Broken Dream(er)s

For the sake of this exercise, let’s say you are 5 years old.

You have the early memories of this cool uncle: the one you hear all the good stories of, who takes you to places you haven’t seen before. After spending some time with him, you realize that he is beyond suitable to nurture your potential and cater to your needs. When you’re around him, it feels safe. It feels right. It feels like home.

You sheepishly ask him if you can stay with him longer. He says maybe (it means no). You beg and cry. You can’t bear to leave him. You have already grown to love him, as you would your own father.

So, you stay. He doesn’t fight you, or tell you to leave. He turns a blind eye to it all.

For the next handful of years, you grow up in the suburbs, in his home. You play sports with the boys and sleep over at the girls’. You race bikes and climb trees. Trade Smarties for Reeses after a long night trick-or-treating. You pass notes. Camp with your troop. You join clubs and teams, play instruments, get the top grades, and at quite the young age,  emerge as a leader. You hit the milestones of childhood into puberty with the same group of friends, who see every awkward second of your transformation (braces and spin the bottle, yes that too).

But one day you finally realize: something’s different between you and everyone else. You buy the same lunch, but on their plate is fresh chicken, and on yours? The knockoff brand. Your uncle tells you: to what they are entitled you would be privileged to have.

When the others start driving, he takes away your keys. “You’re too dangerous,” he says. You look in the mirror. You don’t look dangerous. You don’t feel dangerous. But soon you begin to question your own integrity. Am I dangerous?

When you bring home a list of scholarship offers, he tears it into shreds. “College is not for you,” he says. You are angry and hurt. You want to rebel against the intellectual ceiling he puts over your head.

When you begin a doctorate program, he doesn’t rejoice. Instead, he says, “I’ve given too much of my money away to the neighborhood kids; there is nothing left for you.” So you hustle. You begin this 24-7 madness of a sleepless hustle. You wear yourself thin.

When you share with him your vision to make the house a better place to live in, he shakes his head and reminds you: you live here. But this isn’t your home.

You work harder, in ignorance, thinking maybe one day he will change his mind. You pay his rent, treat him well, do him proud — overachieve because achieving just isn’t enough — though deep down, denial aside, you know he will never adopt you.

Then everything changes.

It all changes the day he brings home a foul woman with loud opinions. She is your recurring nightmare of 22 years. You plead: “Not her, date anybody but her,” but he diverts his eyes away from you. He does not hear what you have to say. The whole neighborhood chimes in: “She’s not right for you.” He still doesn’t change his mind.

Before the shock wears off, they marry. They honeymoon. They have children of their own.

As a power hungry tyrant would, she orders him around: do this and do that, and well, he does just this, exactly that. She tells him he needs to take control, because their names are the names on the lease. This is the piece of paper that dictates it is so. She urges him to start fresh, to build a a white picket fence to keep their children in and dirty orphans like you, out. Let’s make things good again.

And after a lifetime in the only home you’ve known, he looks you in the eye and says, “You should leave.” He knows you have nowhere to go. “No means noooo~” she taunts, hiding behind his shoulders. He hangs his head in shame, and she, with arms crossed, towers over him and taps an impatient rhythm with the sole of her shoe.

She throws a vase across the room, but it is you that is broken.

You are weighed with disappointment, watching the cool uncle you once loved and respected allow a symbol of hatred to take a collar to his neck. He used to be strong. He used to be tall but now it’s hard to tell by his cowered, slumped posture.

There is a knock at the door — it is a neighbor who has heard her from the distance. You have never seen him before. He is holding two brooms.

You take one and sweep. You sweep the pieces of glass, side-by-side with the stranger, without saying a word. You sweep, not knowing if another vase will fall, or if will be thrown and crack your face. You sweep and clean the home for your uncle, with the slightest hope that she’ll move on and he’ll go back to being normal.

You hope if you sweep hard enough, you’ll make it feel like home again, and he’ll finally come to understand: you’re as good as family.


 

To the workers at New Economy, CUNY Citizenship Now!, MinKwon, and other DACA advocates: thank you for the broom.

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I Can’t Feel My Nose

Ok, let me begin by saying I had a dentist appointment for 2pm.

I waited 2 months for my insurance company to get their act together, and today was finally the day I had approval. When they called to let me know, it was like I was Charlie and the woman on the phone was handing me the golden ticket in a Wonka Bar. Giddy up baby.

Given I was in the Bronx for an event, I had to speed bike through the rain to make it to my appointment. The winds were aggressively tugging against me, pulling me back two inches each time I gained one. It was a clever optical illusion — in the spirit of the ongoing presidential campaign — where my legs appeared to be pedaling forward, but my wheels were turning in the opposite direction. A delusional progression, you could say.

The appointment got changed to 3pm, so I grabbed some food and brushed my teeth (as if brushing my teeth right before I go in will make it seem like I have the best dental hygiene. Admittedly so, first impressions are everything).

