Episode 48: Power lifter
I woke up one day, staring at the ceiling of a house I was unfamiliar with. I slowly opened my eyes to the sound of “George of the jungle” screaming into my ears from the video cassette player () in the next room. What a strange alarm clock, I pondered. Wondering why my older brother was watching such an old movie? As I began to feel my spirit settle into me, an eerie wind washed over my body. It was a strange feeling. A feeling of emptiness. A feeling of falling into a deep abyss that sent a chill down my spine. As I pulled the blanket closer to me in the summer heat of Winder, Georgia, I realized it wasn’t my brother Joey watching the movie. This person’s laughter was too squeaky to be that powerful voice my brother possessed and I realized…I was no longer in Kansas and no matter how much I tap my red Adidas shoes together, I would not be able to leave this nightmare anymore, as my fears has now become my reality, and my reality has now become my deepest fears.
The person who was watching that movie, was my new housemate. A 4-year-old boy by the name of Ronan, who was a stranger yesterday, but is now my younger brother today. As I drag my feet along the hard carpet floor to wash my face and brush my teeth, I know that there is no way, I was going to be able to wash off this frown on my face. Oh Yeah That’s right! My parents left my brothers and sister in Georgia as they went to go pursue the meaning of their lives elsewhere, now that they were no longer together. Now that they were no longer here. I guess this couldn’t have been any worse than the time they almost got a divorce living in Hortonville, Wisconsin back in 2000 when I overheard my dad crying on the phone, fighting over which kids he was going to take, and which kids my mother was going to take. Johnny was the oldest. The first-born son. The one who first gave my father a reason to stop gang banging in the streets since he was 12 years old when he was homeless. The first one, to let my mother experience what it felt like, to finally love something more than she loved herself. The chosen one, the one to succeed the family. He was the most important heir to our family lineage and perhaps the only one that mattered according to my Uncle Black and everyone else who asks how he’s doing, even though I’m the one standing before them. Then came Joey, the third oldest. He was my father’s favorite in a sense. My dad took him everywhere with him. Some nights when they would sneak out, I would run to the side door and watch them leave, waiting for the day when it will be me too because I knew him and my dad were going to take our chickens out to either make money, or lose money. My dad taught him everything he knew, from raising chickens, to fishing, sports, and fixing cars. For sure, he wanted Joey, but even he, took a second seat to my baby sister, Olivia. I was worried because I never heard my hero shed tears before in such a manner. Someone who I have feared all my life from the strength of his belt as it left a tattoo on my skin (Sometimes, I swear I can still feel it). Someone who took care of 5 kids at the age of 24; a feat even me at the age of 26, is something I can’t even fathom doing. He was crying, because he knew there was a good chance, he was unable to take Olivia, or “Oh” is what we called her, with him as he knows his possible ex-wife would win custody. Oh yeah, I totally forgot about my 2nd oldest brother and me. Well. Joseph was the second born, so to a degree he could never measure up to the oldest. Each time my parents thought of him, he will always be in Johnny’s shadow because he just happened to come out 10 months after Johnny did. And well…Me? My parents were hoping that I was a girl, so when I toughed it out against all my fallen brothers and sisters, and became the youngest boy, you can imagine their frustration. I guess there goes my chance at being the most spoiled one in the family. If only I was a girl, I could have been the youngest. In most Hmong families, the youngest ones tend to be the most spoiled since their older siblings will be the one to inherit all the expectations and respect. This doesn’t just apply to my parents, but pretty much everyone else who would see us as family. Me and Joseph, was divided between my parents with no quarrels, so I guess to a degree, we were forgotten in their debate of who will get who. Luckily, because of Olivia, our family was able to survive this moment and we moved to Georgia not too long afterwards.
How about that short moment after 2 years of living in Georgia, and we made a speedy move to live in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota to live with my Auntie Xia? We were packed, perhaps 20 people living in a 3-bedroom house. My parents separated for a little bit and my dad got back into his old habits again. Literally, one love short from my Uncle Yakou and my father would have blasted all our guts to the grave with him, but thankfully it was tough to hide his intentions from a fellow thoroughbred. We were saved for a moment…Or is living worse than dying right then and there?
