“Infinity Is Forever”

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A year ago, my cousin, Nina, would never have imagined that she would be raising her son and daughter alone. But it’s the sad reality that she faces now. On September 28, 2016, she unexpectedly lost Will, the man she loved and been with for 9 years. Before this, everything seemed to be going in their favor; they got back together and were expecting their second child, they moved into the top level of the house Nina grew up in, and they were finally a family again after some time apart. Their lives drastically changed when Will passed away, leaving her with a son that was almost 5 years old, and a 2 month old baby girl.

The day after Will’s 1 year death anniversary, Nina decided to get a tattoo in honor of him. Before he passed away, Will wanted his next tattoo to be an infinity sign. When he brought it up she told him that she also wanted it too, and that they should get the tattoo together instead of him buying her an engagement ring.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want a real ring, I’d rather [we] have a house, and then we can just get tats on our ring fingers.’ That’s more permanent than a diamond ring,” she said matter of factly.

So I went with her to get her infinity tattoo, and she wanted to incorporate what seemed like 10 other ideas into it. With great thought, Nina decided to keep the tattoo simple, and stuck to the infinity sign with a music note that Will had tattooed on his hand. Music was Will’s passion, and she wanted to capture that in her tattoo for him.

It’s crazy to think that it has really been a year since Will passed away. And in this past year, I’ve witnessed my cousin change. She admits that she finds herself more antisocial, not wanting people to see her or be around others. She explains how even when she is out with friends, she’s not engaged in any of the conversations that they’re having, and her mind is in a thousand different places. After 2 hours of hanging out, she just wants to go home to her babies and call it a day.

Nina tries to keep herself busy to keep her mind off of the fact that Will isn’t here anymore. When she has too much free time, she’ll replay memories from the past and just overwhelm herself with too many emotions.

“What makes me cry the most is the fact that he’s not here to help me with the kids,” she says frustrated. “It makes me mad that he couldn’t stay here to help me and help raise them.”

And when she starts to overthink, she is met with the same feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. Before Will passed away, and while she was pregnant with Nalia, they were running into financial issues, causing them to fight. The fighting didn’t stop when Nalia was born, and Nina never got to make up with Will again because he passed away shortly after. The overwhelming feeling of guilt takes over her when she remembers how they didn’t talk before he passed. It’s one thing to know that the person you love is no longer here, but it’s another thing to replay in your head what you wish you could’ve said. Nina feels guilty knowing that she’s living a “comfortable” life because he did pass away. When Will was alive, they worried about financial costs, but now that he passed, she’s not in that position anymore. She feels guilty that it took him dying to be in a place where she’s financially stable.

“I wish I could go travel with the kids because [now] I can,” she says looking straight ahead, as we’re parked in the parking lot of Nalia’s daycare. “….But it’s like… who am I going to travel with… and to share these memories with?”

She reassures herself that things could have been worse, and as bad as it sounds, this probably had to happen. This situation has forced Nina to rely on her mom more than she wants to. And though they disagree, she knows that if Will was still to be alive, it would be another situation with him. It’s one of those moments where you look at all the alternate realities that could’ve happened and realize, either way you look at it, you would’ve been put in a shitty situation regardless.

“I always think, ‘well, maybe this is God’s way of telling me I should appreciate my mom, and accept her for who she is and the type of person she is,” she says. “It’s  hella funny because Will would always say that I act exactly like my mom. And I hella see it.”

She wishes that Will could’ve realized what they had. Nina believes that he knew what they had, and knew they had practically everything they wanted, from a house, a family, jobs, and pretty much everything was set in stone. But he didn’t know how to handle it. She knows that he grew up having nothing, and for him to have everything, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Nina knows that deep down Will didn’t think that he deserved all the good things happening in their lives. He had a lot of responsibility on his plate. They were expecting their 2nd child, his 3rd. He had to provide for my cousin and his 3 children. And she knows how much of a hard worker he was and how he would stress over providing for his family.

“I just wish that I could’ve just told him, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ ” she says. “But instead I was always mad. I would always be like, ‘what is wrong with him?!’ ”

She worries for my nephew, Tre, because he is a carbon copy of his father. She prays that Tre finds his way, because she genuinely doesn’t know what to do when he acts up in school. Nina says that he acts exactly like Will, and that’s why she’s even more scared for him. She wishes that Will was still around to help raise Tre, because since they’re so alike, he would know what to do to get through to him.

Since Nalia was only 2 months old when Will passed away, Nina always wonders what he would think of her if he was still alive. A couple months ago, Nalia turned 1. It’s one of those bittersweet moments that you realize she’s only getting older, and will only know of her father by stories and the few pictures they have together.

