I gave you my number, I thought you might call

Dear 嫲嫲 [Grandma],
It has been four years since you passed away.
I want to tell you that I have a nice job now
People say that I help them.
I even delivered a baby on the side of the highway.
I was on the news! Twice!
I wish you could have seen it.
You would have been so proud
and called all your friends
and called the whole family to tell them to
switch to Channel 5 at 7 o’clock
and recorded the second interview
and saved my newspaper clippings
(mom and dad and my sisters didn’t even watch it
They said, but we all saw you on TV the first time! We see you every day!)
but you would have been so proud.

I passed by our old house the other day
the rose bushes are gone now
and the giant tree in our front yard doesn’t seem so giant anymore
in fact, everything is smaller.
No one grows winter melon on the fence like Grandpa used to do
but I guess they don’t have to worry about old Mrs. Chung from down the street
coming by with a shopping bag, and stealing their melons
Mrs. Chung is probably gone, too.
Remember the time I grew a sunflower plant in kindergarten?
A tiny little green sprout pushing through a small square of Home Depot soil
in half a school lunch milk carton.
We planted it in the flower garden together
and all summer it grew and grew
until it was taller than me, taller than you, taller than mom and dad
until I could see it from my bedroom window on the second floor
the bright yellow blossom turning throughout the day to follow the sun.
When it wilted we cut off the flowers and roasted the seeds in the oven
I still can’t believe how big sunflowers are!
They don’t grow things at number 8 Old Standish anymore.

Andy finally got married this past summer, and Peter finally had a kid
We had a picture of you and Grandpa at the wedding.
I think sometimes the happiest events are the hardest.

Being in the doctor’s office with you the day they gave you your diagnosis
was one of the hardest days I can remember
I didn’t know the word for cancer in Cantonese.
I struggled to find the words for
the treatment options, and the estimated years
I cried so much, but you didn’t shed a tear.
You said, “I have lived a good life, and people age.
That’s how it goes.”
I have always admired your strength.

When you had a stroke, you walked yourself to the hospital
because you didn’t want anybody to worry.
You raised nine children during a time of famine
Often going hungry so that they could eat.
I remember the story of how a Japanese soldier
beat you with your own umbrella in the street
because it was raining and
he could not see you bow underneath it.
Yet you carried no bitterness in your heart.

When I was born I was so small,
You called me “米雪”
because I was as small as a grain of rice
and as pale as snow.
I got sick a lot and
everybody worried I was malnourished
because I fussed and would never eat.
You made dish after dish for me until I found something I liked
and to this day mom says it’s your fault that I “always want to have everything.”

You walked me to the library every day so I could learn to read
Because even though you struggled with English you wanted me to know it
I was reading at a fifth grade level
by the second grade.

I wish my Chinese was better. I could have told you so much
About my interests and thoughts and feelings
and how hard it was to be depressed during school
and how hard it was to fight with mom and dad
and how I wish I could have heard more of your stories
and how I should have spent more time with you
I didn’t know our time was going to be over so quickly.

But sometimes I think maybe it is a good thing you’re not around
You never have to have your heart broken
when I want to marry a woman instead of a man.
Your love for me will never be soured
the way that I am afraid mom and dad’s will be
the day that I finally say something.
I will never disappoint you or hurt you,
and you will always be so proud of me.

嫲嫲, I eat enough now.
(sometimes too much)
I don’t go to bed with wet hair anymore
(even though I never caught a cold from it)
The days are getting colder
but I always remember to bring a jacket,
and, yes, I am warm enough.
Also, there is someone I like.
She is beautiful and talented and kind to me
and we laugh a lot together
I think you would have liked her.
It may not work out, but
I am hopeful for the future.
Sometimes little grains of snow-rice
grow like sunflowers.
嫲嫲, please don’t worry about me
It’s not always easy
but I am happy.
I am reaching for the second story,
I am following the sun.



Henri-Edmond Cross (Fr. 1858-1910), Femme et chien dans un paysage aux pins parasols, fusain sur papier, Le Have, Musée d’art moderne André-Malraux

"The Grand Budapest, a picturesque, elaborate, and once widely celebrated establishment. I expect some of you will know it."
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) dir. Wes Anderson

self-portrait - Copyright © Græ Andresen

Dan Dubowitz - From the series Wastelands