Online Dating

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I had relocated to a small town of Lynchburg, VA and ended a one-year relationship. I wanted to meet people and go on dates. I refused to be alone. It was time to try online dating. I was apprehensive. I had heard of others’ experiences, good and bad. Online dating is not one size fits all; it has changed as technology has changed. I’m going to share some of my experiences and what I learned. From here you can make your own decisions about how to navigate the online dating world.

Why? Why start online dating? What is your objective? Before you can decide what website or app to use, you need to decide why you are doing this. Most people fall into two camps: one, looking for a long-term relationship leading to marriage. Two, just looking for companionship, dates, and fun. This will help filter all your other decisions because there are many.

The Dinner Date. Going on a traditional date dinner is typically expected. Usually, dinner and a movie. Several guys took me to nicer restaurants. One guy took me out for wings. Don’t do wings for a first date. They are messy, and there aren’t enough napkins. On one date we went to what was an expensive restaurant for our small town. I let the guy choose. We had a pleasant time, and there were no warning signs that I needed to bail on the date. This had potential. We went for a walk to extend our time together. He then walked me to my car. I was really hoping for a kiss at this point. He seemed hesitant like he was waiting for permission. I am not a forward girl and am very shy about making the first move. Even without a kiss I still expected follow up communication. But nada. This wasn’t the first time I was left alone after a first date. I began to ponder and analyze all the scenarios, wondering what I should have done differently. Should I have kissed him? Was it something more? Did he want more? I didn’t like the awkward sexual tension that hovers at the end of the online dinner date. I felt like when they spent good money on a date it came with the expectation for me to give something more. I had committed that no matter what I wasn’t having sex with anyone on the first date. On a dinner date I also felt like I was trapped if the date was weird or awkward. For a full meal I had to make polite conversation, though I knew the date was over in ten minutes. I viewed the date as an opportunity to get to know one another. From here I decided that coffee or lunch dates were better. Neither party would leave feeling used or like something was owed.

The Coffee Date. Use this first date to see if you are compatible. Ask questions that are important to you. Job? Kids? Religion? Politics? Hobbies? Goals? Marriage? Introvert versus extrovert? It’s okay to have a conversation about these things. Emphasis on conversation versus interview. There still needs to be attraction, and the coffee date environment seems better suited to that. You don’t want to waste days, weeks, or months to find out there is a deal breaker. See if the other individual is worth pursuing. I think especially if you have been married before, have kids, or are over 30 you know what you want. One of the men I had been interacting with online agreed to meet for coffee. We had a lot of my prerequisites in common: a love of travel, art, and a few other things. He ordered before I arrived. He showed up in loose jeans and a hoodie. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but I felt better about this just being coffee. We began talking, and he shared that basically he’s working at a call center making minimum wage. He had an art degree. I know plenty of starting artists who are working on their art, selling it, and hanging it wherever they can. He wasn’t doing that and didn’t have any inclination to do it either. I even gave him the benefit of the doubt and queried about teaching art. He failed the teaching test. Twice. The future of being a sugar mama flashed before my eyes. At that point, I concluded that I need someone with a steady income and a career, not necessarily rich, but an equal. That coffee decision looked really good at this point. Had this been a dinner date, I probably would have had to pay for it. I think he was living with his parents. There was no commitment to spending more time together. No one was out anything. With coffee if you do find the other person attractive you can always do something after coffee or plan something for another day.

