Category Archives: Relationships

Car Trouble

1. Ontario is a province of periodic ice storms. Big ones, nasty ones, ones that come in big and powerful and loud and whose consequences linger for days on end.

Accidents are not meant to happen, but they happen anyway. From the outside looking in, watching the accident as it happens, it can sometimes seem less of an accident and more a twist of fate.

There was a terrible ice storm that hit Toronto years ago – not the one where the mayor called in the army, but one a few ice storms after that. Stephen and I had decided to drive back into the city after visiting my parents about hour or so away. The storm was gentle at first, just but a touch – a whisper really – of inclement weather that seemed innocent enough, weak enough, fleeting enough.

But then. Well.

But then it was too late.

Slowly, imperceptibly and then all at fucking once, the highway became slick with snow and ice; the highway was a waterslide, a slough of cold, wet malice. We inched along, pumping the brakes as we skidded here & there, to & fro, as side became front became side became back & front again, as we lost track of the lanes, as we lost all sense of direction and any semblance of hope.

All around us, cars, vans and trucks crashing into each other, skidding at wicked angles down wrong lanes, striking the median with their bumpers and hoods, plunging into ditches.

And yet somehow we made it. Whole, without one scratch, through the melee traffic. Not one scratch, despite the calamity, the sheer inevitably of it for everyone else, anyone else at all but us.

 

2. The bird darted out of the woods and smacked into the grill of the car so hard and so suddenly that it took a full moment to register what had happened, even as the windshield was showered by a burst of blue, white and black feathers. There was also some blood, but not as much as you might think. Just flecks. Nothing outwardly incriminating.

My field director was driving and all he could say at first was, “Huh.”

Pulling the car over to the side of the road allowed us to fully realize what had happened. It’s almost worse than I can tell: the bird had melded with the grill of the car. It was as if one had become the other. They had become inseparable, the car and, of all things, a Blue Jay. Rare enough to see one of those these days.

It could have hit any car, but it hit ours. It could have hit any car, so it hit ours.

Feathers of blue, white and black against chrome. Any car, really, there were so many out on the road that day. Or maybe even none at all. If only.

What kind of a luck is that? What events or factors or circumstances, like the planets above, had to align for that poor bird to so inelegantly thwack against a random/not so random car.

So many things.

Too many things to count, that are, finally, worth counting.

 

3. We had never had a flat tire before that flat tire, and never had one since (so far). It was summer and the drive was fine – smooth, uneventful – and then we started kind of thumping, tottering, hobbling Not exactly a pleasant sensation. Not one I’d recommend offhand.

We parked precariously on the side of a ditch. A cop stopped to ask us what we were up to (“Nothing going on here, is there folks?”), then piled back into his cruiser and drove away when it was clear the situation wasn’t any more nefarious than the changing of a flat tire. He honked, waved goodbye (“You got this.).

Neither of us had ever changed a tire before. It took us a long, long time but we managed to switch out the tire for its spare. Elated yet defeated (the plan had been to visit Stephen’s sister but we had spent too long changing the tire and it was too late), we got back on the road and turned off the next exit, homebound.

Days later my aunt told me she and my other aunt, their spouses and my cousins had passed us on the highway while we were stranded, in the ditch, attempting to change that tire.

“You looked like you needed help,” laughed her husband. They didn’t feel like stopping, it turns out, because then they would have had to take the exit and backtrack. No one wanted that. Who would want that?

Strange how a moment can bring you together or rip you apart. Funny how coincidence works itself out.

Years later, he lost all the money he and my aunt had, and they, in turn, lost their cars and their house and were forced to sell most of their things, including all their precious koi from the, frankly, undersized pond that held them.

They separated. A year later, he died.

Huh. Didn’t see that one coming, not by a long shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Death, Family, Nature, Relationships, THE PAST, Transportation

The Dogs Fault

Dogs come and dogs go.

Lou, our beloved, slightly deranged 14-year-old dachshund, will leave us soon. His health is poor; his quality of life declining with each passing day.

But this story is about mostly Toby, my aunt’s 4-year-old maltase mix. That’s 28 in dog years, for those of you contemplating the math. 28 to Lou’s 98. Quite the disparity; quite the gap to mind.

