permanently tinted a yellow stain, very little sunlight if any scattered onto the musty carpet, and the education like the carpet is a hazy memory. We grew up quasi Catholic and it took me a while to realize the many other religions and belief systems that exist in this world. To add to the confusion and isolation, my father never went to church with us, and to this day, I don’t quite know what his belief system is. My mother as well had a way of complementing religions. Taoism was added to the mix of Catholicism and Buddhism. No questions were asked of my parents from my siblings or myself. We just accepted it as natural, while our friends and their families gazed strangely at our rituals and habits of shrines dedicated to Buddhist monks alongside Jesus and Mary in the middle of our temple with a statue of a Chinese goddess peering down at them and us.
It is now a quarter century that has passed by in my life and I’m only now beginning to write out the sequence of events that have led me to this moment of writing my life. This quest has been a slow repetitive process that I’ve dragged myself through. By reflecting on my life may others and I see a positive progression that will further my efforts to fulfill my dreams and goals within this short lifetime.
Birth and Childhood
On May 13th, 1987, my twin brother and I were born in the mid-afternoon to a bloated family of now five: Jeannine, my oldest sister, Eugene, my oldest brother, Wygene, my older brother, plus my twin, Waygene, and myself, Chowgene. The house was always full of activity and empty in the personal connections that a family should have. Although it was a house of 10 people meandering around fulfilling their daily duties, we barely knew each other. My parents worked two to three jobs, while my brothers and sister went to school. All the while, I spent most of my early years with my grandparents who were learning English. It was a strange place to be. Before I went to kindergarten many days were filled with looking at the clouds and dreaming.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, private school. The hallways were
As we grew, our family had to find unique ways to get by financially. It didn’t occur to me that people had to work so hard to support a family. It was a pretty sheltered life until high school, but that will be for later. I didn’t know how we came about it but my father owned a car wash. My father always had a fascination with real estate and knew it would help him get to where he wanted to be if he was diligent. I didn’t discover this until later on though that the car wash was essential for his monetary success. In the meantime, we had to help the place run. As children we were suitable for attracting customers and washing cars. It was a regular occurrence on the weekends for us to go and help wash cars, sell cleaning solution, and count quarters. Once that was done, we would go home and my mom would make us clean the entire house. Sweep the floors, which seemed to be clean to me, followed by a thorough mop with my twin brother trailing behind with a dry towel. Before video games and sports, all I remember is cleaning during my free time. I never knew what my parents did for work except go to the car wash and sleep during this time.
Video Games and Sports
The trek through private school eventually landed my brother and I some friends who lived a more American life. They ate a lot of pizza, drank as much soft drinks as desired, and their free time was dedicated to video games. Those ‘friends’ ruined us for a good period of our lives. We learned well from them. Instead of cleaning, we began to play those same video games. It was just a matter of time that our rooms and house became a filthy place. It was glorious at the time, the first taste of freedom and choice that we chose. Of course, momma was always right and those habits have bit me in the ass for a while now.
The video games began to get more serious and with the advent of the computer. We discovered real time strategy games, Red Alert, Command and Conquer and Starcraft. Each of those games required you to harvest various elements to build armies and battle the computer, your friends and family, or the strangers across the world. The parameters were simple and mastering those games became an obsession. Various terrains and maps required different strategies in combat. When I first learned how to play Red Alert, one of Wygene’s friends would display artful methods of combining weapons from water and air to devour those on land. This observation gave me key insights on how to utilize elements in the game and to gain advantages over my competitors. To this day, I believe that those strategy games have carried onto strategizing how to use my time, resources, and energy.
As it became evident to my mom that we were spending too much time indoors she signed us up for soccer and other activities that would give us a shot of Vitamin D from the sun. I didn’t always enjoy it since I didn’t get to command armies and conquer the world of video games. Plus it added the element of teamwork. For school projects, it was always a deterrent because we never learned how to work together, and still are not truly taught it to this day. Somehow or another, the unsuspecting Asian got a good load of extra work. The feeling at first was disgust but it grew on me. As I began to play sports it lingered on till high school until I got tired of running around. Why did it stick around for so long? It was around fifth grade that the school began to allow kids to sign up for sports and I tagged along with friends and my brother. The feeling of exhaustion was always satisfying and it guaranteed a good nights rest, which was the best reward.
