Watching “First They Killed My Father” with Survivors of the Cambodian Genocide

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung holds a large piece of my heart. As a teen, in an attempt to find my mom’s lost sister, I scoured the internet searching for hope. Hope did not come in the form of finding my aunt (there is no closure with the unknown – did she survive or did she pass?) but it did come by finding an author with my mom’s maiden name and her memoir. I read the book and realized my mom and her family were not alone. This book opened my mind to genocide worldwide and how important it is to preserve their stories and not let them fade over time. I never saw my relatives the same afterward. Their loving smiling faces once endured something so horrific that nearly a quarter of their population was wiped out. From my mom’s family alone, the Khmer Rouge stole the life of my grandfather and one uncle, and the fate of one aunt is unknown.

Because of my nephew’s first birthday party, we had relatives staying with us this weekend. On Saturday, my mom and dad, my mom’s eldest sister, my mom’s only surviving brother and his wife (who also went through this) and my two cousins and I gathered around the tv in the living room and watched the film adaptation together. There was something deeply bonding by having them watch with me and gravitas of four survivors in my living room was heavy on my heart. Their experiences added to everything I saw and felt from the screen. It brought up questions I hadn’t asked before [“Did they also specifically say it was the Americans attacking when they knocked on your door?”] and memories I had heard before [“They gave us a watery rice soup that was all liquid. One time I counted out the grains of rice and it amounted to 17 pieces.”]

Tears rolled down our cheeks as we silently took in the difficult scenes. About halfway through, my uncle got up to use the restroom and never returned back to the couch. One of my cousins checked on him and found out he was sleeping in the guest room. Without trying to assume too much, I can only guess that the main character in the film hit him harder than his sisters because of age. As the youngest of the family, he was about the same age as Loung when the country fell, and seeing a child that young brought back a flood of memories and innocence lost. My mom and eldest aunt were both college graduates but he was only a child.

“Your uncle was drafted by them, just like Loung. Young brilliant minds were wanted to be able to brainwash.”

The next day at my nephew’s party, nearly half the guests over 40 were survivors of the Cambodian Genocide too, and between the celebrating and fun, I paused and took that to heart. I know so many strong incredible people who have rebuilt their lives here in the United States, each one with a deeply personal and moving story of their own.

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A Whole Year Eclipses: Brother Update

August 18th came and went and, unfortunately, my brother’s concussion didn’t follow. There was a small glimmer of hope? That on the anniversary of the life-changing accident, the brain injury would just -poof!- go away and he could go about with life plans. That isn’t what happened though, and  we look at the possibility of another anniversary passing vaguely without promise of any guaranteed progress.

I remember last year distinctly. I called N from a department store parking lot to ask him a super simple shopping question and his reply was that  he was at the hospital and had been involved in a bad accident. From there, they expected the concussion to last days. From days, it became weeks. From weeks, they tried to offer a hopeful couple month’s time. After six months, they told him he now was an anomaly, and after a year, people who fit his parameters are so rare they don’t have medical data to project any timelines for progress.

Many of the therapists he is working with are also at a loss and ready to ween him from their services. After all, after a year with little improvement, a medical professional probably has little more to say or contribute. Nothing seems to be working in his favor except for the fact he is still retentive of all his knowledge and fully sound of mind. The problem is that his brain can’t process all the hard sciences and data without taxing him critically at this point. That means working on his doctorate is put off indefinitely.

They went away for a short trip to see the solar eclipse in the path of totality to “get away” from it all for N’s accident anniversary. My SIL unwinds best in nature so they took a few days to camp and another day or two to visit friends. N’s head was in a bad place for a portion of the trip, but he said viewing the eclipse was breathtaking.

Even though it’s just as silly as the -poof- dream above, I still hope and pray that if it’s God’s will he will be able to enjoy his son’s first birthday next month concussion free.

His First Word is “Banana”

At least, that’s what his mom and dad claim. I have yet to hear this mythical first word despite my constant coaxing. He is now fluent in the ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ department, and babbles ‘banana’ on Tuesdays when Mama works at the birth center and Dada takes him to a nearby Trader Joes for a weekly banana treat. Some of his outbursts are also uncanny for ‘Yeah!’

