foreign and familiar.

I have a 20 year-old living with me this week – my cousin from Dad’s side, whom I’ve always maintained good relations though not particularly chummy with – and she is both foreign and familiar. It’s strange, yet not. I can’t deal. On one hand, our conversations flow seamlessly without any awkward moments or pregnant pauses but I’m also all too aware that in all that’s said and shared – so much is unspoken. And it’s those left unsaid that lingers in the air and chews up my insides because they remind me that we call ourselves family and know just about everything about one another except for …each other. The irony. We hardly know each other as individuals.

She is twenty, so young and yet not. So naïve and yet not. I want to say that she’s pretty mature for her age, but at the same time, to be honest I am mostly amused by her youthful convictions. Everything she is and all that she believes she stands for; they’re painfully all too familiar. What was I like at that age, four years ago? I have a gnawing feeling I was just like her: convinced the world wronged me and thus, owed me plenty. So certain about goals and visions and sense of self, convinced that early schooling years were so definitive and scarring they prepared me well for the Big Bad.

Ah, to be twenty and not yet jaded.

There were several moments over the past 48 hours where I felt like she was schooling me about among other things, the international student/living abroad experience; I’ve just taken to silently nodding without correcting or commenting, but my indifference is slowly turning into annoyance. Should I gently – or not so gently – prod her that though we’re only four years apart, there’s five years of this exact experience between us? I left to Stateside when I was barely nineteen – definitely fresh off the boat and totally like a fish lost at sea … bumbling, awkward, and alone.

I was there. Believe me, I know. I’ve had my fair share of experiences.

I can’t believe it too, that I’m turning into one of those adults who go, “When you’re a certain age you’ll understand…” and “When I was your age…” I’m trying not to do this too often though, keeping them as monologues. Experiences make and shape a person and for someone like her, full of not just youthful idealism but also ego – I’m seeing a pattern on this, too; it seems to run in her family – I have no doubt those experiences will serve her well. Growing pains, annoying as they are, are not without reasons after all.

I made the mistake of bringing up the past yesterday.

“Did you know…?” I began. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it. A mistake.

We spoke briefly about it, then she made a nonchalant comment – of course this meant it involved my mother. She didn’t say it unkindly, and to speak objectively, what she said is fact. Still, I hated her nonchalance. I hated the tinge of amusement in her voice. I hated the lightness her tone carried. She knows about everything that’s happened, of course, yet there she was – there we were – and a sentence. Just one. How could she? How could she speak so lightly about it? How could she speak of my mother and equate her with another? For a brief, split second, I seethed in anger. I changed the subject.

No one speaks about my mother by putting her on par with an unworthy other.

But then I remember that her mother is currently fighting cancer; my aunt’s about to start chemotherapy. The diagnosis was a surprise, completely out-of-the-blue and the surgery immediately after was just as sudden. It’s been a rough two months for her family. I’m told she’s recovering well, but even I have to admit the news hit me hard when I caught wind of it. We spoke about her mother that morning while on the train to the city. Later that afternoon, I wondered if I responded inappropriately. Slip of the tongue or simply lacking in sensitivity. Did she too, seethe in anger?

She’s staying with me until Saturday and then on Monday, I’m off to check out her college life in Austin, Texas. We’re kind of trading places. These two weeks will be, if not already, interesting. Painful too of course, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but if it’s one thing that adulthood has taught me well, it is that there is only so much running away that one can do. Everything comes full circle; they always do.

I’ve done enough running.

I will face the goddamn music. One way or another and regardless how long it will take me, I will learn to let the past fucking go. The time is now.


5 thoughts on “foreign and familiar.

  1. Too much to say but I have 3 min before my meeting starts. Just want to wish you have great time in Austin, I like that city but still haven’t had a chance to really explore it yet (and I’ve lived 1hr away from it for almost 5 years, lazy me!!).

