Underneath my yellow skin

The meaning of life

I’ve always had a weird view on life. Whereas most people have goals that they want to reach at certain points of their life, milestones, if you will, I never have. Partly, it’s because I don’t have the same goals as the normies. Marriage, kids, promotions, etc. I never wanted kids and was relieved to realize that I didn’t have to have them, despite the pressure from society (and my mother. So much pressure from my mother. She spent fifteen years trying to knock me up. I’m not kidding that every time we talked, she had to bring it up. That was fine when we talked every few weeks. Not so fine when she was visiting and she mentioned it every day. Her desperate gambit: “You can adopt a black baby to match your cats.” Which is horrifying in several ways, but not the least in that she said it in a kidding tone when she was clearly not kidding.

Side note: It took me a really long time to realize that my mother is an unreliable narrator. She is very uncomfortable with anything negative so she rewrites history by forgetting unpleasant things. So the summer when she visited and mentioned me having kids every day? Which was a private hell on my part and led to many arguments? In her memory, it was a nice summer we spent together. It’s crazy-making. Literally. I feel like I’m going crazy when I talk to her sometimes because she’ll deny to my face something I knew had happened.

My go-to example is when I graduated from college. I graduated Phi Beta and Magna Cum Laude. After the ceremony, my mother said if I hadn’t gotten a B in Intro Psych, I would have graduated Summa Cum Laude. Up until that moment, I was pretty pleased with graduating Magna, but upon hearing that, I was crushed. I confronted her about it years later and she denied ever having said it. And not in the “Oh, I said it, but prove it” way. She honestly looked puzzled. She said she didn’t remember saying that and that she was pretty sure she hadn’t said it. When I insisted she had, she said, “If I did say it, I probably wanted to reassure you in case you felt bad about not getting Summa Cum Laude.” Which, is obvious bullshit, but it also indicates another of my mother’s flaws–she can create a worry out of nothing. That’s her specialty! Worrying all the time. You would think as a psychologist, she would know that worry is useless without action and even with it, sometimes. But she’s a psychologist who says one thing and does another. Worse, she always has a rationalization for her behavior that she can ground in psych-speak.

She worries about things so far in the future, it’s ridiculous. In talking about visiting next year (which, need I remind you, is nearly a year away), she started talking about my father’s declining health and how it makes it more difficult for him to travel. She teared up as she said, “This might be the last time you see him.” Putting aside the family dysfunction for a hot second, why would you even think about that when there are three weeks to go in this year’s visit? Three long, interminable weeks? In addition, I literally and canonically died–twice! So talking about someone dying to me is kind of in poor form.

In addition, as I told her, you can’t live your life constantly gauging when you’re going to die. I mean, you can. People do. But it robs the point of living if you constantly think about dying. Yes, there’s the saying of live as if you’re going to die, but it’s not meant literally.

Look, if my mom’s constant worrying actually prevented her from worrying at the time, then I say have at it. But it doesn’t. She worries ahead of time as a futile attempt to control the uncontrollable. In this case, my father’s death. She can’t control it, obviously, but she *can* worry incessantly about it, which makes her feel like she’s doing something about it.

I know that feeling. I am a constant worrier myself, which is one reason it’s so aggravating to see it in my mother. The difference is that I keep all my worrying in my head, not let it leak out willy and, indeed, nilly. I will fully admit that part of the reason it annoys me so much is because it reinforces the voices in my head. I can keep my own anxiety in hand for the most part through Taiji, but it’s harder when my mom is voicing every thought that enters her brain–out loud.

Wow, that was a winding side road I took there. Back to goalposts in life. When I was a kid, I assumed I’d get married and have kids. I mean, it’s hard to avoid when you’re a female-shaped person that these are the main (if not sole) purposes of your meaningless life. Even though I was expected to go to college (because, Taiwanese), that was still the backdrop to me finding a husband and begetting several children. Although, amusingly, when my mother was once complaining to my brother on the phone (I overheard) about me not having children because there’s a special bond between mother and daughter when the daughter has a child (Let me be churlish enough to point out that she was separated by 3,000 miles from her mother when she was pregnant and had a fractured relationship with my grandmother). My brother laughingly suggested he could have more and my mother quickly said he had enough. See, that’s the thing. She’s never satisfied. My brother has three kids and that’s too much whereas I don’t have any and that’s not enough.

