I guess today is some sort of a turning point in my life.
It started with a call from the hospital about a car accident. Or maybe it started in the morgue where I watched the coroner unzipping the body bag. There was no certain beginning of this colossal change in my life. But now standing at the head of the long funeral procession with a picture of Mom’s portrait in my hands, I can feel the finality.
What is that Ellyn Stern’s quote in one of those inspiring Pinterest boards?
The turning point is that moment of naked acceptance of the truth.
In less than thirty minutes, I am going to cremate my mother’s body. No matter how surreal the whole situation is, there is no point in not acknowledging it.
That Mom is dead.
That I lost her, forever.
My steps falter. One of my many cousins who I can’t put a name on grabs hold of my bicep and ushers me to keep up the pace. In a Chinese funeral, everything needs to be done on a strict schedule. You have to pick the dates from a lunar calendar handbook. There is a proper time to move the casket. You can not do anything without consulting your Taoist priest first. So when the priest told you that the body has to be burnt within a quarter-hour, you have to do just that.
I respect the ritual and custom. But I can’t tolerate the condescending way my family treats me during the whole ceremony. Just because half of the blood in me is American, they thought I was unable to perform properly in my own mother’s funeral. I needed to be told twice right about everything. And no, I was not forbidden to stay vigil but there are so many rules. My half-American ass couldn’t possibly survive a couple of nights without accidentally screwing something up.
They don’t understand that I spend most of my life living in Taiwan like most of them. I received the same education they had. I speak Mandarin way better than English. I am not even a citizen of the United States of America. Except for the slightly exotic facial features, the whisky color of my eyes, and the yellower shade of my hair, I am no different from them.
But all they see is a disgraced child born with a problematic lineage. I’d overheard how they spoke of Mom and me behind our backs. A rebellious daughter. A drunken mistake.
Mom was a lot of things. She was a drama queen who dared too much, cared too little. An insensitive asshole who brought more trouble than ten people combined. Her weird code of morals drove the people around her insane. She might be the most disastrous person in the entire town, but she was also the most optimistic and veracious woman one could ever encounter. She might have done something stupid and reckless. She made a shit ton of mistakes. But she was true to herself. She was not ashamed of who she was. And she was definitely not ashamed of me.
“Xin.” I jerk when my mom’s sister, Chen Ru, appears at my side. Among the four siblings of my mother, Auntie Ru is my favorite. Unlike the others, she is more open-minded and less judgmental about my parentage. She also bears a good resemblance to Mom. My heart aches a little just looking at her face.
“How are you holding up?” She says, her voice wobbles a little.
“I am okay,” I assure her. My easy tone belies the pain in my heart. She glances at me warily and I can see words forming on her lips. It takes her a few tries to finally spit them out.
“Have you thought about your future?”
I blink stupidly at her, confused. “My future?”
She nods, glancing at me with a pitiful look on her face. “The after. Where are you going to live? Who are you going to live with?”
I am appalled by her questions. Why does she talk like I have to move somewhere else? I have a perfectly fine apartment I shared with Mom for the past decade. She also left me some money in her bank accounts, which is enough to get me through high school or even college (the tuition of the national universities in Taiwan is unbelievably affordable). I will be alright on my own for a while. Lonely, yes. But alright.
“My husband and I have been thinking about... adopting you.” She continues. My mouth falls open at her suggestion. Before I can protest, she raises a hand to stop me. “You think you can live on your own. But you are 17, still underage. You need a legal guardian. I don’t want you to think you are causing us trouble. You are my sister’s only child and I will take care of you unconditionally.” She stops and gives me another sincere smile. “You are not alone, Xin. You still have us.”
I blink and, out of nowhere, blurt out: “And Dad.”
She freezes, staring at me like I had a second head on my neck.
“I am not parentless,” I say and realize, yes, I still have my dad. These days have been crazy enough that his existence has been completely forgotten. But to be fair, Xavier Alston, my dad, has gone radio silent on me for over a year now because of something he couldn’t quite explain to me. Along with the sudden death of Mom, I didn’t even think of him. This is what would happen if your parents lived on different lands. “I still have my father.”
“Yes, you do.” Auntie Ru still looks at me oddly. “But he is across the Pacific. And he doesn’t even care enough to attend your mother’s funeral.”
I bite my lips. Well, this is definitely on me. I don’t even call him even though I doubt he would answer at all. When Dad says he is going dark, then no one, even me, could reach him. “Yeah... about that...” I pass Mom’s portrait to Auntie Ru and reach into my jeans pocket. “I should probably call him.”