“Every time I stare at Nalia I’m just like, ‘what would Will say about her?’ ” she said. “Would he think she’s funny? … I always just look at her like, ‘what would he think about you?’ ”

Of course she knows that dating again is somewhere in her future, but she doesn’t like the thought of starting all over with someone else. She worries that a future partner can  be detrimental to the children, and overall just thinking the worst. She realized that she’s probably going to worry for her children and their well being for the rest of her life. And that’s something she despises about herself.

“If anything, this past year has made me realize what type of person I don’t want to be, but still am. ”

When I asked how she’ll tell the kids about how Will passed, she said she’d be honest with them and tell them the truth. Tre already knows that his dad was “sick,” but that he loved him a lot. Will always believed in not sugar coating the truth to his children, so that’s how she’ll continue to raise them. Tre and Nalia will know the truth, but will also know that their dad loved them and did what he could for them.

Though she hasn’t had many dreams of Will, the dream she holds dearest to her is the dream she had of him holding her hand. She loved his hands. She loved how they were that of a hard working man, but his palms were smooth and soft. In a way she believes that that’s Will’s way of saying that he’s still holding her hand through life.

“Infinity is forever,” she said. “He’s forever going to be in my heart.”

 

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The Runaway

*This story was originally written and submitted for my Reporting class. I thought to share this story on my blog because Lynn was the first person to freely open up to me about all aspects of her life. As a journalism student, I appreciate people who go out of their way to help someone out, in this case, me. There are people out there that will share their story with you, just keep interviewing :)*

Lynn Chayatanan takes her break at Stonestown Mall to visit old co-workers, and gets ready to drive to her next client’s house, where she will set goals with a child with Autism.

Lynn Chayatanan, 27, works for Class ABA, a company that provides behavioral therapy for children with Autism. She is a behavioral therapist and spends at least two hours each visit with the child, where she tries to get them to complete a goal, such as making eye contact without prompting with a toy or food. Chayatanan believes this is not a job for everyone because of how stressful it can be, but loves how rewarding the job is when she gets a child to say their name for the first time.

“You have these little victories that create a whole human being,” Chayatanan said proudly.

Chayatanan was born and raised in Pleasanton where her parents opened a restaurant, “Lux Thai Cuisine,” six months after she was born. By the age of seven, she worked side by side her parents and older brother at the restaurant. Despite looking like the picture perfect family that works together, there were problems at home, she always seemed to butt heads with her mother, her father was an alcoholic, and she said she also experienced physical abuse.

 

Chayatanan was always into fashion and cosplay, so she would make her own costumes and clothing, she really thought that was going to be what she went to college for. Her parents were always on her case about school because her brother was such a great student. She didn’t take school seriously, her parents feared she wouldn’t succeed.

In high school, Chayatanan’s mother encouraged her to take an AP course. Chayatanan took AP psychology because she thought it would be easy, but in the end fell in love with the subject. It was then she realized that she wanted to go to school for psychology.

In the summer of 2007, Chayatanan ran away from home with just $600 in her bank account. She had enough of the physical abuse that was going on at home, and was fed up with living there. She informed her family that she ran away by calling them on a “pay as you go” phone, and moved in with her boyfriend.

“This may sound cruel, but I had no fear of her not making it,” said her brother, Charlee Chayatanan. “There weren’t any doubts that she could make it.”

She decided to continue her education at Las Positas Community College in Livermore. Chayatanan couch surfed at different friends’ houses because the people she would live with couldn’t “grow up.” She said that they were stuck in the cosplay life and couldn’t take on responsibilities, and this caused her to lose interest in the cosplay scene.

Once Chayatanan was done with community college, she decided to commute to San Francisco State University and moved back in with her mother in Pleasanton. Chayatanan also picked up a barista job at Nordstrom in Stonestown Mall. By this time, her mother kicked her father out of the house, and not long after that, her father died in Thailand, and the family restaurant of 23 years closed down. All these factors made the already rocky relationship between mother and daughter a little harder.

“It was like walking on glass, not even eggshells,” Chayatanan said about moving back in with her mother.

After she graduated from San Francisco State in 2014, Chayatanan continued to work at Nordstrom where she was promised that if she stayed, she would be promoted to manager. She worked harder to get the manager position to the point where she felt overqualified, but it always seemed like she would get passed up for someone else. She thought she hit a dead end until her boss’s girlfriend asked her if she wanted to join the Class ABA Company, since she knew Chayatanan had a degree in psychology.

