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In the afternoon, my mom asks me “Dad and I are going out to dinner, did you want to come?” They’re going to korean, the same place we always go for korean food, Hot Stone. A good place, really, just not always my top pick. {First world problems, what have I become.} On our way, mom talks about going to help the candidate for city council put stamps on last minute items before the big voting day. She jokes and laughs about how she would be at home drinking if they didn’t need her. The feeling creeps up on me. It begins with a thought. {How has it come to this? Is this the kind of stuff that mom would laugh about 10, 15 years ago? Why can’t I laugh with her, why do I find this not funny? I guess it’s not a matter of her changing when it’s really been me. I feel so dead inside. Makes my heart ache. Gotta get outta here.} I cut myself out of my head and focus on engaging into conversation rather than judging it. My mind floats in and out of the conversation while we pass blocks of low income supermarkets disguised in grandiose buildings while pockets of abandoned businesses and liquor stores make their way in between.

We get to the korean restaurant with its low overhead structure held up by jagged stones for pillars, it stands alone like a small town 70’s diner. Close by is a McDonald’s, a cheap motel and a liquor store. We sit down at a table in the corner of the restaurant with large windows to our backs and at our sides. Dad and I bury our heads into the menu. “Oh no, what happened?” Mom watches the news playing on the TV above the kitchen. Dad pops his head up and asks “Did he kill her?” and then turns back to his menu. {They watch the news like it’s a crime drama. I still don’t understand why you watch the news. It doesn’t do anything for you, for anyone, except make you feel hopeless. There’s no point unless you’re going to do something about it. Stop watching. We’re here to eat and converse, not to have our eyes glued to the television and be stripped of hope.} “Look it!” Mom points but I refuse to look, hoping that she could read minds and get back to deciding what she wants to eat for dinner. We put our orders in and I’m happy for this moment because I know she’ll be present, sooner or later, she always turns around, always triumphs. 

Mom and dad are facing the entrance watching hungry people walk in and bellyful people walk out while I enjoy the large window as if it were my own TV, gazing at passersby, characters roaming nowhere in what’s left of the daylight. An older man, skinny, beanie over his scraggly hair and worn out clothes wanders into my sight. He is only 15 feet away from us and if it weren’t for the wall, we’d be inviting him to dinner. From where I’m sitting in front of my parents, he stops directly in between them, bends over and picks up an empty McDonalds bag. He shakes it trying to catch a fry that escaped the greasy fingers of it’s previous fatties. Nothing comes out. He is left empty handed. He shakes his head, continues walking and I can’t help but to think of the ways that I could’ve helped, that I could’ve done something. {“Hey, you guys eat, don’t worry about me, I’ll be back…” I’d leave the restaurant and ask the man kindly if he’d like to have dinner with me at McDonalds. A place where we can connect over a simple meal without any judging eyes.} I fear judging eyes. How fucked up is that when there are people out there in need of a meal and some company. {I’d sit down and share a meal with him, ask about his life, his experiences, what he wanted to be when he was growing up as a kid. After we’d eat, I’d want to give him a hug but instead I’d shake his hand and we would part ways just like how we were before, only this time, we’d both be having a better day.} And to think, what’s keeping me from turning that story into a reality? A stupid wall? My silly issues turn me against myself but I stay leery of the line that splits forgiveness and shame. 

The storyline fleeted my mind as I engage back into the present, back into the company of my parents, waiting for food. {Oh what a luxury, what a cushy nerf life we live.} But then I look at mom, she’s worked her ass off not just to support her family, what she’s helped create and foster, but for her own life and well being, same goes for my dad. It’s never fair, nothing ever is, but that’s life; and what would the story of life be if everything were fair and just? I know that’s not how things were meant to be. We’re not meant to work our asses off and then die. We’re not meant to sit back and create stories in our heads, getting off on things that only happen in our imaginations, exploiting the struggles of the characters we see. We’re here to learn about what we can do within our power, to actually do those things and how those things will help us grow... together.

The food arrives and we eat. Mom’s language is nostalgic, she speaks in glassy-eyed memories of Uncle Porky, Uncle David, Grams, Ngin, and Goongy. She’ll only share memories we haven’t heard about if we ask her about certain things, things that we haven’t heard about. Otherwise, the best broken-record will play, the best oldies but goodies you’ll ever hear, where her memory meets her heart. Anyone she talks about is immediately immortalized wherever there are ears to listen, because you never really know how bad the person she talks about is doing if you hadn’t talked to them yourself. They stay golden in that one sweet memory cluster of hers, how she remembers them, how they made her feel; a heaven for all. 

We offer each other some of our meal, maybe not because all of us really want to but it comes from a variety of reasons. One, that’s how we were raised, as an act of courtesy, a kind gesture whatever you consider it. Two, because the other person offered, now you sort of have to. Three, because we genuinely want to share the feeling we have when we’re eating it. If I’m missing something it’s because I’m not you. As I offer dad some of my meal, he kindly and softly replies in almost the cutest way I’ve ever heard him say it, “No thank you^” with an upward inflection like he was a kid, happy to eat and to be with the ones he loves. It was refreshing to hear that. It reminded me of Ngin, when we were taking care of her. We’d take her to the bathroom and she would always say “thank you,” in the sweetest tone, as if none of the pain she was going through could take her away from expressing how grateful she was for us just being present in her life and loving her always. The way dad just said thank you, one can imagine why it warmed my heart. {This is why I’ll miss him when he’s gone. Dad was a kid, too.} He’s not just the man I know who walks around with an impenetrable exterior taking care of everyone’s business in silence. He’s a mysterious pistachio. Soft and sweet on the inside with hidden notes of underlying flavors; a bit salty but if you can figure out how to crack him, how to understand that if he softens up, you’ll know it’s because of the company he’s in. And when he wears headphones, a little bit of his personality seeps out which you can’t ask for anything more because he rarely shows much of his personality as is; which makes me wonder, what is he really listening to? Opera? Sports-talk radio? The decades he’s spent supporting family, sacrificing his life and hobby exploration just to keep all of us within arms reach and at the same time carving out his own little nook in the family circle. Maybe, deep down, he realizes that nothing is the same without company; and even though he could be doing the same things if he were on his own, he’d much rather grow with his loved ones than be alone. 