Louis and Toby lived together, as brothers, for three glorious days (or maybe the relationship was closer to great old uncle and weird little nephew). My aunt gave Toby to us because she was recovering from an illness and believed she couldn’t handle the all the work a dog entails. Dogs are, admittedly, a lot of work.

We picked Toby up from her house with Lou in tow to make sure they’d get along.

No fights. Lou remained largely indifferent to Toby, much to Toby’s disappointment.

That night, the texts and emails began.

Hello Cindy! How is Toby? Can you send me pictures? I am sure he will be happy with you because you are young and can take him to the park and for walks and things.  

Hello Cindy! Did he cry in the car on the way to your house? I hope he ate all his food.  

Hello Cindy! Did Toby sleep well last night?  

Hello! You took the dogs out walking together! Did Toby have a good time? 

Hello! Did Toby eat his food this morning? How much did he eat?

Hi! Is Toby still OK? How are his eyes?

Hello Cindy!

Hello!

Hello Cindy!

Hi!

Hello, Hello, Hello!

On and on it went. I was inundated. I have never been quite so inundated before, in my life, ever.

Finally, a phone call on the third day: “Auntie, do you want Toby back?”

She came the following afternoon, a stressful trip as I had inadvertently gave her my old house number instead of my new one and she had to stop at more than a few gas stations and ask to use their phones because she doesn’t have cell phone and didn’t have any change in her pocket but then she couldn’t reach me because my cell was acting up and didn’t receive any of her phone calls until, finally and all at once, it did.

But that is another story.

And although Toby seemed to have settled rather nicely into his new life at our place, he was as overjoyed to see my aunt as she was to have him back in her life. Lou, as ever, remained totally unaffected.

End of story.

Except.

A month later my mom told me that Toby had taken ill. Addison’s disease. He needed emergency surgery and will be on various medications for the rest of his life in order to manage this otherwise debilitating condition.

“Your poor auntie,” said my mom. “But lucky you. You see?” It was, to her, all a matter of simple fact and she let it die right then and right there.

Not so for me.

You see? See what? What did that mean, you see?

That you shouldn’t give something away unless you are sure you don’t want it back? That fate, it seems, can intervene and undermine even the best of intentions? That Mom Knows Best?

Whatever happened, it’s not the dog’s fault. The dogs are blameless. As far as I know, Toby is doing well (better, at least, then poor Lou), but the medications are expensive and my aunt is not sure how much longer she will be able to afford them.

Still, it’s not his fault. After everything, he is totally without blame, completely without fault and actually there was never a need to exonerate him, ever, was there?

He didn’t do anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Death, Dogs, Family, Pets, Relationships, Time

Fish in a Can

I met my childhood best friend in the gymnasium during lunch, just after our second grade began.

During lunch, the gymnasium doubled as the lunchroom, filled with rows of collapsible picnic tables rolled in from the school storage shed, the basketball nets above folded up so as not to provide the children with yet another unwanted distraction.

I remember. No one would sit with me because of my “Chinese lunches.” According to the other children, the food my mom packed for me (leftovers from dinner and the now fashionable, but back then the as-yet-reviled bánh mì sandwiches purchased from the local Vietnamese market) – that food was so smelly and gross and simply unfit for human consumption. So go ahead and let the “Chinese” girl eat it. This went on for quite some time; longer than it should and much, much longer than seemed possible.

Then one day someone did sit next to me. A redheaded girl whose preoccupied mom began packing her sardines for lunch. I remember the heft of the can, the way the girl plunked it down at the table. No one would sit with her either, at least, not after she opened up that can of fish. She was more confused than sad about this, but then maybe her confusion just masked her sadness as it did for me.

It took a while, but we got to talking, then comparing lunches. It was a sobering exercise. Because, whatever else I had (old rice, soggy noodles, weird veggies with marinated eggs), she had fish heads. Whatever else she was, I was still the Asian girl in a mostly white school.

We were a match.

I never shared my lunch, and the girl, my eventual friend, never asked. She never ate her sardines, though she eagerly opened them every day, right after plunking that heavy tin on the table.