The Alcohol Question. If you do find yourself at a dinner date the alcohol question is something you need to decide before you arrive. Then hold to your guns. I drove an hour north to Charlottesville, VA for a first date at a really nice tapas restaurant. The choice of restaurants in Lynchburg was limited, and I wanted to try something new. Side note, if the guy isn’t willing to drive halfway or all the way, bail out. The date started with me appearing first. I awkwardly sat at the outdoor table in the heat alone. He finally showed up in a wrinkled button-down shirt. It literally looked like he picked it up off the floor to wear. That was a turn off for me. This is the first impression you want to make? Please, make sure to dress neatly, cleanly, and nicer than when you are going out with friends. Looks ARE everything at a first meeting and set the tone. Think of it like a relationship interview. He ordered a bottle of wine. I am not a big drinker to begin with. I knew I had an hour to drive home. I also didn’t want to make a bad impression on a first date. I sipped that wine. He proceeded to order another bottle of wine. I will say he was charming and the date was enjoyable. I could overlook a wrinkled shirt. It was in the middle of the second bottle of wine that he started to get a little sloppy and even knocked over a glass. With dessert he ordered an digestif for each of us. I was amenable to that. I had had a glass and half of wine with food. The digestif may have given him liquid courage for this next bit. He suggested I stay overnight: he had a place close by, it had been such a long drive, and I had been drinking. I said “no.” I will never know if his intention was to get me drunk so I could stay over. I felt so much better about my decision to limit my drinking. I have to protect myself first. There is no one else who will care as much about me as ME. There will never be another to care as much about you as YOU.

Communication. After the initial interest you will want to start communicating. I love a good flirt via text. I started with email. I felt it was a safe mode of communication without giving out a number to someone who I didn’t know much about. Although, in both modes I can block people. Don’t be afraid to block someone. It’s ok to do. You don’t need people invading your personal space with unwanted communication. The gentleman and I started writing emails back and forth that were paragraphs long. Mostly, the content was soccer related, a mutual passion. We had developed friendship and respect through personal emails. When we met in person, it was a disappointment. We were just complete opposites and ran out of things to talk about in person. But nothing can beat a phone conversation. You can tell a lot by voice inflection, tone, topics, phone etiquette, etc.

A huge point of discussion is sexting, dick pics, and scandalous photos. First, if you haven’t met the person, I don’t recommend doing it. If your goal is long-term, then you need to move on from this person. There is only one thing they want. Second, guys–the girls don’t want unsolicited pics of your wrinkly member. Third, sexting is a personal decision. I explored this when I was in a long-distance relationship, and we had been together for several months. Fourth, we live in a digital age where those pictures live forever and can end up all across the Internet. Determine your boundaries and comfort level. If something is out of that comfort level, swipe right. Trust your instincts. If this is a prerequisite for a relationship from the other person, then it’s not the relationship you wanted. Unless you just want sex–then go for it.

Throw out convention. We live in a world that is very different than even the world our parents grew up in. I watch old movies and think how easy it was to get set up by a friend then married by 20. It’s okay to be the first to give a phone number or ask the other person for theirs. It doesn’t matter who is the first one to poke/like/message the other. Go for it. Be yourself. Of course be the positive best version of yourself. Be a peacock and show your feathers. Ask the other person out if you are interested in them. You can always do it in a subtle, flirtatious way. The other person is just as nervous as you are.

What service do I use? This is all dependent upon your goals. I feel that if you are looking for a long-term relationship, E-harmony is the best one for you. I have had a number of friends who have gotten married from it. I was on it for over a year and had sent likes to a few hundred people and got zero response back from them. That sort of rejection was hard for me. I had to take time away. Set a time frame to be on there. Six months. A year. I had another friend who was about to get off it and found her husband of over ten years now. I had plenty of dates from Match.com. I also found a picture of a guy with two snakes around his neck hanging out in a recliner on Match.com. You never know what you are going to get. Online dating is becoming more common as everything else in our world goes digital. It is much more socially acceptable and safer than it used to be. I buy food, clothes, shoes, and gifts all online. If all our lives are online, why not our dating lives?

