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This is my last month of original material, sort of. I began these entries on August 1, 2002 and committed to completing a year’s worth of entries through July 31, 2003. Next month (my last) I want to pick my favorite 30 entries, explain why I chose them, offer commentary for the obscure, personal references, and count down to my favorite piece on July 30 -- before using my last day to say goodbye. So next month will be recycled in the sense I’ll reference old entries, but new in that the commentary accompanying each old entry will be original.
Written language is an astonishing thing. The conveyance of objects, themes, feelings, etc. based on letter combinations dumbfounds me. I find it amazing that when I see o-c-e-a-n together I immediately picture crashing waves and hear them breaking against imaginary rocks. I find it incredible how my daughter is picking up the fundamentals of reading at two and a half, how she sees p-i-g and hears oink.
My desire as a father is that when she and Zachary grow up and see p-o-p-p-y they will immediately picture a love that was overwhelmingly complete, tender, and beyond all boundaries of abundance.
A is for Angie
I love the way her eyes sparkle when I come home from work, how when I scoop her up and squeeze her she giggles, and giggles some more the longer I squeeze. I love that the only person who looks forward to Saturdays more than I do is she, because she gets to spend time with me without my work interfering. I love her one attached and one unattached earlobe, perfectly imperfect.
I love the way she makes me feel about myself, that I matter, that I exist to make sure she never wants for anything.
B is for Boston
Finally the subway emerges from the tunnel, and hits the Charles River Bridge at 40 mph, and even after a 3-year commute, the sight of the city by the river awakening with the brightening touch of dawn grabs the breath from my lungs and hurls it waterward like a fish too small for keeping; and I tell myself, breathless, that I’ll see it again on the homeward return, left-to-right next time, stretching its urban arms a final time in slumbered expectation rather than drowsy anticipation, and I’ll swallow my goodbye hard to keep it from escaping.
C is for Catch Me, I’m Falling
i had that dream again the one i have every week where i’m walking down a set of stairs it could be any stairs anywhere when my foot slips sometimes my right sometimes my left and i fall backward in slow motion knowing my churning skull will shatter when it hits the concrete edge except its in realtime and i snap awake and realize this falling this motion this about-to-be-shattered skull is a dream except that it’s a nightmare that’s lasting thirty-two months and this churning continues and i can’t close my eyes
D is for Didn’t Mean It
“Remember what I said last night?”
I scan the IHOP menu distractedly without comprehending a single word. Images flash: the darkened car, parked; the limp hands, held; the words the words the too-familiar words, their nodded acceptance “okay”; the finally-conceded resignation, heavy.
“I didn’t mean it. I don’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t mean it.”
Images flash: the still-darkened car, headed home; the hands, my own in yours both held; the separated hearts, strangely lightened; the now-wasted ride home, teary.
“I take it all back. I didn’t mean it. Okay?”
E is for Egg-thing, cake
I’m not sure which I was more offended by: the idiocy of the assignment or the mandate to share personal details. Draw a picture of what I had for breakfast? I drew an egg. “That’s all? That’s all you had?” Yes, I nodded. “What about toast or orange juice?” No, I shook my head. I didn’t feel like trying to explain anything as she pityingly took my drawing. I didn’t feel like telling her I’d eaten a slice of this Vietnamese cake of rice and meat and egg and green food coloring. Let her assume.
F is for Fever
Maybe at 104 degrees, maybe when your body temperature is that high, maybe your brain cools itself by shutting down other bodily functions. Maybe that’s what can make a child babble incoherently in varying states of (un)consciousness. Maybe that’s what can make parents with varying abilities to speak English rush a child to the emergency room. Maybe that’s what can make a mother wait by a child’s bedside holding cold compresses to a now-cooling body. But maybe 104 degrees isn’t enough to shut down the memory function, burning in the memory of a mother’s devoted love.
G is for Glinting
I tell myself this gift is not symbolic except to express her love. The note that accompanies it expresses as much. Around her neck it separated the face of an angel from a body that looked like it was created by the devil to tempt. I hold the little cross by its chain, watch it twirl, glinting beneath my dorm window like stained glass. When I hear of her passing I hold it aloft again, telling myself there was no loss of faith; just that she knew where she was headed she’d be glinting without gold.
H is for Harriet the Spy
When I was in elementary school, I read Harriet the Spy. I was so intrigued by the idea of observing the world and noting what I saw that I tried it out one day, toting along a little notebook during recess and scribbling away. It didn’t take long for classmates to see me watching them and writing. They eventually repeated what happened in the book – forcing the notebook from my hands and reading, trying to see what I thought of them. There is no greater curiosity in our souls than how we’re externally perceived.
