Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. In this episode, you'll hear about a moment of adversity called: Life At Stake, a moment of an encounter called: Nagging Grandma, and a moment of a perspective called: the Three Little Words.
Hello and welcome to Episode #14 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. These are real life stories that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Life at Stake, Nagging Grandma, and The Three Little Words.
A moment of adversity called: Life At Stake
Going to college would be my ticket out, my transfer out of the hell hole I was inside. Ever since I could remember, I never belonged. At age one, Mom sent me to stay with my father's parents. At age five, Mom sent me to live with my mother's parents in another state. Since I was the only one sent away when I had other siblings, I didn't belong. Then while living with my grandparents, my uncles told me that I didn't belong in their family. Who wants to stay where they are not welcomed or not feel like part of a family? I saved money from working at McDonald's and Burger King, babysitting, clerking, and doing other odd jobs as a teenager. I was planning my escape from the family where I didn't belong. College would be my ticket to a bright future, but how would I pay for college?
My uncles told me I was too stupid to go to college because I came from my dad and his family was all dumb people, so they said. Grandma and Grandpa were poor, near poverty level, and didn't have the money to help me. My uncles told me that no one would pay for my college education, so I should get a job and go to community college where it was cheap, and you didn't need to be very smart. My parents never offered to help me, but they certainly paid for all my other siblings, all five of them. No doubt, I was convinced that I didn't belong and wasn't like the rest of the family. I never understood why my parents tossed me when I was a year old. The only possible reason was that my mom didn't like the way I looked, or I reminded her of her mother-in-law or my grandmother on my father's side, and she hated her. But I look like my dad, and she married him and had six children. Go figure!
I knew applying for college would be a lot of money. How much exactly, I didn't know. I just knew it was a lot, and I had to figure out how I would get out of hell. No one gave me the idea, but the seventeen-year-old me concocted a strange concept. I knew that usually, parents paid for their kid's college education and that my parents were not going to as told by my uncles. So, I opened the phone book's yellow pages and looked for a family lawyer. I just randomly picked a name, Stephen Cheng. He is probably dead by now as I am an old lady now. But amazingly, I remember his name. Perhaps it was because he saved my life; he gave me the ticket out from hell.
I called him up and said, "I want a divorce from my parents because they are not going to help me pay for college." He said, "Wait a minute, who are you living with?" "I am living with my grandparents, but they are too poor to help me, and my parents are not helping me, so I want a divorce." I must have sounded like a ten-year-old, but I was seventeen and still naïve! Amazingly, Mr. Cheng said, "Stop, don't tell me anymore. Come over to my office, and we can talk more." And just like that, I quickly hopped on a bus to his office. He was a public attorney, so the lawyer told me that I wouldn't need to pay much.
I didn't know what I was expecting or hoping for, but Mr. Cheng found the solution for me that I could never have thought of because I had no legal knowledge. I was fortunate! He found a way to help me, and it was all legal. He told me that my grandparents could be my legal guardians since I lived with them for over ten years. They would need to sign a document to accept being my legal guardian. It would cost twenty dollars. I told Grandpa that I needed him to sign it so that I could go to college. He willingly signed as he didn't have to pay a dime. I told Mom that Grandpa would be my legal guardian, and she didn't seem to care. I didn't even need her "consent" to have a legal guardian! Anyway, I suppose they were all happy that no one would pay for my college education. Mr. Cheng continued to tell me that I also got state residency with legal guardianship. With that, I could receive state government aid for college. And since my grandparents were near the poverty level, I could also probably get school financial aid and apply for a college loan. After getting a legal guardian, I applied for college using my grandparents' financial information. I also got information about state aid for college from my high school counselor.
Knowing that no one was going to help me and that no one cared if I went to college or not, I knew I had to take action to figure out how I was going to get myself there. Luckily, I found Mr. Cheng. Fortunately, I asked the school counselor for information, too. And I proceeded to apply for college.
I did get into the college of my choice, an expensive private college. The school provided me with a hefty scholarship, and they enrolled me in the work-study program. I also got state government aid and a student loan. Together all those things combined paid for my college education. Looking back, I don't know how I managed to do what I did! I can only say desperate times require desperate measures. A little luck and a little creativity certainly helped, too.