In 7th grade, our basketball team had the best coach. The way he taught the game of basketball was invigorating and strange. He was an overweight African American who knew basketball but couldn’t run to save his life. To make things better he would force us into his world every time we came to practice, Mackey world. Yes, it was named after him and yes, the only activity we would do in Mackey world is play basketball. I’m not sure how he did it but we came second in the catholic school league. I don’t remember doing much except standing there and watching the ball fly around. It was another sport I didn’t quite understand on the field. The fast pace action of things didn’t fit well with my poor eyesight or good slow paced observation.
High School and Freedom
As we slowly matured and began our exit from Catholic school, we began to realize how much the world had to offer. With sports came more friends and more influences, good and bad. My brother and I began to take up musical instruments out of an instinct to be a part of the cool crew. Although we ended our Catholic schooling with many close friends, we continued to spend a lot of time with each other on the weekends. Plus, with the coolness came the added benefits of discovering heavy metal, porn, and drugs. Life seemed glorious. As we finished out eighth grade, we began our descent as alcoholics, drug fiends, and womanizers. It was around this time that one of my best friends got too intoxicated on alcohol, began to throw up, and vowed to never drink again. As we progressed through our schooling that was high, it brought about many false promises and dreams, and it only got worse. I still remember him murmuring, “I’ll never do this again,” as he puked into a bucket.
All of us continued the weekend cycle of drinking and going to local music venues. Through it we met others who introduced us to marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy, pharmaceuticals and eventually opiates. As seasons changed so did our habits with each substance. We cycled and then began to mix and complement. Alcohol took us away from life and weed to help us through the hangover. I would call myself fortunate during this time period since it was only on the weekends that I had access to it all. My parents didn’t trust us with a cell phone or couldn’t afford one for us. When I finally did get one, I didn’t have the habits of calling people everyday or seeking things to do. For whatever reason, I still wanted to succeed in school and in a social life.
As time progressed, I began to realize how much money, time and energy was being funneled into drugs. In response, I counteracted it with an old habit and friend, video games. Interestingly, it worked. I beat meth by playing copious amounts of video games. It most likely worked to my benefit that I didn’t have drug dealers phone numbers; otherwise, I would be addicted playing video games on meth. Oh well, it worked out and that’s what matters. At least that’s what I thought. The pattern was more of an obsession and habit of doing things excessively, drugs or games.
Kicking drugs off my plate lasted for a short while. My twin brother went to a party while I was recovering from the previous night of doing meth. I had the shivers and needed a lot of rest. That night he experimented with shrooms for the first time and it turned sour fast. He got scared, tried to drive home, and drove his car into a house. I woke up the next day with an ecstatic call from my brother and my parents. I had no idea what was going on. My father, who was never there, decided to try to teach us a lesson and show us the severity of the accident. It didn’t register for me.
Lessons from teachers and parents didn’t work well in this period of my life. They tried to show us everything they didn’t share with us early in life and I felt cheated. At the same time, it may have been more of a spoiling on their part. We were isolated and sheltered. Perhaps it was the idea of creating a world that was better than the one on the outside, but it was a charade and a lie. By this time in their life, their car wash was sold, my dad started his own company while working for the Veteran’s Hospital system and it enabled him to hire all his closest co-workers and my mom. It brought them monetary wealth beyond my understanding.
This was my parents’ first glimpse into our descent into drugs. They probably knew but didn’t know how to communicate with us and we didn’t know how to talk to them. It always seemed awkward. Every time we talked about the topic it was a direct question and response, “Are you doing Drugs?” and “No.” The conversation would usually end there and we would go about our duties, my parents building their empire while we fleeted from reality. This went on till mid-college when it finally caught up to me.
