Cast Off

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Today, my son got his cast removed. Hooray!

He’s been cleared to try out for soccer at his high school starting Monday, but has to take it easy on the hand for four more weeks before his final checkup with the specialist. During tryouts, he’s to buddy-tape his pinky and ring finger together, and definitely avoid push-ups and goalkeeper exercises.

Fingers crossed. Knock wood. Pray hard.

That’s about all we can do, other than keep our options open.

On the drive home, I geared my son up for every possible outcome — mostly, to beef up his mental strength. Moral of the story from last spring’s disastrous, blind-siding Premier tryouts: Don’t put your everything into one thing without a backup plan.

Soccer players have been known to start strong, only to bow out due to injury (look at Gordon Ramsay) or a health scare (Dempsey). Some make a comeback (Dempsey, thank G-d). Others find themselves on another course (Ramsay).

Same goes for famous singers. Those who live and die by the voice, flounder around helplessly, in a constant state of depression for what was, refusing to even consider the possibility that they can help in some other capacity.

Julie Andrews, Shania Twain, these singers will never be the same again after their physical ailments.

Fate has a way of coming around the bend and really fucking you over when you least expect it.

This doesn’t meant to hedge your bets or live in a perennial state of what-if. Go for it 1,000 percent, all the way, all or nothing.

But don’t give up when life calls you somewhere else just when a momentous event draws near.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t make tryouts. If you get injured the day of (like a friend did), or hell, if you get wiped out entirely from the race for most of your life.

There’s always another path, another way of looking at your calling. It may not be what you’d planned. But it may be the best thing to ever happen to you.

Just be open to … the possibilities. Whatever happens, be grateful because it could always be worse.

There were so many dreams I had growing up, and so many more I had to give up. I’m still discovering who I want to be and I’m well into my 50s. I really love to see other people live out their dreams as well, even if it comes from left field. Those are the best ones.

Right now, I’m so very grateful my son’s fractured pinky is healing up. It’s almost a miracle, even though broken bones heal every day all the time.

We take nothing for granted in our household. Believe me.

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Dark Mirror

“The only person you’re competing with is yourself.” —ItsJustKelli

Right now I’m watching ItsJustKelli working out for three hours in a gym somewhere in the Midwest. Last night, I stayed up till 4 a.m. — the second of two nights in a row, btw — binging on the third season of “Black Mirror” on Netflix.

Just another lost weekend, right? Well, momentous, really.

While the rest of the world regularly consumes Netflix and YouTube stars like it’s nothing, I’m new to the digital age, kind of a dinosaur really. I’m so old-fashioned, I still need recipes on paper to bake. (But then again, I count on my fingers.)

I’ve also been crocheting like mad, mostly to try out new stitches. At the time, I mean to finish no matter what, but I’ve had to frog (undo) my work several times in a frustrating system of trial and error for the cable and blossom stitches I’m learning.

I stumbled onto the Korean Midwestern wife’s YouTube channel while searching for size guidelines on crocheting infinity scarves, after this one stitch and this one chunky yarn didn’t turn out the way the lady on another YouTube channel said it would.

ItsJustKelli claimed to be clueless about instructing us on how to crochet scarves, yet she made me laugh and she did answer my question (a cowl is about three feet, a longer scarf you wrap twice or more is way longer, like about 5-6 ft.).

I’ve obsessively been watching/listening to her constant TMI all day — when I’m not obsessively consuming as many “Black Mirror” episodes as humanly possible, and crocheting scarves I have to unravel midway.

Mind. Blown.

  1. This is a full-time job for YouTubers like ItsJustKelli. A job. She’s helping a lot of people sharing her life on YouTube, so not everybody’s on there to be the next Justin Bieber.
  2. People lose entire weekends watching other people eat pizza, sit around doing homework, drop kids off to school, buy groceries, talk about doggy vomit, get their hair done, and work out at the gym. For three hours. Unreal.
  3. I’m not the only Korean adoptee to feel disconnected from my race.
  4. Thousands and thousands of complete strangers tune into ItsJustKelli‘s channel to learn more about her, the more mundane, the better. Where can I sign up?
  5. Don’t watch “Fifteen Million Merits” alone at 3 a.m. Not even with a warm crocheted scarf in your lap.
  6. Now I know where all the other depressed, anxiety-ridden, introspective night owls are.
  7. ItsJustKelli’s whiter than my white husband, which is endearing, not an insult.
  8. She could be my sister, for all I know. We were both “adopted.”
  9. The “San Junipero” episode started off slowly, dragging in some parts, but it’s one of those stand-alone movies within a series that will stay with me forever.
  10. “Hated in the Nation,” however, didn’t seem to fit in with the modern “Twilight Zone” series. It played more like a thriller/procedural, but then I was in the middle of a crocheting crisis at the time. (Wait, this scarf is too rigid to go two more rows!)
  11. “White Bear” is horrifying. Perhaps more for the woman’s constant screaming than the twist at the end.
  12. Girl, take a breath! Rhythm is everything.

