Choose your own adventure

When I started therapy, I felt like I was walking around with an open wound all the time. Moving back into my parents’ house, however, has been akin to carving a gash into my abdomen and taking an open-eyed swim in my own viscera.

For the years I lived in New York, I got back home to California once or twice a year, some years feeling less guilty about it than others. My father’s heart attack was alarming, but not wholly unexpected. The night of his emergency angioplasty, my mother had texted me, “Pau is in the hospital. Call for details.” Living across the country, I had always expected to get that text in the middle of the night. Whenever I got a late night call or message, I just assumed first that it would be about my dad, and was always relieved when it wasn’t.

Still, it’s hard to ever feel prepared to see a parent so physically fragile and vulnerable. I had known the day would come when duty would take precedence over my own preference for the east coast. I never meant to stay in New York for 14 years, it just kind of happened. I had created a life, a home, a family of friends in New York, not really considering that, one day, I’d have to leave that family for my blood relations.

My dad is up and about now, cooking breakfast for us every day and fixing the car when he’s not watching his Thai soap operas. I take pleasure in cajoling him to improve his diet, or poking him when he’s being a backseat driver.

I thought saying goodbye to New York would be the hardest part. But after two weeks packing up my belongings there, I’ve now spent about two weeks trying to make space for myself in my parents’ small 3-bedroom house in La Puente, CA. My dad had taken over my bedroom and my brother’s 10’x10′ room was being used for storage. When I arrived, the only clear space in my brother’s bedroom was a little pie slice for opening and closing the bedroom door. I’m continuing to dig out space for myself here, which is both a physical and emotional process.

The Saturday after I arrived was my neighborhood’s annual Clean Up Day. The local waste removal company allows residents to leave pretty much anything on the sidewalk for AM pick up. As we filled our driveway with stuff from one small corner of the garage, a Latino man with metal caps on his teeth drove by with a pickup truck and asked if we had any metal. He helped us move a non-working refrigerator from the garage, as well as some taking away random pots, pans, light fixtures, and a lot of other scrap metal my dad had squirreled away. I acted as translator, switching between Thai and my rusty Spanish to communicate with my parents and the young man. I introduced myself and learned that his name was Victor.

I thought we were fortunate that Victor had happened to come by on trash day and that, even more miraculously, he had wanted the junk we needed to clear out, but within an hour, a few more young men came by in their pickup trucks, asking for metal. A young woman drove up and inquired about whether or not she could take anything we were going to throw out. Her name was Rosalba, and she told me that the day care center she had been working for had closed and she was out of a job. Did we have any work we wanted her to do? Could she help us clean out the garage? We filled up her compact car with a lot of the things we had set aside to donate to Goodwill, which she was hoping to try and sell somewhere.

All in all, about 20 people drove by our house that afternoon asking if we had any metal to give away, including high school-aged students once school had let out. It made me realize how far away I was from my bourgeois life in Brooklyn. On Facebook and Twitter, I still live in that moneyed, #FWP world, but the sound and fury over media gossip and restaurant reservations and fashion trends seem like transmissions from another universe. Am I that person or the dutiful immigrant’s daughter? Is buying a $300 pair of sunglasses completely insane or totally normal? Am I hand-pulled pizza dough and house-cured salumi or am I fish bone soup over rice?

The other day, I caught myself standing in a certain spot behind the kitchen’s sliding glass doors, staring absent-mindedly at the kaffir lime tree in our backyard and dreaming of the world outside of this house’s small footprint, just like I did when I was 15. The difference between then and now is that I have seen that world. I’ve swept up vegetable trimmings in Union Square to earn a living; I’ve performed to a stadium audience at a summer festival in Japan; I’ve cried my eyes out from loneliness on the Tube between St. James Place and Westminster; I’ve seen the Southern Cross in the South African night sky. Now I’m here; this time, it’s because I choose to be here.