Now Chayatanan works as a behavioral therapist and has three Autistic children that she meets with every week. She sets up goals at each visit, and feels really accomplished when a child meets those goals.

One of Chayatanan’s greatest accomplishments was when she was at the mall waiting in line for the public restroom with a child she works with. The child looked Chayatanan in the eye and voiced that they had to use the bathroom, and even though they ended up having an accident, Chayatanan was proud that the child verbally communicated, step by step, what was going on.

Even though Chayatanan never expected to go to school for psychology, people that know her aren’t surprised.

“She’s extremely patient and expects a lot from people,” former coworker, Marie Obuhoff said. “She’s able to keep a cool head under pressure.”

It was Chayatanan’s journey that helped her realize what she wanted to do in her life. She remembers the days when she was a runaway and really needed help, and she’s happy that she can extended her help and services to children with Autism. It is bittersweet because she knows that the goal is for her not to be needed anymore once the child fulfills all the requirements.

“I’m basically a tool,” Chayatanan said. “I’ll help anyone who needs my help.”

The Forbidden Couple

Ryan and Kelly are taking a big step and deciding to move in together. This is a big step for the couple, but they aren’t getting the support they wish they had.

Ryan is Indian and his family does not approve of him dating Kelly at all let alone move in with her. They want Ryan to end up with and marry an Indian girl. For this reason they do not want to meet Kelly at all.

“I think they don’t want to meet her because at first they thought it wasn’t going to last and now they just play it off like the relationship doesn’t exist,” Ryan said. “Moving in is rough because my dad helps pay rent but we thought at some point he’d stop if we made this jump. So I was looking at ways to make more money so we’d be ok to live with each other.”

When Ryan told his parents about the move, his father was really upset. A big fight broke out between the two because his  dad was not open to the conversation of Ryan moving in with Kelly.

Since Ryan’s dad helps him pay a portion of his rent, Ryan is planning to pick up a second job to just in case his dad decides to cut him off. His mom ended  up talking to the dad and now he is fine with helping out with the rent but Ryan doesn’t want to rely on his dad and then suddenly have him go back on his word.

“I didn’t talk to him for a couple weeks but he called me the other day,” Ryan said, “But I’m still not as comfortable around him as I used to be.”

When I asked how Kelly felt that they didn’t approve of their relationship, he said that at first Kelly was bummed out that they didn’t want to meet her. But now that time has passed it’s more of a frustrated “why don’t they want to meet me.”

Things might be starting to turn around because when i asked about if his mom was beginning to change her mind he said, “Yeah she’s open to meeting her and even though she isn’t too convincing about it, she says she’s ok with us moving in.”

Hopefully with time Ryan’s mom can accept the relationship and convince his dad to accept it too.

 

 

Cheering Them On

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Abdallah first met Gabriella on the SFSU cheer team. At first, Abdallah was interested in someone else who encouraged him to join the team. However, things kicked off for Abdallah and Gabriella 2 months later where they went to a cheerleading competition in LA and had to share a bed. On the car ride home, they sat next to each other and talked the whole way through. When they got back to San Francisco Abdallah asked if he could take her on an official date. The rest is pretty much history.

Abdallah is Filipino and Egyptian, so his father is strongly against him dating Gabriella because their religion. But Gabriella’s family is accepting of Abdallah. Her mom adores him.It was hard for Gabriella because she at least wanted his father to meet her first and then make judgement from there, but he is against the whole relationship.

While living at home, Abdallah was tired of having to be home by a certain time because of his parents’ strict rules. He told his father face to face that he was dating Gabriella, and his dad was not having it.
“So we were both taking about moving out, but not with one another,” Abdallah said. “By now we’ve been dating for a year or more. We both had our own group of people we were going to move in with but both our plans just started to fall out. Before we knew it we were the only 2 people and ended up moving in together.”

Telling his parents was not easy. His dad was furious that he was moving out, and on top of that with the girlfriend that did not share the same religion as them. His dad refused to talk to him or a few weeks, and Abdallah didn’t want to talk to him either because his dad wasn’t calm.

It has been a few months since he has moved out and his relationship with his dad has gotten better. His dad wants him to move back home, but Abdallah is on the fence because he wants to save money if he were to move back home, but the couple both feel like it would be a step back from all the progress they accomplished already.

Abdallah and Gabriella are both totally in love with each other. So whatever happens with the living situation, they are confident they will make it work.

When I asked Abdallah what he would do if his parents never accepts the relationship and are not supportive in the future if they want to get married he said, “If I want to marry her, I’m gonna marry her.”

