I was sick with the flu. I was six years old, shivering in my bedroom, the sweat soaking through my comforter. And I remember vividly the moment I struck a deal with God: please let me get better, and I promise I’ll never, ever be bad again. I got better. And, obviously, I totally abandoned my oath. So the next time I was sick, after breaking my aunt’s jar of face cream (which I was not supposed to be playing with), I promised even harder that I’d be good. Occasionally I’d use my promises for others. Just before my parents’ divorce, my ma said she’d take me to the amusement park. The morning we were supposed to go, she couldn’t get out of bed. So I guilted her into taking me. I remember her face on one of the rides—she was smiling through her nausea. Later, she dropped her purse, and all the change fell out. She had to get on her hands and knees to pick it up. And instead of helping, I turned my face away because I was embarrassed. My shame only set in later that night when I heard her vomiting in the bathroom. And then, once more, I told God I’d never be selfish again.
It’s been a lifetime of broken promises. This also happens to be my year of Very Bad Luck. There are 12 signs on the Chinese calendar, and every sign has an opposition. I was born in the Year of the Ox. The mortal enemy of the Ox is the Sheep or the Goat (for superstition purposes, they’re basically the same). I guess the Chinese elders who came up with this business had to create drama between certain farm animals with four legs. Anyway, we are currently halfway through the Year of the Sheep/ Goat. Which means that it’s been six months of sh-t for the Ox. That’s me. And now my mother and my dog have cancer. Is this what religion feels like? Clinging to an intangible belief to manage the unpredictable? Or am I making it all about me?
For as long as I can remember, my ma has never been healthy. She was abused as a child. And while her spirit recovered, her body never did. I used to envy people whose mothers were always so robust. Their moms rode bikes. Their moms could spend an entire day at the park. When Ma’s illnesses began to worsen, she’d always ask the gods what she did to deserve it, why the heavens were blind to all her good deeds. I wasn’t immune to the unfairness of it all either. She’d suffered for so long. And her good times never lasted. Meanwhile, my good times seemed consistent. Christ, the guilt that comes when you realize that, for the most part, all you’ve ever had is easy street, when your ma has never had it easy. So now I’m convinced that that’s my ma’s black magic. She ate all the tragedy to spare me from it. That was her deal with the gods. And in my year of Very Bad Luck, when the Sheep/Goat is the Katy Perry to my Taylor Swift, Ma’s multiple myeloma made a comeback… just as I was leaving for an awesome holiday in London. “Be safe,” she cautioned before I left. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
We agreed to text every day; she sent me hilariously short messages, like “FEEL GOOD OK” or “NO PROBLEM ANYTHING.” I ended up having the best time. And I returned to find that Marcus, my first-ever pet, a beagle, had a tumour on his paw. We brought Marcus home 12 years ago, the last time the Sheep/Goat came around. Ma told me then that a dog would be a benefit to our home. That dogs can be shields. Goddamn, it all comes back to me. Am I killing my ma? Am I killing Marcus?
I told this theory to a friend of mine, and I could see from her face that it sounded absurd: “Biological mutations and disease don’t happen just because you had a great time on vacation, you narcissist.”
Oh my god, I am. I’m the asshole who has turned Ma’s cancer and Marcus’s cancer into my own personal drama. I’ve built a career sh-tting on celebrity narcissists and it turns out…me too.
When Ma found out about Marcus’s tumour, she called me with a rather stern warning: no more shoe shopping, not until everything with the dog settles down. I didn’t bother questioning it. I already knew. My indulgences are hurting those I love. But, hell, what does it say about me that the only thing I’m being asked to give up is a really pretty pair of white pumps?
Elaine Lui is the founder of Lainey Gossip and the author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken.
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