Parting Gifts

4 min readSep 9, 2021

Intellectualizing trauma and the things we do to cope is bad. But so is contextualizing that within a binary framework. There is no room for growth, for imagination, for all the lives we’ve yet to live between the white space of letters. Things simply are or they are not.

It’s difficult in the sense that, it too, is a coping mechanism. We spend all this time investigating and reading and learning about everything but ourselves, sinking hours and days and maybe even years telling ourselves that “we need to know more.”

More about what, exactly?

You and I know that the hurt we feel when we look at our fathers is not born of the same circumstances. The things that drip from Mother’s lips like sweet venom do not sting exactly alike. And yet here we both drink from the same cup, feel the same heat in our throats, shiver from the same liquor that we hope to make us forget.

The body remembers where the mind cannot, where it does not.

It’s been a long time since I flinched after hearing the sound of the garage door opening. But like anything that’s been taught to us, like anything that we’ve practiced enough times, these hands can still tremble if they hear the right music.

And it is during this “intellectualization” of pasts we cannot remember, that I cannot allow myself to forget, that I force myself to listen to the same music that scarred me as I boy. The notes don’t quite sound the same and I swear that the melody was a beat faster, but where my mind is forgetful,

My body remembers.

My body remembers the feeling all too well. So well, in fact, that Sunday noon makes me shiver. I take up more of the car seat now but I still remember what made my seatbelt feel like a noose. The drive to Costco is largely uneventful but I can still smell what my sweat is like on a muggy spring day, what my heart does when it hears my father say,

“Nhanh lên.”

Hurry up, he said. And so I did.

I got all of my hurt and anxiety and terror out of the way now so I would have more time for myself when I was older, when I grew up. My parents always told me I was a smart kid, that I was supposed to be destined for bigger things.

I don’t think they realize how smart I am, even as I showed them my transcripts or my writing. I was above average, because they said I was, and of course I wanted to be a good son and listen to them. In fact, I was so committed to overachieving that I had quarter life crises instead of waiting until I was forty.

I got all the complicated business of healing and self reflection done now, well before my thirties, so I would have more time for myself when I’m forty. I’m figuring out what I want for myself now so I can go about securing what I need sooner rather than later. So I can enjoy the life that was denied to you.

For as long as I can remember, I was always told that an education was the only thing you could give to me. I was forced to accept that we were not like the other families at my school. Sports and clubs were not for me, because you two had to work. Sleepovers and parties were for kids with stay at home moms and parents who didn’t care about them, not for children who were the literal embodiment of generations’ worth of dreams and expectations. College out of state were reserved for households that made six figures and for parents that had diplomas hung up on their walls, with corner offices and business emails.

I made use of that gift. I spent four years trying to be as economic about it as possible, squeezing out every last drop of utility from it like milk from chapped teats.

That wasn’t the last gift you gave me, though. The last gift I got from you I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

It is a time machine. It is a movie theatre. It is history, our family history, written with the metallic taste of blood and the slight tremor of an accelerating heartbeat.

Whenever I hear our favorite song, I dance. I forget my height and my build. I forget what I’ve learned and who I am, what I’ve become. I waltz with you as I did back then.

I remember what is to be a small child, vying for their parent’s love. I remember what it means to be scared. What it means to feel every bone in your body tremble, to feel the murmurs of flesh and sinew churn in anticipation. In patience.

I remember what it is to be young and afraid of those who were supposed to protect you. I remember it well, even if I can’t admit it. Like any gift, this can’t be returned, won’t be returned. But that doesn’t mean I have to share this with anyone else.