I is for Icarus, Rising
Understand that I’m like Icarus. And while frustration mounts and winds its way through the shaking of your head, I cannot pull away. But like him I am drawn ever closer to your heat; despite the running wax and drooping wings I find my will unable to comprehend that the nearer I draw to my desire, the farther I withdraw from desire’s reciprocation. I fall now at your heavenly feet to find your heated gaze more burning from afar than when within my once solid wing’s span. And I gather myself for my final flight.
J is for Jason W.
As a 4th grader (while his brother Tom W. and I were 6th graders), Jason W. was the biggest kid in school. He was this enormous man-child, bigger than some of the teachers – easily twice my size without exaggeration. One spring morning during recess, I watched Tom W. yell at his brother. Jason W. stormed away – crying, actually crying, sputtering something about telling mom. Tom W. eventually went over and put his arm around Jason W. and made him feel better while I watched in awe from afar at how sometimes even giants will cry.
K is for Kisses, A History
1974-1981: In Vietnamese culture, people kiss by sniffing each other’s cheeks like dogs. I didn’t find out until later that lips could be involved.
Spring 1981: Charlene chases after me during recess. When caught, she kissed me on the lips, my first. I think I spat at her and ran.
Spring 1986: Edith, near the soccer field. Our classmates made us do it. I should have spat at her and ran.
May 24, 1992: Me, you, Senior Prom, finally.
July 27, 1996: I may now kiss the bride.
Why are you still reading, voyeur?
L is for Logical Conclusion
I. We can’t live without oxygen; it’s why we breathe.
Maybe that’s why when you’re near, my lungs feel ready to burst; that I so desire your closeness, I nearly suffocate myself with the air that dances about you.
II. I can’t live without you.
Maybe that’s why I have so much trouble falling asleep; that your stillness reminds my soul that without its better half it stumbles one-leggedly.
III. You are the reason I wake up and take my first breath.
And the reason to do so continuously so long as I am able.
M is for Mystic
I think we agreed on “mystic” because we couldn’t find a better word. Because it correctly communicates the mysteriousness of it all, but fails to convey my ability to look into your eyes and grasp you really grasp you at a level that anyone who hasn’t experienced it can only scoff at. It correctly captures the somewhat magical nature of it, but not the ability for me to know everything about your history from the touch of your palms against my face. There is a better word, but it’s embedded in the whorls of your fingertips.
N is for Nooooo!
My wife and I took physics together. She sat in front of me. Even before I realized I liked her, I used to bug her: shake her chair with my feet, call her name for no reason, etc. One day, I asked her to turn around. “What?” she asked. I didn’t know what to say so I blurted out “Will you marry me?” With a look of utter disgust, she responded, “Noooo!”, like I’d asked her to help me club baby seals.
Well, I got the last laugh. She’s wearing my ring now. Take that, wife-of-mine.
O is for Organ Donation
I am currently not an organ donor. At the DMV when they asked me if I wanted to attach that sticker to my license, I don’t know why, but I stammered out a “No, thank you” as if I were turning down the opportunity to switch long-distance carriers. In reality, I turned down the potential opportunity to help another human being. I’m not one of those people that believe I’ll be missing those organs in the afterlife if I donate. Theoretically, mentally, I believe in organ donation. But maybe my body is instinctively too selfish.
P is for Proxy, Painful, Pretend
“She can’t talk to you right now. Do you want to talk to me instead? If you let me know why you’re calling I’ll pass along the message. But you can’t talk to her. She needs to be away for a while. You have to understand.”
“Uh-huh. Okay. What headline? I’m so sorry. I know you’re going through a hard time right now. I know this doesn’t make any sense right now, but maybe someday it will. Were these good friends of yours? Okay, I’ll pass it along. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Q is for Quoc
My father’s middle name is Quoc. It’s mine (and both my brothers’) as well. In Vietnamese custom, fathers pass on their middle and last names to their sons. The last name identifies the family, and the middle name is a secondary identifier, like identifying a family as the “West Danbury Benningtons”. The actual pronunciation of “Quoc” is this glottal sound that elongates the “u” and the “o” into somewhat of an “i” sound. I’ve always told everyone it’s pronounced “quick”. There are lots of traditions I ignore but not this one. My son: Zachary Quoc Le.
R is for Response, Raw, Real
“This is her line, right? Is, uh . . . is she there? I need to talk to her. It’s . . . important. No, I’d rather to talk to her directly, please. Away? What? You’re kidding me, right?”
“I . . . something happened. You, uh . . . you can leave her a message, I guess. I got sent this, uh . . . there was a headline. Two of my friends . . . they’re gone. Yes. Actually, you know what? It’s nothing. Don’t bother her. Yeah, I’m just fine.”
