I was 10 the first time I ran away from home. I was full of distress. I wasn't thinking at all. I didn't take any clothes, any money, and I didn't have a plan. I just walked, and walked till I got to the next town. It wasn't far, really, just over the dividing line between my town and the next. When it started to get dark, I had calmed down enough to realize that I couldn't go anywhere. I turned around and went 'home.'
When I got home...my dad was so angry...he literally bounced me off the walls of my room. I didn't know a body could bounce off walls.
What happened? Can I blame society? I don't know. Mother was going through women trouble and needed a hysterectomy. She was in pain, frightened, and most of all having, what I realized years later, an identity crisis. Womanhood was defined by your body. Not by your brains. Not by your talents. Your body. And mother's body was about to be violated.
After the operation, mother went to a rehabilitation facility called Kate Macy Ladd. She stayed there a while. I took over the dinner preparations. Simple stuff, like opening a can of vegetables, boiling potatoes, and grilling meat. Nothing complicated. Mrs. Shuster, a kindly elderly woman, would look in on me and my younger sister. She was soft. Physically soft. She taught me how to darn socks.
My father's second wife had breast cancer. When I visited her in hospital, her behavior towards me stung as much as my mother's had all those years ago. Sheila had once been the beauty queen of her town. Still...that attachment of our identity to the body. Still the same response. And she was educated, too, a Radcliff girl I think.
Looking back on this, it still baffles me. I've survived cancer, too. All my female innards are gone. All I felt and feel is deep gratitude. Towards the co-workers who helped me find a clinic. To the doctor and nurses who got me to the oncologist. To the oncologist. I get up in my apartment everyday and breath deeply, taking in the air, listening to the birds, saying hello to my cats and the neighborhood cats, looking at the sky, walking around the apartment with such happiness at how it is my home and how much I enjoy being in it. I truly can't imagine how mother or my step-mother felt. When I look in the mirror, I smile.
Hollywood has planted the idea that Chinese women are these docile, obedient, child-like creatures. It couldn't be farthest from the truth. If the father was the ruler outside the house, mother was surely the ruler inside.
My China-man's mom was born in China proper before the revolution. Luckily, she was not of the upper classes and so she was able to keep her feet! Grandpa, her husband, joined Chiang Kai-Shek's army, leaving his family behind. They were literally starving. Mother would cook rock soup! Two of their boys were so hungry they ate out of the garbage in the street, got food poisoning and died.
When they were able to escape to Hong Kong, the family lived all together in one room making paper flowers and such things for sale to survive. They grew soy bean sprouts for protein to add to their rice.
Finally reaching the US, they were able, through industrious efforts, to purchase two houses in Brooklyn. Grow up their families, even sending some of the boys to college.
Mama liked her Mah Jong and often went to Chinatown to play. She played there and at home everyday. In fact, the day she died, she had been playing, but stopped only when she felt tired and went up to bed. She never woke up.
The family felt that her ghost stayed in the basement. One of the brothers had been sleeping down there and claimed to have seen her. The family decided to sell the house with Mama's ghost in it. I guess she had unfinished business.
Women's intuition! Somehow that was a common put down. It's just women's intuition! It couldn't be logical, it wouldn't be something worth paying attention to. It didn't have value. It was irrational. And intuition, no matter whose, IS illogical.
In a world that values the intellect, inspiration and intuition seems to have taken a back seat. Yet, there comes a point where even a scientist realizes he can only move forward if he or she allows the light of inspiration to shine. A moment of ah ha and an invention or new insight happens.
Not all challenges can be solved by the mind, by thinking about them. Rather, a relaxed state, and open heart, allows for answers to flow into the consciousness. The mind is a great, useful tool yet, an open heart leads to "unthinkable" territories.
As an artist, I've experienced these moments. I didn't value them as much until recently. I feel intuition has earned respect in the 21st century. We can advance as a race cherishing mind and heart together. Jesus and Socrates! Maybe we can finally apply their lessons.
When I lived in Israel in the 1970s, there was a central laundry. We'd drop off our laundry once a week. There was one woman who worked there. I must have not prepared my laundry properly and she took me aside and chastised me. She said that unless I learned how to do laundry, I would not be a good candidate for marriage. I had since heard the same thing from some Jamaicans.
Why? Long fingernails! Men would actually examine you and judge your character based on the length of your nails. How could you wring out the laundry with long nails?
There weren't laundromats in Israel at that time. And I don't remember individuals having laundry machines. So, you had to wash by hand. The climate was good and within a few hours, everything was dry.
I was thinking about this yesterday as I washed some clothes 'by hand.' Luckily, I'd learned a thing or two from the Chinese. Soak the clothes overnight in the tub, if you had one, or in a bucket. The next day, pour out the water, add fresh water, then stomp on the clothes, then wring them clean. My clothes came out cleaner than in the washing machine.
I didn't wash my fingers to the bone! I remember when we didn't have a washing machine at home. We had a washboard. Using that washboard did make your fingers raw. I don't understand how mother did it. What did mother have against Chinese laundry? Curious how we limit our imagination by our unexamined habits.
I did break one of my nails yesterday. But, my clothes are clean!