I went to a Reiki master last week, and she had me lay naked under a sheet. With her warm hands over my feet, she looked up at me and said: I want to say something before we start.
I came across her after my sister gave me a certificate to a Japanese spa—one where you get all hot and pink, then plunge into a pool of cold. It increases the circulation, the chi, or the ki—depending on where you’re from.
When I get hot, I use red fabric sandpaper to scrub my body: a kalkadi. This isn’t some poofy White loofah thing, Joe. I scrub my skin until it peels off into gray worms, like an eraser. Then, rinse. Ah, shiwanada, we say: how fresh. White people like you think that’s disgusting. We think you are, walking around with that layer on.
I wonder if the Asian part of me felt exciting to you. We only met each other one night, so I doubt you think about it, Joe—but that night, you altered me. Now I live in San Francisco, and I’m one of those people that the cold pint-pounding Midwesterner in me would make fun of.
Do you remember that party, way out in Jersey? We grabbed you along the way in a frightening place called Connecticut. When we arrived, everyone but me went off to do drugs in the woods or in the white-tiled, well-lit bathrooms of the house. I lay alone under Orion’s belt on the big black trampoline. I couldn’t find my best friend Isabel, so I talked with the parents of the kid who threw the party. They were grilling pink burgers, and I felt sorry for them. I asked if they needed help—they laughed, and poured my first beer.
Of course, in conversation, the father asked: So, what are you?
He went into his house and came back holding a paper. His wife’s eyebrows raised, then relaxed; on it he had written in overly legible English letters the name of a university and a family in South Korea. Just tell them you know me, he beamed. They’ll take good care of you.
Everyone was White and on prescription pills. I lost Isabel for four hours and downed double-digit beers. You lead the way to her car, after handing me your red Solo cup filled one inch high with a light blue liquid. Blue, like the foot-long plastic freezer pops I’d suck on as a girl that sliced my wet pink inner cheek.
The next morning you asked me if I wanted to take a shower. You’ll feel fresh, you said. You knew what you left in me. I was as innocent as a bar of unopened soap.
Thirty acupuncturists have told me, it’s liver chi deficiency. They hand me brown paper bags full of herbs: Boil these down, they say—it will be bitter, but drink it all. They say each organ corresponds to an emotion; the liver is anger—it’s been eight years, and it’s still in me Joe.
Can you roll up your pants? and Is this all right? they ask, lowering my shirt collar with a finger. They squint and aim between my breasts—Breathe in, they say—the needle bouncing off me like I’m made of rubber.
My yoga teachers tell me to breathe. Go deeper now, and breathe. Drip sweat, and breathe. Twitch, shake, and breathe. At the end of each class, we lay down in corpse pose. After they’ve dimmed the lights, I feel safe there in the dark, and because of you Joe, I have something to let go of.
Pranayama breathing tells me to EXHALE—EXHALE—EXHALE—one hundred times in the morning, one hundred times in the evening. Release the old, stagnant breath built up in the belly.
Feng Shui says: divide your home into nine equal parts. Here in the section of Children and Creativity, a stack of stinking dishes. There in Career—garbage bins in the garage. Place a water element at your entrance—hang this mirror here, light these two candles in the corner for Love and Relationships. Just clean up your apartment, for god’s sake.
Jin Shin Ju Jitsu says each of my fingers correspond to a different emotion. Thumb: worry. Index: fear. Middle: anger. Ring: sadness. Pinky: trying too hard. The pinky one isn’t an emotion; it confuses me. When an emotion arises, hold onto the finger, it says. When it pulses, stay with it until it’s gone.
The monks at the temple tell me to kneel facing a blank wall. They point to a sign made out of wood: DON’T WASTE THIS LIFE, it says. Sit with us and breathe, they say. When the bell sounds, bow.
My psychic channels angels and they say that I am bitter. Meet your bitterness with compassion, they challenge.
Psychology says—of course, it’s disassociation. Where do you feel the discomfort in your body? my PhD Buddhist therapist asks me. In my forearms and wrists, I told her last week, and in my core, hands, and hips.
Take a hike, they say, it’s California. I walk through thousand year-old Redwoods much wiser than me, draped in soft light and spider strings. I am calm when I pass a sign: STAY ON THE PATH, it reads.
Eat organic, everyone says. Stay hydrated. Acai, seaweed and don’t forget your Bs. No milk, white carbs or aged cheese. Buy from the Farmer’s Market, and bring your own bags, please.
Don’t buy just any vegetables, Ayruveda warns. You are one of three types of people: vata, pitta, or kapha. I took a quiz and I am vata: these people are nervous, fearful and afflicted by much anxiety. YES to asparagus, okra (cooked), and zucchini. NO to tomatoes, eggplant, peppers.