Safety. The last note I want to talk about is safety. Take care of yourself. Trust your instincts. If you feel like something is wrong, it is. Here are some ways to protect yourself:
1. Meet in public. Emphasis on meet. While it’s flattering for a guy to pick you up and drive you, you are also getting in a car with a stranger. You want a place where there are people who can help you. Less bad things happen when there are people around.
2. Tell someone where you are going and the time frame. Share with them his name and the website you met him. Give them directions that if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time, they are to call the police.
3. Take a picture of your date or his drivers license. Keep him on his best behavior with this. Send it to a friend.
4. If you are on a date and feel unsafe, let the staff around you know. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and stop a member of the waitstaff. They can call you a cab, Uber, or just hide you out.
5. Casually make sure your date doesn’t follow you home. It doesn’t cost you anything to check your rearview mirror. I will switch lanes, speed up, slow down to see what the car behind me does. It you feel you’re being followed, go to a friend’s house or a public place like a restaurant, grocery store, coffee shop, etc.
6. Take a self-defense class. I’m not talking about learning a martial art. There are classes at the YMCA, hosted by the police station, college campuses, etc. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. No one can predict what will happen. Better to be safe than sorry.

Online dating is as individual as the people who use the sites. There are sites for “Farmers Only” and individuals over 50. Take a few minutes to think about what you want out of it. Know that there are “Plenty of Fish” in the sea. If one doesn’t work out, there is someone else waiting. Experiment with it. Give it a try. There are plenty of ways to meet people. Online dating is just one. Find what works for you. Try different websites. Be you.

