I’m writing to you on a Monday morning this week, after coming back on a flight from California last night and laying down to take a nap that lasted ten hours longer than I had expected. I’d flown out for the wedding of one of my best friends from high school, who met his now wife when she was lost and asked him for directions at a train station in Chicago. Earlier in the week another pair of friends wed here in New York: a couple I’ve known for a shorter amount of time who met on the internet and whose relationship many watched blossom across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. These were two very different events – one a ceremony and banquet held at a country club outside San Bernadino, the other a party held at a charity bookstore in Soho – and they were very much on my mind during my flight back.
I think it’s difficult for a romantically-inclined unmarried person attending a wedding to not project in such circumstances, to not want to cut and collage aspects together to form some notion of the ideal wedding. You observe the choices and proceedings and think, This is something I can see myself doing; this on the other hand, probably not. Several drinks into the night a person at one of these events, referring to process of planning their own upcoming wedding, said to me, “We should’ve just eloped and thrown a party for everyone afterwards.”
Something my dad’s asked my younger brother and I on occasion is, “What do you look for in a woman?” Once, my brother turned the question back on my dad, asking him, “What do you look for?” Dad said: “I look for someone who can take care of the house when I’m away.”
For a while I had dismissed this response solely as old-fashioned, patriarchal thinking – of a different time and culture. I’d done this not without some resentment at the suggestion that it was what I myself should be looking for. It wasn’t until recently that, through learning more about my parents’ history, that I’ve come to better understand my dad’s answer.
My family moved from China when I was five. We didn’t have much money and most of what we did have my dad had borrowed from friends and relatives. He would go to class in the mornings – he was getting his Master’s in engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy – then go to his job in the campus cafeteria, then come back to our cramped shared apartment downtown and play with me for a half hour before taking a nap and riding his bike to his other job at a Chinese restaurant, mopping floors and cleaning toilets and, after a quick promotion, cooking large batches of fried rice.
It was all to provide for his family. For us. For my mom and me. And so someone who could take care of me and raise me while he was gone – someone who would have food ready on the table for him when he came back home – was exactly what kept the whole thing from falling apart. And my mom is exactly that person.
I’ve wondered how much my interest in family history is a result of having a writing practice, and how much it’s a result of the natural tendency toward reflection that spring from the process we call Growing Up. The more you write and try to create and convey character, the more you become interested in origin stories, in trying to understand not just who a person is but why they’re the way they are. Understanding dissolves resentment, because you start to see that every choice, be it the kind of shirt and tie they buy at the mall when they accidentally leave their suit bag in airport security on their flight out, or the kind of wedding party they have, or what constitutes a pleasant Sunday afternoon for them … every decision and inclination speak to their upbringing and the things that have happened to them that you don’t know and can’t fully know.
The glass of water slides off the table not by the motion of a single hand but by a confluence of invisible winds. You never see the glass tip; you only see the before and after, and as a writer – no, as an human being who strives for understanding – you can try to perceive the unseen, try to trace the gusts back to their points of origin, the flap of a wing over an island in the South Pacific or the flick of a spatula in a stuffy kitchen downtown. But even then, you can only guess at how these forces swirl and eddy out their inevitable result.
I don’t like the baggage of the word fatalism, so I’ll use a less eloquent word to describe the coming-to-terms with all this. Both weddings, by everything that preceded them and by their very occurrences, create their own logic, and thus befit their participants. They were both very different, yet they both were, are, and forever will be, perfect.