skin-deep

while you inherited her smile
(orthodontia straightened yours)
your eyes are wider & world-weary
(hers are narrow with bourgeois smugness)
you have his bullshit-detecting (rejecting) nose
(hers seeks out malleable sycophants)
the family resemblance is skin-deep
(like the way she cares about people)
you value people based on their character
(not how they can be of service)
it’s unspoken – you don’t care what people think
(she screams it constantly, proving the opposite).

diffusion

over two decades ago,
you mastered the art of
creating diversions to diffuse
tempestuous timebombs who
have become strangers
& left you wondering,
“how do I share anything
(much less, genetic material)
with these people?”

the beauty in differentiation

at age ten,
a weasel-faced blonde boy calls you fat
because you consistently get
better grades than him
& insists a brown girl doesn’t belong
at a school with (superior) white kids.
you quip that you live in
a nicer neighborhood than his,
but the real reason you’re better than him
is that he’ll always be a covetous jerk.

at age twelve,
a freckled ginger boy scrubs your arms
with a pool brush after swim practice
& claims that he thought the white splotches
(of sunburn) on your dark skin was dirt.
you shove him into the pool
& watch him sputter,
coughing water in surprise.
your coach’s punishment is that
you have to swim extra (victory) laps.

at age fourteen,
a thin brunette girl snidely snickers,
“you’re not pretty. you’re cute like hello kitty.”
you weren’t allowed to wear makeup
or dress like her eighteen-year-old sister.
after braces straighten your crooked teeth
& your only growth spurt sheds baby fat,
you decline her offer to be friends —
even then, you’d rather be alone than have
catty friends you didn’t like (& vice-versa).

at age sixteen,
(until almost a decade following)
a parade of basic white guys marvel
over the fact that you’re the first Asian girl
they’ve admired who defies stereotypes —
you’ve inherited your mother’s feistiness
& your father’s no bullshit attitude.
though your temperament mellows over the years,
you loudly continue to refuse to be fetishized
& mock white guys who should check their privilege.

at age twenty-three,
your handsome ivorian friend becomes more.
you’ll never look like models in magazines,
but you’ve learned to appreciate that
your black hair is unruly
& your skin’s base tone is deep tan.
the ways that you look different
no longer (solely) define you.
he knows all of you & loves you
because of (not in spite of) it.

There is no Hallmark card for those who have strained relationships with their parents.

A concept that boggles my mind is that we’re supposed to accept blood-relations as family under all circumstances. Gaby sent me a great article called “Motherless by Choice” by Katie Naum. Ms. Naum’s mother wasn’t loving or supportive — she inflicted psychological terror and abuse. After years of trying to build up her self-esteem while her mother constantly tore her down, Ms. Naum escaped. She has cut off contact with her mother and has become happier, healthier, and more mentally stable.

I commented on Ms. Naum’s article to congratulate her for working on becoming the great woman she always had the potential to be. I assured her that there are many of us who have toxic relationships with our parents, so ignore the naysayers and people who don’t understand. I couldn’t believe that numerous commenters shamed her for removing her mother from her life. People quoted the Ten Commandments about “honoring your father and mother.” People warned that she would regret not making peace with her mother when her mother died.

My relationship with my mother hasn’t been as toxic as the author’s with her mother. But I related to Ms. Naum’s feelings. For years, I attempted to be the perfect, obedient daughter that she and my father expected me to be. Any time I would disagree with them, they would berate me for being ungrateful and insolent. My father constantly itemized how much supporting me cost. I blindly accepted everything they said as true. I thought my worth was based on their pride in me.

Father’s Day is on Sunday. I’ll be in Alpharetta for the day, as Brie needed someone to watch her while her nanny makes lunch and my parents go to church. I’m looking forward to having sister time without our parents or her nanny. I didn’t attend Mother’s Day, as I took a trip to California with Andrea and Shaina, instead. I don’t regret missing lunch with my mother that day — she was still harassing me because I don’t make spend enough time with “the family.” (Even if for the past several years, I would go there for lunch or dinner once a week. I don’t know any other people in their twenties who make that kind of effort, especially with parents who are the vortex of negativity in their lives.) Raf is in charge of getting our card, but there is no Hallmark card for those who have strained relationships with their parents.

Family’s involvement in your life should be conditional, just as it is with anyone else. Sharing genetics shouldn’t be a free pass to repeatedly tear someone down. Birthing someone doesn’t give you the right to consistently scream that you hope she fails, since her goals don’t aligned with yours. On the surface, I’ll be civil. But I can never be sincere about celebrating the days that praise the two biggest haters in my life.

Throwback Thursday: Brie & Raf two years ago

Brie & Raf. Alpharetta, Georgia. 03.10.12.

Brie & Raf. Alpharetta, Georgia. 03.10.12.

My siblings, Brie & Raf, are the only reasons I ever venture to Alpharetta. This photo was taken on our dad’s birthday two years ago.

It’s always a relief to reaffirm what you already know.

I had lunch with Raf today. Though we hung out last weekend, we wanted to have either lunch or dinner before my trip. He and Brie were the only ones in attendance at our mother’s birthday dinner last night (which I didn’t attend because of this bullshit).

“Y’know, Mom would never tell you this, but Brie set aside pad Thai for you last night.”

“She did?” My voice cracked.

“Yeah. Brie thought you were coming to dinner, so she wanted to make sure you had a plate.”

I couldn’t help it. My eyes welled up.

“Whoa, sis — didn’t meant to make you get all emotional before going back to work.”

“I just love you two a lot. I wish I could’ve seen Brie this past weekend, but — ”

“I know. Dad was there. I get why you wouldn’t wanna see him after everything he said.”

“I’ll be there while Mom is in Philly, once I get back.”

“Sounds good.”

Our parents are wrong. Brie knows I haven’t left her. She hates being around our parents as much as I do because of their erratic, explosive behavior. When I get back from Asia, Brie and I will have sister bonding time (since Raf usually works on weekends). Our parents won’t prevent me from seeing two of my favorite people.

A family isn’t just flesh & blood.

You can’t claim to be looking out for my best interests when best is defined by what you want for yourself. You can’t say I’m the worst embarrassment and expect me to heed your “advice.” You can’t claim I don’t care about the family when my siblings are the only reason I still show up. You can’t say I only use you for money when I’m self-sufficient.

A family isn’t just flesh & blood.

A family is made of the people who nurture you. Support you emotionally. Recognize that having your own life doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning them.

Parents aren’t supposed to gut you with manipulative lies. Parents aren’t supposed to call you an asshole or a cunt. Parents aren’t supposed to justify calling you those things because it’s out of disappointment and from loving you too much. Parents shouldn’t pray for you to fail, just to get the opportunity to say I told you so. Parents are supposed to apologize when they’ve done you wrong.

I know that I am loved.

I have the greatest family a person could hope to have: my boyfriend, my siblings, my friends, and extended family.

The people who brought me into this world loathe everything that makes me who I am as an adult. I don’t need their approval. I don’t need their money. They’re grasping at straws.

A family isn’t just flesh and blood.

It’s who has your back (and vice versa).