Daughter of the Mob–Part 2 of 3

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Daughter of the Mob Part 2

My father came with his parents, seven sisters and two brothers to the United States through Ellis Island in 1975 like thousands of other families had done after China became communist. They had come to America to escape the extreme poverty they faced in Hong Kong, where all 12 of them had lived in a tin-roofed shack. By age 13, my dad had already made a home away from home, slumming with his older friends in Hong Kong. But when his family decided to come to America, he came with them. As legend has it, the family split into two lines at immigration because there were so many of them. That’s how half of them are Chiu’s and the rest are Chu’s.
My grandmother found work at a clothing factory in the garment district snipping thread tails. My grandfather became a local grocer on Mott Street in New York City’s Chinatown, where he worked until he had a stroke 13 years ago. Like many other immigrant families, they worked tedious hours around the clock and had limited time to make sure their children were doing what they were supposed to be doing, things like going to school and staying out of trouble. My father briefly attended American public schools, but dropped out as soon as he legally could. Truant, defiant and certain that school was not his calling, my father at age 17 made his way to Maryland, where he worked as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant that some of his friends from New York owned. When his friends sold the restaurant to Sui Hung Lui, my maternal grandfather, he remained employed there. My parents met at my mother’s Sweet Sixteen birthday party, which some family friends had organized. On that night, she saw in my father’s rogue façade a tender heart, one with which she fell in love. Having grown up in the United States since she was six years old, my mother had always struggled to make peace with her traditional identity. Marrying a Chinese man would bring my grandparents so much joy that she forfeited a full scholarship to Loyola College’s business school to marry my father. My parents began building a new life together and it was a happy ending for two lost souls who had found one another.
***
My mother was crying, not out of desperation, but because she was sorry I was watching them fight again. I was nine years old when my parents were in the early stages of their separation. Tonight, my father was threatening to saw the furniture in half. My mother took me to my room, gave me a portable phone and told me not to come downstairs under any circumstances. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, call the police. Call the police. I love you, sweetie,” she said as she closed the door behind her and left. Muffled shouts and Chinglish insults drifted through the floorboards and I felt tense. I wanted to disappear and pretend this wasn’t happening but I knew I had to be brave. Lost in my own thoughts, I curled myself up in a ball on my bed until I suddenly noticed silence. Dead silence. The fighting had stopped. Footsteps echoed from down the hall and my mom was coming for me. She held me and told me that everything was okay—no one was hurt. As in the case of many unsalvageable marriages, no one was hurt because everyone was numb, but no one won either.
The divorce was finalized in January of 1993 after a year of separation and my mother was awarded full custody of my sister and me. She had sufficiently shown the judge that my father’s double life was taking its toll on the family. Dad never even signed the divorce papers. Knowing he would never pay a dime of the agreed upon child support, my mother took my sister and I under her wing and figured that any clean, legitimate life was better than living on blood-money, or worse, finding ourselves caught up in his business when shit really hit the fan. Just five months later on the Fourth of July, dad had someone “taken care of.”
My mother looks back and doesn’t blame people for thinking she was crazy for leaving my father. “I walked away from everything that I knew. I felt like I was jumping off a bridge,” she said recently. To this day, she wonders how she raised two mostly-normal girls, while going to college full-time in her 30’s and working two part-time jobs. She’s thankful. My most cherished childhood memories come from the conversations we’d have at dinner, which we had together as a family almost every night. We talked for hours, exchanging news of what we had learned in school that day. I’d talk about photosynthesis and she’d tell me about plays, philosophy and women’s liberation. These are the moments I remember best—they are imprinted into the fabric of my being and are so lucid that I could never fully separate myself from them.
I spent the years between the divorce and my father’s incarceration growing close to my mother and harboring resentment toward my father. On the fringes of adolescence, I was inclined to feel invincible and superior to parental authority figures, and so I reveled in my anger, wanting nothing more than to somehow hurt him back. Many Saturday and Sunday afternoons were spent at Pizza Hut and the local Sizzler’s (a buffet chain) in complete silence. I pretended I didn’t understand and stared through him when he spoke Chinese to me. People have told me more than once that I have a dead cool glare that could kill from across the room. Thanks, dad. It’s all because of you.
Weekends with dad were always interesting. I was ten years old when my father once took me to a luggage store at a mall in Park Heights, a notoriously seedy part of Baltimore. He took me by the hand to the back room of the store, through to the stock room where I was greeted by cackling old men who had gathered around a table to catch up on “business.” Uncle Kwon sat in a corner smoking a cigarette, grotesquely exhaling through his nose, slouched back with his legs open, and peered at me through his gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses. Trying to avoid making eye contact with him, my eyes quickly darted elsewhere, anywhere, only to find what I thought were crated guns on an upper shelf. I shook my head and told myself it was my imagination. Poof. Out of sight, out of mind. Dad brought me outside, gave me $5 and told me to wander around the mall for the next 30 minutes while he was at his meeting. He told me not to tell my mother.
I never saw Uncle Kwon again until I visited dad at a so-called detention center in New York before their first trial. He was still devoid of emotion and wore a chilling smirk of indifference—his wife reached over for his hand. Next to him was a big black guy whose girlfriend/wife/whatever was rubbing his balls through his blue uniform. I wanted to throw up. My attention soon returned to my father, even though I couldn’t have known for sure what was proper protocol. Talking about the weather usually breaks the ice nicely with strangers, but he hadn’t been outside in days. I was tempted to just forget that he was a deadbeat father for all those years, but I couldn’t. Still, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for a guy in his situation. At the end of visitation hours, we wished him well on his trial and drove home. I went to school the next day as if nothing had happened.
Two long weeks passed and our well-wishing didn’t do him any good. Maybe if I had wished him luck more whole-heartedly things would have been different, though I doubt it. The truth of the matter is, dad wasn’t very far up on the totem pole in the scheme of mob life. He was the president of the Baltimore chapter of the Chinese Masons Association, a social gambling parlor, but only because most of the truly powerful Chinese men who had once had their heyday in the city left for the suburbs. His mob “family” had long ago abandoned him, which turned out to be a death sentence, almost literally. Uncle Kwon and my father were convicted of all conspiracy charges. Extortion. Racketeering. Robbery. Gambling. Murder. Dad would serve out a life term in jail, plus five years for the illegal gun the police seized when they searched his apartment. Though he appealed the ruling, the sentence remained. His first destination was a United States maximum-security penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA.