We smashed up the fish with her fingers, rendering them into a viscous fish-paste that fascinated (so much destruction in that particular transformation). We took the heads and spines from the sardines and threw them at boys, then girls, then whoever. We were seldom caught (not many snitches in that lunchroom and who wouldn’t appreciate some distraction?).  I was always a little proud we started with the boys, targeting them not out of malice but out of a vague sense of obligation. Anyway, it was something my friend and I never questioned.

Her mother remained preoccupied, packing her can after can of tomato-submerged fish, thinking they made a good lunch. This went on for years.

***

Bánh mì is now fashionable, so much so that non-native speakers gladly twist up their tongues trying (and failing, failing, failing) for an “authentic” pronunciation of the word, the dish. What they settle for (“Bah, bah”, “me-me-me,”) is, fortunately, often more amusing than anything else. More amusing, possibly, that it should be.

Sardines, however, remain what they are.

Still just fish in a can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Food, Friendship, Race, Relationships, School, THE PAST

Titles of Biographies Written by People Who Never Actually Talked To Me (Likely, I Forgot to Call Them Back)*

  1. That Bitch
  2. Hopeful Disappointments
  3. Of Course Not
  4. Like, The Right Amount
  5. Cockamamie Outcomes & Contradictions
  6. Wayward Consequences
  7. You Heard Dirty
  8. Shut It Down, Bring It Up
  9. Enviable Indignities
  10. The Pits
  11. Knee High
  12. Where Applicable?
  13. About Thirteen
  14. And Such That It Wasn’t
  15. HELLO STALLION!
  16. Normal Weird
  17. Once or Twice
  18. Light Here
  19. Every. Damn. Day.
  20. Good Psychology, Bad Math
  21. Pffffffffftttt!!!
  22. The Skinny On The Shit
  23. No, Actually
  24. Stupid Good Times
  25. Origami Logic
  26. Oh, You Bet
  27. That Bitch

 

________________________________________________

* Please follow any of these with “The Cindy Phan Story,” where you feel it best fits.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Books, Mind and Body, Relationships, THE FUTURE, Words

Favourite

I have an aunt who would ask me all the time, “Am I your favourite?”

I have a lot of aunts. She wanted, it seems, to stand out distinguished among them.

(Though there are a lot of aunts, they are not interchangeable, but the issue seems to be hers exclusively.)

As time passed, the questioned changed:

“Who’s your favourite?”

And changed again:

“I’m your favourite, right?”

Until, finally:

“Tell them who your favourite is.”

“No,” “Why,” “I don’t know” did not deter her from asking her question, and neither did “Yes.”

“Yes,” as you can see, was what led to further questions until the inevitable “tell them.”

(NOTE: “I don’t have a favourite,” was met with disbelief and scorn, and also the equally predictable demands for a “real” answer. Demands for “the truth.”)

The truth is this: I no longer speak to that aunt. Not anymore than I have to, anyway. Which is to say not a lot. Which is to say not much.

Funny now, looking back on things. Funny the lengths we go through, the trouble and expense, to define something for others on behalf of ourselves.

Among other things, “favourite” means “chosen”, “preferred”, and “cherished.”

No longer speaking to my aunt is my choice, it is my preference and something I have come to cherish.

My favourite.

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Family, Relationships, THE PAST, Words

Top Recs

The following: A list of things people have recommended to me, ordered according to our relationship to each other, arranged by order of importance and/or frequency of occurrence of said recommendation.

Friends:

  • Archer
  • Downton Abbey
  • Lost
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (book and movies)
  • Afternoon naps
  • Bouldering

Acquaintances:

  • Game of Thrones
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
  • Hitchhiking
  • The one on the left.
  • All lady fight club
  • To prove it by choosing which limb.
  • Mint tea
  • Chewing gum

Co-Workers:

  • Downton Abbey
  • March Madness
  • That cute place down the street.
  • To give up the coordinates for the rest of him we swear we only want closure.
  • Vaping

Upper Management:

  • To value “experience.”
  • To treat co-workers “like family.”
  • To give 110%
  • Offal on demand.
  • Game of Thrones
  • Dystopia
  • THE BOX

Family:

  • To call more.
  • A career change.
  • A nose job.
  • The key so we can finally know what he hid in that room we found behind the fake bookshelf in his workshop.
  • To please god stop reminding us.
  • Downton Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Family, Food, Friends, Hobbies, Jobs, Movies, People, Relationships, Sports, Television

Much Alike

My sister and I look very much alike. Her friends and mine confused us for each other all the time. Still do.

