I’ll Be Home for Christmas (as well as everyone else)

When people ask me where I am from, it’s easier to say I’m from Chicago because if I say I’m from Wheaton, Illinois they have no idea what I am talking about.  Even worse, if people ask me about Wheaton in general, I have to tell them how it has more churches per capita than any other town in America and that Wheaton College, which is down the street from my house, was like the town from Footloose but with much more restrictions.  Students were banned from most forms of social dance, drinking, or smoking at social events.  Although they have loosened some of the restrictions, there are still many things not allowed.

Yeah, this is where I live.

That’s the devil dancing in him.

There is only ONE free-standing bar in Wheaton, and it is a complete dive.  Everywhere else is a bar and grill type of place.  So when I come home, I don’t drink.  Not because I have no friends and have no one to to go with, but because there is NO WHERE to go and I have no car so I can’t really go too far.  But last week, I actually went out.  I went to one of our local bar and restaurant, Muldoon’s, and tried to have a good time with my best friend from high school.

But little did I know that everyone that I had ever gone to high school with — and disliked — would be there too.  The thing about Wheaton is that everyone here has been going to school with each other since they were five years old.  I moved to Wheaton when I was 14, a sophomore in high school.  So I knew no one but my three cousins, who were and still are infinitely cooler that I was/am.  And at this point in everyone’s lives, they knew who their friends were, and didn’t need to make new ones.  So I was a bit lost in the shuffle.  I played three sports, was in two clubs, and took all honors classes; and yet, no one really connected with me.

Yes, I had my few high school friends, but now I talk to one of them.  So it was weird going to this bar and seeing everyone who were friends in high school just picking up where they left off on Holiday Break.  It was as if 6 years had not passed.  We were frozen in time.  Well they were.  I felt kinda like this:

What was even weirder was that for me, it was like being a reporter on the red carpet.  I was looking around nudging my friend and being like, “Oh, my god.  It’s So-and-So!  And look! Over there!  It’s Whats-Her-Face!”  While my friend scowled next to me, telling me to shut up.

I went to the bathroom and ran into a girl that I a) went to high school with for three years and b) took some classes with as well as c) spent four years at the same college and d) bumping into and said hello to on the quad.  But when I saw her at the bar, it was as if she was looking at a stranger.  I don’t mind, really.  We weren’t best friends who braided each others’ hair and had sleepovers.  But we still knew of one another.  It’s just funny to me how insignificantly I impacted anyone’s lives I went to high school with.

But when I went out with my friends from college, a week before, it was like :I love being home and I love spending time with my family.  But being in Wheaton itself is the most boring, life-draining thing anyone can do.  And going out just further proved how I do not belong in this small Christian town.

I need to live in a city.

Five Birthdays Since

My brother was born on December 5, 1993.  I was three-going-on-four.  The earliest memory I have is going to the hospital for his birth.  I remember wearing my pink Minnie Mouse PJs and lining up my Aladdin Barbie dolls on the windowsill facing my mother.  When nurses asked me what I was doing I would say, “They’re waiting for my baby brother.”  I remember it being much later than I am usually allowed to be awake.  Saturday Night Live was on, and my dad was laughing at the tiny TV screen instead of feeding my mom ice chips.  I remember my uncle being with me to keep me company while Mom and Dad were doing their thing.  I remember suddenly being so tired that I passed out on the hospital bed next to my mom’s.

And when I woke up, I was a big sister.

We fought a lot.  And when we fought, we fought with words.  We would cut each other down using the biggest insecurity we knew the other person had.  My grandma used to stop the car on the side of the road whenever we were arguing and scream, “GET OUT!  If you’re going to fight, get out of my car and walk home!”  Being siblings, we would fight about the stupidest, most inconsequential things.  How a line in a movie went, what we were going to watch on TV, whether or not we were sitting too close to one another.  But when we got along, we were just as annoying.  Sometimes my parents would yell over their shoulders in the car for us to stop goofing around.  Our chatter and giggling was pointless to them, but for us, it was the most hilarious thing in the world.  The bond we shared was special.  We could tell each other how we wanted to kill the other in one moment, and then sit down and quote every word from Zoolander the next.