Daughter of the Mob–Part 3 of 3

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Daughter of the Mob–Final post of the series

The first time my mom, sister and I went to see him, it was early on a cloudy spring morning in 1999, nearly four years after his indictment. Driving northbound on I-83 for just under an hour, we passed the Pennsylvania line in good time. The roads were bumpy in Pennsylvania, with lots of potholes and very tall, wide highway dividers. Silos punctuated the endless landscape of farmland before we arrived at 10:30 a.m. in Lewisburg, where fences that were topped with coils of barbed wire reached into the distance and glistened in the morning sun. We drove up to an intercom and were asked to identify ourselves and state our business.
“I’m here with my two daughters to visit an inmate,” said my mother. Zzzzzzt.
“Which one?” said the guard. Zzzzzzzt.
“Yick Man Chiu. Last name spelled C-H-I-U,” she replied. Zzzzzzzzzt.
“I can’t do anything with that information ma’am. I’ll need his inmate number. We don’t do nothing with names,” said the guard. Zzzzt.
Upon entering the penitentiary, we had to go through several metal detectors and our hands were dusted for drugs. Lip balm is a no-no. So are open toes. Tank tops, absolutely not. Photographs, nay. Jackets aren’t allowed either. Asthma inhaler? They promised to rush me out of the visitation room if I needed it. After we had demonstrably proven that we were not trafficking drugs, nor in possession of weapons, nor too scantily clad, our left hands were stamped with ink detectable only by black lights, and a guard led us from the check-in point through a few chambers connected by automatic sliding doors. I couldn’t help but notice that the guard checked our hands at every door and took a headcount, even though we had not for an instant left his sight.
The visitation room was different than I had imagined. The movies always depict cells separated by glass with phones through which people talk, but what I saw in the minutes before dad came in was not like the movies at all. I saw an open room with tables and chairs set up, one set per family. Some families played Uno with cards checked out from officers on duty. Much to my surprise, inmates don’t wear orange here either, they wear blue. Fifteen minutes had passed when dad entered the room from a door on the far side of the room, opposite the visitor’s entrance. His eyes looked weary and his countenance pallid. Seeing him in his pressed institution-blue jumper brought tears to my eyes.
As I looked around, I noticed a room full of many different kinds of people. There were people who did very bad things, people who were believed to have done very bad things, stern guards, wives, babies, lawyers, and even a priest. Looking my father dead in the eye from across the table, I couldn’t tell if he was one of the people thought to be bad, or if he really was one. The laundry list of charges flashed through my mind again.
I paid close attention as he told us that he was broke by this point from his two previous trials. The first trial alone cost more than $70,000. During our brief exchange of words, dad revealed to us his desperation. His only hope now was to leaf through legal texts provided by the penitentiary in order to find a basis upon which he could justify another pro se appeal. My father was nearly illiterate in English; his downcast eyes showed his sad understanding of the mess that had become of his life.
“Visitation hours are over people, it’s almost three o’clock. Say your goodbyes. Smith, party of three, come this way,” hollered a fat guard with a buzzed haircut. “Chiu, you’re next.” And in an instant, we were again being engulfed by sliding doors and stared down by suspicious guards. Just like that. It would be another few months before we’d make this trip again.
The process of visiting him has become less emotionally draining over the years. When I see him, I don’t cry anymore, even though sometimes the lifeless daze that he seems to be trapped in worries me. I wonder how he spends his days there, fascinated every time that I sit in the visitation room that the room is full of people who have done terrible things, some of whom are his friends. Does he have a bedtime? Do they let him work out? Is it true that each cell has cable? I never muster the nerve to ask these questions. I remember a time when I asked him what solitary confinement for six months was like—he looked me straight in the eye, shuddered and said nothing. Now, I keep my questions to myself.
By the end of our biannual pilgrimages to Allenwood, where he is now, I generally conclude that the trip wasn’t so bad. The hardest part is waking up at 6 a.m., but after that initial hurdle, I usually feel pretty damn good that my father that day will know that someone on the outside cares about him. In the car, my sister, mother and I pass the seven hours roundtrip in any number of ways. We counted road kill once. A lot of the time, we’ll make fun of rural Pennsylvania. Sometimes we’ll gush about boys. Conversations often lead back to memories that we’ve shared as a family over the years. It’s always funniest when we are almost there. By then, I’ve always had at least two cups of coffee and jitters flow through my body. My sister is usually irritable after waking up from a nap she’s been taking since we crossed the Pennsylvania state line, and my mom is highly prone to cynicism, wishing there was some other way she could spend her day off.
“You know, today’d be a good day to make a run for it,” said my sister facetiously once as we approached the penitentiary. “With all this fog, I bet the guards couldn’t see anything.” As it turns out, she was on to something. That day, the inmates were under lockdown, that is, not permitted to go outside for that exact reason. And I’ll never forget the time the guards wouldn’t let my mom in because they detected traces of narcotics on her on her palms.
“What do you mean, I can’t go in? I don’t do drugs,” said my mother. “I’ve never done drugs in my life.”