As we finished out high school, I somehow managed to land a placement of 6th out of 500. Only god knows how it was possible. I spent more time wasted than I did studying. It was a miracle or everybody else was more wasted than I was. My twin brother was behind me at 8th. Being in the top 10%, we opted for the easiest place to go, the University of Texas system. It was an automatic guarantee. Thank goodness for measly rules and codes. Around middle school, I discovered that my parents were nurses, sold the car wash, and started their own home health agency. The reasons why they did this was a mystery until much later in life. Anyways, the medical influence was pushed on us as children for a long time. It didn’t occur to me every time I had a conversation with my father, but he would also ask us what we wanted to be and the answer he always pushed was to be a doctor. It worked on my sister and it almost worked on me subconsciously.
I entered UT Austin in the Biomedical Engineering program thinking I might make cures for cancers or discover something that would benefit the health of people. In 8th grade, I wrote a paper on the human genome project and my teacher couldn’t understand it. It was fantastic. The degree program on the other hand was horrible though. The professors swayed me away from biomedical anything and thank god for it. It bore me to death and the idea of what they were aiming to accomplish was also terrifying.
For one group project, we spent our research and time working on bioreactors. My part of the assignment was to learn about the future of bioreactors and how it is going to affect our society. The research pointed in the direction of using plants to manufacture human made medications. As I got into drugs in high school, I read about the beneficial effects of marijuana and began to realize that people used cocaine and opium as medicines. As anything that can be good, it was people that made it bad. In response, we create systems that mimic the ones that already work. The idea of creating artificial drugs from plants was stupid. I quickly began to look for alternative activities to do than commit to the educational system.
In my journey in Austin, one of my best friends was in a rut and needed a place to stay. His name is Peter. We grew up from pre-school and kept in touch through the drug years. As time went along, he got addicted to heroin, cocaine, and many other substances. It didn’t bother me that he used any of those substances. The deceit about those habits tore me apart more than anything. Anyways, he needed a place to stay. My twin brother and I took him in and it was during the time of my search for meaningful learning that he mentioned to me, “I heard that it’s really easy to grow mushrooms,” and my life immediately grew fond of learning about mushrooms, the substance that crashed my brother and his car into a house.
It didn’t take too long for me to find out how to grow them. During that time frame, I sought out a community garden to start gardening. I found Sunshine Community Gardens, and found the first person I could see, Ila Falvey. It didn’t occur to me that she was the Treasurer at the time. I just wanted to garden to find out that they had a two year waiting list. I opted to volunteer and got a plot in 6 months. From this point on, I began to meet more people in the gardening scene, go to City Council meetings, grow mushrooms and discover a true sense of purpose. I was meeting good friends and we exchanged information and began new projects.
The mushrooms eventually got me into trouble though. I was eating them about every month or every week. It got to a point where I didn’t remember what I did the night during the journey, and eventually it got my brother to call my parents attention to my habits. They found out a few things; my history of drug use, my hobby of growing illicit mushrooms, and the circle of friends that I had who dealt in such activities. They immediately shipped me back to Dallas-Ft Worth.
Although I was discovering a lot that I wanted to pursue, I was in a wretched state of mind. School was unfulfilling and I knew I could pursue my dreams without spending so much time memorizing facts and figures. The little free time I did had was used to escape from all the responsibilities of school and life. It was a cycle set into for self-destruction. Going home was the best thing that could’ve happened in retrospect, but I despised it for a good year or two.
In that time, I worked continuously for my parents, learned the ropes of medical equipment and saved a pretty penny to work on projects while learning about what I wanted. To appease my parents, I went to college part time and studied what I wanted full time. The gardener remained in remission until I reconnected with those I met in Austin. Self-destruction slowly shifted into self-regeneration.
The passion of gardening forced me to create the life I wanted to live. I met local gardeners and clubs and began to educate. In 2010, I found a permaculture certification course where I met neighbors in the metroplex, learned about aquaponics and set in motion new passions. I continued to work for my father until I felt like the time was ripe to quit. In 2011, I finally made the leap and a month later I found a job at a Montessori school where I could garden to my hearts delight. Today, I still work there with a new sense of purpose and place.