I suffered from an immediate, intense feeling of inadequacy when I “met” ItsJustKelli online.

She’s younger, hella more beautiful — even without all that makeup she tests — and much more personable. She does yoga, runs marathons, works out for three hours in the gym every morning, wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, she played soccer competitively, she can cook, she can bake, she’s fucking vivacious… She’s the kind of Asian non-Asians gravitate to and white guys find hot.

She makes being Asian okay, normal even.

She also reminds me of everything I lack.

When I look at her, I’m reminded of every physical flaw, every personality quirk, my tendency to repeat myself, fixate on things, my ugly twisted deformed lips.

At the end of the day, or weekend if you will, I sat back, looked at my fat, sagging clown face, and wondered WTF I had going for me.

The woman can probably write better too.

On the other hand, I’m also enormously relieved to find someone else out there who kinda sorta came from the same place at me and is out in the world kicking ass. Not only that, she’s the first Korean-American YouTube superstar changing stereotypes and minds — even if she can’t pronounce “mochi” right.

Not all of us are what you think we are. We’re different, just like you guys.

ItsJustKelli is validation that Asians can be and do anything.

Maybe one day, I’ll see someone who looks like me thank Jesus Christ for her third Academy Award, living the kind of life I once dreamed of when I was a little immigrant girl growing up in Kentucky, trying to hide who I was.

One note

Alas, this is a jazz dream.

I have to pee, which is the norm around here. I seem to be at some church retreat, camping in the great Northwest somewhere. When I return to my cabin door, I pause instinctively, sensing the approach of a pastor friend. In about four beats, he arrives, lumbering over as if sleepwalking. Come to think of it, I’m half-awake myself.

I recognize him as Chuck, a pastor and an R&B saxophonist. He seems to want something from me. He says, “Carol,” as if the very mention of my name will conjure up recognition, hope, faith, and love.

Without getting too close, I let him inside, waiting for him to open up.

He speaks in starts and stops, threatening to drop into a rabbit hole of self-consciousness at any minute. So I remember I’m a reporter and bring up his recent jazz performance, knowing he suffers from a crippling lack of confidence. You know, to break the ice. I’m good that way. 

He seems to be in torment about it.

“I thought that one note you delivered was powerful,” I start, reaching for the right words like a girl would stretch her hands out for lightning bugs at sunset.

Suddenly, a picture of a swath of trees in the dead of night appears in my mind, followed by a bolt of light and sound on a note so mesmerizing, scary, and profound that it conjures up the seven trumpets sounded by the angels of the Apocalypse John wrote about in the Book of Revelation.

“Your note [both] set and altered my mood, giving voice to lightning.”

It was all I had. It was not enough.

He left my room in the same disheveled condition he came in, sad and lost, and hungry. My carefully worded review went over his head.

I sat in the empty room, taking two bites of the most delicious ice cream sandwich ever, made of hazelnut, dark chocolate, buttermilk waffles, and magic.

What we say

There’s a war within me, begging for understanding: What we say and what we mean.

I’m as guilty of duplicity as the next person, mostly in earnest over obstinate pride. You’ll never catch me fronting like I have all the answers. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit I’m clueless, and hey, let’s work together on this.

But I’m not so far gone that I don’t know what it’s like to hold onto a rationalization like you’d hold onto a life raft in the middle of a storm in the middle of the deep, blue ocean. We are made of the stuff. Some of us more than others.

All this to say, I am often confused by what I’m told versus what I see.

For those intentionally doing damage, I have little empathy or patience. See my dysfunctional childhood.

The same goes for the weak, the lazy, the spectacularly selfish.

Just give me a crumb. Show me a sign that you’re trying to make some sort of contact. Show me who you are, even in increments. Meet me halfway, and I’ll be there. You’d be surprised just how far I’d go, and what little I’ve operated on for that one spark in the darkness that assures me we’re on the same page, that contact, connection happened.