I filled out the paperwork, and sat there organizing in my head the incredible amount of schoolwork and work-related work I had to complete by the end of the day. Needless to say, the task in itself kept me occupied for 20 minutes. At one point, the reception left the front desk unattended to speak with the dentist, so when a woman showed up for her appointment, she couldn’t get in. The door furiously rattled for a good… 6, 7 seconds before I stood up to unlock it for her. She then looked me up and down, glaring at me with a disgusted pout, muttering, “Fucking couldn’t even open the door, taking your fucking time, do I look like a fucking criminal to you? Who do you think you are?”

When the receptionist returned to the front desk, the woman’s eyes brightened as if nothing had happened. Night to day. Sometimes, I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND PEOPLE.

She then starts trashing my attire to the front desk. Alright, lady, I’m a sleep deprived grad student and I just got back from painting an elementary school; you don’t have to knock me for my sweatpants swag. Immediately, I decide it’s not worth the time effort, so I sit down silently and take a nap. An hour and a half later, I am woken up by the dental assistant. “It’s your turn to come in,” she says.

The dentist introduced himself, with a huge grin on his face. I stood in the hallway as he talked about how 93% of women with breast cancer have deformities on the same 4 teeth because they are on the same meridian lines (oh wouldn’t you love to know how this argument went), about how a man with a 1st grade education can cure cancer by the mere act of slicing skin without anesthesia, and about how Alzheimer’s is supposedly curable in Switzerland. He then asked me about my undergraduate education and seemed to inquire about my dating history (yeah right, like I’m going to stand here in the waiting room and tell you about my Tinder life with HotHead breathing down my neck).

Okay, yes, he was really nice. But he didn’t even talk about anything medically relevant for 40 whole minutes.

When the assistant finally brought me into the room, he was still talking. It was as if his brain would not allow for multitasking, because every time he reached for a tool, his eyes would light up with another thought, and he had to stop what he was planning to do, entirely. He put on gloves, which he coughed into, and then put on a facemask, which he wore under his chin like a fashion accessory (what is the POINT, my man).

We didn’t get started until THREE AND A HALF HOURS after the appointment time, because the guy would not stop talking. When he realized I was using insurance, and not paying out of pocket, he put me into a different room and had me sign off on CPT codes (billing codes, for insurance) that stated I had 16 cavities. 16 cavities? Oh, are these the same cavities that didn’t exist 2 minutes ago, when you were under the impression that I was paying out of pocket?

I get that insurance reimbursements are shitty, but damn. Talk about milking the cow for what it’s worth.

And you wonder why the reimbursement rates are so low. If I worked for Aetna, I wouldn’t trust providers, either.

Anyway, he then asked (again) about the times I had broken my nose over the years. We talked about that for another 5 minutes, before I interjected, reminding him that I was way behind schedule and needed to get going soon. He, without ANY warning, injected me with FIVE local anesthetic needles, which not only numbed my teeth, but my nose as well. I’ve had this procedure done before, but never that high and that much. I just bit down and took it in stride.

And by stride, I mean whimpering for mercy, as quietly as possible.

For the duration, I had to wonder if he was doing work he didn’t need to do — I had seen 3-4 dentists/orthodontists very recently, and they all seemed to think otherwise. I got out of that chair after a grand total of 4.5 HOURS. Treatment time? 20 minutes.

On my way out, he points at his meridian chart and tells me what other health issues I can anticipate (“if X tooth is damaged, then X body part will be affected” wonky logic). I politely nod, but all I’m thinking at this point is CAN I LEAVE NOW.

He then goes, Oh by way. Your nose is fine. I checked that out for you.

He had numbed my nose on purpose. MY DENTIST. numbed my NOSE. To test how strong it is.

This man has forgotten what kind of doctor he is. Next time, if there is a next time, mind your own meridian and I’ll mind my own.

I Asked Him 16 Times and He Finally Said Yes

He wouldn’t make eye contact with me. If I moved closer, he would turn his back towards me. I would try to get on his other side, but he would twist in the opposite direction. It was like trying to reach for a cookie from a really good defender of cookies.

I repeated myself over and over again, so I could get him to spare some of his attention, but he did not seem to care.

He cared. And I knew.

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Today, I made a friend who I shall refer to as B. He’s about 12 years old: a young man of few words. B has autism spectrum disorder, and I tell you this to give you a better understanding of the situation — not to define him. When he played with legos, his hands moved like the hands of an assembly line worker, piecing together blocks by color coordination and size. He wasn’t very verbal, but quite intelligent. I could see the gears turning in his head as he weighed his options: which eyes should I give Mr. Potato Head, the blue matches his shoes, nope this beard just won’t do, this ear doesn’t match the other…

I told him, Hey B. I think you’re pretty cool. I’d like to be your friend. Can I be your friend?

Can I be your friend?

Can I be your friend?

I asked him 16 times and he finally said yes. So awesome.

He wasn’t super warm afterwards, mind you. He was still fairly aloof, in his own world. But I noticed a huge change once I pulled out some puppets. I handed him one and tucked my hand in another. What was amazing was that when I talked to him as my puppet, he responded with his own. We giggled madly at my silly voices, and for a few long minutes, he was able to make eye contact and verbally express himself. I felt a sudden twinge in my heart; I’m pretty sure that was pride.