Kai is now a little over 9 months, and I look at this little dude and think of how much he’s grown. He is both spirited and inquisitive and flips sides at the drop of a pin. In the grocery store, he’ll be all smiles and wave like crazy to everyone around him and then pause all emotion to examine the face of a particular person. He often folds his hand into a loose fist, with his pointer finger stuck out and posed on the corner of his mouth making that “hmm” pose. It’s the cutest thing.

Every month Kai grows and reaches new milestones is also a bittersweet moment of reflection for my brother, who still suffers from a concussion due to an auto accident that happened exactly one month before my nephew was born. I think of how hard it must be to mark his son’s new advancements and his limitations on the same day each month. It gets hard to answer those around me who are praying for my brother with the exact news months later: “There are slight improvements but he’s about the same.”

Kai adores his daddy. They spend almost every waking minute of their day together. It’s definitely harder for my brother to try to get all his mental exercises done and have time to rest with a baby on his hands, but at the same time, despite the constant migraine, he’s also blessed with being at home and bonding with his son during Kai’s first year of life. I think of the what-if: if he didn’t have the accident he would be working full time or be in grad school and working part time. My SIL has worked really hard to keep them afloat with her midwifery while being a good mom and wife. She’s really shown me how resilient she is. I’m hoping and praying that in the next few months, Kai and Daddy can both work on big milestones together – Kai in development and N in healing. Secretly, I’m hoping for a birthday miracle in September.

What I Wish I Could Say to Those Who Wonder Why I’m Living at Home…

You’re in your late twenties and you live at home with your parents. What is the first thing people assume?

They assume you’re in debt, are a bum, or are mooching.

Others will do more than assume. They’ll reply, “Oh, that’s good. You can save money and pay off debt.”

Let me be clear:

– I graduated without student loans. The only debt I carry is a nominal credit card charge or two I pay off at the end of the month.

– I work a decent full time job that pays the bills. I DON’T live with my parents for free. I do pay less rent than renting a room elsewhere, but not by much.

– I have lived on my own for a few years and am capable of doing so again at the drop of a hat. Money would be a little tighter, but I would be just fine.

Here’s why I really live at home:

– I was able to increase the value of their home by moving back. I paid for them to hire a contractor to build a functional closet in the den and therefore the home has 4 official bedrooms instead of three bedrooms and a den. It’s not going to drastically increase the value, but if they choose to sell it down the road, that closet is something I can leave behind as a thank you for letting me stay here a couple more years. 

– Due to certain circumstances, my parents could use my rent as another rental is currently not making them money. My rent money provides some passive income. They used to make passive income on a rental home but that is not an option right now and my rent isn’t as much as they made on renting out a home, but it’s a good fraction of it (~25% vs nothing).

– I am silently there to help them transition into retirement. My aunt who moved away for work still owns a part of the home will be moving back soon and the house is filled with too much stuff from when we were living there as a family of four. It’s time to reduce their “stuff” and make room for my aunt’s things again. We are slowly clearing the garage, redecorating, and making things more functional for senior life.

– I was in a transitional part of my life where I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a career at my current workplace or have to search for other job options. I didn’t have the stability to sign a contract for a year somewhere or risk going into debt if something fell through at a new job and it took more interviews and searching.

– My old roommate moved states away and I do not have anyone that I trust and is reliable with a similar income to rent a house/apartment with. Good credit scores, annual income, and knowing they won’t back out is important when renting with someone else. I will only rent with another female and would not feel comfortable renting a room from a house with men.

– Renting a room from someone is complicated. More complicated than just renting from your own family and having complete house privileges. This is a big one. And I have a great relationship with my parents. They did want me to come home. In Asian culture, unmarried children are encouraged to be home rather than spend too much on renting.

– It does save me money. I have to be honest and say I do save $100-200/month renting from my parents vs renting a room elsewhere. And that does add up. It would be foolish of me to rent a studio apartment with how high rent is in my area. I’d be looking at $1200-1700 on a studio/single bedroom which is not a smart move financially.

– I don’t do well being alone. I am a pretty private person and an introvert but without reliable human interaction I am not in a good place with mental health. Being alone causes my anxiety to worsen and encourages feelings of depression. I need to be surrounded by people I like and love.