I know an awful lot of withdrawn, introspective people who opt to hide rather than deal with their problems. It’s often too much for them to bear. Hey, I’ve been through that too. Maybe not for long. I’m incapable of keeping it in — it’s a gift from G-d which has saved my life many, many times. It’s also threatened to take away everything and everyone I ever held dear.

It’s why so many, the majority of us keep it to ourselves. The burden, the judgment, the effort, the price we pay for leaving our heart on our sleeve…

Recently, I’ve experienced incidences that have placed me in a position to help someone else, if for nothing else than offering a safe place to vent. Let me tell you that 99.9 percent of the time, no matter what I say, no matter how much I back up my talk with action, I get nothing but radio silence in return. Nothing.

Today, I received a mixture of truth, projection, and knee-jerk surface bullshit conversation strangers engage in to shoot the shit before they go home and do what they really want.

It is beyond frustrating to know that I’m willing to put myself on the line, but you won’t — for whatever reason — especially given the ticking time bomb of our mortality.

What are we doing here wasting so much of our precious time pretending, hiding, bullshitting our way through life?

If you don’t want it, give yours to someone who will appreciate the gift, who will make something of himself/herself.

I see too much of the struggle, not enough fighting.

So fight. Baby steps. Small gestures. One, monumental movement forward — even if it’s to pick up the fucking phone and say hello before falling back down into your pit again. Forget your precious pride for five seconds, go outside to greet the sun, which comes so rarely here in the Northwest, and sing along to your favorite song at the top of your lungs.

Stop making excuses, go in the kitchen and bake a family recipe, go next door, surprise your neighbor, UPS it to your favorite cousin down in Portland. Surprise your child’s school, start dropping off homemade cookies at the office every other month, just because.

Offer to drive a friend’s children to and from soccer practices, so she can take a fucking break for once in her week to have a bath and eat chocolate on the couch.

Ask your troubled teen to tell you what happened, then STFU and listen to his side of the story, really listen. Remember what it was like when you were a kid. If it was totally different, ask your teenager to make you understand what she’s going through. Don’t judge, don’t interrupt (I need to learn this one), don’t insert your own ego masquerading as wisdom, and offer fyi advice but let them think for themselves.

I’m not the kind of person other people come to for advice or comfort. Nobody and I mean nobody comes to me for a shoulder to lean on. I always have to ask. I’m the last person they think of to confide in, or go to when the chips are down, or hell, when they’re celebrating milestones. Not a pity party, fact. I’m okay with it; took me 50-some years, but yeah, I get it.

Here’s the thing. I get it. You’ll never know, because you never bothered.

That’s a shame. We only get one life, one chance, and most of us are colossally focused on the wrong goddamn things.

Today, I tried. I did the best I could, to help without getting in the way of my own need to save your soul, uplift your spirit, be the muse to inspire you to change, to write me a song, dedicate a book…

I tempered a sense of growing futility and life’s infuriating injustices dispensed by a godless system (favoring the biggest assholes) by retreating into my own comfort zone, without totally disengaging: crocheting, writing, music, running outside for the first time this year, eating chocolate.

Mostly, I gave you my heart. Freely.

Because that’s how love works.

Unified Heart

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My heroes.

My son came back from Regionals – Unified Team Basketball today totally stoked. Even with his right arm in a cast, he found a way to get on the court, help his team, and represent his high school for the first time as a freshman.

With a look on his face that uplifted me and broke my heart at the same time, he quietly announced, “I had so much fun, mom. I’m doing this every year.”

I’m a reporter, so I probed further.

He told me that when he goes to practice, even if he can’t jump in there like he used to before he broke his finger, he’s blown away by the pure joy and excitement of these Special Olympics players. They’re so happy to be a part of the fabric of normal life that they can barely contain themselves.

These kids don’t let their so-called disabilities hold them back. They don’t let a bad day get them down for long. They have zero ego, zero attitude, and zero excuses.

So what’s ours?

One of them is such a fantastic three-pointer that my son — a terrible shooter — asked him for tips. “It’s a secret,” the kid said. Priceless.

His coach said that the high school mentors may go in thinking they’re teaching the Special Olympics athletes a thing or two. But they soon find out that they’re learning a lot more.

My son says he’s inspired by them everyday to be a better version of himself, which is partly why he decided to go in there today at Regionals — even with cast literally in hand — and be the rebounding specialist he’s known for.

He also learned about another special athlete with only one arm who received a basketball scholarship and is out there kicking ass. This athlete doesn’t have the luxury of getting a cast removed in two weeks and getting his arm back, either. Perspective, right?

