Dear Nate… 004: Understanding is gold

Defending something you didn’t choose

Dear Nate;

It’s May so I spend a lotta time thinking of your mama.

This fella named Nilesh Jain once said, “Five minutes after your birth, they decide your name, nationality, religion, sect, and you spend rest of your life defending something you didn’t choose.”

I’ve always felt that everyone is who they are because of the parents to whom they were born.

For good or bad, you either inherit your parents views or rebel against them. Don’t know which path you’ll choose but I hope you understand why I live my life as I do.

I chase understanding, not knowledge. Friends, not fortune. Meaning, not entertainment.

There’s a saying called, “Tiger Parents,” where Asian parents push their children for success through any means necessary. To a large extent, I’m the result of tiger parents.

But I don’t want that for you. I want something greater for you: Not knowledge but understanding.

I look at my role in your life as your guard and instructor. My job is to protect you so that I have time to show you what I know and hope you find some wisdom in it.

My life is full of instructors: Uncles Chad and Agapito teach me violence but are some of kindest souls I know. Uncle Aki is the single smartest human being I’ve ever met, yet uses that brilliance to help others, including us.

You see, we are all the average of the five people we spend the most time with so I make sure to spend time with those that can instruct me. Because they bring value to me, so that I can bring value to you.

I don’t want you to root for a team because you happen to be born in that team’s city, or – even worse – hate someone else because they were born in a different city. Or to different parents.

That’s beyond worthless in my eyes and, I hope, with time, your eyes as well.

Understanding lets you maximize the valuable and minimize the worthless. And none of us are here very long so the sooner you can separate the wheat from the chaff, the better.

If most people aren’t here very long, your mama was here for just a beautiful moment in time. But she died knowing things. Things she told me that I will tell you because they made my life richer and will do the same for you.

For all this, I also hope you grow up enjoying frivolous things, because there’s joy in the ability to be extravagant.

But knowing that something is frivolous makes it ok; thinking that the unimportant is important is not.

To collect gold, you have to know what is tin. Because, you see, you don’t get gold by making it; you get gold by washing away everything that’s not gold.

The self-made wealthy are wealthy because of what they eschew, not because of what they acquire.

We’re all given 24 hours here; what you do with it plots out your life, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have 26,280 days here. Use them wisely. Surround yourself with kind and knowledgeable instructors.

Speaking of luck, you’re my son – and Alison McCarthy’s son – by pure luck. For us, it was the best possible kind. For you, only time will tell if it was good or bad.

I hope it’s the former but luck, and life, is what you make of it.

In the end, I don’t want you to be some imitation of me. I want you to be better than me.

Love,

Papa

Him: (randomly) We don’t have a mommy at home.
Me: (pause) No, we don’t.
Him: Is she stuck?
Me: No. Papa misspoke.
Him: Where is she?
Me: She’s…she died.
Him: She died? Why?
Me: She got sick.
Him: She got sick? Will she feel better?
Me: I don’t…no. She won’t. But I’ll tell you all about her because I was her best friend and she was mine. (clears throat) OK?
Him: (laughs) OK!

Dear Nate… 001
Dear Nate… 002: Wait and wish
Dear Nate… 003: Rain happens

Location: Central Park West and W 72nd, crossing the street
Mood: unhappy
Music: Not enough time for all that I want for you
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Logan’s 46: The Guard dies

…it does not surrender


It’s my birthday today.

I remember for years that I used to say, Wish me a Happy Birthday, alla you bastards that read me and never say anything.

The last time I said that was 2014, before everything went to hell.

This year, I pour out my soul to you with a simple admission: After Alison died, three words kept ringing in my addled head over-and-over again: The Guard dies.

The Guard dies.
The Guard dies.
The Guard dies.

I said those three words to myself hundreds thousands of times after she died. I would fall asleep to those words in my head and wake up to them as well.

I plotted for months on how to do it the right way, if there could ever be such a thing.

Because, I promised her parents and you that I would keep her safe. And I failed.

I failed you. I failed her parents. And, most unbearably of all, I failed her.

Failure has a price and I’ve always been driven to pay my debts.

There’s an apocryphal story about the Old French Guard during the Battle of Waterloo when the Middle Guard turned and ran, a solider from the Old Guard asked the general if they should run as well.

The general replied, La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas.

The Guard dies, it does not surrender.

In my drug/alcohol/grief/anger-fueled haze, I only remembered the first part.