“I’m sorry ma’am. You have to leave the premises. The girls can stay, but you’ll have to wait outside.”
“This is wrong, officer. You’re making a mistake,” she said, half laughing. “We drove almost fours hours to be here.”
“Ma’am,” he grunted. “Please.”
Mom went out to the car to smoke a cigarette while my sister and I went in to see dad for a short while, just to let him know what had happened, promising that we would be back next week. We all laughed about it because my mother is the last person on earth who would do drugs. Because the guards wouldn’t take our word for it though, now we all wash our hands with rubbing alcohol before going in. She’ll never live down that day.
In my life, it’s been these experiences that have shaped me. What people don’t realize is that having an incarcerated parent is a lifestyle. Except for my sister, my mom and I, no one has taken this burdensome lifestyle upon themselves. Even among us three, I’m always the one reminding my sister to send him a Father’s Day card or trying to coordinate three extremely busy schedules to make time to see him, not because I particularly want to, but because it seems like the right thing to do. My sister was only five years old when my parents divorced. I don’t blame her for rolling her eyes when I gently remind her of her duty. But for me, before dad wore a blue uniform every day, he was a son, brother and father who needed human affection as much as anyone else. For now, duty calls two to three times a year. I still send cards on holidays.
Choosing cards for my now estranged father usually results in me welling up with anger and frustration. It’s always so hard to find a card, mostly because I don’t want to lie to him and give him any wrong ideas of where our relationship stands. That rules out all of the “For the father who was always there” and “From your favorite princess” cards; it rules out all the “For the dad who loves tools and gidgets and gadgets and golf” cards. After an exhaustive and tedious 25 minutes or more, I often decide on a card that reads something like this: “See this hug?… It’s for you. Happy Birthday!” or a card that says “I miss you father… on Father’s Day.” It breaks my heart that I can’t honestly say anything more meaningful or compelling to him, especially because I don’t write as often as I should. On my most cynical days, I wonder if I can get away with sending a blank card that covers his birthday and Father’s Day all in one, since they are only 16 days apart. For the next 27 years (that’s if he lives to 72 years, the average age of death in the U.S.), I’ll be scraping around card stores for the perfect card for a dysfunctional relationship on his birthday, Father’s Day, and Christmas. That’s 2,025 minutes of my life spent in search of 81 cards.
***
“B” was a friend that dad made at Lewisburg and was his last hope. While doing time together, they had come up with a plan to get dad extradited in exchange for insider information about some unsolved crimes when “B” got out last year. All “B” needed was upfront payment of $10,000 to set up a meeting between his lawyer and one he would hire on my father’s behalf in the United States to witness the transfer of information. “B” and dad assured us that there was no way this wouldn’t work, that the information they had was irresistible. So, my mother, maternal grandmother and his sister Irene came up with the money and wired it to Macao where “B” was now living.
Then nothing. Days and weeks passed and we heard nothing from “B.”
My Aunt Irene, not knowing any better, suggested that we contact “B’s” grandmother, since she probably knew of his whereabouts. That’s when my mother decided to tell Irene a story about her cousins in Hong Kong.
All her life, she knew of her cousin Yu as the black sheep of the family. He was the oldest boy in his family, and as would be expected, he had some excessively paternal qualities that often got him in fights and other trouble. His brother Xian owned a small air conditioning company in Hong Kong, a fairly lucrative business in a tropical zone. When Xian decided to expand his business to mainland China, he had to make several business trips, the last of which he never came back from, leaving a wife and several young children behind. The family later found out that he had been framed for serious crimes by the businessmen with whom he met and is now serving out a long-term sentence at a prison in the Guangdong region. This devastated them everyone, but only Yu set out to make things right again. As the story goes, Yu traveled to China to meet with the businessmen that he knew his brother had dealt with to ask for money to bring back to his sister-in-law, since they had taken Xian away from her. One week later, they found Yu’s dead body in a barrel of crude oil.
“There are no rules in this world,” said my mother to Irene. “You don’t mess with people like ‘B’. My life, your life, our families—none of it is worth it. Let them take the money.”
Until recently, my family has been somewhat optimistic about my father’s appeals and the work he’s been doing from the inside. Just two months ago, his fourth appeal requesting a retrial was denied. With the help of other inmates, he’s managed to get this far, but he knows that his resources have been exhausted.
My relationship with my father currently stands as a fusion of many emotions. He had always been somewhat absent from my life when I was little, over which I am still embittered. Then after the divorce, the relationship became strictly obligatory. The indictment itself evoked shock and anger from me, which has faded to sympathy over time. Today, I am torn for a man whose life is over. In many ways, my father is a dead man, fated to a life that offers only inevitable death. In other ways, I see that he is reborn, ready to make a clean life for himself if he were given another chance. The problem is that it’s too late for him. There’s nothing left to be done. I cry from the insides for him all the time because ten years later, my eyes are cried out.

