It’s time to talk about what I call the Big Push. Big push for what, you may ask? College, of course – simultaneously the bane and supposed salvation of my life and soul.
I think this was when I was around…twenty-four or so? In any case I was better (relatively speaking) and I wanted to move forwards. Which of course to my parents meant going to school – how else could anyone move forwards? (Don’t answer that.)
Let me clarify this a bit for you folks – it’s perfectly normal for parents to want their kids to go to college. It’s also perfectly normal for them to entice, cajole, scold, convince and persuade them, in a variety of ways, for them to do so – hopefully to one of their choice (parents, not kids) If those parents are Asian or Jewish, what typically happens is that you multiply everything by a factor of 10, and totally disregard the child’s choice in that matter.
While the details differ from family to family, this is fairly common – positive or negative I can’t say, but reasonably common. Once again, this was not the case in my family. University was more than higher education, it was salvation itself. If I could but touch the outstretched finger of Universitas, then I would be transported like David into realms of learning and knowledge beyond mortal ken, where I would flirt with the angels and sip ambrosia and nectar with Zeus himself. At least, that was how it was presented to me at that time. Artists are given to exaggeration as part of their craft, but in this case I can assure you that I am not doing so.
Obviously (obviously to everyone except my mother of course) when you approach someone who is already hurting from previous wounds regarding scholastic progress or achievement, you are not going to be very successful. I was still unreasonably scared of any academic qualifications or tests. Nothing had been resolved from what had happened at 15 and after. This didn’t stop my mother though, compulsive as she was. She wanted me to go to university the same way she wanted to get the PhD. Nothing else would suffice.
And so she nagged and bugged and talked to me about it for years, reopening wounds that had never really closed in the first place. Talk about adding salt to wounds – this was basically dumping it everywhere. I doubt she was conscious of anything she did. It was just this thing with her that her children had to go to university, because…I don’t know, I think the world would end if they didn’t? It got really bad (like most things at that time) and I think I would have shouted at her had it been possible when I was in my early twenties.
My father? He only had one thing to say about university, and he would say it about a hundred times in the next ten years. “I’ve put aside money for your university education.” Now, I’m not ungrateful for that! But that was not the issue at hand. Every time I approached the topic he would repeat it again and again like a broken record. He was completely unable to talk about preparation, tests or any emotional or mental blocks that I may have had. It was just the money and that was that.
So once again we got the situation so common to my family at that time. On one hand my mother would regale me with tales of how wonderful and amazing university life would be, on the other it would be my father repeating the same old refrain, and then there was me, struggling with issues mental and financial, past and present.
I felt neither of them had their feet on the floor. Here I was worried that I would have to take out student loans (which weren’t a small thing) and source for jobs after graduation, and my parents were telling me about how nice it would be to have people to talk to, how amazing dorm life was, and how I would enjoy myself SO much. Two different worlds.
I thought that maybe I could even “brute force” it – take copious amount of tranquilizers and anti-depressants, take the SATs and Get It Done. I certainly had the mental (if not the emotional) capacity to do so. But I could not, any more than my mother could not “finish up” the PhD. There was too much in the way, too much riding on any one single decision.
Maybe this all would have been easier to resolve had I not actually wanted to go to university myself. I wanted it! I thought it would be great for me (for completely different reasons that my parents thought of course…college girls, for one) It was that eternal monologue that started way back in my teenage again – I wanted it but I couldn’t get it, I wanted it but I DIDN’T want it, no I didn’t want it because my parents wanted it, I could do it on my own so I didn’t need…and on and on and on. Pretty confusing.
It’s hard to separate these things into their component parts, even for “normal” folks. Why did I take that fork in the road? Why did this go wrong? I unfortunately have no Robert Browning moment in which I assert wholeheartedly that “this was the path I took and it has made all the difference.” Rather, it remains a mass of pathology, abuse, good intentions and lack of resources which I have actually resolved NOT to find the answer to – and I can’t tell you what a relief that is!
In the final equation though, it was probably two major things. First off, I could not leave Meimei. She was not in a good place and most important of all, she was NOT seeing a therapist, so there was no shield against my parents’ tender mercies. Whatever my mother was doing to me, she would just turn around to do to her if I was gone. This fact alone probably underlies and supersedes all other considerations.
In later years people would ask me “but maybe if you had left she would have gained her own strength and been able to handle things on her own.” Yes that idea had occurred to me more than once too. But could I take that chance? Could you? If the person you loved most in the whole world was in the jaws of Hell would you be able to turn around with the assurance that “she could handle it?” Maybe that might have happened. What if it didn’t? I couldn’t take the chance.
The other was the do-or-die nature of the venture. Like I’ve said before, the reality I was confronted with was much much different from my parents’ fairytales and fantasies. We didn’t have a lot of money to spare. My Mum was paying off the mortgage on the house at that time and my Dad was between a series of odd jobs. And I, ever the dutiful and filial son, didn’t want to waste his parents’ money.
I thought I had to go and make It in America, or I was doomed to death and mediocricity. I did not think about what might happen afterwards – if dreams did not come true, what might replace them? If this didn’t work, then how about that? Choosing the wrong major still means that you have a degree. You could do something else in a related field. You could do something else in a totally unrelated field (which I would learn in later years is actually really fucking common) You could go back to school. (also pretty common!)
But living in that atmosphere of crisis and desperation, once again all possibilities were either nixed or not there to begin with. There was no one to discuss this with in any manner, shape or form. I did want to talk about it with Florence (and I did on a few occasions) but the other family issues were always so pressing that I never had the time. Once she even said “just go” and I got SO FUCKING ANGRY. She of all people should have known difficult it was for me to “just go” (or just do anything else for that matter!)
And so another dream vanished into the mist, except that this time I was lot more aware of its passing. Not that it helped! I was still in a bad place and I would be for many years to come.