I live by two parks: a front park and a back park, according to their relative location. By chroma they are the green and brown park; by temperament, the lush and barren park. But perhaps the most psychologically telling, to me they are the father park and the mother park.
I resisted going into the front/green/lush/father park for the longest time after I settled in. Or rather, I pictured it resisting me. It has a certain depth that I am afraid to get to know. If I were to speak concretely, the scaffolding trees and other jungly bits of greenery provide lairs for coyotes whose chilling cries fill the starless sky at night, whose lithe bodies could emerge out of a dark backdrop any minute, ready to pounce on me and Fargo if they knew who we really are, despite our sizes. But abstractly and figuratively, the park’s liveliness makes me feel out of place, its richness of resources repelling. The father quality of it is that it’s just too full of character, with hundreds of shades of green, and labyrinthine passages connecting layers of earth on and around a conical hill.
So the back, brown, barren and mother park had been the only practical park in use, as it is just an unembellished plot of land, transparent from every side, approachable and easy-going (I don’t have to prepare for a certain mood before going in, while with the other, I’d have to feel at least a little bit adventurous), until one day I spotted a coyote there as well. It was in the gloaming twilight of the day, Fargo and I were right outside of a fenced dog play area, about to leave, and a medium sized coyote suddenly appeared a few feet in front of us. I froze, and prayed that Fargo wouldn’t make a dramatic move. The coyote didn’t bother coming our way, or so much as looking at us at all; instead it jumped over the fence into the dog playground. There were no dogs there; it was too late, nearly dark. I was wonderstruck. Maybe coyotes secretly want to be a domestic animal. They ultimately just want to play, and would rather do so in a manicured area with proper rules set in place and guidelines to follow. When the incessant rain sweeps across the hills and mist fills the valleys of the city, when all the holiday lights are up, even wild creatures feel the need to seek shelter.
That coyote incidence had tilted the scale to make the two parks more equally preferable, but I still didn’t go into the front one until you did it with me. One of the weekends that you came over to stay, on the Sunday morning you proposed: let’s go into that park. I didn’t bother explaining the particular psychological trap that had prevented me from going in so far, and I didn’t let my hesitance shown. You were so frolic and flourishing; you’d fit right in. So we went in together and just like that, the curse was lifted. From then on I go in once a day.
You are a good mother to Fargo. You observed. You say to him “it’s not your fault” when he does something bad.
In any usual case I wouldn’t get excited by remarks like that. Motherliness is my hallmark, one of those inborn and immutable traits, like eye color, of mine. I am also sheerly feminine, tender and soft and clinging, but those are all secondary. It’s a truth I so firmly believed that no counterargument could’ve shaken it and no affirmation could’ve occasioned any surprise. Or so I thought. But not too long ago someone attacked my mothering style and I was nearly destroyed. It was like shaking the foundation of my identity; and I shudder to think that I let it happen. After that any affirmation is restorative. Life always gives me pairs of experiences: getting attacked and getting restored, being pushed down and lifted up, darkness and light, war and peace, the latter always greater in strength than the former — through that, and only through that, I ascend. I almost have to rely on this pattern to ascend now. I imagine my journey to be in tune with the sequence of Chinese dynasties, and myself those dynasty founders, always reinventing a much greater era than before, starting the calendar over at the Year One, although it is how long that greatness lasts that really matters.
I do believe it’s true when I say I “let it happen” — it is a newly acquired conviction that nothing is entirely out of my control. Even being out of control is a result of me conscientiously giving up control in the first place; it’s me letting down my guard. Whatever comes my way, I made it, or at least let it, happen. That means I am always partially responsible for what had happened to me, good or bad. Well, mostly I shall be responsible for the good. There’s this beautiful moment one night on an island looking out to a whole city of lights, and I prided myself on stepping outside of my house, putting one foot in front of the other, to be able to be there and see that.
Who do you miss? You asked me in that moment. No one. I scanned all corners of my brain and answered in all honesty.
Really? I miss so many people.
That’s how we are different. I wanted to say. And I am responsible for that difference.
One striking difference is I remember what you said, and you often don’t. Whenever you start a sentence with “Have I mentioned to you…” I can’t help but realize that the answer is always yes. But more than what you said, I take what you wrote even more seriously. Did I tell you the only marriage proposal I ever received was over an email? Like I said, I take written words seriously. But the tragedy is that only I do. When people say, just saying, I often think, I’m never just saying.
I don’t think we mean the same thing when we say or write the same words.
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I’m always mode switching. I oscillate between missing my mom (as a daughter) and missing my dog (as a mother). So yes, I did have someone to miss, but knowing that they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the wilderness I didn’t have to wish them there. Missing them and wishing them there are two different things. So yes, I’m never not missing anyone. What are we building all the memories for, if not for the future us to miss them dearly?
My bimodal identity also slowly transformed with the rhythm of the seasons: when winter came I no longer want to be the autumn girl. The autumn me had a lot of uninstitutionalized relationships: I don’t really know what they were. Just like there’s always a box in your storage that you can only label as “stuff,” I had a number of what I’d call “a thing.” Because they belong to an institution society doesn’t officially recognize, there’s no real protocol for starting or ending them. The simple story is they were here, and now they are not. I wish all things can be interpreted from such a lens, all insignificant ones at least, without any contrived etiquette for stage defining, and most importantly, without any need for bogus explanations when they cease to be. And the best part is, I’d come to know what the significant ones are, those that I’d be willing to go the extra mile to maintain some kind of decorum, and conform to social graces.
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Last year by this time I thought I had every single wish of mine fulfilled. And this year it is the same. Only the fulfilling was so quietly done, so privily disclosed, as if any loud declaration would ruin it all, and someone had secretly watched out for me, knowing that good news can be as startling as bad ones, disturbing my tranquility all the same.
Comparing today’s outstanding fulfillers with those of yesteryear is a provocative exercise. What a year. We often say so when it ends, without realizing that we had said the same year after year.
It’s odd that I hadn’t written about Greece. The fact is the whole second part of this year is characterized by one gesture, done in various ways, that is “taking myself out,” sometimes against my own will. The magic of Greek islands have gotten jumbled together in my memory with spurts of depression episodes and sudden tears, like the contents of a suitcase disheveled in transit. It will take some time to sort them out, and it will take some instigating self-examination. Sometimes I couldn’t write because it is too painful to examine myself — I know I wouldn’t like what I see. But the fear of writing is part of writing. All the unable-to-write, all the unwriting, are also writing. In this life I had to understand all the ineffable means, to live, to love, to fall and rise, just to reach words. I’ve never been so certain about this creative energy that’s in me and screaming to come out. It had to come out in all the wrong forms first — in the form of tears, of anger, of wordlessness — to finally come out in the right form: words. But being wrong is the only kind of affective distillery that manufactures a secret poultice for being right, with the power of time.
By the calendar, that long, scorching, overly sunny, and ridiculously romantic summer is over. But my own reflection tells me it is safely stored in a bright blue and white corner of memory, in a soft, plushy square, ready for me to revisit. I hadn’t wished for an unduly uplifting summer to undo my chilling cold spring, but I did make, or let, the rhythm of the seasons work its wonders.
Days are short, nights are young, and there’s so much to be done.