It’s frustrating because people don’t “get it” and I am not going to waste my breath explaining all of this to them. People think millennial and living at home and don’t even care to hear my side of the story.

To keep it short and sweet, I usually reply with a “Well, it works for all of us.” 

Does anyone else identify with anything I’ve written above? Please share below.

8 Months

My non-profit planning meeting just finished, and I had just grabbed a simple bite to eat, and hit the road to my brother’s place.  Almost every weekend there’s been a call asking if I can help with the baby while they gain some sanity. Not because my sweet nephew is an inconvenience, but because my brother’s concussion is still alive and well 8 months after the accident.

My SIL just got Kai fed and napping and placed him in my arms. My brother just got up to get some small tasks done — and boom: one of the most painful migraines he’s experienced in months hits. I sat on their couch rocking the baby ever so slightly to keep him soundly asleep as his father wept at the kitchen table not even 20 feet away.

If you saw my brother, you would usually hear cheer in his voice and the soundness of his intelligence as he engaged in a deep conversation with you despite having a constant headache. You would assume he was fine. Sometimes I even forget for a split second. And then, moments like this occur when you really see the monster rear its ugliness.

My brother called out for my SIL to make some quick food so he could eat and take his medication. His words were trembling and she quickly put something together and stroked his back and spoke gently with assuring words to him. His weeping was only stifled enough to swallow the meager meal in front of him so he could safely take the prescriptions lined in front of him. R counted out the dosage of multiple things and made sure in the fog of emotions and pain N could follow and confirm.

It was like watching the most heart-wrenching play unfold before me and I tried to stay quiet and bat the tears away from my eyes. This has been N and R’s reality for 8 months. This has been little Kai’s reality for 7 months – his entire life so far. It’s been mommy running around trying to clean the house, trying to make enough money to pay the medical bills, trying to do her best choosing to exclusively nurse while taking daddy to multiple appointments each week. It’s daddy trying to keep him entertained while bracing through a war of emotion and constant pain. It’s mommy holding back a break down because her home is a mess and she hasn’t had a moment to compose alone in close to a year.  It’s daddy feeling powerless and trying to fight feelings of depression and inadequacy as a husband and father and fighter.

To be honest, most weekends I feel like I’ve cut myself short because of the 12+ hours I am there when they call. But how could I say no? How could I not do what I can to give them the smallest flicker of stability when this is their reality? This is more important. So I rock the baby ever gently and put off the piles of laundry and whatnot that await me at home for a weekday.

Happy and Fulfilling Times

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I think in a way it was to actualize the fun things happening right now. Do you remember as a kid not quickly sharing something exciting to keep from jinxing it and to make sure it was still going to happen?

I got a good raise.

A few weeks ago we had reviews at work and I walked out of that meeting with a generous raise. It wasn’t impressive in a moving-up-a-tax-bracket way, but it meant a lot to me. In the meeting my boss praised me for my attitude, commitment to detail, and professionalism. Not only that, be he was excited to do my review first because he was most excited for it. He told me that he wants me to be a vital part of this company and fill bigger shoes with a more managerial role. Essentially, be the marketing director in the making.

Not only that, but I figured out the extra income I’d make with the raise and God specifically answered a request with it. I have a large electronic purchase to make, in the thousands range, and numbers nearly matched. That is a huge praise. I know that after taxes it won’t completely cover the device, but I believe that pre-taxes amount matching is from God.

I am doing a bigger part for the non-profit.

This year I didn’t get to be print chair. I got to be publicity assistant. But I’ve done a lot of stretching and contacting and making connections that I think will benefit our cause in the future. And that, despite some stress and extra time, is super empowering for me. I connected our executive director with the president of a county-wide Autism organization and she said she’d like to partner with us to give foster kids with Autism a bigger voice. I kickstarted a PSA process so that we can spread the news of our event via broadcasting from now on. I reached out to bloggers and advertisers and built up my sense of brave.

I’m helping out my brother and sister-in-law.