We’re almost done eating and as much as I hate phones at the dinner table or just phones in the presence of company period, I have to write all of these thoughts, moments and feelings down; there wouldn’t be a documentation of this experience if I hadn’t. Here come my own judging eyes. {He’s texting at the dinner table. What a millennial.} I defend myself from myself by trying to convince the imaginary eyes to never assume what someone is really doing. You can assume what they might be doing but never assume what someone is really doing. {Never assume. The truth is that he hates himself for doing this but he needs to write down these notes for a story.} I’m done taking notes, put my phone away and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt thanks to mom. She does it all the time, but she actually texts people...uggh...call me a snob for values and I’ll call you ignorant to the truth. 

New hungry people sit behind me. I don’t look at them but I’m imagining them to be a family, and maybe with a kid. Oh, no. Here it comes...another storyline. {What if the kid cried and screamed. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind but what if I was another person who sighed obnoxiously as soon as the kid cried. People would think I’m kind of a jerk for sighing so obnoxiously just because I supposedly can’t stand bratty little shitheads, according to them. The truth, in this all too fake storyline, would be that I would sigh because it would always happen to us, our family. We get placed in the presence of things that may annoy other people but for us, we’re placed in that presence because we were meant to learn something from it, we’re used to it, until now. I’d be tired of it. I would turn around and just as I would say something, mom would butt in and say “Ohhh--aaa...Somebody must be hungry!” Being heavily influenced by mom’s love, I would shut up and just smile.} Anyways, that didn’t happen, just a what-if scenario in a story far, far away, but apparently close enough to run through my head. 

So we finish our meals and I don’t remember how we started talking about extroverts, connecting with people and so on but the subject gets directed to dad. “Honey, what makes you not want to connect with people?” Mom asks. He doesn't respond. I rephrase the question. “Dad, what makes you want to connect with people? You know, the feeling you get when you enjoy someone or connect with them? Like when you go golfing with Chief, how do you connect with him?” Sweat beads sprout from his forehead and under his eyes but not from the question, more from the food. He takes his time. {Great, another opportunity to know who my dad really is, another question unanswered.} “Well, I connected with Charly.” Charly was dad’s closest friend, probably his only friend. When Charly died, he didn’t seem moved, like, at all. He was even willing to give away the only jacket that Charly gave him; a special one-of-a-kind 49ers jacket that seemed passed down for generations. But then my mom told me, one night, it finally hit him. He finally broke down and started crying. Dad never cried. Sunspots like these would appear, every now and then casting shadows of his past upon the neutral gray surface of his life. The fear of never wanting to let the sun damage such a beautiful tone I can relate to, after all, I did come from him. We talked a bit about Charly, what he did co-working with dad. “We would get into arguments!” Dad says. Mom and I were surprised. “Well, about politics. He was a republican and we didn’t agree on some things.” 

The check came. As dad was paying, he says “You guys are going to be mad at me.” Mom and I, again surprised. He pauses. “What, what did you do?” Mom asks. “I was at the B of A and this homeless guy behind me, well, I thought he was homeless. He was talking to himself about how he has to go to Food For Less after this…” He pauses again. “Yeeeahh?? Then what?” Mom asks. “So I gave him a ride there. He even offered me a few bucks for taking him.” I could see mom’s eyes light up with so much joy and love. My dad... My dad. There he was, a reflection of me and I, a reflection of him. It wasn’t the nice thing he did for that man that caught us off guard, it was the fact that he opened up and shared with us a sliver of his experience. “THAT’S how you connect with people, dad. Acts of service. That’s your love language!” “Wow, that was really nice of you, honey.” Compliments flow from our mouths. It’s not everyday that he opens up, not even every year. {Full of surprises, why go looking when they’re sitting right in front of you?} I almost forgot about love languages. How could I ever forget when dad is the epitome of the “acts of service” love language. Through him, I am reminded of my own. Acts of service. Wherever I find myself, I’ll always remember my love language, acts of service. Even if spoken in a different dialect, there are reminders, everywhere, if I'm willing to be awake and listen. 

We walk out of the restaurant and take in the twilight blue sky, when day meets night. On the way home, mom and dad forget about the other errands they wanted to run, that’s when you know, dinner wasn’t just “dinner,” it was a memorable experience for all of us. I’ve been living with mom and dad for 29 years. After the 14th year, I’ve had this growing feeling in my existence that everything will always be the same. Year after year, that feeling had become a fear of routine but eventually it blossomed into a healthy curiosity for change, adventure and wisdom. Now, every experience teaches me something new, not because the experience is always brand new but because I choose to see things differently; and I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself, “What can I learn from this?” It’s a roller-coaster and I’ve learned that you just have to enjoy the ride. 

You learn all of this, experience all of this by simply being awake and enjoying the ride. There is always something new to learn out there no matter how routine your life may be, no matter who, where or how you are. Learn what you can and while you can from the people you care most about in life. You’re always growing but it’s only because of the people in your life that remind you of these moments. Every moment is a gift. If you read the card first, it will mean something entirely different. 



September 05, 2019 17:46

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