Alison was my charge and I failed her so it was only fitting that I follow her. Because, wherever she went, I was always close behind.

It’s remarkably selfish and self-centered, I know. I wasn’t thinking clearly then.

But, due to a number of interesting bureaucratic twists and people like my mother-in-law, my father, Daisy, Gradgirl, and – of course – the Gymgirl, the fog slowly lifted.

And I remembered the boy. I am so ashamed to say that I forgot him in my grief.

Well, more appropriately – in my head – he was better off with people that were functioning, and I was clearly not functioning.

Moreover, I was so focused on Alison needing me that I didn’t really consider that he needed me.

Interestingly, the thing that really pulled me out of this mindset was a conversation with my mother-in-law one day. She said that I needed to raise the boy and that she would help but that he was my responsibility. I suspect she had some idea where my mind was.

In any case, that triggered a memory of a conversation that Alison and I once had: She told me that, if we were ever in an accident and I was given the option to save her or the child, she would never forgive me if I saved her.

And that, in turn, caused me to remember the rest of the quote: … it does not surrender. That’s when I realized that leaving would be surrender, not staying.

I lost my charge. But she had a charge too, one that she cared about more than herself: The boy. So, even if he weren’t my son, he would still be my charge because he was Alison’s.

Because she loved him more than anything, including her own life.

The boy’s given me something as well: A chance for me to redeem myself and my failure.

Essentially, the general was saying that the Guard does not run or surrender to overwhelming odds. It either does its job or dies trying. Like Alison did.

I’m 46 today. If ever there was an Old Guard, it’s me.

And the Old Guard does not surrender.

Him: Will you come get me today? From school?
Me: Of course. What am I gonna do, leave you there? That’d be silly.
Him: (laughs) That’d be silly! You’re silly, papa.
Me: (nodding) Yes.

Location: this afternoon, my blue bathroom, thinking of my possible pasts
Mood: heartbroken
Music: I’ve lost my place. I’m close behind
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Speaking toddler

Can you hear me?


We’ve all been sick so I put on Singing in the Rain for the Gymgirl and the kid.

Him: (after opening credits) It’s over…
Me: It just started!

On that note, the Gymgirl and I have been having a competition of sorts as to who understands toddler more.

Him: (unintelligible)
Me: What?
Her: He said he was done and wanted to watch television.
Me: How on earth did you get that?
Her: (shrugs) You’re old. He and I are closer in age. We speak the same language.

Actually, the boy speaks with some interesting turns of phrases:

When the boy was in his room: I’m here if you need me.
When I gave the boy a time out: Let’s talk about this.
When heading to school: Are we running late?

Again, he’s three years old.

Suppose he’s parroting myself, the Gymgirl, or some other adult. Still, it really floors me because there was a time I was worried he wouldn’t speak at all.

Although he did leave me speechless the other day.

Him: (gets a stool and climbs to the top) Mom! Mom! Mommy! Can you hear me?
Me: Wha…what are you doing, kiddo?
Him: I wanted to see what happens.
Me: Oh. OK. (pause) I’m sorry, kid.
Him: (laughing) Why are you sorry?
Me: No reason. I just am. (smiling) Cm’on. I gotta start dinner. Keep me company.

It’s April.

Me: I hate April and May.
The Gymgirl: May, I understand. But why April?
Me: It’s stupid but it’s because I know May is coming right up. Our birthdays were just about a month apart. I dread my birthday because I know we’re that much closer to May.
Her: (nods, puts her hand on my shoulder)

Location: 2:30PM today, Central Park with the boy
Mood: anxious
Music: used to talk with honest conviction
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A day with friends and the Hudson Yards

Day drinking rum with friends

Her: I’m in the mood for an adventure.

The Gymgirl and I decided to go check out the Hudson Yards the other day before our gym class. It was totally last minute so we didn’t have tickets for anything. But it was a beautiful day and we were happy to be out of the house.

Because of our diet, the Gymgirl hadn’t had coffee in months because things like beans and seeds weren’t allowed in her diet. But she decided to slowly add them back one-by-one, starting with beans. Mainly for coffee and chocolate.

She was already planning to have coffee that weekend so we decided to go to Queensyard Cafe.

Her: Do they have a creamer I can use?
Me: Soy milk?
Her: Yes!

For the latter, we ended up at at Li-Lac chocolates where the owner comped us some chocolate. Unfortunately, he also told us that chocolate was a seed and not a legume.