Daughter of the Mob–Part 1 of 3

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Daughter of the Mob

Dad was old-school, backwards in every sense of the word. If he were any more backwards, he would have died before he ever lived. In a sense he has, but that’s getting ahead of myself. If only he knew to quit while he was ahead, maybe I would never have learned that I’m a daughter of the mob.
As I had known him, dad was an upstanding guy and a very hard worker. My parents had owned restaurants since the early 80’s and made an honest living about 14 hours a day. There were weeks at a time when I’d never see him, weeks when I’d be awake and off to school before he woke up and nodding my sweet head off, lofty in fantastic dreams, by the time he came home. The man who slept in a room down the hall was a stranger to me, but he was my father, and I loved him for that. He may not have been the prodigy brain surgeon that stereotypes about first-generation Chinese immigrants would have dictated, but that didn’t matter to me. My home was safe, comfortable and I was thankful. I remember looking up at his lean, muscular body, which was heavily saturated with tattoos of green, blue and red dragons, and knowing from the bottom of my heart that he was unequivocally my provider, protector and personal hero.
His idea of a good time when we were all home together consisted of watching kung-fu soap operas as a family. As the resident patriarch, he’d lounge back on the living room couch with a smug face of entitlement while my sister and I took off his socks and massaged his feet as my mother served up a home-cooked meal from a piping hot kitchen. Sometimes it would just be alone time for him and me, such as when he let me play with his gun or when he’d let me count his stacks of money. I can thank him for my arithmetic skills—I’ve been counting to the thousands, one 20-dollar bill at a time since I was five years old.
Life changed though, on August 15, 1995, when my father Yick Man Chiu was formally indicted on twelve counts of conspiracy in racketeering, extortion, murder, gambling and robbery. I was wearing an old pair of fuzzy slippers, helping my friend with algebra homework on my bedroom floor when my mom came in with the news. Feeling nauseous, I cupped my mouth with my hand as tears glossed over my eyes like rain coating the windshield of a stationary car. It now takes three hours by car to visit him at the United States Penitentiary in Allenwood, PA from Baltimore, where he left me in my tracks, breathless, abandoned and disillusioned ten years ago.
Scarred now still, I wish that day never happened. Sometimes I kid myself into believing that all those old wounds have healed, though I never kid myself for long. The men in my life that leave me sprawled on the floor, kicking and screaming through my days, always bring my mind back to the first man who betrayed me. Every time I think that I’ve run away from it, it’s time to face the music again. It’s Father’s Day. It’s his birthday. A newspaper reporter named Joe Mathews is following me on my walk home from school in his car, asking me questions about him, like a fucking predator. For God’s sake, I was 13 years old.
When my father was indicted along with several of his accomplices, it became headline news in the Chinese newspapers. At best, those stories glorified the dangers of mob life. At worst, they painted my father as a powerful, pompous schemer. The American media didn’t catch up for years until Mathews decided to write an expose on local underground dealings for the Baltimore Sun. His story made it to the front page of the Sunday Sun on October 19, 1997 with a full-color photograph of my father, editorially chosen for its particularly snarling, sinister qualities. What readers didn’t see was that cropped out of the bottom right corner was me, wearing a purple silk headband, who he was holding on a sunny afternoon in our front yard.
I never knew that Mathews forged on with writing his article without having spoken with anyone in my family until Morgan Meyers decided to ruin my life at lunch during the fall of my freshman year in the Dulaney High School cafeteria. She ran up to me, waving the previous day’s paper in my face, asking me if the man in the picture bearing the caption, “Convicted: Yick Man Chiu, prosecuted as a tong member in a slaying,” was related to me. This is how I found out that my father is in jail for paying someone a grand to shoot a guy point blank in the head four times, to mess him up so bad that it took the police more than a year to identify the body, which was left in a ditch alongside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway outside of Baltimore City. I had previously known that dad was in “trouble,” but I had never known the gruesome details. I was devastated. God, why? Why in front of everyone? What a bitch. Who asks that?
I spent the remainder of that afternoon crying in a bathroom and in my guidance counselor’s office. He told me over and over again that what my dad did had nothing to do with me, that kids could be mean, and that they’d forget about it soon. It was too easy for him to say and I didn’t buy it. It sounded rehearsed out of an introductory-level psychology textbook. I could see from the nervous look in his eye that he had no idea what he was talking about. From that day on, I walked into school knowing that somehow, my past was more tainted than those of my peers. Every day I look in the mirror and I see traces of my father in my own face and body—all 5’7” of my seemingly put-together, A-student self is perpetually haunted by reflections of a monster.

