This is in response to Justina’s 30th birthday greeting for me.
I used to love looking through the gigantic boxes of photos at home, fishing around for cute photos of us. I’ve come to realize that the cutest pictures are all of you, that you hold the honor of having been the most photographed Chong. Congratulations, Justina.
Does that mean I failed at achieving my principal childhood goal? To make everyone love me, to make everyone laugh and think I was the cutest, funniest, sparklingiest person in the room?
Because there YOU are in all those photos, with your full cheeks and sparkling eyes. And you weren’t even trying! No need to make up elaborate stories and engage everyone in silly games, no need to do tricks like a small dog, no need to pretend like you were always having fun.
You have always glowed because you have always been your Self. And you post words on the Internet that peel away other people’s skin, but leave their dignity and their Selves intact. How?
When I feel lost — when Chris’ music is too loud in the morning, when I’ve been roped into going to a bar that I don’t want to be at where I can’t hear myself speaking, when I’m on a bus waiting for the lights to turn green — I think of you and what you would do in those moments. I know that you would save yourself, swiftly, from those moments, do the kindest thing to yourself, relocate yourself to a place where you can hear your own thoughts.
That’s your secret! That’s how you’re always content where you are, because you know your Self!
We were once a Self, too. When we were mashed together inside Mummy, two masses of cells growing into, around each other. Your foot was in my face while we marinated, so much so that my face was completely disfigured when we came out, and Daddy almost fainted and had to take two Polaroids of you (a precedent!) to show to Mummy as evidence of her two beautiful babies.
Remember New Year’s in Montreal, during our first year of university when I was studying in the US and you were studying in Canada? We were horrified to be in that disgusting anglophone nightclub, surrounded by drunk American teenagers. Would we really feel OK about welcoming 2005 in with a bunch of sweaty, horny strangers that we didn’t know? No. With thirty minutes left in 2004, we ran out of the club onto the street like sewer rats in the night. We wandered around, went into a corner store, bought Ferrero Rochers, and giddily unwrapped them on the stoop at 11:59. Then at midnight we made a toast to each other and ate them.
Remember those terrible fights we used to have in Toronto? The ones that shook the house and made us feel like we would burst and broke Mummy’s heart? We always forgave each other before bedtime so we could sleep next to each other, because we were so afraid of aliens and ghosts and apparitions and all kinds of paranormal things. Sometimes we even held hands, just like when we were in the womb. I like to think that, when Mummy found us together when she woke us up, it gave her hope and peace.
I love you, Justina. I live my life with the vague acknowledgement that to make — in fact, to write — is to live. But for you, making is an urgent requirement — as vital as eating and drinking. Your will inspires me.
I know that these words are clumsy, the themes are scattered. It’s because I haven’t treated the act of making with the same urgency you devote to it. I feel I must have someone proofread this before I hit publish. But instead, with eight minutes left remaining as a 29 year old, here goes:
Happy Birthday, Justina.
Originally published at blog.jessicachong.com on March 6, 2016.