S is for Starting Over
They sold their house and moved to California. They’d talked about doing that every now and then – the better weather, the greater opportunities, the relatives. But it took their only child’s death to make it happen. I talked to them a final time before they left. “We need to get away, to start our lives over.”
Everyone handles grief in different ways. But I’ve never understood the concept of starting over. Sure, it brings closure to a period that’s just ended. But what happens when it occurs again? How many times can one start anew?
T is for Twins, Twins
I don’t know what the odds are of having twins, but I think they’re still somewhat rare. The odds that one person would know a lot of twins must be small, right? To wit:
Lori & Marci: Two of my closest friends growing up, both now twins together in eternity, identical.
Vikki & Tammi: My sisters-in-law, fraternal.
Matthew & Aaron: College roommate & friend, identical.
Rey & Abe: College roommate & friend, identical.
I’ve decided that it is true: there is always one EVIL twin. I’ll let them decide amongst themselves which one it is.
U is for Under the Table and Dreaming
My parents told us to stay in the bedroom. Four of his army buddies were visiting and they didn’t want us interfering. We entertained ourselves as they smoked, drank, and consumed broiled duck eggs and other dishes my mother rarely prepared. Around 10:00, my father woke me up and asked me to talk to his friends. I answered a few of their questions, confused by their laughter at my non-funny answers. Finally, I heard my father say “See? Isn’t his American accent hilarious?” I stood there wishing I were hidden, still asleep.
V is for Victory; Death, Where Your Sting?
I read something on CNN.com about a baby thrown out a seventh-floor window – who
. The odds of surviving a seven-story drop (especially if you’re a baby) must be 1 in a million (or worse). I can’t fathom any explanation for this miracle other than God’s hand gently protecting this child – the same image when I think about God saving us from eternal damnation with His own nail-driven hands. I imagine the odds of surviving certain death when you are with God is a whole lot better than 1 in a million.
W is for Waiting
My family and I are attending the funeral of a dear friend tonight. Our Pastor’s father, he was like a grandfather to us. He’d been physically unwell for a while now, so this wasn’t completely surprising. We’d been intending to visit him before we moved this summer.
People always tell you never to wait to say “I love you”. But everybody waits, assuming that last day isn’t around the corner. I’ll tell you this – waiting for guilt to subside for not making that last visit, not saying that last “I love you” is a lot worse.
X is for X-Men
What I like about the X-Men Universe (comics and movies) is the realistic portrayal of power. If I actually had a mutant ability, I think I’d be equally tempted to use my power for both good and evil: good like Cyclops, to help people; bad like Magneto, to take over the world. I think I’d end up using my power somewhere toward the middle, like Wolverine – selfishly, neither good nor evil. I don’t believe wanton destruction is something I’d gleefully enjoy, but I could certainly see myself breaking laws and bullying people to get my way.
Y is for You
You make me run away sometimes. You make me want to shoot the moon. I see your eyes sometimes, and the sparkle in there could shame a thousand celebrations. And I want to run from those sparkles, shamed myself by a lack of marvelous sparkle deserving of your glance. And the moon it doesn’t help, it keeps shining on my escape. Running, I stumble within myself and when I find you there waiting for me glimmering like the moon, the shame dissolves in fizzles and bursts and colors and I fall for you all over again.
Z is for Zachary
We named you Zachary because Angie starts with “A” and we wanted the last letter since we already had the first, but you are last in nothing; you are my first thought when I wake and the first prayer that I lift; my first sight of you and I believed I was never truly complete; each time you break a smile I fall in love as if for the very first time.
We named you Zachary because it means “remembered by God” but sometimes I believe it actually means God remembered how much I need you.
A to Z
Watching you two sleep sometimes stops my heart. Sleep-watching, towering above you two on threads of suspended love, it’s all I can do not to grab the clouds of dreams above you two and smother myself in their peace. One time, I touched the edges of your blankets and pretended the cotton peacefully smelled of dreams. The stirring of your two bodies broke the automatic rhythm of my heart until again you two breathed in relaxed unison. Someday time will cut my threads to you, but until then I’ll stand here watching, my love hovering, not stopping.
As I mentioned on June 1, I’ll be using July to talk about my favorites of the entries I’ve written over the last eleven months. In some ways, this will be my easiest month in that I won’t be trying to figure out what theme or subject I want to discuss each day. The hardest part of writing is getting started, getting inspired.
But in other ways this will be my most difficult month. Narrowing my 334 entries down to my favorite 30 will be like trying to decide which of my siblings I like most – possible, but soulsearchingly hard.
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