This moment couldn’t have been any tougher than my 9th grade year of high school, could it? I remembered my father always talking about how amazing he was, for taking down some of the best of the best wrestlers in his days. As my hero, I strived to be like him, so I thought, why not join the wrestling team, and see if I can make him proud of me? Perhaps I can make him also regret not taking me all those times with him during those years when he only took Joey correct? I mean, Joey was older than me, so of course he started wrestling before me. I remember seeing my father go watch every match Joey had. I used to always see his coach put him, a 119 lb. wrestler, against people many times his size and watch him tough it through, sometimes to a victory against people 20 or 30 lbs. heavier than he is. The focus my father had, the excitement and the look in his face. I wanted that for me as well, but who would have known that that opportunity would pass me by when I caught staph infection on my chin due to a cut on the wrestling mats that eventually reacted terribly with my puberty. That created what my brother Joey would refer to as, “Freddy Kruger” face. I went from a handsome cute, 9th grader who could talk to just about any girl…to the scary Asian kid everyone avoided at school, at church and worst of all, bullied and made fun of by my own brother who I always strived to be like, Joey. I mean, the Dermatologist was so afraid when they saw my face, that they gave me the strongest medicine they had with side effects of suicide. This was especially dangerous for someone at the age of 14, weighing in at about 115 lbs. at the time. Oh, how my view of the world changed…When I use to always get sent to the principal’s office or have the nurse come check up on me multiple times because the students at the school kept “snitching” on me, saying I’m diseased and I need to leave the school. How about the people who couldn’t stand looking at my face? Basically, many people avoided me. I couldn’t really sleep, because if I turned my head, the scabs would brush off my pillow, having blood and pust ooze out of my face. You could imagine how much my parents hated replacing my pillows. I used to always find myself waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning due to the itchiness of the healing scabs. I would unintentionally wake up seeing my white T-shirt stained with a river of red as I rushed to the bathroom sink, and tears flowed down my eyes from the pain of squeezing the blood out of my face. I had to be careful when I ate, because opening my jaw too big, meant opening my scars or I had to suppress my laughter because expressing myself meant losing blood to the floor. Thankfully, Chrissy Chang, gave me some words of encouragement, saying she don’t know how I was able to walk through the hall ways, looking the way that I did, handling life the way that I did. Oh, trust me I was on edge and suicide was not too far off from my mind. Especially when the individual who I would be sharing a seat with every day on the bus during those 6 months, is the main one to bring attention to his hideous younger brother.
Thinking back to all these times gave me a sense of strength, or at least, that was what I told myself to feel better about what was going on…but I mean, I just didn’t know how to feel back then. The two people who gave you your life and sacrificed everything they had to raise me. Literally, kids raising kids. The people who I wanted to want me as much as I wanted them. The people who cooked for me, changed my diapers, gave me this dream of becoming a Doctor, earning a PHD, and making them proud. The same people who put aside their differences to make sure, we lived well…Were no longer in my life and as I looked up to wash my face listening to the Ronan’s happiness watching George hit a tree… I was lost and I just didn’t know who I was anymore. I found myself asking the question, who am I? I am an orphan. Living in a house full of strangers who are now my family, and a family, who are now my strangers?
Two kids who was fed up with their fake lives all the way up until now (Summer of 2011) and since we were no longer “kids” to them, they expected their 5 children to just be okay with their decisions to leave each other. To leave us to ourselves, no matter if we ate and starved. No matter if we found a home or not. No matter if we lived or died…At this moment in my life and in the lives of my brothers and sister; our parents were no longer a part of our lives, such as when a bird kicks out the runts of their litter to make sure the strongest survive. My brothers and sister were all thrown out of the nest without warning and we had to spread out wings or perish. What was I? Who was I? Why didn’t they want me anymore? Why didn’t any of my family members who showed up at the meeting when my parents were going through all these problems ask if any of us needed a place to stay? Why didn’t anyone want us anymore? Why did this random person who I have only met allow me to stay at his place? What is going on? Who am I…What am I now…Just another Hmong orphan…Just another bird meant to die for another to survive? As I stared into the rusty mirror hoping I can sound like my new roommate again one day, I realized that I was trash. I realized that I was no one. (Valar Morghulis).
XIXO MENS WEAR
“One stop Hmong inspired men shop”
FREEDOM EQUITY GROUP
“Helping You Build Your Dreams and Protecting Your Future and Love Ones”