Dispatch 11 (Oct. 6, 1998)

     Sometimes people tell us things or we experience something second-hand and we go into "comfort mode." We tell them that everything’s going to be okay. Assuming we are stable minded (and they probably wouldn’t have shared with us in the first place if we weren’t), we impose our worldview that things work out in the end, that tomorrow will be a better day and that no matter how dark things are now, some brightness will arrive to make it all okay.
     Somewhere past this empathy, we find something else. A kind of darkness cloud that drifts over us when, after they are gone, we pull back the Wizard’s curtain and realize that we’ve been lying. That things aren’t always going to be okay. And that if it were Us instead of Them, we might be falling apart as well and that rosy outlook on life would tear apart like cheap tissue paper.
     It happens when they’ve walked away, in the darkness before sleep or in dark moments alone trapped on a bus or standing in line. Captive moments when we really, truly reflect beyond the platitudes. Happens when a friend loses a grandmother or when a confidante waits on the results of an HIV test.
     And it happens with not-so-bad news too, like when someone tells you they might be pregnant. To hear it from a young, single woman like Gina is a little scary, maybe more for me than for her.
     Two afternoons after our late-night jaunt to Mount Bonnell, Gina called me and we talked about it. I told her I didn’t know if she wanted me to be more supportive. She told me she wasn’t sure it would have been a bad thing, having a baby.
     "I get sad because I lack direction and I keep thinking God, or a force, or something will put me on the right path," she said. "A little boy, a baby, might not have been the perfect path, but it would have been something, right?"
     Gina with a baby. Yes, it would have been something. Life-altering and scary. Could she nurture a child? I know she’s not financially stable, but surely her parents would help out.
     The whole episode made me think (as it tends to do) about my own thoughts and desires. Unlike Gina, who sees marriage and children (thought not necessarily in that order) in her future, I’ve never been convinced that I need to be a mother to fulfill some sort of purpose in life. Isn’t it enough that I want to do something that’ll make the world a better place? Why should I owe more than one lifetime, mine in addition to my offspring’s, in that regard?
     Why is it that a man can go his whole life without a wife or children and be a bachelor and a playboy, but a woman in that circumstance, even today, is barren and a spinster?
     All I know is that I was brought up to put school and a career before anything else, although that’s never been the course of women in my family. Yes, I know it’s cultural – the first or second-American generation whinings that I can’t do justice to next to the Amy Tans of the literary world, that my parents pushed me to succeed like so many other Asian-American babies.
     But it’s always been a singular drive, a don’t-look-back mentality instilled in me from soon after birth. The few efforts my parents have made on my behalf as far as dating or ensuring that I had a social life to match my academic one have been mostly for the purpose of hooking me up with boys of our ethnicity and keeping me away from the white boys I typically date. Despite that, it’s always been studies and a job first.
     For Gina, I think it’s a little different, and I’m not sure if it’s cultural or just her particular family. But I see a definite tug of war. Her family (and Gina herself) wants her to be close to the culture – to embrace its ways and to pass on the ideals to the children that will eventually and surely come from her womb.
     But she’s also one of the first women in her family to seek a career before marriage or before the birth of her first child. Surely her parents want her to succeed – to get that coveted degree and to make money, but I don’t think it could be at the expense of a marriage and the grandchildren they probably expect.
     Confusing the matter is that Gina’s ambitions, her desires and goals in life, seem to change with the cycles of the moon. She seems to believe she’ll be successful at whatever she does, whether its raising a family with compassion or making six figures by the time she’s 30 as a cultural anthropologist.
     Gina’s near-pregnancy seemed to signal a clash – the world she’s built here in school, at the co-op, with her friends and her clubs and her independence – was nearly brought down by a careless mistake from a love back home. I don’t know that both of those pieces of her, a split-Gina that lives in both places at once, can continue to co-exist.
     But at least for now, her avenues are still wide open and she’s avoided having her biggest life choices made for her.