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  • Writer's pictureLaura L

My work sent me to the Bay Area, so S. took a few days off work in order to tag along. California... a place I've long loved but have never managed to live in... always shrouded in a bit of a mystery for this Midwestern girl.

It wasn't easy growing up in the Midwest as a (very) low-income Asian female. I always imagined that my life would have been so much better -- I would have fit in so much more and had a better time -- if my parents had moved us to California. But after visiting, I'm not so sure.

The weather was perfect and the physical surroundings were beautiful. We visited Muir Woods the day we arrived, and that turned out to be a fantastic place to get some exercise in after a long cross-country trip. It was eerily quiet and calm, and the tall trees seemed almost majestic.

The second day, we ventured to Chinatown. The food, surprisingly, was not amazing -- I've definitely had better Chinese food elsewhere in the country, including at St. Louis' beloved Wonton King. What really bothered me, though, was the state of the wait staff and others working in Chinatown. They were really, really poor, and the entire area was visibly unsanitary. I later found out many of Chinatown's residents lived in "SROs" -- dormitory style rooms where entire families cram into a single room. Some SROs do not have windows; others lack indoor plumbing. It really spooked me, as I thought I'd grown up poor... but as poor we were in Iowa, we always had indoor plumbing, a clean and safe place to live, and I attended excellent public schools. It just amazed me that here, in the most liberal city in the country, in a city of such extreme, extreme wealth (with the Silicon Valley crowd and Gucci and Prada stores), people lived like this. And not just any people -- my people. People who looked like me, visibly unshowered, walking around with torn clothes and shoes, serving crappy food to tourists. The most chilling part of the visit was when I walked by the murals of all the Asian women and girls killed in Chinatown. It was the first time in my life I felt genuinely unsafe.

The third day, we visited the suburban areas, which were much cleaner and safer than downtown San Francisco, but highly segregated in both income and race. Again, the crazy, disparate, inequality in this area was ever-prominent.

We visited a beautiful winery in Napa Valley on our last day before returning to the airport. The wine and chocolates were fantastic; our only regret was not getting to spend more time there.

It's tough to sum up my experience in the Bay Area. It was beautiful and it was heartbreaking. It hit home a little too much, and it also felt so far away from home at the same time. What I do know is this: when I stepped off that plane, I was very, very happy to be home.

  • Writer's pictureLaura L

My birthday was beautiful. S and I went to Sasha's in Clayton, the site of our first date. He gave me the ring security system and doorbell (always good in this day and age), and then we went to the symphony for their Chinese New Year special performance.

It's sad to think about getting older when C -- my Min -- will never age. As I grow older and grayer each year, he will remain forever the petite young man in my mind, optimistic to the point of naïveté at times, handsome and funny and fiery as ever. When he died, I felt so conflicted: I wanted to move on immediately so that his death would not ruin or define my life. I made some pretty bad decisions as a result of that inclination. However, I also dreaded the idea of moving on: the idea that one day I would be an old woman, and he would just be some guy I knew when I was younger. No, he could never be that insignificant -- I didn't want that either. I can't say I've resolved this completely, but I guess there is more of an acceptance now. I loved him dearly, if not romantically, and he was a huge part of my life. He left, and I'm forced to live a life without him. I intend to live that life well.

  • Writer's pictureLaura L

2021 was a big year for me. It started out rocky enough: I actually found myself more depressed than I was immediately after C died in 2019. My grief and angst culminated in a terrible bout of vitiligo in March. (Will share in another post what I have done to treat the vitiligo.) Then I caught COVID in April, was severely ill for 5-6 weeks, a cyst burst, I had a staph infection, gained nearly ten pounds, and I lost over 1/3 of my hair. So, to say I had a rough start in 2021 would be an understatement.

"Should I just kill myself?" I sobbed to my friend R. Yes, it sounds both vain and vapid to contemplate suicide over something as trivial as one's looks, but in conjunction with C's death, I just didn't see the point of living. "You should definitely not kill yourself over your looks... especially in the Midwest," R quipped. (She'd also grown up here, though she'd since moved to Arizona.) I begrudgingly decided to continue on.

Then, my luck suddenly and profoundly changed.

In the later half of 2021, I met S, I got my big job, and my skin improved. A -- whose house was ruined by C's suicide -- bought a beautiful new home, and multiple out-of-town friends visited me in St. Louis.

A miserable, (seemingly) hopeless and dark year for me ended up one of the best. S and I spent New Year's Eve at the Saint Louis Club, where my friend P and his significant other joined us for the New Year's event. The buffet was not particularly vegetarian-friendly, but it was still delicious. There was amazing music from the Fabulous Motown Revue (they allegedly performed at President Obama's inauguration). As the band played "I Will Survive," I looked up and realized: I did survive. I survived the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and then I survived more bad shit after that.

Later, the band played "At Last," and I looked at both P and S.

P -- the kind of friend I always wanted (and even actively prayed to meet back in the day, when I was desperately Googling paid networking groups and envying people with high-powered friends lol). Fiercely loyal, ruthlessly ambitious, and always there to answer the "3 am calls" underneath his Machiavellian schtick, he has really been there for me since we've met.

And S -- the man I'd been looking for my entire life.

"At last," they were there.

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