A letter to the right person at the wrong time

To Whom it May Concern,

It’s nice to meet you (maybe again), my name is Lily. We passed each other on Shaw Lane near the Planetarium, or held the door open to Case Hall for one another. We were in an IAH recitation together and partnered up because we happened to sit next to each other.

We went to the same high school, but didn’t realize it until years later when we looked back at our high school yearbooks. We had Physics class together, and ended up as lab partners in Chemistry. We worked together for a summer at the local frozen yogurt shop, but went our separate ways because your private school started at a different time than the public ones.

Throughout high school, and into college, I dreamt about “the one.” As much as I joke that I’m not a relationship person, I most certainly am indeed a relationship person. I blame it on my adoption and loss issues, but I also think I might just be needy. I’ve come to realize that “the one” may just be a myth, or maybe there are many “the one(s).”

The one who was our first love, who we were for sure going to marry – but realized that life goes on past high school. The one who we were their first loves; they taught us the guilt of breaking someone’s heart, and that the guilt of hurting someone else’s feelings is no reason to stay in a relationship.

There was the one we shared our first kiss with, all giggly and flushed. The one we shared our first sexual experience, still blushing but now trying to act much more mature. The one we spent late nights with in the summer and early mornings once school started again. The one who taught us to differentiate between platonic and romantic love, and the one who seemed to walk into (and leave) our lives at the perfect moment.

Maybe, possibly, there will be more “the one(s),” or maybe not. However, to every single “the one,” thank you. Thank you for teaching lessons of heartbreaks and bad decisions; for nights of staring at the stars, and afternoons filled with forehead kisses and whispered secrets. Thank you for your patience and empathy, and your temper and coldness – as they have all taught me more about the people in the world around me.

I have shaped myself a lot into who I am today, but it wouldn’t have been possible without you; and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Yours truly,

Lily

Circles of Friends

The following anecdote is from a year ago (yes, that’s how good I am at procrastinating – I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a YEAR):

I recently had lunch with a friend who I haven’t seen in about a year. I thought it was two years, but she was positive that we saw each other at some point when we were sophomores. The only thing I really remember is me storming out of her dorm room freshman year after some stupid argument I can’t even remember now.

During our surprisingly non-awkward breakfast, she looked at me and said, “You abandoned me when I needed you the most. That’s why I was so angry at you.”

I was shocked. I thought that she had been upset about the small dispute we had at the end of freshman year, but looking back, I did remember her calling and texting me. I remember looking at the phone and thinking “I’ll get back to her later.” Which is awful. She was my best friend throughout high school (and middle school) and I completely left her as soon as we stepped into the world of college.

To be honest, I left a lot of people when I started college. I left some of my closest friends from high school behind in such a manner that I haven’t spoken to them in almost three years. But that’s a story for a different time.

As we were parting ways, my friend turned to look at me and said, “Well, I guess I’ll see you next year.” I was so startled that I blurted out, “No, wait, I want to be friends again.”

She stopped and turned back to look at me and told me: “Lily, we’ve been friends. We’re still friends; I’ve always considered you a friend. My therapist told me that we’re still friends even if we only see each other once a year.”

I replied in probably the worst way possible: “Well, like not to invalidate your therapist or anything but that’s bullshit. You can’t be friends with someone if you only see them once a year.”

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#tbt to thinking high school friend groups are 4ever

Update: I’ve seen her at least three times since then. We occasionally text, and she spent the night a few weeks ago.

As I move on post-undergrad graduation, I am finding that this blog post becomes more and more applicable to my life.

What I said a year ago was, first of all, extremely invalidating; but more importantly, it was wrong. As I talked it out with my therapist, she reprimanded me for being judgmental and invalidating, but then took out a white board and started drawing circles within circles.

It kind of looked like she was drawing a diagram of our solar system’s planets, if planets had perfectly circular orbits. However, instead of the sun being in the middle, she wrote my name (which is basically an accurate representation of how I live anyway).

“Now, you are at the center of this, everyone else falls on one of these circles. Those closest to you are your family, your closest friends, those who you will hold near and dear to you forever; they would go in the first circle. As the circles get farther away from you, so does the friendship – all the way out here on the last circle are going to be high school friends, who you sometimes like their social media posts. However, they’re all still your friends.”

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So there you have it. It was a learning lesson for me, and to this day I think about it every once in a while. Just like planets and moons, people can get thrown out of orbit. People can get pulled in closer. However, each “circle of friends” has its own ups and downs: the ones farthest away are fun to comment about how far they’ve come since their emo high school days; and those closest are there for you every step of the way.