Joe, I don’t know if this is working.
Garden, they say, it’s grounding. So I chose native plants for my backyard—Sage, Lavender, Rock Rose, Poppies, a Lilac Tree, and a Sequoia I haven’t told my landlords about. I found out afterwards, it grows crazy roots that have been known to level foundations.
Brown glass vials filled with liquid flower essences say they will help me. Star of Bethlehem: a white star shaped flower on a 1 ½ ” stalk. Essence qualities: For healing old shocks and traumas, no matter how long ago, releasing them from the energy body. Important for victims of abuse, assault, or accidents. I squeeze one cool drop under my tongue four times a day.
You can see Joe, I’m not well.
My Umma gave me moxibuxtion to burn on my palms. The thick white smoke glides across my hand; my upstairs neighbors cough so I hear them, and turn up the air. Sorry, I’m healing down here people, not like I can’t hear your T.V.
A chakra book says the ache in the middle of me, is in my place of power, my yellow solar plexus. It tells me to lay a yellow citrine stone two inches above my belly button and breathe. Imagine a yellow light spiraling at your chakra, it says. I don’t see it. What I see Joe, is an empty cave of your carving.
My partner says: You are so beautiful. Coiling up in me is your energy Joe, reigning my face away, and down. Get out of my sheets, Joe—I want to feel his vulnerability, every facet of our full expression.
Now I’m researching even more costly bodywork with complicated names—Craniosacral, Zen Shiatsu, Myofasical. Which reminds me of the Reiki master, her fingers wrapped atop my toes—she must have felt something Joe, because we hadn’t even started when she said it:
“I want you to know, at the time at which a trauma happens, a person can take a part of another person’s soul. The Native Americans, they call it ‘Soul Stealing.’ A person can also deposit a part of their soul into you. You should know: you can return the parts that aren’t yours, and with some help, with people that know what they’re doing—you can take yours back.”
If this Reiki woman is right Joe, take this as my warning: I’ve been gathering an army, and we’re ready for a fight. We’re storming your Connecticut town, shaking your shutters at night—your neighbors are all in their nighties, flippin’ on their lights. There’s an axe though your door Stranger, marking what’s mine: it’s time.
Maria T. Allocco
What Are You
Of mixed-ethnic heritage and socializing in North America?
Bothered by innocently ignorant conversationalists?
Finally, there’s an answer to the inevitable question: ‘What are you?’
The Happy To Be Hapa Business Card:
(See examples below)
The ‘Can You Settle This?’
[At an upscale restaurant bar ]
Older White Woman: So… (Points to smiling man across room) My husband and I were debating.
Older White Woman: He thinks you’re Hawaiian. I said you must be from some type of Latin country—I don’t know, maybe Mexican, but I was thinking… (Pause, with hopeful expression) Brazil? Or maybe… Peru?
Older White Woman: Well, if you wouldn’t mind sharing, ‘What are you?’
Older White Woman: Oh… (Looks confused) Really?
Me: (Looks back confused)
Older White Woman: Ah... Now I see it! (Laughing towards husband) Hen-ry! We were both wrong!
Me: (Smiling politely)
Older White Woman: (Turns back) Thank you, Dear.
The ‘You Know What I Mean’
[At a post-Obama election party]
Guy Friend: Hey. (Points to Random White Man) This is Mike. I’m gonna go grab a beer. (Leaves)
Random White Man: Hey. So uh, ‘What are you?’
Me: I’m sorry?
Random White Man: You know what I mean. (Getting louder) What am I supposed to say, ‘Where are you from?’ Is that better?
The ‘You Look So Exotic’
[At a cocktail party]
White Woman in Gold Dress: You have such an interesting look. You just look so… Exotic! (Turns to man) Doesn’t she Charles?
Me: (Smiling awkwardly)
White Woman in Gold Dress: (Excitedly) I just have to know! ‘What are you?’
White Woman in Gold Dress: Oh.
The ‘Lemme Guess…’
[In front of The Women’s Building in San Francisco, CA]
Random Guy on Sidewalk: Wait-wait-wait… Lemme guess…
Me: (Looks confused)
Random Guy on Sidewalk: You’re… Filipino!
Me: (Shakes head)
Random Guy on Sidewalk: No? You’re… Icelandic!
Me: (Raises eyebrows)
Random Guy on Sidewalk: Ok… Wait, don’t tell me—I know it’s some kind of Asian, right? Am I right?
[Five minutes pass]
Random Guy on Sidewalk: (Smiling) You’re… half-Chinese half-French!
Me: (Shakes head)
Random Guy on Sidewalk: …Am I close? I’m close, aren’t I? Just tell me if I’m close.
Random Guy on Sidewalk: I told you not to tell me!