It’s been seven months and my brother is still dealing with a lot of pain and the concussion has not improved noticeably. With all the medical bills post accident, my sister-in-law is working hard trying to break even while working, driving my brother to specialists, and exclusively nursing their 6 month old son. It’s been tough to keep it together with the financial and emotional strain coupled with the lack of sleep a baby brings. She is so strong and I admire her so much. My brother is such a trooper too. I don’t know how he is coping with so much pain. On Friday or Saturday I’ve been spending the night and helping with my nephew so my brother can rest and my SIL can do the paperwork side of her job/catch up on housework. I try to get the dishes and other little chores out of the way when my nephew naps to help them out.

It’s a very busy but fulfilling season of life, and I’m filled with gratefulness.

Ignoring Ignorance. Choosing to Love.

First of all – my ultrasound results for my legs came back negative for a circulation issue. That’s a big praise report! I still have no idea what is causing my issues but I think it NOT being blood clot or circulation related is a definite positive.

With some of the health issues of late, I’ve gotten constant reminders, not from doctors but my mom, to lose weight. She loves to chime in with “maybe your problems would go away if you just lost X pounds.” (Yes, there is some potential truth to that) She also drives me batty because she’s one of those people who watches infomercials and thinks it or what Dr. Oz has to say will be magical for me. “I’ll buy you this 30 day fix.” “Dr. Oz says to lose weight you should…”

Most recently I showed her passport photos I got done. My hair was down but placed behind my shoulders. The camera angle was rather unflattering because it was angled slightly up instead of straight on. I showed it to her to let her know I was proactively working on getting my passport ready but her first response was, “Did they tell you to put your hair back like that? It’s better in front of your face.” Without being direct, she hinted that my moon-shaped face looked slimmer and more flattering with hair covering the sides and elongating.

My aunt who lives in town was over a while back and I was a little more done up that usual in a dress and wearing makeup for church. Before she left she grabbed my face and told me how beautiful it was. She said if I could lose weight I’d have a beautiful body to go with it. She tried to encourage me with her double sided words, assuring me that some people have a nice body but can’t change their face, but I had the face and my body can change.

I’m still surprised I made it through teen-hood and my early twenties without an eating disorder. I don’t mean that flippantly. I’m serious. My family and extended family have been my worst offenders throughout my life. I still remember the holiday I locked myself in my bedroom after my uncle offered to give me $1/lb that I lost. I thought “wow, I cost less than steak per pound. My total worth is about $220.”

Why am I bringing this up? Because I could be very bitter and hate these family members for their words. Instead, I choose to forgive their ignorance and ignore their implications. I am more comfortable with who I am than ever although I do wish to lose weight. And their hurtful comments are now easy to shake off because I know I don’t need to process their unfiltered nonsense.

I wrote about sending comments to spam here. It’s been a life changing way of dealing with negativity and unsolicited comments. I can be conscious of my present state and plan of action without letting the thoughts of others invade my feelings.

I’m changing for me. No one else.

Double Whammy: When good times and bad times share the same date.

This Sunday was Josh and my dating anniversary. It was also my Uncle Norman’s birthday. His first one since he passed last year. Of course it doesn’t mean anything to him anymore in heaven, but to his family and friends that are still here? I miss him and know my aunt is going through a rough patch right now as she is coping. Yesterday was pouring rain and she didn’t even make it to church. She was home alone on a gloomy weather day, mourning her husband. That got me as I empathized with her. Josh took me to a yummy restaurant for dinner that evening and ended the night with a surprise movie date where it was just us, a big screen, and a pint of ice cream to share between the two of us. There were feelings of great sadness and great happiness yesterday.

Last year on my birthday I had one of the hardest birthdays I’ve ever had to face. Josh had just surprised me and taken me out to lunch on my lunch break and dropped me back at work. The phone rang about 30 minutes later and my brother informed me if I wanted to say goodbye to my uncle I better go to the hospital now. I cried so much throughout that day. And I was there, emotionally distraught, until the wee hours of the next morning when my Uncle drew his last gasping breath. I am wholeheartedly thankful for that opportunity. To bond even deeper with my cousins and aunt and my family as we drew strength from each other to make it through this very hard goodbye. To let my Uncle know, however lucid he was, that all of us were there. But I know without a doubt that my birthday this year will be hard to celebrate. It’s also marks my last year of being in my 20’s. And it’s a sad reminder that I have no close local friends to celebrate it with. My closest friends are scattered hours or days drives away from me.

