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.
L.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?