We did everything together.  Just like brothers and sisters should.

In June of 2009, my 15-year-old brother was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, a liver cancer that has an incidence of 0.7 per 1 million children in the United States.  By the middle of July 2009, he had died from it.

The loss of a family member is always difficult.  But the loss of a sibling is detrimental.  Nothing shook me harder than that drive home from the hospital after he passed.  I was in shock.  I was numb.  I sat in the backseat of our car clutching two things: his stuffed hippo and his pillow.  I didn’t care about anything else.  I didn’t want to think about anything.  When I did, I knew it was real.  I didn’t speak for the entire drive home.  When we got home, I silently walked upstairs and fell into a dreamless sleep, still clutching those two things.  I couldn’t let them go.  You suddenly begin realizing things you never thought about before.  It hit me that I would never be called “Aunt Allex,” by anyone related to me.  I went from always having someone around with me to being alone.  I was suddenly an only child.

Today is the 5th birthday our family will be celebrating without him.  He would be 20 years old today.  He would be older than I was when I first found out he was sick.  He would be in college.  I love playing this game called, What Would He Be Doing Now?  I think about where he would have chosen to go to school, what he would be studying, whether or not he would have a girlfriend, or if he would have gone Greek like our dad and me.  And when I play it, I am never sad.  I don’t know why, maybe to some people it is a morbid game to play.  But it’s nice to wonder.  If I was able to control how the world works, what would I have him be doing?  But knowing him, he could have skipped going to college and decided to get into flower arranging or party planning.  And it would have worked for him.

The thing about my brother was that he was the hugest pain in the ass.  He would always whine and complain when he didn’t get his way.  He had to be correct, and would fight you tooth and nail to prove how you are wrong.  He was condescending at times, reminding me how terrible I was at Spanish while he rrrrrolled his rrrrr’s with a smug little smile.  But he was also amazing at everything.  There was nothing that he couldn’t do.  School, sports, games, music, everything he touched he excelled at.  He was caring, grounded, and sensitive.  For a 15-year-old, he was just brilliant.

He was funny, charming, and everyone loved being around him.  Some people just radiate goodness, and that was my brother.  He shined.  He was a magnet.  It was impossible for someone to not like him.  He was goofy.  He was alive.  Everything he did was with passion.  I always admired that about him.  His ability to just put his heart and soul into everything he did.

I love my brother with every part of my being.  And I am not the only one.  After he died, his friends put together a memorial at his high school where over 100 friends and classmates came together.  His graduating class created a badminton tournament to raise funds for the foundation my family created for him.  His two best friends are still close with my family, even coming with us on family vacations.

My brother is the last person who deserved what happened to him.  But he taught me how to live.  How every moment — no matter how small — is precious.  He taught me to go after what you want.  He taught me that no matter how far away you are from your loved ones, they are still always with you.  He taught me to embrace life.

It only seems fair that the first memory I have of my brother is his birth and the last being his death.  I was rushing to the hospital while being briefed by my aunt.  His surgery had caused complications.  His cancer had spread to his small intestine.  His kidneys were failing.  But the doctors weren’t going to do anything until I made it to the hospital.

My aunt warned me that he was on a lot of pain medicine and might be loopy.  But when I walked into the ICU and saw him, he was still my baby brother.  The nurses were trying to put his oxygen mask on him, but he kept pulling it off.  “Allex is here,” he kept saying.  “I have to give Allex a kiss.”  When I looked down at him, tears were running down my cheeks.  “Why are you crying?” he asked me.

“I’m not,” I wiped the tears away quickly.

“Hey,” he said.  “Come here.”  He waved his hand to me, and I leaned in.  He gently kissed me on the cheek and then suddenly slapped me on that same cheek.  “I hate you,” he smiled.  We both laughed and the nurse then told us his breathing tube would be going in now.  He said okay, and told me goodbye.

That was the last conversation I had with my baby brother.  And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. […] I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.
-John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Why Does Saying “I’m Not Interested,” Make Me a Bitch?

