when it matters : the dream wears off

WordPress records tell me that I first drafted a version of this blog on October 22, 2018. It has taken me two years and 8 days to finally release this into the world in its “final” form. 


One of my partner’s pet peeves is hearing people talk about their dreams. Not their ambition-type dreams, but the dreams that you wake up out of. The kind where you’ve just cracked open your crusty, itchy eyes and you’re still trying to shake off the residual feelings that you were just mentally steeped in and just HAVE to tell someone about it.


I recently had one of those bizarre, captivating dreams. In this dream, my childhood best friend (hey, Mirna) and I were in her little sister’s apartment (a place I’ve never actually been and am not sure it exists) and one of our best friends from teenager-dom was there. He was hanging out in the spare bedroom and I noticed him from the corner of my eye.It wasn’t strange that he was there; when we were young and all hangin’ out, we were always taking over our friends’ homes (sorry parents and relatives). It was strange because he’s been dead for ten years. Mirna tells me that maybe I shouldn’t go into the room to talk to dead friend, and of course I ignore her.I approach, all dream-state-like and question said dead friend, “Hey, uhhhm, I thought you were dead? Where have you been the past ten years? What’s going on?” But I don’t wait for him to answer.Instead, I tell him, “Okay, wait, I have to pee, hold on,” (even in dreams, I have a tiny bladder) and his response is “Wait, we only have so much time before the dream wears off!” And then, I guess I’m snapped out of that dream and into another one.


But that’s it. That’s all that fucking happened. Thanks, dream-dead-friend. Was there a message you needed to relay to me from the other side that you just didn’t get to?Yeah, maybe I’m mad at him still, for his sudden departure from this plane of existence. I don’t know. Ask my therapist.


Shortly after said friend’s sudden death, I’d wake up with my dreams and reality swiftly blending. Just upon waking up, it was as if nothing had changed, until I remembered. One of my closest friends had died in a bizarre accident, days before, and his departure was saturating every waking and sleeping moment of my life. He had been part of many firsts in my life, and I loved him deeply, as any 16 year old would love a person who they spent most days out of the week with. Funny, how you can be suspended in feelings like that, right upon regaining consciousness and reality hits. 


My mother had been watching over me during those long days and long nights, when friends had left for home, and even when they were asleep on the floor rolled in blankets and sleeping bags or next to me. This particular morning, I was alone with her. I wiped at my eyes and sat up to look at my mother. Her hands were crossed on the arm of the armchair beside my bed, and she began to tell me a story of her life that she’d never spoken aloud to me before.“When I was young and about to be married, my fiancé died.” She said quietly, simply, frankly. I sat up quickly to lean in and listen, resting my pillows against the window

“…What?”


I wanted to ask more questions, but that was all I could get out. In the nearly two decades of my fragile little life (teenagers, so dramatic and bursting with emotion, am I right? That was me), I had no idea about this part of her life and that she had gone through something like this. Her warm brown eyes, graying around the edges of her irises, responded first. With empathy, with wisdom, and with love, remembering. Oh boy. Gear up. Grab the tissues.


“He was hit by a car. He didn’t make it. The neighbors were gathered at my mother’s house as I was walking home from the market.” I imagined a dusty, rural road and a young Lao man with messy hair crossing it, wearing leather sandals and whistling, without a worry. I couldn’t come up with a face. I could only see my mom, right then.“I’m sorry mom.” I began crying again. There was no doubt I was skipping whatever the fuck was supposed to happen that day.


“Don’t be sorry.It’s been a long time since.It was his time to go.I’m fine now.”


She let these words come out slowly and certainly. I looked more closely at my mother and measured the lines of worry across her forehead, and wondered when they had first begun to appear and to settle in.We were both quiet for a long while, morning sunlight streaming in through the battered windows of our aging family home.“Why didn’t you ever tell us this mom?” I asked, after the tightness in my throat had lessened enough to speak.Her response:“It didn’t matter that I told you. Until now.”


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how trauma and depression can have you floating through life as if you were asleep. How many dreams do you fully remember? How many days do you fully remember?I’m sure many of us have experienced the familiar inability to scream, to run, to punch, to fight, in a dream. (Have you ever had all of your teeth fall out in a dream? Yea, it’s awful. Do not recommend.) Your motor skills don’t work. You can’t function like you intend to. Things are fuzzy. Things are dark. Things are bizarre.Either you feel pain when you’re struck or shot or stabbed in a dream, immensely, or you feel nothing at all, and you wonder “WTF?”


