Brushing it off and saying “it’s just one of those days” is a disservice to yourself. It’s a cheat out of giving yourself permission to experience real pain, real emotions, real sadness. Whether or not you understand where it’s coming from doesn’t necessarily matter- and it doesn’t make it any less.
Take one look at my planner and you’ll understand why I’d like to schedule my coffee with you two weeks in advance (three weeks if it’s dinner), why my kitchen looks the way it does (horrible), and the reason I have to hit up the gas station every few days (thank the Lord for low petrol prices).
This last week I got to spend time with my sister, Hilary, and my brother in law, Ron at their home and where I like to call one of my “happy places”. The places where I feel at ease, where stress’s chilling fingers find it difficult to find a full grasp, and where I feel unconditional love.
We are constantly being told how we deserve to be happy.
“As long as you’re happy.”
“Make yourself happy.”
“If it makes you happy, then do it.”
“If it’s not making you happy all the time, why do it?”
To scarcely brush the surface of current political activities in Cambodia: there has been civil unrest, scare and pain tactics from both sides of political parties, army trucks with soldiers in full SWAT gear hanging on corners, widespread fear among locals and some expats, and harrowing suffering for the people of Cambodia. Not all is negative, during the time since the elections, bonds have been formed that haven’t been seen for decades and the youth, individuals aged 30 or under making up roughly 70 percent of the population- have started to push out of their shells, taking risks- sometimes unwarranted, and speaking to be heard and acting to be acknowledged. During what was supposed to be a peaceful protest last week on the Riverside in Phnom Penh, barbed wire barricades and physically harmful methods were used against the crowd. Not being in the midst of the scenes physically myself or having read the full amount of coverage, I can’t say what exactly started the violence, how things escalated, or when. What I do know is that there has been a haze of unease over the city for the past week. Last night, “police and thugs dressed in civilian clothes descended on a peaceful vigil at Wat Phnom last night, and set upon the roughly 20 protesters with slingshots, batons and electrics prods.” (Source: The Phnom Penh Post) A total of eleven were injured in the brawl and human right workers and journalists among the crowds were injured from marbles, some the size of golf balls and electric prods.
Christmas of 2009 was one that will never be forgotten.
I was living in Gig Harbor, Washington with my family at the time, recently having moved home that past Fall from a few years in Seattle and working at a clothing boutique and readjusting to life at home. Christmas that year I recall my dad looking dashing in a navy blue henley as he smoked the box of cigars with a tumbler of whiskey I bought him, my little sister gifting me my favorite pair of Chucks now worn out and boxed away, my mother filming the morning with patience and grace and that we were all together and that it was perfect and that it was beautiful.
Sixteen days later my dad died.
It was unexpected.
The morning I last saw him he had, per usual, gone out to my car and started it for me so it would be heated by the time I drove to school. We were discussing over excessively milked coffee on my part the trip he and my mom were going to take to Portland later that day for a funeral of a friend’s brother and his plans for the rest of the day. I clearly recall being repulsed when he told me he would be finishing his Will and passing it on to their financial advisor. Although at 76 this was a necessary, smart, regular ritual that he had probably been doing for the past 10 years of his life, if not longer, I felt like it was just as ridiculous as putting pajamas on a monkey: completely unnecessary. He had just been to the doctor’s a week before with a clean bill of health and played tennis with a friend 35+ years his junior, been working full time and dealing quite successfully with two adolescent daughters…this man simply could not die any time soon.
We hugged goodbye like we did every week day morning and I drove off to the community college that I gained nothing but a small bill from, feet warm from a car engine running 15 minutes before departure.
School, of course, was terrible and I can’t remember a thing other than leaving for work. My shift wasn’t so terrible, just accepting exchanges of Citizens of Humanity denim and Diane Von Furstenburg dresses, until I checked my phone. Strange, four missed phone calls from my mom and a two from my sister. When I listened to my voicemail I felt my breath leave.
“Annie, I don’t want you to worry but dad had a stroke. He’s okay, just please call.”
Are you shitting me? I know Mom was trying to keep me calm, knowing my typical reaction to any sort of detrimental news is to go off the chains and it was smart of her to say “he’s okay”, because at the time he was. I can only chalk it up to shock but I finished my transactions at the register, tearless, drove home to my sister, and called my mother to find out what on Earth was happening.