In addition, she doesn’t actually like spending time with her grandchildren from what I’ve seen–neither she nor my father do. They have such rigid ideas of how kids should be that they don’t like actual kids. Including my brother and me when we were kids. They all went on a cruise together a few years ago. I didn’t go because I hate cruises. I’ve never been on one, but the idea of them is my nightmare. Being trapped with thousands of people in a small space on an ocean while I get motion sick and can’t eat half the food? Yeah, no thanks. My mom was bereft as she was set on a family cruise, but I held firm. I knew I would be miserable and not enjoy it one whit so why waste thousands of dollars?

Anyway, when they got back from the cruise, the most I heard about was how the boys misbehaved. Again, that’s partly just their culture–Taiwanese people complain a lot–but it’s also that they don’t actually know how kids behave. They still adhere to the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ mentality which went out of fashion decades ago.

But they always find something to complain about, which is how I am as well. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out things to improve, but sometimes, take the win. Enjoy the experience. It’s so funny because when I talked to my brother about the cruise, he was effusive about all the things he enjoyed about the cruise. If I hadn’t talked to him, I would have assumed that it was a flop because my parents mentioned three negatives for every one positive. But, now, if you ask my mom about it, she’ll say she wants to go on another.

That’s her in a nutshell, though. What she thinks she wants is not actually what she wants. It’s similar to how she views me. I knew in my late twenties that I was a disappointment to her and that she saw my life as a repudiation of everything she’d done with hers. That wasn’t how I meant my life to read, but it’s hard not to think of it like that when I’m basically the exact opposite of her.

And, to be fair, part of my opposition was because I saw what her life with my father was like; I wanted NONE of that. And I knew I had it in me to be in an abusive relationship where all I could think about was pleasing an unworthy man who thought I was shit on his shoes. Is that the reason I eschewed relationships? Honestly, yes, it’s a big part of it. I know myself. I know how I get. I would rather not date anyone at all than give myself completely to one person. Quite frankly, I’m horrified at how slavish my mother is with my father and has been my entire life. I want none of that. None. So she’s not completely wrong. Some of what I’ve done (or not done) with my life is a fierce repudiation of her life. The kid thing, though, is not.

I have never had the maternal stirrings that other people talk about. I did not like dolls; I preferred plushies. I never dreamed of my wedding or what it would be like to be a mother. I gloomily assumed I had to have children because that’s all I saw around me, but I did not want it. In my early 20s, I realized I didn’t have to have children (no matter how much society pressured me) and the intense relief I felt at the realization was a revelation.

Naively, I shared this with people when they asked when I was having kids–and by people I mean women, and they inevitably asked. I said I didn’t  want them, which you would think would be a fairly noncontroversial statement. You would be wrong, however, as I received a range of reactions from incredulity to anger. Yes, anger. There were women who were mad at my decision as if it had any reflection on them. I didn’t understand it until later after much thought. I was challenging the status quo, which was a threat to them. I wasn’t even challenging it, really, as saying it didn’t matter to me. I rejected it completely without a second thought. If the status quo was that easily dismissed, then maybe it wasn’t necessary in the first place! No matter how many times I told these women that I didn’t care about their reproductive choices, they still took my decision not to have children as an affront.

This was twenty-five years ago, by the way. I had hoped that we would make some progress in that time, but I’m still hearing from the younger women that they’re getting pressured to have children. Sigh. My mom gave up on me when I turned forty and then she turned to exhorting me to get married so I’d have a man to take care of me. Putting aside the fact that I’m bisexual, she is the LAST person to be talking about the security of marriage. Someone to take care of me? The way my father takes care of her? Yeah, right. If I sound dismissive, it’s because I am. Her quality of life would have been much better without him, but that is beside the point.

It’s been a strange life without the normal markers of adulthood. I work for myself/my brother from home, which cuts off another avenue of adulthood–having a real job. Before I ended up in the hospital, I just meandered about my life, doing the same thing every day (especially during the pandemic) and not thinking much about it.

I am not one to set goals. I tried on a few New Year’s Days to make resolutions, but that always felt artificial to me. First of all, the idea of making sweeping changes on the first day of the year. Why wait until then? I get that it’s symbolic, but I also felt that it was setting yourself up to fail. In addition, given my oppositional nature, setting up goals like losing a hundred pounds in a year, makes me perversely not want to do it. That’s one of my flaws and something I’m working on.

After I got out of the hospital, I had no goals except to recover. And to mull over what had happened to me. I wasn’t thinking about my life or my life goals. I don’t think that’s a weird thing or it’s me slacking. I just had other things on my mind. Now, I’m starting to think about the rest of my life because, well, it seems like I’m actually going to have a ‘rest of my life’. I’m not sure what it’ll entail, but I can’t wait to find out.


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