Emotional Abuse

“Jo” has been one of my best friends since high school. We sat next to each other in every class we had together senior year, and that made us especially close. From getting yelled at in our cooking class for eating butter, being totally lost in physics class, and asking a police officer to take “gangster” pictures of us in the back seat of the police car when they came to our school- she’s been the friend that always knew what to say and always understood me. Especially when I was going through an emotional abusive relationship, she knew exactly how I felt… and that’s because she was in the same boat as me.

An emotional abusive relationship can be hidden from others very well. Unlike a physical abusive relationship that can leave scars, bruises, and in other words evidence, being emotionally abused gets you from the inside. The abuser tries to control you and uses fear and your insecurities against you. The sad thing is, “Jo” and I thought it was normal. We thought it was just fights and boyfriends were supposed to act like that. We didn’t see the signs until we were at rock bottom.

Each day it was a new problem for us. One day it was me crying, the next day it would be her. There never seemed to be a day where we were both happy. Even though we were in different situations, the verbal and emotional abuse was all the same. We knew exactly which profiles to click on to find the information we needed to get. One time she even sent me a screenshot picture of a tweet asking me to examine the granite tabletop and ask for my opinion if it was her boyfriend’s cousin’s place or not because his ex had posted the picture. It was small things like that that made us feel like we were crazy.

We were constantly feeling horrible about ourselves because they would try to keep us down to control us. Her now ex would be hanging out with other girls, and would only keep her around when it was convenient for him. He was never consistent and always felt differently towards  her day to day. My ex would call me fat every chance he could get so I’d feel so ashamed of myself that I’d consider myself lucky to  have him. We were smart girls falling for mind games of little boys.

“I had low confidence and took his BS because I was scared to lose him,” “Jo” told me as I asked for her approval to write this blog post. For about 4 years she dealt with her ex’s inconsistency and verbal/ emotional abuse. There was a time where she had to tell one of his new girls to back off. This lead to the new girl’s family over reacting and trying to file charges on “Jo”. It was our first ever Christmas party (which is now an ongoing tradition for the past 4 years) that we planned with us girls. “Jo” got a call from the police saying she had to come in for questioning. It was situations like that that made her insecure. The fear that her ex would leave her for someone else. He made her feel so low of herself, always calling her stupid and annoying, that lead her to be even more insecure. She didn’t like the way she looked and didn’t think she was attractive, so the fact that she had him by her side made her feel better. She didn’t want to lose him, even if she wasn’t being treated right.

I remember thinking to myself after a fight and trying to justify why I should continue in a relationship that made me miserable, “ok… think of 3 reasons why you love him…,” It took a while until I realized I couldn’t think of 1 reason. “Ok,” I thought again, “one thing you at least like about him… just one,” …Nothing. At that exact moment I knew I was done. Years of being put down left me with no positive thoughts of him, 3 years and I couldn’t think of one thing.

A switch flipped in our heads during the time we first started college. I thought to myself “this isn’t high school anymore, I’m over it. New school, new beginning,” and started the process of removing the one negative person that was bringing me down for 3+ years. “Jo” was doing the same, except it was her ex who was calling it quits. But regardless if she ended it or if he did, I was happy to see that my best friend was making moves to become a better her and recover. She was with him for 4+ years and in the end of it, she lost herself. We both did. We went through it together, and we got over it together.

When we talk about it now, we laugh. Though emotional abuse isn’t funny, we just like to consider ourselves lucky. We got out of it successfully and sometimes other people aren’t as fortunate.

A little over two years has passed. “Jo” and I have now found ourselves with different people who actually treat us right. School, work, and life  has gotten in the way, and “Jo” and I can’t hangout as much as we used to. We used to text everyday, but now fill each other at least once a week. I never miss the opportunity to tell her that I’m so happy that she has someone that has been with her for over a year and is still all about her. He’s honest, loyal, and so respectful to her, her family, and her friends. Every time I update “Jo” on a story that happened regarding my boyfriend, whether it  be story that’s funny, random, etc., she never fails to voice her opinion on how she loves the way he treats me and how he’s a good guy. He’s gained the respect of my friends- the ones that really knew what I was going through- and my girls are not easily impressed! I now can confidently say that I have it good- but that’s another blog post ;)!

So there is a  happy ending to this unfortunate double story. Like I said, some people aren’t so fortunate. Click here to learn more on what you can do to get out of an abusive relationship.

Through the abuse, the break ups, the rebuilding, the new beginnings, and new found happiness, “Jo” has been by my side. I never had to go through it alone.