I Never Set Out To Be A Nag

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I Never Set Out To Be a Nag.

When I thought about being married and living happily ever after, I never really understood all the things that would come with that or what that really meant. I eventually came to understand that my husband and I had some different ideas when it came to the business of living. There is so much you learn when you live with someone and merge your lives together. Then throw in animals and little humans and the chaos of living. In the greater moments of stress you also find out the strengths, the habits, and the shortcomings of each other. When there is more things that need to be done versus time in the day to do it. Who steps up in what areas and takes it on and who doesn’t.

I still remember the first time I was accused of being a nag. “Stop nagging me! I’ll get it done! Your nagging me only makes me NOT want to do it even more.”

Ahhh…the quandary….standing there…felt like in one way that I had just been stabbed. What?!! Did he just accuse me of being a nagging wife?!!! There are some things that I relish in not being within my relationship. I would not like to be accused of being a BI*ch because I never want to approach my partner that way. I would not like being called prude because I like to have fun as much as the next person. I would not want to be considered cold or not wanting to have sex with husband on a regular basis. It happens to be something I enjoy and want as a part of my life too. I would not want to be considered to not be doing my part in the relationship when it comes to chores or making money. And I certainly would NOT want to be considered a “NAG.” I believe in communication and working out who is responsible for what.

I stepped back and took stock. Was this really true? At what point had this happened? Or is he still just trying to get out of changing the *%$^&*&^ light bulb that was too high for me to reach? Was he just being clever and turning things around on me?

And if I am a nag, what is the solution? Am I just supposed to be okay with his to do list not getting done for 3 months, 6 months, maybe even a year from now? Do I just resolve to find a way to get it done myself if these things are so much more important to me than to him? Do I just add more to my side of things or just find a way to be at peace about it? Or maybe just pretend to be in peace and secretly brew in silence?

I guess it comes down to the chicken or the egg…is this my problem or his? In the end I guess it’s both.