No matter who you are, or why you’re in my orbit, I’m happy to call you my friend.

Thanks for everything,

Lily

Missing Memories

I was reading the news a couple of weeks ago and stumbled across BBC Future’s archive page, which claims to “make you smarter every day” (their slogan). These articles focus on psychology, astronomy, and everything in between, from why cannibalism exists to explaining the theory of infinite universes.

The article I read was called “The mystery of why you can’t remember being a baby,” and although the content of the article was fascinating, that isn’t what I was really focusing on.

I was remembering a year ago, when I turned to my boyfriend at the time and told him that I missed my birth mother while expressing my frustration at not being able to remember her facial expressions that morphed from undying love when she first saw me to heartbreak as she left me, her voice from the lullabies she sang to me while I was in her womb, and her mother’s touch that was my safety and comfort for the short time I knew her.

He responded: It is absolutely fine you don’t remember – there’s no way you could remember anything when you were only two weeks old anyway.

Technically, this is true. Even the article with all of its data and scientific studies says so, but that doesn’t matter. I can still miss my mother. I can, and do, miss a life I never knew.

I miss my birth mother and birth father; I miss learning Chinese as a first language and understanding the culture I was born into; I miss being able to attribute my eyes with a spark of mischievousness to my father and my passionate and outgoing personality to my mother.

I miss things that do not exist. They are missing memories in the space between what should have been and what was.

BBC’s article discusses how under the age of about two or three, people cannot form memories in the most conventional sense. However, our senses are developed almost immediately. We can hear, see, smell, taste, and feel things; but we cannot process them to form true memories.

Every year, I have struggled with feelings of abandonment around my birthday. I may not consciously remember my infant life, but my body does. It remembers being held and loved by my birth mother, only to be abandoned in a box in the dead of night. My body remembers feeling completely out of control, and completely alone – no amount of screaming or crying seemed to bring my mother back the night she left me forever.

I’ve now worked through all of the emotions surrounding my adoption, so I thought maybe this year it would be better.

I was wrong. This year has been the same as always. Waking up night after night from the same nightmare over and over. Panicking in the middle of the day at the thought of some bizarre disaster taking away someone I love. Bursting into tears in the evening for no other reason than an overwhelming sense of yearning for a missing mother.

I cannot enter the alternate reality of what could have, should have, and would have been; but I can accept these feelings of loss each year.

One of my favorite taglines is “Recovery is not linear,” and I could not agree more. As I recover from a lost family, language, and culture, some days are harder than others, some days I miss my would-have-been life; but in the end, I am able to come back to the life I am currently living. I am able to remember all of the wonderful experiences and opportunities; the monumental and constant love and support from friends and family; and of course, all of the kittens and cats in the world just waiting to be pet.

May there be many more great memories to come.

Adoption and College; Change and Transition

On the first day of my last semester as an undergraduate student, my small senior seminar class of about 13 students played the Introduction Game. We stated our name, where we were from, and what we had learned from our time in college.

A lot of students reminisced on how time flew by and on all of the good memories, and I couldn’t help but also be grateful for the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met; however, there was a nagging thought in my mind that reminded me of the tears and anxiety that had also followed me to and throughout college.

College is a time for change: from teen to young adult, from student to potential employee, from dependence to independence; not to mention all of the changes in interests, relationships, and ideologies that many college students experience as well.

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As you can see, my best friend and I changed a lot in four years

As an adoptee, my biggest fear is abandonment, or more specifically, change. I was left in a box somewhere in my village at the age of two weeks. I was taken to an orphanage, given to a foster family for eight months, and then ripped away from them too in order to be taken by some Americans. I’m not resentful of my wonderful, American parents in any way, but by the time I was one year old, I had already changed families three times. So for as long as I can (and can’t) remember, change has been something scary.

The transition from elementary school to middle school was scary, because it meant we would have to change classrooms every hour, and it meant that half of my elementary school friends would be going to a different school. I would have to meet new people, new teachers, and adjust to a new schedule.

I ended up making a lot of friends in middle school who I stuck with in high school, and a couple who I still keep in touch with in college. Middle school started me in a community that I would stick with all the way through senior year of high school: orchestra. Concerts and trips and early morning sectionals were all crucial to my middle and high school experience.