My parents always wanted me to be more like my cousin – poised, prim and perfect – but I look nothing like her.

My relatives say that I look like my mom. But she’s had some nips and tucks and doesn’t quite look like herself anymore (which, of course, is the point).

I must look what she used to look like, even though she never looked like my sister and bares no resemblance to my cousin.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask my sister’s friends. They’ll tell you. After all, they’re right about half the time, if not even more than that.

Looks can be deceiving, but not all the time and certainly not for everyone.

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Friends, Relationships, THE PAST

100% of the Ones You Don’t Take

The professor’s face was set amongst pleasantly rounded features – stub nose, soft cheeks spread across the gentle slope of his jawline, topped off by a pat of fine ginger hair and a pair of affable eyes that rested lazily under slightly-smudged and overlarge glasses.

We had been discussing my future as a graduate student. I mumbled something along the lines of “kind of” to one of his inquiries about my academic intents and ambitions.

“‘Kind of?’” he responded, laughter pulling those features into sharp, fine lines. “You’re either pregnant or you’re not.”

That sentence haunted me for a really long time. Months, weeks and so on. Even today, I think about it still.

That, and my response, which was simply a listless and non-committal, “Yeah.”

God. Damn. It.

So many other things that could have been said in that seconds after “you’re not.” So many things that should have been. Among these:

  • “Only if I don’t know who the father is.”
  • “Schrödinger’s pregnancy!”
  • “Sir, I am pregnant until I’m not. And I’m not until I am.”

Glorious, no?

***

I think I have finally realized what happened, way back then. I missed it.

I had missed my shot.

Other people had said similar things to me since.

But it’s not the same.

Besides, the universe is not to be trusted when it comes to do-overs.

So many regrets in this life. In the end, what’s one more?

One more yeah.

 

 

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Filed under Education, People, Relationships, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

The Logistics of the Illogical and Frankly Stupid (re: “I Love You”)

“Cindy. I love you. But [HORRIBLE THING SAID ABOUT ME WITHOUT REMORSE].”

Has this ever happened to you?

Why not just tell me to fuck right off? That would have been preferable. It would have been so much better.

Not, “I love you.”

And don’t call me by my name. Don’t use my name and “I love you,” so you don’t have to feel bad about that horrible thing you actually wanted to say in the first place, but were too cowardly to do so without some desperate preface.

In any case, the love, the particular love cited here: it was not mutual. We weren’t that good of friends, not to warrant that.

That horrible thing; it didn’t have to be true to be effective, if that’s what you were going for. But you cheapened it with “I love you.” That horrible thing could have stood well enough on its own and maybe we could have worked through it…

JK, JK, JK!!! You and me? We’re done. Oh, we are so over.

So I’m just left to conclude that what we had when we started was already less than what we ended up with.

In other words, we made some excellent progress, you and I.

 

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Friendship, Language, People, Relationships

“My Love, My Love”

“Here you go, my love.”

“Thank you, my love.”

“My pleasure, my love.”

Oh, my love! My love, my love, my love!

They didn’t always do that, this couple I knew. I think they were trying it out, all this my love, my love, adding it to the repertoire of their L-O-V-E, which included (among other things) light (and heavy) petting, hair twirling, hands in each other’s pockets, random back rubs; big, wide smiles. Little quirks, neat tricks. Things to pull out during a lull in the night.

A friend, who was also witness to this romantic display, asked if they were like this all the time.

I don’t know. But I said that it did remind me of a parrot, an African Grey, I once saw at a pet store.

“Hello! Hello! Hello!” it said to anyone who approached the cage. It made a big show of it too.

“Hello! Hello! Hello!”

Did you know? African Greys are among one of the most intelligent birds on earth. They have been known, for example, to outperform children as old as 4 on certain tests, and can learn and build upon a rather impressive collection of words and concepts.

“Hello! Hello! Happy Birthday!”

Did you know that?

The pet store Grey didn’t. At least, I don’t think so.

So it was easy to be charmed by the bird, with its precious words, cute mannerisms and bright, shiny feathers. So it was easy to just go with it, enjoy the show – my love, or no.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Emotion, Friends, Pets, Relationships, Ritual