From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee
MARGINALIA • SKIP TO THE POEM
It’s been awhile.
I have been having a really tough time. I didn’t want to talk about it because I was determined to fix my problems on my own. It might be easy to think that it’s a matter of pride, but really I just didn’t want to disappoint anyone, most of all my family and friends. And you. Yes, you.
Two years ago, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime, which was to live and work in Europe for four years. This would eventually result in permanent residency. I said yes.
But it was taking a long time for me to get there while everybody else—white, male—has already immigrated one year in. I was too idealistic—and I guess foolish—to believe that foreign governments would not have a problem with a single, brown female travelling alone. So I kept waiting. And waiting.
Last year, I finally got the courage to leave a physically and verbally abusive home after living there for most of my life. It was great because it let me have peace of mind and more time for myself, and it gave me first-hand experience on how it is to be responsible for a lot of things, from taking care of myself to worrying about bills and food and whatnot.
Most of all: I was safe. Oh, the irony of it all. At thirty-three, I found myself living out of my luggage for months, and you know what—I was safer out there.
Fast-forward to January of this year: I finally have my own place. Still waiting to get out of the country, which has slowly descended into madness, but it’s okay, I said to myself—all good things come to those who wait.
Then the pandemic happened to all of us. Because of quarantine protocols, embassies had to close down. My employer fired almost everyone at the start of the lockdown. A pay raise I was waiting for never happened. I had to stop therapy because I was being prudent with my financial resources. Someone in my family got the virus and was sick for months. I spent my birthday alone, and I haven’t really seen anyone in a long time. Lawlessness and impunity and injustice continued to happen where I am.
Then the residents in my building also started getting infected, and my whole building went into lockdown. I couldn’t go out, I cannot have visitors. Then a family member passed away alone in the hospital. I struggled to deal with my grief.
There was so much pressure on me to perform well at work. I’ve been staying up nights longer and longer just to meet my deadlines because physically and mentally I have also started deteriorating. I was so exhausted and often on the verge of tears because I didn’t know how long I can physically sustain this.
Long story short—I lost a loved one, lost my job, lost the big opportunity that will change my future, lost my mind—just everything. For a time, all I did was sleep, grieve, cry, then do it all over again the next day. And the next day. And the next day.
Eventually, I resurfaced—finally broke through, mind clear. I thought about how much I let slide at work because I was thinking, eyes on the prize—the Big Opportunity that might never come again. I let go of being discriminated one too many times: because I am a woman, because I am younger, because I live where I am, because I am a person of colour, because English is not my first language. I told myself to endure because there would be a payoff—and here is where it got me: jobless, in debt, depressed, and not without regrets.
I think I was just really convinced I’ll never get another offer as good as this. That this was as good as it was going to get, and I have to be grateful for everything. I’m never fantastic at assessing my own self-worth. I invested six years of my life working with someone, and a big part of me believed I was part of something great. After all, wasn’t I instrumental in making his vision a reality? I thought I was making a difference.
Then I read something about how people put up with intolerable behaviour because of a big opportunity. That people put up with being under-appreciated, underpaid, disrespected and harassed because of that idea of opportunity. That the kind and generous offer is itself a form of manipulation, making you believe that nothing else out there is better and that you don’t deserve any better — and then I realised: this is me. I left an abusive home but didn’t realise I was also in an abusive workplace, and it fucked me up that I didn’t see the patterns right away.
It took a while, but now I have got myself back together. Sort of. I’m thinking, I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. Hopefully. Plus now I have more time for writing poetry, and wouldn’t you call that a blessing?
So yes—I’m slowly getting back on my feet. But I still have days when I just want to sleep and sleep and never wake up. I still worry that I’ve disappointed family and friends. But with the pandemic going on, maybe it’s the universe saying that it has other plans for me.
I am writing this because I wanted to say: yes I am alive, no I am not well, yes I miss you, no I don’t really know what else to say other than I am fighting and clawing my way out of my own darkness, but I am fighting. It’s not been easy, but I’m not checking out of life just yet.
If you have been struggling this year, or ever, some time in your life, I am holding your hand and telling you—I know, love, I know. I am holding your hand, and I am saying—you are not alone, nor do you need to be. I am here if you need some company.
Finally, here is a poem:
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
[expand title=”Endnotes” tag=”h6″ expanded=”true”]
This poem appeared in Rose by Li-Young Lee, published by BOA Editions Ltd, 1986. Shared here with profound gratitude.
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