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Asian American Creative Nonfiction East Asian

My favourite Chinese myth is the one about how we all have red strings of fate connecting us to our loved ones, and that no matter what, no matter where we are, we are always tied together. The threads can tangle but will never break, and will keep us connected even through death. I’ve always loved that idea, of fate. It’s comforting. It makes me think that maybe I still have ties somewhere to my birth family. It makes me feel like maybe I have been connected to my adopted family from the beginning, like I was always meant to be theirs and they were always meant to be mine. Fate. Destiny. Written in the stars. Soul strings. It’s a nice thought. It makes me feel a little less alone in this world. 

I think that my strongest string is with my mom. She’s the one I go to when I’m sad, scared, angry. She’s the one I want to make happy, to make proud. I know that she would do anything for me. Her thread is that of a safety net that is always ready to catch me if I fall. Still, I don’t dare look down. Because the problem with having a safety net is that it makes me more likely to fall. I take it for granted, because I know that it will always be there. And fall, after fall,  after fall, I wear it out. I don’t know how to survive without it. Without it, perhaps I would tread a little lighter, perhaps I would try to catch myself before I fell. Perhaps I would feel braver, like I could do it on my own. But as long as that safety net is there, I won’t ever take that risk. 

My rope with my dad is like a game of tug of war. He pulls and tugs, and I tug and pull, he yanks me forward, and I pull him back. I go to him for meaningless problems and easy-to-swallow solutions. But I do not feel like I can rely on him the way I lean so heavily on my mom. I cannot give him that control, that power over me, because he will never give it back. I love him, but sometimes I think we are too alike. Too quick to anger, too stubborn to apologize when we’re wrong. I can’t give him too much of my rope, because I don’t want it to be ripped out of my hand. I’m getting rope burn from this tug of war. It’s just easier to hang on by myself rather than let him try to pull me up, because then I won’t be so disappointed if he lets me down. When he lets me down. 

My thread with my brother is like a tightrope, always a balancing act. Like the strings of a guitar, our relationship is fragile. And I’m afraid that if we keep plucking at the strings, they will snap entirely. Every day I feel our relationship unravel like a ball of yarn, as we both drift further and further apart. I tell myself that it can’t be helped, that this would always happen. But I don’t bother trying to wind the yo-yo back up to try again. I feel him moving farther away and all I can do is watch him go. It feels like every time I try to pull him closer to me, he pulls even farther away, and it hurts every time. Sometimes I think that I keep my distance from him so that when he does disappear from my life, I won’t even feel his thread breaking off from mine. It will hurt less if we’re already so far apart. 

My lines with my sisters are a tangled mess of wires and cords you found in the basement but can’t be bothered to untangle, so you put it back in the boxes to deal with next time. But you never do, so we’ve learned how to make the phone work without the cord. Like playing a game of telephone, trying to connect empty cans on strings. Our mom acts as our messenger, like a middleman passing along notes in class. She relays our messages for us but the meanings get lost in translation. And eventually, we forget how to communicate altogether; we’ve forgotten each other’s numbers and don’t bother to call. It’s too much trouble, to untangle the mess our lives have become. We don’t need those wires anyways. 

My cord to my niece and nephews is like playing a game of cats’ cradle—a complicated game with multiple ways to play and mess up. Interwoven between fingers and families, our string is one big loop that you can easily get lost in. I find myself so uncertain, so insecure, so lost with them; unable to know where I belong. I can see where their threads connect to one another, can follow one line to the next. It’s hard when their ties are so easy to follow. They belong so easily, so simply. And I am a complicated jumble of bloodlines I’ve lost and names I’ve hyphenated on. I wish I could untangle myself from this knot, but the harder I try to pull it, the tighter it gets, until it’s unable to ever become undone. Maybe it doesn’t matter that I cannot find my line, because it would just get lost in the knot anyway. 

My connection to my birth mother is my umbilical cord; she gave me strength and kept me alive before suddenly severing her ties to me completely, leaving me to fend for myself. I was like a parasite, feeding off of her so she had to cut me loose to keep herself alive. Or rather, she had to cut me off so that I could live. I had to learn how to breathe on my own. I’ve heard of babies who are born with their umbilical cords wrapped around their neck; cutting off their airways. It’s rather ironic that the thing that is supposed to keep you alive in the womb is the very thing that keeps you from taking your first breath. My connection to my mother, no matter how weak, is keeping me from fully tying myself to a new life. 

My ties to my birth home, to my family by blood, are the weakest; just a whisper of a filament, delicate as spider’s silk. Dissolving in water like cotton candy, I cannot follow the fishing line into the ocean. I am a gullible fish gumming the water, hungry for any semblance of belonging, that I bite the bait without thinking how much it will hurt. I’m hanging onto any piece of them that I can, but it’s like a hangnail that I’m unwilling to rip off even though it keeps catching on things. I don’t want to give them up, don’t want to accept that I will live my whole life without them. Because when my strings to my adoptive family are in a tangle, it’s easier for me to imagine a simple line that I just need to find one day. I cannot even picture them in my mind, this family of shadows and string, but still, I chase after them. How silly of me, like a cat playing with twine. There is nothing on the other end. 

My relationship with myself is like a marionette whose strings have been cut. For so long I’ve let someone, something, pull my strings. My past, my trauma, my anger, my insecurities, my fear. I’ve always felt out of control in my life, drowning in my mind. I’ve grasped desperately at any life raft thrown my way, without bothering to look at what’s on the other end. I’ve let people lead me through life like a dog on a leash, and now I can’t find my way home on my own. I’ve let my past wrap itself around my ankles, dragging me underwater and I can’t pry myself loose. Loneliness has tied itself around my wrists, but I won’t let anyone unchain me. I’ve grown too comfortable here, let the grass and weeds grow over my body. A skydiver whose parachute pull doesn’t work, I’m free-falling through life without anyone to guide me. I’m trying to untangle the strings in my life that I need to in order to free myself. 

These red strings are not fate; they are not pre-existing lines of life in which we have no say in. They are those bracelets you make out of twine and beads, that you have to work on and build up over time. Some strings you have to give up on, and others you have to keep knotting and tying over and over again. I’m still sorting out which strings are cutting off my circulation. These connections cannot break, though they may tangle together. And I’m willing to sit and sort through them, unravelling them one at a time.

September 02, 2022 02:03

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1 comment

Tam Hoskyns
10:42 Sep 08, 2022

Madison, this is a very raw, but insightful way at looking at the relationships of those closest to us. I enjoyed the concept, the breakdown of each relationship and how i could relate to your thoughts and observations. Your emotions run through the piece, but there is strength that is mirrored in the resillience of the strings that hold us together. Your piece stirred emotion in me, awoke a realisation of the things we take for granted and perhaps those that would serve us better, if we could just let them go. I can imagine that this piece ...


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