I want to feel. I don’t want to feel. This is what my wrestling match with depression is like.When I feel nothing at all, despite every reason to be happy, to be sad, to be excited, to be joyous, I know that a depressive episode is at my doorstep.When I can acknowledge and really feel my senses and clarify my feelings and put reason behind why I want to explode or break down and feel alive (in all the ugly and beautiful ways)… the depression has worn off. I’ve done whatever it is that I needed to do to take care of myself, or enough time has passed or … I’m not certain what it takes but pretty sure that it matters when the dream wears off and what it takes to get there.


Mom and me in Hawaii, summer 2010, just a couple months before the conversation mentioned in this blog. …we all had our phases, didn’t we?…
Drake, Preston, Mirna, me. RIP Preston Ray. Yeeeaaa we all wrote music together; we were teenagers. That’s another story.

what a shame

it me

I’ve deliberated about a project that I’ve thought about for most of my lifetime: telling the story that my family carried with them away from the mountains of Laos across the Mekong River through the skies and to Texas. But I’ve mostly been still, immobile, glued to my spot, and unable to move. And I’ve been silent, afraid, pensive, anxious, sad, playing memories over and over, thinking about how best to paint these pictures as genuinely and honestly as possible and to honor the people within them.

“Why does it feel so wrong to be me? Why am I afraid for people to know who I am and where I come from?”

“The long-term consequences of trauma?” offers my counselor*, a couple of years after we’ve started digging in and doing the work that might enable me to speak. In 2018, he recommended a few books to me that I’m still working through. How on earth did I get through grad school?

True, but maybe not entirely the reason. I realize that a lot of it is shame, for things out of my control.


When I was a child, I was ashamed of being different from everyone else. Different in the sense that I was isolated and couldn’t visit with friends after school or attend the countless birthday parties and hangouts. Different because no one had ever heard of Laos. Different because I didn’t know certain American cultural references. I didn’t meet another Lao child out in the world serendipitously until college. And even then, we were legally adults. Magically thrown together as roommates at the university. I have a feeling we might have been the only 2 Lao girls in that freshman class that year. 

Growing up, I was ashamed of being poor. My refugee parents tried their hardest, and we always had food on the table and our basic needs met. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t have to pick through bags of donated clothing to find “new” shirts and pants that would fit me. (And with my tiny, southeast Asian frame, hand-me-downs, especially from strangers, never fit me correctly.) That didn’t mean that I could afford to participate in any extracurriculars that might cost anything to the family, including time for my little hands to work and help at home.

I was ashamed that people would know that my father was traumatized by the war, traumatized by so much else he couldn’t and wouldn’t talk about, and belittled in a country in which he thought he would be welcomed as a hero. And because of these things, he traumatized his entire family, the ones from whom I wish he could have sought solace. Shame for being my father’s daughter; I am sorry.

I was ashamed of my name even. Moving from grade level to grade level, class to class, apologizing that it was “hard to say” (it’s only 3 syllables), raising my hand to pronounce it correctly and feeling a burning sensation in my throat. Until I finally adopted “Laci” which doesn’t even honor the way you say my real name; it just has similar phonetics. La-suh-me. Lasamee Kettavong. Now, my heart swells when people learn my name and work to say it correctly. To me that is an act of love.

Me and my sweet mother, who gave me my name.

Shame prevents you from doing a lot. Fear eats the soul and paralyzes you. But we only have so much time to really get to know ourselves in this realm of living, so I’m shedding the shame and swallowing the fear.


I’m not certain but pretty sure that I have taken on this project because I am the last child in my family and the one born in America a few years after my family’s arrival on Halloween Day, 1989. No one’s asking for this story, but it’s one that threatens to have me implode if I let it simmer and leave it alone. There’s no pressure from any of my siblings or my mother; just support, happily scanning papers that arrived with my family in their International Refugee Committee bag of official documents when I ask for them. I feel that our family’s story is not so different from immigrant families stories today, and that we have a lot of work to do. Together, with, and for others. 

I can’t imagine the agony that my mother and father would have felt having arrived as refugees and asylum seekers only to have their children ripped away from them and kept in detention centers. It is horrendous that this has happened to so many. 

I’m not certain but pretty sure that there’s no better time than right now to do something about the horrendous things, shed the shame, and swallow the fear that maybe has kept you from moving. 

—-

*Important to note: I started going to therapy after a shitty breakup in 2013 and on the advice of a dear friend who’d also recently started therapy and it improved their life immensely. I’ve gone from counselor to counselor, for various reasons, and finally really dug in to working on childhood trauma with this particular counselor. Don’t give up if you feel like therapy will help you/your mental health but you’re not clicking with someone. Search around. It can change your life.

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