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Ordinary Canary Posts

Tai Lam

A very sad thing happened on Saturday. Tai Lam, a 14 year old boy and a student of the school for the gifted in math and sciences Montgomery Blair, was shot down by a gunman who appears to have just been looking for a fight.

This story affected me pretty profoundly – I actually burst into tears when I read it. I didn’t know Tai Lam, but he lived and died right around the corner from where I grew up. The neighborhood I grew up in was a rough one. It was mainly populated by Central and South American immigrants and African-Americans. Being one of the few white-skinned kids wasn’t always easy. But the thing that united us all was our poverty and the problems it caused. And one of the first things that happens in the face of systemic poverty is violence. We had gangs. We had drugs. We had parents that were never home because they had to work long hours (mine included).

I was lucky because I was white-skinned. I didn’t fit in anywhere, except in the world outside of our neighborhood. I remember the year when my friends became color conscious (it happens around ages 11 or 12). Skin color was the defining factor, the definition of my neighborhood. You could only live on one side of the street if you were African-American. If you were Latino, you could only live on the other. Violence was frequent because posturing was everything. When you have nothing, all that’s left is your honor and reputation.

I had hoped that it had changed. It obviously has not. I think that’s why I found myself crying for Tai Lam and his family tonight.

Dear Tai Lam, I am so so sorry that you didn’t get a chance to escape the cycle. You were a Blair student – you probably would have had a bright future in front of you. It is the saddest of worlds in which poverty is created and allowed to oppress people in this way. You will undoubtedly be in my thoughts for a long time to come.

Edited To Add: Reading the comments on this post about Tai Lam also make me sad, since half of them are blaming “the Mexicans”, while complaining that “Mexicans” think that all Asians are the same. This is the damage of bigotry, folks. When does the cycle end?

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Six Months Ago

My mother died six months and two days ago. She’s been on my mind a lot, obviously, because round numbers are the sort of thing that stick out.

Whenever the 9th rolls around, I find myself thinking back to those awful days in the hospital. Watching her breathe through the respirator, the colonoscopy bag, her swollen limbs blistering and changing color as I listened to the awful suck-in/suck-out of the machines that were keeping her alive. Almost fainting when I spoke to the first doctor, when I realized that I would not be going home in a day or two, because she was sicker than anyone I’d ever known before. Feeling the responsibility settle in because I was the only one around to make decisions.

The room had a smell to it, half Lysol and half sweetness from her illness, the kind of smell that lingers in your nostrils long after you’ve left the room. I remember staring at the toilet in the room when I first got there and sat on the chair waiting for the nurse. “Your awesome daughter is here,” I wrote on the white board in a red Dry Erase marker, “and I love you.”

Not that I spent a lot of time in the room, because seeing her bloated form was very difficult. She didn’t look at all like my mom, who was a vivacious and often frustratingly silly woman. My mom was petite and curvy. The sick body on the bed was all of the opposite. Her body in the coffin looked nothing like her at all, because her body was so beat up by the illness. I never got to talk to her, never got to find out how she felt about what was happening to her. I didn’t hold her hand when she died, because I was scared to touch her, but I was there. I witnessed it, although I didn’t think that I could. I watched her turn blue, the thin lips that I’ve inherited changing color in a matter of seconds.

I really don’t know how I would have gotten through those days without the kindness of the people around me. Old family friends, her church, my “family” of friend in Virginia all flocked around me and provided support when I needed it. It was an awful time, but also an incredible time, and I have walked away knowing that I’m very loved, which is something that I’m not sure I really understood before she got sick.

I am such a different person now from who I was then – so much in my life has changed. I find myself longing for her, even though we were never as close as I wanted to be, and as time passes, her death just becomes more unreal. I know she’s dead, it’s deep in my consciousness, yet sometimes I nearly pick up my phone to call her. We had gotten into the habit of it in the months before she died, because I finally got over the grudge I had against her for never keeping my contact information. She was so organized in some ways and I had resented her for not loving me enough to keep my phone number around.

But as one gets older, the small hurts just go away – what matters is grabbing the people you care about and loving them unconditionally. No one is perfect, but one of the things that unites us all is that our time together is very short.

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