Year of the Dragon

It’s almost the Lunar New Year, I reminded my mother on Friday night, did you get your haircut?

We are not Asian, for what it’s worth.  But we’ve spent a lot of time in Asia.  When my parents were in China at one point, they brought back a vase — I forget which dynasty — and in all of it’s blue-and-white beauty, the vase got its own seat on the airplane.  It fell off a high ledge in their house in California during the ’94 earthquake, (the anniversary of which we recently celebrated) and the vase was crushed into a powder by the force of the fall on to the hardwood floor.

And when I was little, and my very tall, very Anglo father was a 6’3″ guilo in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, he had at one point come back with (among other outfits) a pink qi pao for me to wear.  I preferred the blue silk pyjamas, but my mother loved the little pink dress.  Of all the childhood clothes of mine that she kept, that was the one she preserved.

(My brother, of course, couldn’t have given two shits about any of this.  He just likes Chinese food.)

I got my hair cut last week, my mother said, interrupting my walk down memory lane.  And Dad got his cut on Thursday. 

We talked a while longer, with my mother reflecting on the various Chinese zodiac signs under which we were all born.

I’m a tiger, she said.

I laughed, To think I have a tiger mother!

In some ways, Mums and Dad had both been tiger parents.  They’d pushed and pushed; they’d been gone a lot — and when they were home they’d had a lot of expectations and often, not a lot of patience.  I couldn’t begrudge them having had their own lives.  But having grown up with perfectionists and being one myself had often been a volatile combination.

And speaking of volatile, it hovered somewhere between an unfunny joke an a credible threat that I was going to run off to China after Andrew and I split.  I always say that I knew The Moment when things were done, but it was a series of moments, really, the first of many taking place at the Intercontinental in Hong Kong.

It was the day after he’d drawn me a diagram of how he loved me — demonstrating how he loved me only when I was behaving properly.  I have always been unlikely to behave.  (I still have the diagram, but am loath to post a photo of that.  Even in parting, there are some things that are strictly between husbands and wives.)

The next day we went out to Repulse Bay, and I took off my shoes and went in the water…

…When I came back on to the beach, I announced my intention to stay.

Eventually, of course, I had to go back — to New York, to our life, to the mess for which I always blamed myself, but was really the fault of us both.

I showed up at family weddings later that year in a new qi pao, much like the one I wore when I was little, but this time in orange.  And everyone could see that something was different, but they didn’t quite know what had changed.  Maybe they knew that it was a throwback to the little girl in pink, who wanted to be just like her daddy when she grew up.  Or maybe they could see that when a woman comes back from anywhere looking like Eve who has eaten the apple, then she probably knows more than she knew before she left.

(That’s me with my brother — the one who couldn’t care less about any of this, except for the Americanized Chinese food part.)

Within a year, I’d left for Washington; within a few months, Andrew and I were separated, and as the oft-told story goes, I was on a call to Hong Kong the same day.

It’s all a circle, you see, which is what I didn’t know the first time around.  That Chinese zodiac diagram someone once gave me shows that everything moves in an infinite cosmic circle.  Some days it feels as if I’m just now wrapping my head around how things that happened three or four years ago fit into how my life works in the present.

I never quite understood how sticky and greasy the past was; how easily stuck one could become, and how things that had happened greased how we move forward.

Regardless of all that, it’s a new day, and the dawn of a new year.

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