I have no idea it’s coming.
When I went to bed last night, I wasn’t really thinking of Mama. Or anything except decompressing from one helluva shitty day. I was exhausted. I vaguely remembered Mama’s Day was coming this Sunday–but only because I started getting Mama’s Day emails several days ago from retailers (and eff you to the people who write those emails–seriously–so insensitive). It didn’t bother me. I might have bristled about the unwanted email before hitting unsubscribe, but other than that–unlike many other years–it didn’t sit with me.
And yet, I dreamt about her–something bizarre. The bizarre dreams are rare nowadays and having her in my dream–face-to-face for a long time…the star…welp…that’s also rare. Of course, I woke up a second before my alarm. Then, the roomie came in to make sure I heard my alarm. And I growled about sleeping 15 more minutes. Only no one would let me get those 15. I wanted so much to see her again–to go back to sleep for 15 minutes and see her.
I finally gave up, realizing that 15 minutes of some projected fantasy produced in my brain wouldn’t make her any less dead. I was too awake for that.
But it stuck with me today–through yet another aggravating day…and I realized that I dreamt about her because I’m starved for that relationship–for feeling that close to someone. Not much I can do about it, but there it is: another reason to grieve.