When he got frustrated, he came into my arms for a hug. When he got hit with a passing ball, he held my hand and let me coax him. When it was time to go, I said, alright champ, will I see you next week? And he said yes friend.

I can’t vocalize how those two words made me feel.

It wasn’t that he doesn’t like me, or that he doesn’t want to communicate; it’s that he has trouble in doing so. So, for him to fight through it and show me some love was something real special. NY Cares and KEEN are amazing programs with amazing people. I am sooooooooooo thankful it exists.

Feel free to ask me about the next event. The more the merrier!

Hope you’re having as good of a weekend as I am, my loves. Stay happy.

 

Day 7

I’m a little backed up in writing these entries, because the past day has been a bundle of sleep deprived fun, but I’m not complaining.

At 3am, Nick woke me up for the strangest work day of my life. We jumped into his truck and headed through a fog, which closely resembled the state of our brains at that peachy hour.

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One of the first things I learned about Tacoma was the existence of bikini baristas — women who sell coffee in wooden stands wearing little to no clothing. Nothing goes with a cup of Joe like a pair of pasties do, right?

We took a chain roll off truck into the heart of Seattle, Auburn, and his hometown Puyallup (which I learned is pronounced P-yall-up). He taught me how to operate a boom and got me a maple chocolate swirl donut from Happy Donuts. It added a soft and delicious touch to my morning.

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By the time we got back, it was around 11 or noon, a perfect time for a nap. Couple hours later, we went for an urban hike through Tacoma: from the artsy waterfront, through Washington University’s campus, along antique row, and up to the stadium district. We even played (or might I say, miserably failed at) a couple rounds of DDR on our trek. Yes, those big clunky arcade games still exist.

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We climbed the fence and snuck into Stadium High School (him, much more gracefully than I) which apparently is the place where they filmed 10 Things I Hate About You. It was definitely a fun experience — the only thing missing was Heath singing in the background, but rest assured, we had that playing from a phone.

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After a quick Uber ride home (our driver was a pleasant gentleman who oddly reminded me of a real life Monopoly man), we switched vehicles and drove along Thea Foss Waterway of Commencement Bay. Considering that we hadn’t eaten besides a bowl of oatmeal, a small handful of candy, and a donut, we decided to grab a hearty seafood meal at Duke’s chowder house.

Nick ordered a three course meal that consisted of a warm chowder, Cesar salad, and fish & chips, and I opted for a large bed of cheesy pesto pasta that housed a grilled piece of seasoned salmon. The best part of the meal, however, had to be the chewy sourdough bread they offered as an appetizer. I had to ask for seconds, and the waitress wasn’t, in the slightest bit, surprised.

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Following the meal, we took a driving tour through Point Defiance. The towering trees made me want to go camping or hiking, but we could barely keep our eyes open at that point. We parked at Owen Beach and other pitstops along the 5 mile road through the park, which served as excellent views of Tacoma, Vashon Island, and Gig Harbor. I didn’t bother taking nice photos, but they still came out pretty decent — after all, when the scenery is this nice, it doesn’t require much additional genius or effort to boost its appeal.

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I really owe it to Nick for taking an entire day to show me around. Best host ever, best person ever. What a babe. Thank you for the hospitality.

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Now onto Seattle. I can’t wait to meet my last host and see what’s in store for me the last few days of this trip. I don’t want it to end.

When The New Leaf Won’t Turn Over

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Like the delayed onset of a sneeze that lingers deep in the sinus, something had been bothering me for the past couple of months that I just couldn’t seem to put my finger on. Now it seems a little more evident.

Looking back on how freely loving and happy I used to be while living upstate, I have to consider that it was from choosing to be surrounded by genuine people who aren’t afraid to love and care about each other. It was a comforting place in my life –crafted to be an ephemeral position, I was aware– where friends and lovers were equally lighthearted and accessible. It was a time where I truly felt like I was living in the present time, with little concern for the near or far future unless it involved picking up a sub from Old World Deli before it closed for the day.

Merely existing and working in NYC for a year has changed me — wisened, all the while hardened me, in a sense. I’m quick on my toes because these motherfuckers are quicker. I have to stop myself from sharing and paying for others all the time, because ironically enough, in an urban jungle where the dollar runs wild and luxury is plenty, people still thirst with greed. I’m learning that dating here is like playing a round of Guess Who, where we eliminate our options in a pool of faces, that each have their own board of potentials because in this dense of a population, one can always find better. I’m a pawn on a checkerboard, trying to make this work. I find myself in situations that call for hidden intentions, a competitive spirit that drowns out the cooperative one, and an increased dependence on digital connection. I miss being able to leave the house without a phone or having to plan my weeks ahead.

I sense what’s bothering me is that I’m changing into a person I don’t recognize as well (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but subconsciously, I’m resisting instead of letting it happen. Albert Einstein –I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he’s a pretty smart guy– once said, “The world as we have created is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

We, my dear, may be a reflection of our surroundings, but we only become what we allow. I just haven’t decided which person I’d like to be right now.