They had made their way to a hospital in Portland, he by helicopter and she by a speeding Subaru, and he had been coherent as he went into surgery. He had suffered from a stroke, ironically during the funeral they were attending, but nothing massive they said, he would be home possibly that night they said. Rachel and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief and after much talking to, we were advised to stay at home and wait for their call. We ventured out, sister and sister, to rent Final Destination and picked up Taco Time to hold us over until our parents got home. Our parents, who would take care of us, who would tell us things would be okay, our parents who we would hug and cry with and be forever grateful that they were there with us. The first alarm went off inside me when Tiffany, a long-time family friend showed up at the door unannounced to check to see how we were doing. This isn’t what people do when someone is coming home from the hospital within a few hours. The concern on her face did not reflect the state in which we thought Dad was in. I dismissed her visit as something my mom had called her to do just to console us just in case we were in hysterics, but at the time we were just trying to eat a few tacos and watch a lame movie.
We didn’t get far into the film and our appetites were soon gone. Another call from my mom, her in tears this time, told us our other friends who have acted as second parents to us over the years, Chris and Jeff, would be picking us up on their way down from Seattle and we needed to get to the hospital. In my selfish, pathetic way of dealing with anger I started screaming at her. I felt like I had been lied to, like they had smoothed things over the surface to calm these little girls knowing that things were going to turn a sharp corner towards death. I’m still ashamed at the way I acted, that my inability to deal with the news came out as rashly as it did. My older sister, Hilary, had to get on the phone and firmly yet patiently told me that the doctors weren’t aware of the conditions they were dealing with, to quit being a bitch, gather things for the night and be an adult for my little sister, mother, and myself. Thank God for her firmness, her ability to deal with an irrational 18 year old. Angrily I thrust a pair of jeans, sweatshirt, and pack of cigarettes into an overnight bag, at that time thinking it would get me through the night and we would all return home together the next day.
I slept the entire way to Portland, maybe I pretended to, I can’t be sure. I just know I didn’t want to talk about what I was feeling. I felt no sadness, I felt only anger. I felt anger that this was happening. We were too young, too inexperienced and too immature to understand what to do. Maybe it was only me. I suspect no one ever really does, regardless of their age or time in life.
I remember the lights of Portland as we drove into the city. The bridge you cross from Washington into Oregon and how cold it felt. I don’t remember the voices in the car. I don’t remember the time. I remember getting lost and being angry about that. I remember getting stopped at the front desk of the hospital to check in and receive a sticker for the day we arrived, Sunday. I was angry about that. That sticker is in my passport, I don’t know how it got there or why but it will stay there. What a useless waste of time, stickers, checking in, the elevator rides. The hallways. The drinking fountains. The paperwork. I don’t even quite remember first seeing my mom, Hilary, the family and friends that had already gathered in the hospital waiting room. I don’t even remember first seeing him in his hospital bed. I only remember the wails emitted from my younger sister as we first stepped into his room. I remember the alien sound of the breathing machine pushing false life into his cold body. I remember how smooth his face was because of all the liquids being pumped into his body, thinking “Jesus, Dad. You look amazing.” I remember the antiseptic smell of all hospitals in the United States, the smell that permeates every sense, the scent that has made me feel ill during every doctor’s visit I’ve had since.
I found out, somehow, someone told me, I can only assume it was my mom, that they had found a clot in his brain and had tried to remove it. During the procedure, something had been severed and he was in a coma, on life support. At the time, I had full faith that he would come right out of it. When they removed the tubes and needles he would return, eyes jolting open. They wouldn’t flutter open delicately, he would sit upright like the man I had known him to be and we would pick up cheeseburgers and drive us home to sleep, maybe read me some Emily Barrett Browning to soothe the nerves raw. I was disgusted by the television playing in the waiting room and the hipster reading glasses I had chosen to wear instead of contacts, by the loudness of the children not belonging to anyone we knew running around at 1am disturbing my fake sleep across three chairs. I was disgusted that I still had want for cafeteria foods even though I couldn’t be less hungry and I was disgusted that we were just waiting for something to happen. Time was nonexistent, I don’t know how long I laid across the plastic chairs, how many people came in and out, who spoke to me, what I said. I know that my closest friend, Brooke Miller, had driven down from Tacoma to be with me and she was next to me. I recall the moment that Chad, another amazing person us Mischkes are lucky enough to know, who happens to be a doctor asked for our attention, all thirty or so of us in the waiting room.
Details are vague in my memory along with most else from that night, as if I were watching a television show heavily sedated on Valium until the moment I heard him say “we need to take him off life support.” I had been standing between my sister and my mother at that point, waiting for the news that he would be alright, that it was just a misunderstanding, a slight overdose on sedatives and that we should all go clean ourselves up because who wants to come out of a coma to see a bunch of sickly looking individuals waiting for your consciousness to return. I lost all strength, resolve, or fight when he uttered those words. My legs went out, my little sister screamed, and my mother looked as if she wanted to join him on the parade of death.
