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.