Me: You already ate some. In for a penny in for a pound, I say.

This was her response:

We then took a long (long) walk to Home Depot to get supplies for a project, that I’ll tell you about later, before heading to our gym class.

After Home Depot, however, I got a got a text from RE Mike about a block from our gym class:

REM: Where are you?!?!
Me: It’s today? I have it down for next week!
Him: You’re _____ me.

I wasn’t.

The Gymgirl immediately started running and so I did as well.

If REM wrote just five minutes later, we woulda missed the whole thing, because she and I don’t check our phones when we’re at the gym. And we’re there for hours.

The “thing” was a bar mitzvah for the son of my friends around the way. Luckily, it was just a few blocks from where I live, at the Time Warner Center.

Me: (entering the apartment and immediately setting a 10 minute timer) When this goes off, we’re out the door.
Her: (heading to her clothes) Got it.

In less than 30 minutes, we went from being casual to this:

They’re some of my favourite people so it would have been terrible if I missed it.

Him: I wouldn’t have let you live it down.
Me: Nor should you.

We were there until the end, which meant that we were home by six. But we drank so much rum that we just crashed until midnight or so, when we woke up and watched a few episodes of Love, Death, & Robots.

Well, the ones I could watch.

All in all, a really strange and awesome day.

I remember when I had awesome days. I had forgotten what they were like.

Me: Did you get your adventure?
Her: Yes, now I need a nap.

Location: last week, Ascent Lounge in NYC
Mood: guess
Music: Holding onto cobwebs that has us both on the fence
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Another health scare

It’s not a crate!

Mutual Friend: (concerned) You doing okay, buddy?
Me: I’m fine. I’m sure you have a friend that is a complete softie around kids. Well, whoever that person is, s/he’s got nuthin on Blaine, I think that if the kid had the vocabulary, Blaine woulda have given him an ice cream sundae, a beer, his ATM card and PIN, and the password to all his online accounts while we were out.
Him: Man, Uncle Blaine sounds awesome.

The Gymgirl and I decided to catch a film – last minute – and had a friend of ours watch the kid. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve done this.

Me: Now, no matter what he says or how much he cries, just leave him in the room and let him sleep.
Blaine: Sure.

We watched the film without issue and came back to find Blaine sitting alone of the couch in relative darkness.

Blaine: So, I changed his diaper like a champ…
Me: Oh, great.

Blaine:…but he also climbed out of his crate and fell. I think he’s ok.
Gymgirl: You should lead with that!

Blaine said that the kid started crying as soon as we left so he took him out and let him sit with him as they watched some television. For a toddler, that’s pure crack – there’s no going back from that. So after Blaine put him down to sleep, the kid wanted more of the good life…

Blaine: I heard him fall and cry so I ran in. I found him outside his crate…
Me: It’s not a crate! It’s a crib. People will think I keep my son in a cage.

Blaine: Crib, crate, cage, same thing.

Blaine’s one of the nicest people I know; in fact, he just had surgery that day and arrived in a cast to watch the kid just so we could catch the film. So it’s pretty impossible to be mad at him.

I mean, he carried this kid around with a cast on. Plus, we all knew that it was just bad luck that the kid decided to try his hand at climbing outta the crate crib with him and not us.

The boy managed to fall asleep so Blaine just left and we waited to see how the kid was in the morning. He seemed fine so we brought him to school. But the Gymgirl insisted that we get him x-rayed and researched places around the area.

The place that she went to last year had a machine so we went there. Took three hours but the kid didn’t have any broken bones but did dislocate his elbow (nursemaid’s elbow) that the doc tried to get back in but couldn’t.

So I rang up my friend Kris, who’s a pediatrician, and she said he probably got it in if the kid was able to raise his arm over his head, which he kinda was. The Gymgirl and I may also have done some things ourselves to make sure it was in properly.

The boy was not happy about any of this. But alls well that ends well.

Spoke to Blaine afterward:

Me: I think that the doc managed to get his elbow back in place because he’s been moving it a lot more.
Blaine: Man, I’m really relieved to hear this. I still feel horrible.
Me: He should be fine. Yesterday was no fun but that’s done with. Anywho, I’ll give you another update tonight. Just wanted to put your mind to a little rest.

These medical scares always wear me out more than you might imagine.

Or, perhaps, exactly as you might imagine.

Gymgirl: Are you OK?
Me: I will be. (thinking) Hey, thanks for everything.
Her: Of course. I love that kid.