The goodbyes are personal, and I can’t remember most of them. Only the little sister, all 4 foot 8 inches of her, curling into his bed next to him begging him to wake up. Me whispering to him that I love him and a song sung to him around his bed. I don’t remember the sound of the machine flat lining, I don’t remember a second where I felt his soul leave the room or a pivotal moment where I felt any sense of the end. I remember wandering down the hall into the waiting room, waiting for my mother to bathe him and spend her last moments with the man she was married to for 32 years.
We went to The Old Spaghetti Factory, the most terrible idea ever, even though I know whoever planned that were only thinking of us, what could take our minds off this…event. Throwing up in the parking lot and going back to my older sisters and falling into sleep on the floor wearing his Member’s Only wool sweater.
A gift that no Christmastime will ever give me is the night vaguely a week before Dad’s death of he and I sitting in his study, listening to “Hallelujah”, comparing Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley’s versions for hours. It was played at his funeral and this memory, luckily, lives stronger in my psyche than his last artificial breath leaving his body.
Since then, Christmases have felt jilted. Never unenjoyed, but never complete. In 2010 I spent it with my older sister and her husband and Chris and Jeff at our house in Gig Harbor, ate steak and King Crab and was in the hospital by 11 that night after developing a deathly allergy to crab and undergoing treatment for an anaphylactic reaction. Little sister drove me there and we didn’t tell my mom how my heart had nearly stopped and my throat had closed because a Christmas in the hospital for her would have been offensive. In 2011, I celebrated with my boyfriend, little sister, and mother at my older sister’s in Vancouver with her lovely family. It was special, it was different, it was full of tears-both joyful and sorrowful. Each year I spend at least one evening or morning with The Miller family, my second family, and the immense comfort I feel from them, the acceptance, love, and ease flow so freely and I truly have missed that this year.
In 2012 I had a different Christmas experience. Without family, without lover, without home-whatever or wherever that may be.
Christmas Eve was spent tuk-tuking mother to the airport, nearly crying with my dear friend Allison at the difference of an expatriate holiday, then staying up until 6am with friends after a night of Long Island Iced Teas, Black Russians, and smoking. I had the pleasure of Skyping with a best friend, Jesse Morrow, at 5am listening to a recording of his and my nephew’s Christmas song first played for me two years ago at the peak of my depression.
Christmas Day was filled with more laughter than I’ve experienced since my last trip with friends in Washington to The Rolling Huts, a semi-failed attempt at biscuits and gravy, Wham! on repeat to the annoyance of a certain Frenchman, and several naps on a communal bed formed from mattresses on a living room floor. We watched Drive and Moonrise Kingdom (two favorites from 2012) and part of Ninja Assasssin and ate cheeseburgers and hot dogs and fishy ribs on silky sheets and drank mimosas out of dishes like cats. Allison and I put together the worst Christmas stockings ever known for our friends Richard and Nico, filled with polaroids of strange people from back home, $1 sushi coupons, cat iPhone cases, fans smelling of incense and bandanas. The strangest Christmas in the books for now, but entirely necessary. I remember looking around the table as we all ate our Oliver Twist-like slop of gravy, eggs, and burnt biscuits and couldn’t help but take a proud mental image of those around me. Nico from France, aka Finn, full of energy reserved for those with ADD and/or an unlimited supply of Red Bull and passion for life unrivaled, Richard from Scotland who understand my completely inappropriate and ill-timed comedic humor with a cat iPhone case, Giacomo from Italy completely sloshed from a morning spent playing pool and surprised at how good “The Mischke Gravy” tasted (no one trusted it) and Allison, confidant and friend of a lifetime, all gathered around a table in Cambodia on Christmas day.
After a Skype session with Mom tonight, I realize the typical family Christmas I have reserved in my memory will never be again. As they never will be for those of children of divorce, those married and splitting their time between two factions of their lives, those who have lost someone, those who have gained someone; things change. Although I look back on the mornings waking up in the same bed as Rachel (little sister) as our tradition was to sleep in the same bed or room no matter how old we got and traipsing down the stairs greeted by a grand tree and a mountain of presents with Sheila and Hal sitting on our red couches, coffee in hand, and realize it will never be again I can accept that the 25th of December can be good. It can be absolutely lovely and that one day, I’ll have a family where I am Mother. Where there is a Father. Where a family will be complete.
Until that day, I can be happy enough with mimosas, ab aching laughter, and memories shared over weird meals.
These past several days have been a whirlwind of events, sleep schedules, sobriety (or lack thereof), and incredible individuals. My blogging inadequacy stems from my ridiculous self-inflicted agenda, not disinterest.
This week was a sad one for my electronics. My iTouch and Blackberry went missing from my desk drawer (I suspect an installation crew) and my iPhone and wallet were thieved through a friend’s window when I was a bit distracted. If one knows my temperament at all, they would know that generally in situations like this I tend to..what’s the phrase…fly off the handle. A whole basket of “fucks”and “damnits” are thrown around and a vase or bottle of wine may get knocked over in the process, so the calm I exhibited during the whole situation surprised no one more than myself.