IMG_0583L.A. may as well be a foreign country to me since I haven’t spent much time here as an adult. I feel like I did when I moved to Stockholm, like every day is a new adventure. I speak Thai daily, and with Thai satellite TV news blaring in the background, I’m even expanding my vocabulary beyond 1st grade level. I’m also practicing my Spanish, learning to drive on the freeway, and exercising every morning. I’m getting to know who my parents are as retirees, and I’m showing them who I am as an adult.

I’m rich with simple pleasures, like sifting through childhood photographs, doing yoga in my backyard, or watching my 18-month-old niece mash handfuls of sticky rice into her mouth with unself-conscious joy. There are also difficult moments, like seeing how the blood thinner my father takes makes too much dark blood bubble out of a tiny wound, or going to the local Target and hoping not to run into anyone who might feel schadenfreude because the conceited bitch who pumped double middle fingers at suburban life when she ran away to New York City is now living with her parents again. But, overall, the days pass slowly, more slowly than they have for me in a really long time, and I’m grateful because my family and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Will I find a full-time job here? Will I ever move out of my parents’ house? Will people not call me in for job interviews because I have admitted that I have done therapy and I live with my parents? Friends, I have no fucking idea what happens next. Won’t it be interesting to see where this goes?

21 thoughts on “Choose your own adventure

  1. Gorgeous, G. Thank you or sharing such beautiful, wrenching thoughts. I hope you continue to write about your experiences there.

  2. A whole new adventure by the sound of it! Great to be readin’ your words again, and to get the fresh perspective on what goes on here.
    Good luck Gaga x

  3. This made me miss you more. Somehow it’s worse missing you when you’re across the country than when you’re just over the rivers. But anyway, here’s what I thought when reading: “That’s my Ganda.” Really resonant piece. xo.

  4. Hi. I just read this because my girlfriend who lives in BK has a huge crush on you. You’re the only blog she comments on. I have to comment that I just moved back from New York last month (April ’13) and moved in with Dad and am working on the job. I was in New York for 3 years but still had a good family/friend network. Blessings to you on your journey, I’m finding my way too.

  5. So poignant and relatable. You’re brave, and as a person who also left home and didn’t return until well into her adult years, I can tell you that the opportunity to get to your family again, in this way, is priceless. Even when it’s hard.

  6. I have a lot of respect for the choice to move home and look after one’s parents. I think we Americans are too obsessed with the idea that moving home is failure. There are many other places in the world that don’t see living with one’s family as giving up!

    Best of luck as you sort yourself out in a new-old place.

  7. Thank you for sharing. I moved back home to be with my 80 year old mother when she came home from the hospital recently. She lives in Baldwin Park!

  8. Hi there,
    I found your site through Molly at Orangette. This is such a beautiful post, and I can so relate to it. I couldn’t wait to escape the small, rural southern town that I grew up in, and I moved to Chicago for grad school and continued to live there after school. Three years ago my mother suddenly got sick and passed away. Cancer that had metastasized and she had no idea….it was just three weeks from the time she went to the doctor and when she died. As an only child who was extremely close to her parents, I was devastated. So was my dad. I couldn’t even imagine letting him go through that by himself with me a world away in Chicago. I packed up all my stuff and moved into my parents’ house. My friends thought I was crazy, and I had the same weird feelings about running into people from high school at Walmart and having to explain I live with my Dad now. But I worked from home for two years and eventually found a great job here that I love. And living rent free allowed me to save up enough money to buy my first house here– something that wouldn’t have been a possibility for many years in Chicago. It’s still an adjustment sometimes, and I still feel a little out of place here at times– but I’m happy with my choice. My regret is that I didn’t move back, at least closer to my parents, years ago. Those years I spent in Chicago are lost time that I could have spent with my Mom….years of only seeing her 2 or 3 times a year. I can never get that time back. You still have that opportunity. Make the most of it and don’t worry about the other stuff– it will work itself out. Good luck to you!

    • Thanks, Robyn. I’m glad to hear that it’s working out for you, and glad that you get to spend time with your dad.

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