The ‘I Just Have To Ask’
[At the 16th Street BART train station in San Francisco, CA]
Man on corner of 16th and Mission: (In a rush, stops) Hey—What are you?
Me: I’m sorry?
Man on corner of 16th and Mission: I just have to ask—‘What are you?’
Man on corner of 16th and Mission: (To himself, walking away) I knew it! I knew there had to be some Asian. (Turns back) Thanks!
The ‘I Dated An Asian Girl Once’
[At a café in San Francisco, CA]
White Guy in Café: So, what are you?
White Guy in Café: Cool. I dated an Asian girl once. (To himself) Man, she was hot.
The ‘Is that an Asian thing?’
[In a family room meeting a boyfriend’s parents]
Boyfriend’s Father: So, what are you?
Boyfriend’s Mother: Oh, that’s nice. We have a Chinese girl at our gym. Very nice girl. Loves Pilates. Is that an Asian thing?
‘Asian Eyelashes Are Straight’
[A Sephora makeover event at Powell and Market St. in San Francisco, CA]
Heavily Makeup-ed White Woman: Oh my God—(grabs forearm) She’s mine!
[Makeup Assistants look on, embarrassed]
[Begins to apply makeup products]
Heavily Makeup-ed White Woman: So, what are you? You’re part-Asian right? (Waves metal instrument) I can tell. Asian eyelashes are straight. Do you see that? (Points towards mirror) Do you see? Eyelash curlers are your friend. (Excitedly pointing with metal instrument) Promise me that if you leave with anything today: it’s this.
‘How Does It Feel?’
[At a Craigslist writer’s workshop at a bar in San Francisco, CA]
Young White Writer Woman: I really like this piece. By the way, what are you?
Young White Writer Woman: Oh yeah? My ex-boyfriend left me for an Asian girl. How does it feel to be flavor of the month?
[Three hours pass, Young White Writer Woman has hair held while puking violently into bushes]
The Father’s Table
Thou shalt not wear red nail polish to the table. Thou shalt wash thy hands with hot water. Thou shalt press the paper napkins into rectangles: fork to the left, knife to the right, chopsticks like legs tight together. Thou shalt find the silver serving spoons without clatter. Thou shalt distribute dressing without dripping, pour out water and wine, sit even and in line with the table. Thou shalt fold thy hands where they are seen. Thou shalt drop thy head down, and if Father deems thee His angel, say: “Bless-us-oh-Lord-and-these-thy-gifts-which-we-are-about-to-receive-from-thy-bounty-through-Christ-Our-Lord. LORD-thank-you-for-the-food. BLESS-each-one-of-us. Please-bless-the-POOR-homeless-sick-and-hungry. The-FATHER-son-holy-spirit-amen.’ Thou shalt serve the salad without a fallen leaf. Thou shalt accept from Father all of the beef He portions. Thou shalt count and chew bites twenty times. Thou shalt swallow before speaking. Thou shalt declare mother’s meal delicious. Thou shalt hand Father the phone if it shall ring. Thou shalt apologize if it is a friend told to call back again. Thou shalt scrub out a drip if one finds the clothed table. Thou shalt ask if there are any desires while thou is up and able. Thou shalt place a fallen napkin over thy lap with civility. Thou shalt announce all As, with soft humility. Thou shalt listen when told mother could not go to college. Thou shalt listen when told be like Father with higher knowledge. Thou shalt listen when told mother ate only rice in a bowl. Thou shalt listen when told Father sold papers at six years old. Thou shalt listen when told mother balanced buckets across her back. Actions speak louder than words; watch and fill each person’s glass. Thou shalt listen when told mother carried holed shoes to school. Thou shalt listen when told Father sold snow cones while kids swam the pool. Thou shalt listen when told friends are not what life is about. Thou shalt listen when told mother’s tapeworms were long on the way out. Thou shalt listen when told Father’s leg caught fire and His mother poured salt into His wound. Patience is a virtue, child: no boys any time soon. Thou shalt listen when told go to thy room if thou whilst be sad. Thou shalt listen when told life would be easier if thou were not had. Thou shalt listen when told thou art spoiled and undeserving. Thou shalt listen when told and ask if anyone would care for another serving. Thou shalt listen when told to finish every grain of rice the farmer grew. Food is for mortals, child: Father licks his plate to say he is through. Thou shalt listen when told through it all mother never said a word. Thou shalt listen when told Father only asked how he could serve. “YES, Father,” thou shalt say. “YES, mother,” thou shalt say. With joy, or not at all: thou shalt clean the dishes without clinking, thank thy parents while still thinking of all They have said and done. Thou shalt ask to be excused and remember above all: Perfection is the enemy of the good, child.