07 Mar The Exploratorium
Dear Ed and Polly,
Thank you for your condolences. I got your email back in December. I read it as soon as I received it. Your words were so heartfelt and so kind. Forgive me for not responding sooner. I have thought about your emails many, many times in the past few weeks, in the past few months. I have tried to write back. I could not. It was too hard.
I think what happened is that your emails brought me back to those early days in Palo Alto, when you two first married, when we first had Dragon. True or not, I always felt that our Asian American Business Student Association group helped bring you two together, and Eric and Laura as well. It was so wonderful when you got engaged, and then when you got married. A Taiwanese-American woman marrying a Korean-American man, it was the same as me and Daniel, and I always felt especially close to you two because of that. When we had Dragon, and you were thinking about one day starting your own family, you asked if you could come over to see him. I think you wanted to meet a little Taiwanese/Korean kiddo, and we proudly paraded out our firstborn son.
Daniel and I often tell this story of the first time we had a glimpse of what our children might look like. We were at the old Children’s Exploratorium in San Francisco, when it was at the Palace of Fine Arts, before Dragon was born. Daniel and I sat down in front of a funny contraption mounted on a desk. I sat on one side of the desk, and Daniel sat on the other. In between us was a see-through mirror, made of alternating slats of mirror and glass. This contraption put the image of my forehead, on top of Daniel’s eyes, on top of my nose, on top of Daniel’s lips, on top of my chin, on top of Daniel’s neck, etc. and vice versa. We laughed and laughed at the composite image, and feared for our future ugly children.
But, they turned out lovely. Dragon was lovely. You got to meet him as a baby, plump and cuddly. When he was only one, we moved down to Orange County, and you didn’t get to meet him again. Oh how I wish I could have introduced you to our son as the young man he had become! Tall and handsome, smart and funny, kind and earnest. What the composite mirror contraption doesn’t show is how our children will reflect our good qualities as well as our bad ones — his generosity, her curiosity, his easy-goingness, her impatience, his grumpiness. Dragon took the best parts of me and Daniel, and also, some of our faults, but all our best parts, nevertheless. And added wonderful qualities that were all his own.
I don’t know what happened. I don’t. It has been six months, and I can still barely say it out loud. One summer day we were a happy family singing Jason Mraz, K-Pop, and Pavarotti in the car going up to Yosemite. And the next? The next moment, they were gone. Gone. The horror of that drive back from Yosemite.
Our lives were obliterated, bombed. Or, as my friend Mina describes it, “It’s like you’ve suffered a mortal wound, except that you are still here.”
Except that I’m still here. Sometimes I feel almost normal. I sleep. I eat. I take the dogs for walks. But other times, I feel like the walking dead. We are zombies. Normal life feels so peculiar now. Everything has changed. And yet, nothing’s changed. Dragon was here one day and gone the next, and for most of the universe, nothing changed. But for our family, we now live in the bombed out shell of what was once a full family, a happy life. Now, we are each broken in similar but different ways. We are trying our best to rebuild our shattered lives. So many of the things that once seemed important, now seem completely irrelevant. How does that happen? When you’ve lost your child, everything else falls away. In some ways, the world lost its color for me when Dragon died.
There, I said it.
Color. One of Dragon’s last projects for school was an exploration of a rare phenomenon, synesthesia. Synesthesia is the combination of senses. Dragon wrote a paper on the rare gift some people have for seeing colors when they hear music, a special form of synesthesia. Dragon was fascinated by this composite of the normal set of senses. He discovered that someone had created a machine that would project certain colored lights whenever a certain musical note is played, mimicking what a person with synesthesia experiences of the world. How cool would that be, he said, to have your world filled with music and colors at the same time! It was so like Dragon to be interested in those things — science, music, numbers, all tied together with something like magic. Those were the worlds in which he was most comfortable, though looking back, I see that he was quite comfortable in many different worlds.
I would almost say that music died for me as well, because so much else has been lost, but, it hasn’t. Music is one of the things that connect me most to Dragon. When I need to be close to him, missing him especially, I turn on Dragon’s playlist, his eclectic mix of Ed Sheeran and Matt Nathanson and Run River North and Coldplay and Coltrane and Meghan Trainor. Or I listen to some of the classical pieces he played on his trombone — Respighi, Ferdinand David, Bach. Dragon lives on in that music. It reminds me so much of him. And of Hannah, my other treasure, who also loves music. I think of the times Dragon would sit on the edge of our bed and strum the guitar, and Hannah would sing. He had just started learning to play the guitar from watching instruction videos on YouTube. Hannah has recently picked up playing the ukelele and now carries it with her everywhere. Many times a day, we are treated to a sweet rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
And so, the music goes on.
Love to you and your kids and your dog.