A moment of an encounter called: Nagging Grandma
When I think of Grandma, the first thing that comes to mind is what a nag she was. She constantly repeated herself in all that she wanted to teach or impress upon me. "Emily, be a good girl, clean the house, help me cook, and don't do bad things," she nagged. Worse, she constantly reminded me of why I should love my mother. "She sacrificed herself by marrying your father so that our whole family could come to America; you need to love your mother," she nagged. I prayed the day I would be old enough to be on my own to leave her, so I wouldn't have to continue hearing her annoying story of Mom's sacrifice and lectures about how I have to be a good person.
It took many years later after Grandma died, and yet some more years later after that, did I realize the enormous impact Grandma, who raised me since I was five years old, made on my life. Not only did she contribute to shaping some of my habits, my hobbies, and ultimately my personality, but also my identity and passion in life.
"Clean this, clean that, tidy this, tidy that," Grandma always said. What a nag! People ask how I can keep my home so well organized and clean. I used to say that was just me, but it must have something to do with all that time spent helping Grandma. Today, I am grateful to have the experience and be mindful of keeping my home clean and organized.
Grandma worked hard and made little money, but she always saved some money to give a red envelope of money for someone's birthday or Chinese New Year. I noticed it but never thought much of it other than that she was generous. People ask how I can save money and always have some when needed. I used to say that it was just me trying to survive because I had no backup support from family. But it must have something to do with all the times I had seen Grandma dishing out red envelopes of money to give to people even though she earned so little. Today, I am grateful to have unknowingly developed the habit of always saving for a rainy day and always careful spending what little money I have.
When I was a five-year-old, Mom was a young mother overwhelmed with raising a bunch of young kids. Grandma had just immigrated to the USA and saw my mom's challenges, so she offered to take one child off her hands. I was the chosen one. Little did I know, Grandma's act of kindness was a reflection of her big heart, of her incredible generosity. Though Grandma has already passed away, she is still sending me messages, nagging me to be kinder, more generous, and have a bigger heart. I know this because I hear it in my head, and I am still working on improving in those areas. I better improve on them some more because I can't stand her nagging!
Under Grandma's roof, I got lost in a world I didn't understand. I couldn't speak Chinese, and she couldn't speak English. We couldn't even communicate with each other; I don't know how I survived three or four years of that! Frustrated but patiently waiting until I was old enough to walk to the bus stop by myself, Grandma sent me to Chinese school when I was eight years old. Little did I know, that was the beginning of me learning to find the courage to be independent or to take care of as much as I could by myself.
Thrust into the world of the Chinese language at school; I was fascinated. The characters looked nothing like the English alphabet. They looked like picture puzzles to piece together to form a character. Writing them was so unusual, something I had never experienced before. Then there was Chinese calligraphy with a special brush and a special kind of ink made just for Chinese calligraphy. I never had the talent or interest for art or painting, but I was in awe of the beauty of Chinese characters created by a special brush and ink when it came to Chinese calligraphy. And I proceeded to enjoy it as a hobby.
Grandma would be nearby sewing each night while doing homework, trying to do extra work because she got paid by the number of pieces of garment parts she sewed. While sewing, she would also be busy nagging me, "Emily, be a good girl, study hard, do all your homework, don't be lazy. You have to learn the Chinese language too because you are a Chinese person, your ancestors are Chinese, and you should be proud of it." As a kid, I never thought much about it, but I came to have a strong connection with being Chinese as an adult. It must have come from Grandma's lectures about being Chinese and what Confucius said about being a good person. All those nagging lectures must have helped form my identity in the world.
Grandma had sent me to a Chinese school to learn some Chinese and better communicate with her, but unknownst to anyone, learning Chinese became my favorite hobby. Because of Grandma, I found my lifelong passion. I can't stop learning more characters. Whenever I am down, I find myself writing more Chinese characters. It has become my quiet companion, giving me comfort and motivation to pick myself up.