My son isn’t the only one learning a thing or two.

And, you should see these games. They’re packed to the rafters, everyone there for the right reasons, everyone 100 percent supportive.

I remarked to my husband that it’s a shame the whole wide world couldn’t operate like this.

Fall from Grace

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one day it won’t matter

counting the times I stood still, and the earth revolved around me, the distant memories seem birthed from a million stars in the minds of a million strangers, they crawl out of the crevices like big, fat cockroaches that used to fly into my mouth, on the lip of my Campbell’s Alphabet Soup

I’ve told you many times a million, the weight of this body keeps me from reaching you. These words that used to anchor me, at a loss, or tumbling over after I’ve bumped into a buffet table of grand riches trying to find the exit. They’re useless against the mortal depths — bills and charges, checks and balances, the Tupperware after a Thanksgiving potluck, your Niacin and Prozac, your broken family

you look at me, love, and cannot push past these outward grievances, the imperfections guarding my wanton beauty: my black lips, the rusty hair before, these slanted eyes, the careless creases of a woman who gave up long ago

and now I watch you slowly disappear, the hidden figure you once were when she cast such a long shadow

we can only resort to the small talk of polite society, where it’s safe, where you don’t have to address me from your knees, head bent, cry damn you, scream at the sun, tell me I’m right tell me I’m wrong say something let me know I was here I was here I was here

I was here

 

Edward Thomas at 4 a.m.

“Like the touch of rain she was

On a man’s flesh and hair and eyes
When the joy of walking thus
Has taken him by surprise:

With the love of the storm he burns,
He sings, he laughs, well I know how,
But forgets when he returns
As I shall not forget her ‘Go now.’

Those two words shut a door
Between me and the blessed rain
That was never shut before
And will not open again.”

-Edward Thomas

“I built myself a house of glass:

It took my years to make it:

And I was proud. But now, alas!
Would God someone would break it.

But it looks too magnificent.
No neighbour casts a stone
From where he dwells, in tenement
Or palace of glass, alone.”

-Edward Thomas

Polite Society

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Acetic acid, a priest without a proper wardrobe. You seem to appear out of nowhere, a voice that carries when she leaves well enough alone, caressing my name hard and soft, a ballad somewhere in the chromatic stage.

My earliest memory is of you with the children, pulling a makeshift sled past the brick and mortar of her latest pet project in the dead of the worst winter in Northwest history. You smell of steel-cut oatmeal, and ashes. A few short months later, I crept out in the night of my embankment, the haunting epithet of my late father hanging over me.

No one wants you.

You never said a word, save for secondhand hearsay on her behalf, the Christ to my Judas — blaspheming my name.

She is to blame for all of this.

She has no grace.

But my love, I did not stray.

“Are you coming to the next show?”

It is last summer, and we are two strangers coming together in the aftermath of her execution.

I sit above the din of the bar downstairs, waiting for him to see me. Because he asked.

He doesn’t stay, he barely touches me. We talk about things that don’t matter, my blackened salmon, where’s the toilet, when I long for more. Simply more from the shadow of her backward glances, pointed stares in her missile range, her hands and mouth still sharp with self-recrimination.

Such the dutiful soldier executing orders.

How can you stand there so polite, so quiet, when you fucked me from behind, gave me ivy, shaking with terror and naked need?

This is where I leave.

Don’t Save

1 Corinthians 13:4-13New International Version (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Karma is love

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The worst torture is watching you, my enemy, my friend, my something else, fall into a darkness I cannot breach with a handful of perfectly formed words, my clumsy poetry, my adulterous dedications, not this lava I attest is my soul given freely. The pumpkin bread, summer berry bundt cake, an envelope of Starbucks gift cards, old Shutterfly jpegs… These are meaningless in your windowless world where you move from Point A to Point B with the perfunctory stillness of a gutted gutless pig. She made you who you are, I should be glad, I should piss on your grave, delight in your suffering, rub your face in the bed you lay with her, that faithless whore you chose over me, why did you choose her over me I don’t care that she was your wife, that you were honoring your marriage, it ended anyway, so what’s the point?

I’ve felt your naked body pressing on my back, your shaking hands pulling me further into the house of the damned, “Please don’t leave me with her, please understand, I can’t, she—” the light in your eyes go out the moment she projectiled her barroom brawls and theatrical promises in the circle jerk that used to be our worship.

I am running out of words to hold you in this polite society you’ve put me in.