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Senior year of high school, my orchestra had the privilege to play at Lincoln Center in NYC

College, however, was the worst. It was full of change and the unknown. After high school graduation, it seemed all of my friends were going to different universities. Questions like what if I don’t like my roommate? What if no one in my classes like me? Isn’t this when you’re supposed to meet the person you marry? Is this the right major? were the only things I could think about the summer of 2013.

Three and a half years later, this December, I will be graduating from James Madison College – a prestigious, political science college – at Michigan State University – a world-renowned university. I will graduate with a double major in Social Relations and Policy, and Chinese.

I ended up meeting a group of friends who have supported me more than words could ever say. I realized that college isn’t for meeting your one true love – it’s for meeting new people with similar interests and finding out interests of your own. I’ve managed to find a close group of friends who have helped me through transitions, from seasonal breaks to broken hearts. Most of us have found each other by chance, but I’ve never been one to believe in coincidences.

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Sushi is definitely the best way to bond

I changed majors twice, and still managed to complete a double major. The belief that you have to choose what you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re eighteen years old is completely ridiculous. College is a time to change and grow in your interests and passions. It’s okay to switch from pre-med to the liberal arts or from English to Mechanical Engineering. Your interests and passions are valid, no matter how often you change them.

Most importantly, my self-development in college was huge, and filled with changes I couldn’t even begin to imagine going in as a freshman: my beliefs and values; my outlook on life; and most importantly, the way I handle transition and change. I’ve learned that change is necessary in growth, and I am thankful every day that I am not stuck being my angsty, stubborn, high school self.

Just because I’ve learned to accept the necessity of change does not mean that it makes me any less anxious than before because honestly, change is still terrifying. It means something is leaving you behind, but a lot of the time, it’s something that needs to be left behind: a person, a toxic situation, or an experience. Time only moves forward, and we cannot be stuck in the past. Taking a step forward can be hard, but if we root ourselves in fear, we cannot learn to grow and experience life.

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“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”

Finding You, Finding Me

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An adoptee’s thoughts on Finding Dory…

When I was in fourth grade, my classroom had Star of the Week, which meant that one chosen student brought in a poster with pictures of their family and had to fill out a sheet filled with their favorite things: color, animal, ice cream flavor, favorite movie.

I’ve never really loved movies, so I’m not sure what inspired me to fill in the blank with a film that had come out almost a year previously as “my favorite movie”, but my 4th grade-self decided on “Finding Nemo”. It’s been my default favorite for the past 12 years, and I haven’t given much thought to movies since…

 

[[SPOILERS AHEAD]]

             

When I realized what this new movie sequel was truly about – not Dory finding herself, but Dory finding her parents – I had the strangest sense of my heart both sinking and fluttering.

Dory’s anxieties were similar to the ones I have faced since I was old enough to understand adoption: What if my parents don’t want me back? What if it was my fault I had “lost” my parents? What if I never find them? What if I find them and they don’t remember me?

The memory of Dory’s parents setting up small seashells so she could always “find her way home” in their fish tank made me tear up a bit. Her parents did everything they could to make sure Dory was healthy, safe, and happy.

After Dory breaks out of the aquarium and finds herself in an unknown part of the shallow waters, she sees a shell, followed by another – and another leading out of the kelp forest. I almost started crying. Then, Dory swims out of the kelp to find a small rock with a hole cut out of it, and long paths of seashells starting at the rock and leading out in every direction to the open ocean. Two shadowy figures appear, and Dory struggles to see who is swimming towards her. Soon, the fish come into focus, and we see Dory’s parents carrying fin-fuls of seashells.

They reunite and hug and swim together around the small rock-home. Her parents tell her, “When you were lost in the pipe, we realized that you must have been taken to the ocean, so we went after you. Then we made our new home right outside of the aquarium and collected seashells every day, hoping that one day you would find them and follow them home to us.”

Well at this point I’m sobbing while still trying to watch the movie. Except the movie is all blurry because I can’t stop crying over the fact that Dory’s parents have stayed in the same place for years, collecting seashells and setting up tons of paths that Dory can always “follow home.”

After the movie was over, my boyfriend turned to me and commented, “Wow, That was a very emotional movie,” and I looked at him and said “Yeah.” He paused and then says, “That movie was very emotional for me; I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you.”

And that was the best response I could have asked for from anyone. Dory’s feelings of inadequacy and abandonment, her burning passion to find her family, her reunion with her parents, and her acceptance of the fact that as much as she loves her parents, Marlin and Nemo are also her family, mirror any adoptee’s story.