    Anyway, I’ll be back (lol)

  2. I love how you used the words “foreign and familiar” to describe the relationship. I have experienced something similar too. I grew up with my cousins on my mother’s side, we were pretty close (and for awhile I thought they are my best friends for life), until I left home to the States. There wasn’t any specific reason but our relationships drifted apart, faster than I thought. Now sad to say but the “for life” part still maintains, but we aren’t friends anymore. I was informed their life’s status when I called my mother but I hardly talk to them, maybe once every year? once every other years?? I don’t know, it’s still upset me sometimes, there were the days.

    Several years ago (5 years, to be exact, when I moved from California to Texas), there was a period of time when I strongly had confidence in myself, when I believed the world was big but I knew enough to deal with the big bad things out there, when I only believed in my own eyes, when I exaggerated my not so good feelings and all those things (I thought) I had to stuffer. That period didn’t last long but I got hurt, learned, grew, and became who I am now. I don’t reminisce about what happened in the past as often but there is one and only thing I miss – the brave girl in me. That girl who was never tired of trying to find a way had gone for long. Now I know there is a way, I keep walking but that’s it, like I’m trapped in my own nest.

    I don’t know why but recently I don’t really talk to people. I can communicate with them about the weather, foods, books, movies, school, etc. but I don’t share anymore. I don’t avoid to do so, I just stop. Maybe I get to the phase where I can bare my thoughts and feelings, or I become simpler, so I don’t need others. Anw, I don’t know, I don’t feel extremely happy or satisfied but there isn’t anything to be upset either.

    Well, how I wish I become a turtle, living happily ever after in my own shell.

    1. Hi again May Lily :) I’m sooo sorry for the slow response, it’s been a surprisingly busy week (and a busier week to come!) Thank you so much for sharing your story with me :’) Caitlyn on my Twitter said something about family/cousin that kinda hits me in a way I’ve never thought about before – that some family members are in a way, much like friends. If we don’t hang out etc, it’s not an automatic given to be close just because we’re blood-related. Funny, I never thought about it that way. I think she is right and it does make sense, but maybe it also comes back to what our family values/ upbringing/ environment were like. I think for you and me, that bond is looked upon more deeply? Hence the disappointment and sadness – or in my case, a strange almost bittersweet kind of aftertaste – from realizing that they are both foreign and familiar. For this particular cousin of mine though, we weren’t super close to begin with, so it felt more like getting to know each other better as adults. Still strange, but without the kind of loss you experience – though I still understand that sentiment because that’s the kind of feeling I get with really close friends who’ve drifted apart and when my eldest sister got married.

      About the second bit that you mentioned – I get you completely. Absolutely. You know, I felt that way so strongly last year. Like there were nights when I’d go lie awake in my bed with profound sadness over having turned out differently at 23 that I was then; nothing like what my teenage self had imagined her twenty-something self was. I encapsulated it more fully here:

      “I don’t reminisce about what happened in the past as often but there is one and only thing I miss – the brave girl in me. That girl who was never tired of trying to find a way had gone for long. Now I know there is a way, I keep walking but that’s it, like I’m trapped in my own nest.”

      Exactly. Days like today though, when I feel good about my self and present, I think it’s just growth – that we earn some and lose some, but above all learn, always. In regards to your last paragraph – I also understand that completely. I struggled with my stagnancy – both self and life – a lot recently. My advice, if I may, is for you to keep pushing yourself though. Because to begin with, you’re already aware that though it’s okay – you’re okay, things are okay – it’s not the ‘normal’. Staying quiet and complacent in your shell, neither really happy nor sad even though nothing’s wrong. Because you know what they always say about comfort zones – great to stay, but not to live because nothing ever grows there. I hope you keep searching for wonders of life that will propel you to break that shell rather than bury yourself in it :)

      1. Hey jandoe, thank for your reply. I’m super busy now too, weeks after spring break always busy *sigh* who said living grad life is easier??

        anyway I want to wish you a happy birthday :D wish you have all best and nice days coming (I just visited your twitter today ^^ I haven’t been active there for a while).

        1. AH you’re in grad school too May Lily??! OH!! The struggleeee, you feel meeee haha :) Thank you thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to wish me :’)

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