One Friday night, my friend and I were drinking outside our usual pub, waiting for someone to meet up with us.  While waiting, we were talking and a guy came up to us, looking right at me and asked where I was from.  I looked at my friend and gave a waning smile.  I told him I was from Chicago, and he immediately began asking me questions as well as telling me about himself.  In the five seconds that I spoke with him, I found out that he was Scottish and French, was fluent in French, and he wanted to sit down with us to join our conversation — which had nothing to do with where we were from, or what languages we spoke.

It has now been over a year that I have been in England and this is not something new for me.  There have been plenty of times that I will be outside with my friends talking and a person — most of the time a man — will jump into our conversation to ask me, “Oh, are you American?” and then just start talking about the one time they went to America, did something American, ate from an American chain restaurant, or thought about America.  These men come up to speak to me not because of what I have to say, but how it is that I am saying it.

Now I am not going to rant about how AWFUL it is to be a young, single American woman in a foreign country who is hit on mainly because of my accent.  Woe is me, what ever shall I do with myself? That is not the reason for this post.  But I do find it odd that when after they finish their story — and I always let them finish their story because I am nice like that — they ask if they can join us.  And when I say that I prefer that they don’t the mood immediately shifts.

Like that one Friday night,  as soon as that one guy asked if he could join us, my friend said no thank you.  For no other reason except that we didn’t really have anything else to chat about.  And he just wasn’t very interesting.  And all of a sudden, he became hostile.  He started asking, “What?  Why do you have to be like that?  I just want to talk with you two and you’re being such a bitch!”

Yep.  He called us a bitch.

Why is it that as soon as I tell you that I would rather not speak with you — for whatever reason — that I am the bitch?  Maybe I have a boyfriend.  Maybe I am a lesbian.  Maybe, just maybe,  I am not interested in you.  With the numerous times I have been hit on, there are also numerous times that I have been called a bitch for telling a guy to get lost.  I don’t understand what it is.  Why is it okay for guys to be completely honest with a girl and say something like, “You know, I really don’t think anything is going to happen between us,” or whatever, but as soon as a girl tells a guy that she is not interested, there obviously must be something wrong with her.  Because, certainly, there is nothing wrong with the guy.

Sure, a guy gets rejected by a girl, it happens.  But how is it okay to respond to it by becoming hostile and begin name calling?  Because as soon as you do that, I definitely don’t want to talk to you.  And sometimes if I say no thank you, the guy goes, “Oh come on, why not?  Do you have a boyfriend?”  I refuse to lie and say yes to that statement.  It should not only be okay for a girl to say no thank you to a guy because she is already claimed by someone else.  A woman should be able to say, “No, I do not have a boyfriend.  I am just not interested in what you are selling.”

I have one friend who when he would talk to girls, and they said, “I have a boyfriend,” his response would always be: “Well I have a goldfish. … I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about things that don’t matter.”  I asked him what his success rate with that little nugget of sexual prowess was and he said that it works maybe 50% of the time because the girl is lying about having a boyfriend.  And the girl will go, “Okay, that was a pretty good one, I will talk to you.”  No.  Shame on my friend for using an illogically stupid saying, and shame on girls for having to lie about having a boyfriend to ward off being called a bitch.  But I will give my friend credit, if the girl tells him to back off, he does.

I also have another friend who went to a junk shop and bought a fake ring so when guys would hit on her, she would just flash him the fake bling and they would back off.  What?  Is this real life?  How is this okay?  Men don’t wear fake wedding bands when they go clubbing.  Women should not have to buy fake engagement rings.  Does this concept sound as messed up to anyone else as it does to me?

If a woman says no to a man asking for sex, he has to stop.  Because if he continues, that’s rape.  But if a woman says no to a man trying to hit on her, he is for some reason allowed to act out and call her a bitch.  Could you imagine if that logic worked for the first scenario?  A woman tells a man, “You know, I really do not want to have sex with you.”  And the man then responds with:  “What the hell is that?  We were just fine a second ago.  And now you are saying no?  What a bitch!”  How ridiculous does that sound?  But that’s happened to me for the second scenario and that was considered to be okay.

I have almost been kicked out of a pub because some guy called me a bitch and I began telling him in a harsh, loud tone how that was not the correct way to speak to a woman — or any person.  Because it isn’t.

If I am willing to respect a man’s wishes when he is not interested in me, he must respect mine when I am not interested in him.