Location: last week, another medical office
Mood: guess
Music: How long until we find our way In the dark and out of harm?
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Disposable relationships

Here we go again

Gymgirl: (puts on music)
Me: (after several minutes) What are the lyrics to this song?
Gymgirl: “____ you, I don’t need you, I can be just fine without you.” (the next song plays, Here I go Again) These two songs sum up our entire relationship!

The Gymgirl and I bicker a lot. Not sure it rises to the level of full argument, most of the time, but there’re definitely disagreements.

The problem with me is that I’ve been spoiled by living in NYC and by my old single life. For me, if there was an issue with a relationship, I’d just get another one.

Used to tell people that you can crash and burn all night at 20 different bars and parties but at the 21st, you might meet the girl of your dreams.

Meeting people has never been an issue for me – even when I didn’t need to meet anyone. Wanting to stick around was my issue.

The Gymgirl’s no slouch herself at meeting people so I think we both looked at whatever we were initially as disposable.

Neither of us thought anything much of what might come of us getting together, just that it would be nice to have some company.

Somewhere along the line, we realized that the other was the best company we could have.

But our relationship’s imperfect because life is imperfect; we’re each broken, in our own ways.

Still, we’ve discovered that we’re both pretty good at fixing broken things. Kindness floats, you see – itself and other things.

That Brave New World fella once said that, Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.

Both the Gymgirl and I catch ourselves forgetting how terrible our lives were before we met each other and, when we bicker, somehow forget that we’re not disposable to each other.

And then we wait until the other remembers.

Ideally…

Me: Man, how does someone as tiny as you get so angry all the time?
Gymgirl: Are you saying I’m short?! Come down here and say that to my face.
Me: (pause, laughter)
Gymgirl: (laughs) You can’t leave me, I’m perfect.
Me: Sheyeah…

Location: Bicker-city
Mood: hopeful
Music: gonna hold on for the rest of my days
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My PG-13 life

At least I get to live it


The Gymgirl gave me an (unintentional) black eye the other day in my gym class.

Gymgirl: Do you need ice?
Me: God, yes.

In a nutshell, her foot went into my eye and nose. It was decidedly unpleasant.

Gym owner: You’re fine. You’re not even bleeding…wait, nevermind, you’re bleeding.
Me: Oh, good, that’s a relief.

I’m literally getting my ass kicked by all the women I know in life.

Which leads me to believe that Life itself is a woman because, I’m definitely getting my ass kicked by her.

The nurse that Alison liked the most during IVF called me the other day.

Nurse: It literally took me a week to get up the nerve to call you.
Me: I’m so glad you did. Alison adored you.
Her: (exhales) Thank you. I wasn’t sure how you’d be speaking to me.
Me: Yeah, I get it.

It was mostly admin stuff. But I was glad to hear her voice.

She left me a voicemail before but my voicemail transcribes messages to me so the last time I actually heard her voice, I was with Alison. And we were happy. Then everything went to shit.

Dunno why I always remind you of that. I should assume you know already.

Anywho, I often wonder if it’s fair to the Gymgirl that she’s with someone like me. I come with so much baggage.

Like my friend Somena once said, the key to a good relationship is to find someone whose baggage matches yours.

But I’m not sure I could bear knowing anyone with baggage that matches mine. And I’m grateful that the Gymgirl doesn’t have matching baggage. Suppose she is too.

Another group of friends were talking about television and movies the other day and I told them that I’m not sure I can handle anything beyond PG-13 these days.

Had to have a talk with another friend that didn’t understand why I was so upset by something he said. Casual things that people say mean different things to people like me.

Cause everything reminds me of something I don’t wanna be reminded of.

Wish everything were easier. But life itself isn’t easy so I’m SOL.

Then again, I get the chance to live it so I shouldn’t complain.

Me: Oh man, I missed you so much!
Son: I want a cookie.
Me: (nodding) You have your priorities.
Him: I missed you. I want a cookie.
Me: (nodding)

Location: bhavachakra
Mood: Groundhog-dayed
Music: I’ll let you in on something big. I am not a white teeth teen
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Just a touch

Just one thing?


Came back from some work the other day and I found the below note from the Gymgirl.

She’s not the typical girly-girl, that’s for sure.

Me: (amused) There’s something wrong with you.
Her: (laughing) Just one thing?

Still haven’t done my taxes. Alison used to always do them so I find myself putting it off until the last minute for a variety of causes, least of which is that she did them for a reason: I used to tell her that I personally combat the stereotype that all Asians are good at math.

