“I wasn’t able to be there in that moment; I didn’t want to be there to see his body as a kind of lifeless lump. I responded with anger.” -Mick Lorusso.
Fiction. Based on a True Ah Po.
by Mingjie Zhai
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
You knew this would be the last time you would see ah po, the grandmother who raised you till you were four. She read to you, she bathed you, she taught you patience.
When you were five, ah po took you to America where you reunited with your mother and saw your father for the first time. A year later, you were back at the airport with ah po, but this time you were screaming and kicking because they did not tell you that you couldn’t go to wherever ah po was going. You were crying, and they were amused at your pain, your deep sorrow, your anger. You made a scene at the airport and you didn’t care. They were amused at how passionate and dramatic you were, but they mostly dismissed your feelings. You’ve always felt too much, and the weight of goodbyes were heavy because the weight of your love is heavy. You love deep, and so are your grudges. Somewhere deep down inside, you still had held it against your parents for that day, and that grudge was revealed in the fourth step inventory you and your sponsor went over together.
The Last Time
Your sister, Maple, pretends like everything’s great around Ah Po. You’re both grown now. You really wanted your husband to be there on this trip. You knew it would be the last time she would get the opportunity to see you and your husband together. Your sister just graduated from USC. She makes small talk with ah po. “I’m going to be a journalist,” she tells ah po.
“I love watching ‘How I Met Your Mother.”
“Have you been watching any good comedy shows? No? I’ll tell you about this show I love…” and on she goes. Perhaps this is the most appropriate way to say goodbye, but you don’t know how to make small talk when all you can do is feel your heart heavy, filled with love, longing, confusion, bitterness, and pain. You knew coming into this that this would be the last time you would ever see her again. Ah po is so thin now you could see the bones protrude from her paper thin skin. You were quiet the whole time that Maple is making light talk. And when Maple ran out of things to say, the silence fills the room again, and something breaks you out of your silent stubbornness.
“Ah po, this may be the last time I will ever see you again. I need to let you know, just how much you mean …” and before you could finish your sentence, your voice betrays you as the tenor changes and the cadence begins to tremble. You start to cry, and then your body starts shaking uncontrollably and your heart lets out its heaviness in a flood of tears now that you are bawling.
You’re sister looks at you awkwardly, and is embarrassing because you are eight years older than she is.
Ah Po requests that you do not take any photos of her, but you sneak in a few because you really want to remember this moment. Your sister continues making small talk about a guy she’s dating, or perhaps something else, but you forget.
At least she’s making some kind of talk. All you are making are guttural sounds and snot filled tissues. You are embarrassed for the depth of pain that is being exuded in this room. All you keep thinking about is that this is
the last time,
the last time,
the last time you will be seeing her and you knew it.
You knew it, you knew it.
No words can do justice of how deeply you love her. You can not articulate what a difference she has made in your life, and yet you really want to. You wanted her to know badly you will miss her but your pride in coming off weird or immature held you back. You wanted to hold her tight the way she had held you when you were a little girl. You wanted to do that for her while smiling, but instead, you bawled like that little girl in the airport again.
You owe this woman that piece of your heart that is kind and graceful because it was your ah po who imprinted it on you at an early age. You were validated by her in your full self-expression, this woman who used to make you cry, laugh, and smile. The woman who cultivated your love for story.
She read you a story about the poor girl with the sheep that could make food anywhere she went so she would never go hungry, the princess who was always so picky about her suitors because she was so superficial that she wound up with an ugly old man as a husband, and the girl with the evil sisters and step-mother who became a servant to her deceased father’s home and one day went to a ball and caught the eye of Prince charming, all in Chinese. Your grandmother instilled Mandarin as your first language before you immigrated to Alhambra, California, where your dad made you a swing in the middle of the living room to console you after Grandma had left.
You missed her so terribly.
And as you are writing this, you start bawling again.
The love aching.
Your mother respects her.
You remember seeing mother and uncle Skyping her every evening while she was laying in bed, nearly motionless, but just enough to say a few words to her children.
Mother would make light talk.
Your sister would make light talk.
They have the art of making people feel good.
Ah po came to your dreams a few days later after she had passed. She showed you that your mother and Maple were on one side of the door and you and your father are on the other side. She told you that you must fight for the unification.
This was around the time dad had announced that he was divorcing your mom. You were at Cross Campus, Santa Monica, when dad shared the news. It was holiday season, and you were alone, working on The Love Story project, and after you had hung up, you cried. You felt so alone.
Months later, you grandmother passed, and she came to you in your dreams.
You woke up and later that week, you confessed to your dad how sorry you were as a negligent and ungrateful daughter that hardly ever showed outward appreciation for his protection and provision all those years since high school. Ah po encouraged you to stand for helping mother obtain what she wanted–her husband back.
A mother knows her daughter’s heart.
Ah po loves your mother so much. Despite the micro managing, the constant worrying, and critical nagging which culturally translated to love.
You never once heard your mother complain about her mother in front of you.
You saw how respectful your mother treated ah po. That’s why it breaks your mother’s heart when you say things that are rude and disrespectful to her. Like pointing out how she micromanages you and how she worries too much. You don’t really sit down with her and talk with her.
Perhaps in another journal entry you can explore this.
When you were seven, ah po and ah gong (grandpa) came to California to visit. This time you all were living in Rancho Cucamonga. It was during that time you were running a high fever. Ah po, being a nurse in China, had the needle. You watched her as she took that sharpened needle from her suitcase of medicines she had taken from China and watched that sharpened needle draw from the liquid vial. She would then tap on the base of the syringe to make sure that there were no bubbles inside the syringe. She told you that if there were air inside the syringe, and it were injected into the bloodstream, one can die. That’s why ah po would always make sure to push out a few drops of liquid to clear any possible air bubbles inside the syringe. Then she would tell you to lay on your belly. Your butt cheek would be bare, and you would feel a cold wet cotton rubbing on your butt cheek in circular motion before the shocking sting of the needle went in. You didn’t know that it was called anxiety back when you had anxiety every time you would have to get your shots whenever you would get sick, and you would get sick often. Your grandmother would also make you drink lots of herbs and teas and make you sweat out the toxins of the fever.
Ah po kept you healthy and had you taking fish oils, vitamin e, b, and c. She emphasized the importance of eating healthy. She would say in English, “You are what you eat.”
And she also told you that if you’re reading for a long period of time, that it is best to take a break and occasionally look far away, preferably look at something green, for it is to protect your best asset–your eyes.
She would always remind you that you have beautiful eyes.
When you were seven, you would occasionally watch her do her tai chi every morning and you would feel proud when the garden flourished in the backyard because your grandmother had the green thumb. You also felt like you did your part by peeing in the empty gallon milk carton that ah po customized for you so she can offer nutrients to the soil as fertilizer. It made for greener and juicier tomatoes she would say.
It was ah po who tucked you into bed every night and ah po who sung you to bed. It was ah po who hugged you and held you when you were just a little girl looking like a boy.
Your mother would always say how beautiful ah po looked when she was mother’s age. She looked like snow white, is what your mother would always say.
“You’re going to grow up beautiful like ah po,” your mother would say.
Now that ah po is in heaven, doing her tai chi, it is up to you to take on the meaning of being Snow White.
The white hairs that grow out of your hairline looks like winter sprouts and remind you of ah po’s hair. One time, while plucking out the white hairs, you had caught a silver one.
The line of your mother’s mother. Snow white.