As I deliberate over these events, I try and peel apart the situation and understand my failure to react in my normal state of aggression. The only thing I can come up with is that during my one month stint (hey kids back home, I hope you lost your bets. I made it past a month) in Cambodia, I may just have mellowed out. Slightly, let’s be real. I’ve been schooled heavily since my arrival.
I’ve learned to accept that I might be late to things, and that others might be late to things and it’s not a reflection of their care or regard for me, it’s just that things happen that we don’t have control over that will inevitably effect us: a slow tuk tuk driver, no tuk tuk driver, ankle deep rain water blocking any way out, flash diarrhea, lost keys, et cetera.
I’ve learned that you can’t hold on too tightly to things, or people. Nothing belongs to you in the end, we will die alone without our silly things and that could be either very depressing or very freeing; you simply decide for yourself which. Witnessing several break ups, make ups, hook ups, and everything in between I see that nursing love as an expat abroad is a task only for the tenacious. This isn’t to say that it is impossible, as I’ve met some of the most admirable, gorgeous couples here (some apart physically, some here together) and I raise my glass to you dear lovers, you defy the odds.
I’ve learned how important days off are to me. Now that I’m down to one day off a week, I idolize every hour like it’s a chunk of brie wrapped in puff pastry. I’ve learned that it’s okay, actually necessary, to spend some of those hours in solitude to balance my social agenda. I’ve learned that it’s also really fantastic meeting new people and that one can be both anti-social and a complete extrovert symbiotically.
I’ve learned how delicious it is to see someone across the room you had hoped to see and how satisfying locked eyes and a nod can be. I’ve learned how thrilling it is to wade through filthy street water when the rain just refuses to let up. I’ve learned how good a cheeseburger tastes at 3 in the morning when it’s been ordered and delivered straight to the door. I’ve learned how important it is to have a relationship with your mother that knows no bounds, where secrets are a strange idea and that a mutual respect for each other’s space and time is just so necessary. I’ve learned how important it is to keep drawing, reading, and listening to good music even if you’re melting into the floor from being so exhausted. I’ve learned not to jump down stairs because I’ll eventually end up black and blue. I’ve also learned how badly Bactine stings when putting it on scrapes from jumping down said stairs. I’ve learned that my beliefs are important to me, and although I will respectfully listen to other’s, they will not be swayed. I’ve learned how important it is for people to be honest with me about their opinions and histories right off the bat. I’ve learned that I can be jealous to a fault but tender towards real pain.
And I’ve learned that I fall more deeply in love with this country with each passing day. I’ve also learned that although I may have to leave one day, that’s no reason to stop myself from falling hard.
If I had a dime for every time someone has told me I’m difficult to read, I would be independently wealthy.
Pulling from my previous post regarding emotional walls, that would be easy to gather.
Tonight is not one of those nights.
If we were in the same room you would feel the currents of profound indignation and righteous anger emanating from me, see the tears pooling into my clavicle. I AM LIVID. Never have I so savagely (and pathetically) destroyed an egg sandwich and this lightning and thunder enveloping the city is only fitting for this battle between sadness and rage.
As young adults (not so young in my father’s case) my parents hosted and helped to resettle a group of Cambodian refugees in Seattle, Washington as part of their ministry work. From this group of refugees, one Cambodian girl and one American boy happened to fall in love and begin a life together.
Thirty or so years later, the American man died here in Cambodia due to asphyxiation through drowning.
The natural sadness of death and shock of loss came and my mother, being nurturing, hardy and strong went to be with the family of the deceased. As a widow herself she was well equipped to step into this role; she questioned and consoled and listened and…listened. And through this listening, details came to light and the whole situation felt seamy, to say the least.
The circumstances of the death led several to question what in the world this man was doing spending the afternoon swimming in a pond with Khmer boys. Which then led to a deepening conviction that more information and an full investigation was needed. This is a person who had been placed in a ministry setting to guide and protect youth of all ages. It was discovered that the organization that placed this man for his role has a history of bad decisions: two individuals under their watch actually participated in a sex trafficking ring from their post, fled the country, and were never pursued. Injustice barely touches the realm of these situations. For the sake of personal protection and to stay above legal reproof, I will end the story here.
But God, I hope the story doesn’t really end there. I so hope that should it be found that crimes of any nature were committed, anyone and everyone involved in this are brought to their knees and cast hard from their positions.
If these are the individuals placed in positions to protect and save, then who is safe? Where is shelter?
Who will be held accountable?
These questions cannot be answered unless crimes like these are brought to the surface and faced head on. Until then, I will have to rest with the thought that this man has found his way to the place where all justice is served perfectly..