Ode to my family

This weekend I finished the first volume of the autobiography of Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book 1. The main story line about his father’s funeral is rather simple and happened in a span of a week or so. The narrative was interlaced with stories happened in his childhood and teenage years as well as expeditions into the territories of the meaning of art, life, and death, which dragged into a long stream of consciousness that eventually evolved into the book.

We replay the memories over and over again until an hour, a day, a year’s worth of time becomes a fleeting second.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my family. Not of them but rather the absence of them. It’s been almost a decade since I first came to study and work in the US as a teenager. While my friends complained about being grounded for a late night out, I suddenly found myself in total charge of my time as a 15 year old. Sure, I knew there were some limits I could never go beyond: don’t do drugs, don’t drink illegally, and don’t get pregnant. The first rule I knew for sure. The second rule is a bit hazy as the legal drinking age is earlier in China than in the US. The third one, neither my parents nor my teachers really told me since it’s a taboo but I figured as much. Other than that, the Golden Rule was the bare minimum I followed.

Ohhh, the self-discipline. Sooner or later I realized it is much easier to have someone do the dirty job of imposing it on you than having to do it yourself. The rebellion of teenagers against their parents and the feeling of heroic breakthrough that comes with it, can only be attained when such a force exists.

Two months before college application deadlines, I was interviewing an old man who collected and fixed old radio for a living for my final English project and volunteering at an organization that helped immigrants settle in Maine during the day. The week was so divided evenly between dimly lit basement plastered in retro posters and small computer rooms with stacks of paperwork — both terribly ventilated.

Checking out and applying for colleges were activities reserved for the night. It was then I called my mom one night to discuss the pros and cons. Looking back, I suppose I should have expected that at some point in my life, my knowledge at least in a certain area will surpass my parents’, but it did not cross my mind before I dialed the numbers. I could even live beyond the ages that marked my birth in their lives.