So for parent’s looking to take their children to this film: know this is a very touching, very Pixar movie. Your adopted children might not understand why they’re feeling insecure or sad…but the movie offers both hope and closure. This allowed me to identify with Dory and let me think that maybe there’s hope for me, too.

For older adoptees who want to see the sequel to their favorite childhood movie, I hope that you also see a piece of yourself in Dory, and have the courage and strength to “just keep swimming.”

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Burnt Bridges and Diverging Paths

Many of my blog topics center on continuous changes I’ve made to become a better person for myself. Something I haven’t written about is the group of people I left behind who contributed a lot to who I am today. The group of people that I cut out from my life with rusted scissors that left sharp edges and scars. In all honesty, I wasn’t a very good friend in high school or the beginning of college – I’m skipping over middle school because we were all a bit too emo for anyone to really understand us at that point in our lives.

The most important thing in the entire world in high school was me. As much as I loved my friends and some of my classmates, life was always about me; and not in a positive-I-love-myself sort of way. Every day was a struggle just trying to convince myself that my friends weren’t talking behind my back or spreading rumors. There was absolutely no reason for me to think this; I was fortunate enough to never be bullied throughout my life, and have always been extroverted and willing to be the first one to start a conversation. However, I was filled with so much self-hatred that I couldn’t imagine anyone genuinely want to spend time with me.

This impacted my friendships: I would always be on edge, and tend to be dramatic about anything that happened ever to ensure that people were paying attention to me throughout the entirety of the conversation. Looking back, I’m not sure why people stuck around, but I figured it must have at least been entertaining.

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Princess Lily, on her throne, world revolving around her

I was recently reading some How to have a better relationship with your significant other and came across the rule: Don’t apologize to each other, say thank you (obviously, there are some times when you do need to apologize). I’m definitely one of those people who say sorry after I do anything ever: Did I cry over spilled milk because it broke the floodgate of three weeks of stress? I’m sorry. Did I unfairly direct my anger and frustration onto someone who doesn’t deserve it? I’m sorry. Instead of saying sorry, the article suggested saying Thank you. For instance, Thank you for being there for me while I broke down and thank you for allowing me to express my stress. Thank you for not yelling back and telling me I’m crazy and instead trying to talk it out with me. Thank you allows you to appreciate their help and support instead of putting the blame on (and making it about) you.

So, to everyone from high school who I left behind or who I ended up drifting away from as we went to rival colleges, thank you for all of your support throughout high school, for eating lunch with me every day, and hanging out with me at school because there’s nowhere better to hang out after school than Troy High’s orchestra room.

In college, I started burning bridges and cutting people out of my life who I considered even mildly problematic. Those who I called my best friends, the ones who were #squad in high school, began changing, and so did I. Freshman year, I was so wrapped up in being someone no one knew and being at a huge, new school and learning about social justice and meeting new people and just being away from high school and my home town that I felt like I was running towards the light at the end of the tunnel, never looking back. I didn’t look back at those who had helped carry me and supported me as I stumbled through the dark tunnel. So to those friends who I simply dropped, stopped talking to, unfriended, unfollowed, and un-remembered – thank you for helping me get to where I am today. I can only hope that I have helped you as well.

I understand that the person I knew you to be is gone now – I can see you’ve traded in your t-shirt and jeans for a black dress and heels; your flowery, bright tops for black and navy blue blazers; and your crop tops for over-sized sweaters. Your ideals and values have evolved with experiences abroad, work, internships, new people, and situations you never planned on.

Yet, I still tell stories about the time we hid in the library to avoid writing our research paper, the time we only passed geometry because we tried slightly harder than all the seniors who had failed math three times, the time we played Pokémon instead of debated who the best US president was, and the time we made promises to meet each other for the rest of our lives at least once a year.

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#Squad from #Prom2k13

When other people tell me about “a friend from high school” or “oh yeah we used to hang out all the time” I wonder what their relationship with that person is now. Are you still best friends? Do you only message each other memes that remind you of each other? Do you talk at all? Was there a huge fight?

I can’t help but think that sometimes people are not left behind – their paths have merely diverged from our own. Both of us moving forward on a journey where our lives may intertwine once more, but also maybe not.

So, to all of my friends who I don’t talk to anymore, who I didn’t treat as well as I should have, or who I burned bridges with – thank you, and I hope that your life path takes you on great adventures.

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A friend from high school got me this poster but it got lost somewhere along the way