Incredible how despite having a nagging Grandma for ten years, she became an enormously positive influence. Not so unbelievable when you know who she was as a person. She was a kind and giving person who always had good intentions toward others. She gave so much to my life. From Grandma, I learned to cook and clean, get organized, save money. I also learned the value of working hard, respecting my ancestors, and being a good person. Even more, I came to love the Chinese language I learned out of necessity to communicate with her. It became a hobby, then a comfort, and then a passion.
Never doubt how anyone can influence your life from the little things they do, and never question how you can impact others even without knowing it.
A moment of a perspective called: The Three Little Words
He never directly said, “I love you.” And we had known each other on and off for over ten years. He was there to listen to all my trials and tribulations. He was there to support me when I needed courage. He was there to help me solve all my problems. He was Keith, my best friend and greatest love. I moved from the east coast to the west coast for him. He waited four years for me to graduate from college to marry him, and then I didn’t marry him.
Years would pass by, and just before I got married, I asked him if he wanted me to marry someone else. He said, “If you love someone, you let her be free.” I was infuriated and said, “You don’t love me. You let me go marry someone else.”
More years would pass by, and I’d see him again. He’d ask me if I kept all the letters he wrote me so long ago in the early years of our relationship. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember what he said. “When you love someone, you keep things. I kept all your letters,” he whispered. I think that was the closest he ever came to say, I love you.
Even more years would pass by, and as I was getting ready to move abroad, I gave him a call. I asked him directly if he ever loved me. He wouldn’t say. I thought, by this time, he was already fifty-something, and if he had no courage to say I love you, there was no hope left for me to hear it.
So many years, was I just a fool? Should I regret having spent so much time or wasted so much time waiting to hear those three little words? Will he ever regret not saying it to me if he wanted? To this day, he is not married. I wonder if he has any regrets. He asked me to marry him several times before. If he didn’t love me, why did he ask? And it was three times! I loved him so, but I could never say yes. It seemed like our timing in life never matched or met at the right time. Still, I love him. At least he knows for sure that I love him. I’ve told him and shown him. But I can never be sure if he ever loved me. Maybe it is because I need to hear those three little words that never came.
I moved on to have other relationships. The second person and the third person who proposed to me did not say, “I love you.” How could they not say those three little words before proposing marriage? It baffles me.
I went on to marry Anson, who would frequently say, “I love you.” He said it on many occasions before he proposed. Perhaps those three little words gave me a feeling of comfort and security. It let me know that I didn’t misunderstand his feelings or intentions towards me. Though he often said those three little words throughout our marriage, I was uncomfortable saying them. I suppose I loved him, but I was never in love with him. If he loved me, why did he abuse me emotionally? Why did he not accept me for who I am? Why did he not appreciate me? Are the words I love you just words? Sadly, I divorced him.
I moved on to a new boyfriend, Devin, who also said I love you often. I loved him and was in love with him. Finally, it seemed to match on both sides. I got the boyfriend who said I love you, and I loved him back in the same way. He asked me to marry him, but he cheated on me before getting married. If he loved me, how could he cheat on me? If he loved me, why was I not a priority? With enormous pain, we parted ways, never to meet again.
What is the significance of those three little words? I can only guess that when people say they love you, they mean it at the moment. Like the impermanence of life, love also has the same fate. Love can change into another kind of love. Love can even morph into its opposite. Some people show love through words, others show it through actions, and others convey it through both. Everybody expresses their love in their way. Sometimes, their approach does not match the receiver’s way, and misunderstandings could occur. Are words alone enough? Are actions alone enough? Must we have both? I suppose it depends on your needs. Whatever the manner, we choose the interpretation we give to the meaning of those three little words. Whatever we choose, we need to remember like time, it is fleeting. Enjoy the moments.
Though I was desperate to find a way to finance my college education and have hope for the future, creativity and chance from the help of a stranger saved me.
Though Grandma was a nag, I learned a lot from her. I picked up the saving, cleaning, and organizing habits from her. I unwittingly secured my identity and life passion from her.
Though I always craved to hear the three little words from some past loves, I have learned that everybody has their own ways of expressing love.
Next week, you will hear three new real-life stories called Not the Usual Accomplishments, You Can’t Persuade Me, and The First Time.
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