“You didn’t?” She said with a frown. I can tell she is trying very hard not to roll her eyes at a girl who just lost her mother. I cringe, stepping away to make the call.
“You want to live with your father?” She asks before I can slip away. Even though her face is kind, there is an edge of reproach in her voice. “Have you thought this through? This will mean leaving your family and friends behind. This will mean moving into a different country.”
To be honest, I haven’t thought this through. But for god’s sake, I didn’t even think of my father until approximately three minutes ago.
“He is my dad, Auntie,” I say like she was stupid. But we both know I am the stupid one here. She sighs but does not stop me from leaving again.
He picks up the phone a bit longer than usual. But the fact that he picks up at all surprises me.
“So Precious?” A voice so low comes from the other side, carrying a ragged edge. Dad does have a resonant voice, but this sounds deliberated. It sounds like somebody is posing a threat. I double-check the number on the phone. I didn’t accidentally dial the wrong person.
“Ah... yeah it’s Precious. Your daughter. The one you ignored for a year. ”
Mom gave me my Chinese name, Xin, which meant heart in English. Dad gave me my English one, Precious, claiming it’s a perfect match to my Chinese name (something about I am loved by all his heart). I don’t mind being called Precious. But let’s be frank, the name is kind of cheesy.
There is a long silence on the line. I hear the small breath pull out before the speaker answers. And this time, I am fairly sure he is not my dad.
“Oh, yes. Precious. Of course.” The man splutters. “Daughter, of course.”
I narrow my eyes even though he can’t see me. “Who are you? And why are you answering Dad’s phone?”
“Taylor Burner.” He answers too quickly, sounding nervous.
“In case you don’t know,” I say, pressing my voice lower to mimic his tone before. “My dad has a huge ass gun. If I were you, I wouldn’t have stolen his phone.”
“You think I am a thief.” The man huffs out, sounding almost offended.
“You didn’t give me many clues.” I drawl. I don’t know why but talking to this stranger somehow eases the tension in my chest a little.
“Who’s that?” My dad’s voice drifts from the other side of the phone, muffled by distance.
“Precious. I...” Burner doesn’t have the chance to finish whatever he is going to say before Dad’s rumbling voice fills my ear.
“Precious, dear. You shouldn’t call me. Everything ok?” He sounds apprehensive even though I notice an undertone of disapproval.
“I’m sorry. But... something happened.”
I look back to the procession moving steadily forward to the crematorium, at a loss of words. Mom’s death is not news to me anymore. But whenever I think about it, I can feel a splitting pain in my heart. I inhale sharply, swallowing back the tears that threaten to break free. I’ve been holding myself together so well today. But Dad’s voice was like an alarm, waking me up from the haze of the past few days. All of a sudden, I feel so cold. Maybe, after all, I can’t handle this well as I gave myself credit for.
“She is gone.”
“Who is gone?” Dad asks. The apprehension in his voice grows thicker.
“Mom.” A pause. “She was killed in a car accident.”
“Jesus Christ.” He curses. And he repeats those words three more times before he says: “I’m coming to you. If I leave now, I will probably get there tomorrow.” I hear him start pacing around the room.
“You don’t have to come.” I wipe my face frantically. “The funeral will end soon. There is no point.”
He sighs heavily, struggling to make a decision. “You shouldn’t be alone.” He finally says.
“I am not.” I assure him. “Plus, you don’t wanna be reprimanded by people here. They all think you are heartless not to come to the funeral.” I laugh bitterly.
Knowing my dad, he is probably rolling his eyes now. He never gives a crap about my family here. He would avoid them at all costs, including Mom. “You should have told me earlier. I would have come to pay my respects despite my poor relationship with your mother.” He grumbles.
“Actually...” I tumble over my words. Now it’s the tricky part of this conversation. Normally, if I want to come over to his place and stay with him, he would say yes in a heartbeat. It was never fair to Dad that Mom got to keep me instead of vice versa. Now Mom is gone. We could finally live together. But he is on the off-the-grid period of his confidential/mysterious/dubious job now. Maybe he doesn’t want me around.
Before I can utter a word, Dad beats me to it. “Does this mean I can finally keep you here with me?”
The upbeat tone dispels my doubt in a tick. “Seems like it,” I say and look around the people around me. My stomach churns uncomfortably. I have built a life here in Taiwan. Can I walk away from all of these easily? “But let’s not make any big decisions now. Can I go visit you first? We can talk about thi later.”
“Of course,” He says warmly. “Come visit me. Text me for flight info and I’ll meet you up in New York.”