Dad’s First Comment

While working in Thailand, I received the following message from my brother:

I checked our shared iCloud photo album (primarily used to share photos and videos of my niece, but lately I’ve been sharing photos of my travels so that my family knows that I’m alive and well) and saw several likes and comments from a Jenny Zhu.

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I got my parents iPads a couple of years ago — they’re registered in my name, which is why the comments appear from “Jenny Zhu.” But this is the first time they’ve posted anything, anywhere. I’m overcome with glee because, well, how cute is this?! They’re learning! Can’t wait to continue to help them (slowly) discover the wonders and conveniences of technology.

My Brother

As we indulged in leftover Halloween candy today after lunch, my coworkers and I reminisced about our childhood experiences surrounding the holiday, touching on our various strategies to maximize candy collection, and equally important, candy retention. Yeah, parents would take it away, but most everyone at the table mentioned that their siblings were the biggest culprits when it went missing.

That wasn’t the case for me though, because my brother was the best. I don’t remember any candy theft; on the contrary, he showered me with treats and looked out for me.

When he fundraised for school by selling candy, he’d save and buy me my favorites.

When he frequented Comic Grapevine, the local comic book and gaming store, he’d bring me along so that I could buy candy, play or watch them play the games, peruse the comic books, and play with the store cats. I can’t imagine how annoying or embarrassing it’d be to have your kid sister tag along for stuff like that, but he brought me anyway. It’s where I discovered my love for Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat — I was never any good, but I was happy to watch. It’s where I spent my hard-earned money on new pogs — the sparkly slammers were my faves, of course. It’s where I learned how to play Magic: The Gathering, amassing my own collection of cards and subsequently blowing the minds of all the boys in my class — I had to bring my decks to school and play before they believed me.

And when I started dating, going to dances and parties, and generally doing all the things my parents forbade me from doing, he’d cover for me, pick me up late at night, and always make sure I was safe.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sibling like mine.

 

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(Apologies for the terrible photo quality!)

Still Waters

Gray clouds loom in the distance that evening as we drive over the bay bridge. Sail boats and freighters are common sights in the bay, but there aren’t any to be seen; Sundays of three-day weekends are always quiet.

Dad looks out over the eerily still water, momentarily transfixed. He breaks the silence with a peculiarly dark question, jarring in contrast to the lighthearted day we had just spent together as a family. “What would you do if you were out there for a long open-water swim, with your brother or best friend, and they said that they couldn’t make it any further?”

After a brief pause, he elaborates. “Think about it. There’s nothing and no one around for miles. Do you try to save him, drowning together in the process? Or do you continue on without him?”

It was a dark hypothetical. I appreciate outlandish questions, and as a chronic worrier, my mind naturally tends toward the dark (hope for the best, prepare for the worst — as they say), but this was tragic. I didn’t want to think about it, but I did.“I’d never be on a swim like that. If I were… I don’t know.”

I consider it as realistically as I could. “He really can’t go on? What if we just turn on our backs and float awhile, to rest?”

“No, at this point, he’s done. You think he wants to die? Of course not, but he’s sinking.”

I sigh. “I don’t know what I’d do, but I know that either way, I’d be dead. I’d drown trying to save him, and if I had to leave him behind or watch him drown, I’d drown in my panic and grief.”

Dad continues to build the scene, as if my response didn’t register.“Even if I gave you a measly 10 lb weight, that’d affect your ability to swim a long distance. An entire person. There’s no way you could make it.”

“Yeah…I don’t know.”

Moments of sad, contemplative silence pass.

“This happened to me, many years ago. Think about being on a plane that’s going down, think about everything — all the thoughts, memories, and concerns that would suddenly flood your mind. All those things? That’s what I thought about in that excruciating moment.”

I sit in stunned silence, looking out over the water.

With a quiet anguish, he ends the conversation. “I don’t burden you with stories like this, but one day, maybe five or ten years from now, I’ll share.”

Against the Odds

My parents aren’t very romantic, but I can tell my dad is getting more sentimental as the years pass. He recently reminisced about the beginning of his relationship with my mom.

Your mom was a country gal, and I was from the big city. She’s 6 years older, highly unconventional for our generation and culture. Your mom’s entire family was against our marriage and impending move to the U.S., predicting that our relationship would die within the year, leaving her stranded with nothing and alone in the states. We’ve been married nearly 40 years.

Conversations with Lily

I’ve only spent an hour with her today, but my heart is already bursting at the seams. When I’m with her, nothing else matters. I’ll never forget her reaction when I surprised her this morning — it’s forever seared into my memory.

A few snippets:

“Jen Jen, would you like to play with me?” Always irresistible, always in a slight British accent.

“Hey Mochi, what’s the matter?” Said in a sweet, comforting tone to one of her dogs, who was looking mopey.

“Mochi, it’s not for doggies, for pete’s sake.” I laugh, and she smirks because she knows exactly what was so funny. “Yeah, I say ‘for pete’s sake.’”

“Turn on the music, so we can dance, ok?” A gal after my own heart. But I prefer my dance parties after 8am.

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Don’t worry, she gave me a mask too.

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