I probably sound like I’m throwing myself a big pity party, but really, I am just a deeply emotional person conflicted by the happiness and sadness of life contrasted by loss.

NYR’s and PR’s

NYRs = New Year Resolutions
PRs= Personal Record

I had a wonderful Christmas and New Year! I’m feeling refreshed and ready to make the most of 2017. I’m also humbled and feel like my selfish desire to hide out for a week was wrong. I truly enjoyed the company of the relatives that came for Christmas and the relatives I saw in Arizona during my week off.

I ate horribly this holiday season. I didn’t really follow any guidelines for food or exercise and I sweet-ed myself out. All that to say when I was in AZ with my cousins and they were obsessing talking about logging calories into myfitnesspal, going to the gym religiously, and breaking all types of weight-lifting PRs, it made me feel super crummy. Some of the crummy I deserved to feel because I was making poor choices. But a lot of the crummy felt like shame, incompetence, and worthlessness — and I’m not okay with that.

They have all worked hard and I can’t discredit their efforts. I’m PROUD of them. I will say that they started out as healthy individuals of ideal weight and physical ability when they started so they didn’t have weight or health issues and were able to hit the ground running. Trying to compare myself with them isn’t fair. We have different goals even though we’re both working on our health.

We went out for a hike one of the days there and I needed to prove to my own self that I was capable. As we hiked (it was an easy trail, btw) I kept the lead most of the way up and down. Some of them weren’t wearing proper shoes or clothes, and I was in snug jeans, so none of us had ideal attire, but I pushed myself to keep ahead. It didn’t matter if they were casually hiking and I was putting in 110%, it mattered to me that I was able to keep up and feel good about what I was able to do. That hike dissolved a lot of the mucky feelings I was having and set my mind straight for 2017.

Here are my 2017 resolutions:

1. A healthy body, mind, and spirit. First and foremost.

Learning to rest/de-stress myself physically and mentally because I’m HORRIBLE at it. And leaning on Jesus. Also working on this body of mine, one day at a time, with new focus.

2. Working on patience instead frenzy, kindness instead of aggravation, and helpfulness instead of frustration. Especially with family members.

3. Minimizing belongings and unnecessary thoughts/feelings that cloud my outlook, rob my time, and prevent me from seeing my potential. Dwelling on/owning what truly brings me joy.

4. Being better friend. Finding new local friends organically.

5. Giving myself a heck of a lot more grace than I did in 2016. But also push myself harder with healthy motivators.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Holiday Focus

This holiday season has been rough for me. Mostly because I am trying so hard to keep it centered on Christ and I feel like I’m failing. There’s been bouts of sadness, bickering, you name it – and it makes it hard to feel the true joy that is at the heart of Christmas.

I wonder if trying harder this year makes me more conscientious that I could do better. I don’t feel like it’s a trial or that I need to “blame Satan” for interfering. No, this is just because I’m an imperfect person in a busy secular world and interactions with others and distractions get in my way.

I hope my effort despite recent failures pleases God. I’m not trying to guilt myself or fit a certain mode of worship, I’m just trying to take the steps I can, because that’s the right thing to do.

One of the hardest parts with my living situation right now is that we have a guest room and it is constantly occupied. This weekend relatives are staying to go to a Sweet 16. Then, next weekend, one of my cousins and her family will be here for Christmas. And then, immediately after, my family is caravan-ing to a neighboring state for a big birthday party.

That precious week of vacation time I saved for the week of Christmas? Now gone to hosting people and traveling out of town. Is it wasted? No. But is it what I wanted? No.

I wanted a week of low key relaxing, wrapping up the Christmas season in the comfort of my home and preparing for the new year by taking care of personal things. Now I’ll be hosting people, driving 7-8 hours out one way and then back, and returning to work in the new year exhausted instead of rested.

Is it selfish to just want some darn peace and quiet? Is it cruel to not appreciate seeing relatives and getting to spend more time with them? I don’t know. I’m just running on empty.