I’d earmarked today to do them but there was an unexpected snow day – despite a clear lack of snow – here in the big city.

Then, on top of that, he’s been complaining of pains enough that I’ve been concerned so I scheduled a last minute appointment with his doc today.

Him: (excited) Are we going to the park?
Me: (upbeat) We’re going to see the doctor really quickly.
Him: No! I don’t don’t wanna see her! No! No!

Ended up being mostly fine, which I’m grateful for considering he was in the ER just a few months ago.

Me: (after visit) That wasn’t so bad, right?
Him: I like lollipops.
Me: Yes, (nodding) always focus on the positive, kid.

On a different matter altogether, been working again like I used to and I feel – for better or worse – a little glimmer of who I used to be before everything went to shit.

It’s just a touch. Dunno if it’ll be more or less as time goes on.

Not even really sure which one is better.

Location: alone in my Mouse-free home
Mood: relieved
Music: Can we go back? This is the moment
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Trying not to fake it

Went out to eat again

Gymgirl: We’re both human. People make mistakes
Me: Some more than others.
Her: Like when you trusted Pac to watch the place?

Went out to eat with my cousin and her fella, along with the Gymgirl and my buddy, Pac – that’s him making some congee above.

We went to another hot pot joint, this time Spring Shabu Shabu in Flushing.

Me: The wait’s over 30 minutes? Why don’t we go someplace else?
Him: This place has all you can eat sides, veggies, and ice cream.
Me: Sold.

We stuffed ourselves silly. Being on this diet, it takes a long time to feel full – and this time I felt full, finally.

I had a good time. I feel like I’m faking it a lot but there are moments when I think I’m not.

Hopefully, in time, that feeling’ll go away.

Me: I want to have some ice cream but…
Gymgirl: (stopping eating) Say it! Say it!
Me: (confused) …I wish I had some peanut butter.
Her: (reaches into bag and triumphantly takes out a package and hands it to me) Here.

The company helps.

Location: Still at home with a mouse
Mood: still discomforted
Music: I feel like like there might be something that I’ll miss
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She’s stuck

She’s not in Queens

The boy’s at my mother-in-law’s right now.

She’d written down the names of two friends on a piece of paper the other day. Looking at it, he said, “That says, ‘Mike’ and ‘Pat.'”

He’s only three and can read and do simple math. This makes me so proud but it also reminds me that he’s getting older and smarter. And he’s asking questions.

The problem is that he’s asking questions that I can’t answer. Questions I don’t wanna answer. Questions that I have no response for. Because there’s no response. No good response, rather.

Him: Papa, mom’s in … Queens.
Me: No…no…she’s not.
Him: Not in Queens?
Me: No. But it’s time for bed.
Him: (nodding)

That was a few months ago. A few weeks ago, he asked me:

Him: Why doesn’t mommy come?

Holy shitballs.

Lemme tell you that nothing – nothing – can prepare you for that question when you’re in my situation (and god, I hope you’re never in my situation). I completely chickened out and choked. Completely.

Me: She’s…stuck. She wants to be here but she’s stuck.
Him: She’s stuck? (nods) She’s stuck.

Told this to my mother-in-law who, to her credit, told me as gently as possible that Alison woulda wanted me to tell him the truth.

Alison and I talked about that years ago and we agreed to be honest with our kids about whatever we could.

Felt like such a coward. Have a hard time dealing with cowards and liars and here I was being both with my son.

After a bath a few weeks ago, he looked at me and said, without prompting:

Him: Mommy’s stuck.
Me: No. (shaking head) Papa…misspoke. She’s not stuck.
Him: She’s not stuck?

And I told him what no father should have to say to any three-year old, or any kid ever.

He nodded but didn’t understand. Which, I suppose, is a good thing. He will one day and that makes me feel sick. As for me, I went to the bathroom and pulled myself together. Kindasorta.

I love this boy and I don’t wanna tell him things like this but these were the cards we were dealt.

Thought about Hobbes and his whole “nasty, brutish, and short” quote. For some, it’s shorter than others. It’s that unfairness of it all that eats at me the most.

A good friend of mine told me that, when you lose someone, you feel this uncontrollable rage that pops up randomly. He said that it never goes away.

Wrote him today and told him that he’s never said anything truer in his life.

Location: stuck in my head
Mood: angry
Music: I can’t believe she’s gone
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