If fortune cookies are vague prophecies, imagine cracking open the brittle sweet treat to find only a fourth of one, as if the chef threw it in a paper shredder before preparing my takeout order. The piece of paper is so thin that it doesn’t even contain a fortune, only half of the words: “Learn Chinese- Beef.”
Where is the beef? I can barely make out the one-word message but those four letters bring to mind the biggest burden of my life: burned bridges. This fraction of a fortune the size of a singular piece of confetti illustrates my lifelong history of conflict, quick to anger moments and telling others to kick rocks right out of my life.
I’d say these lessons of detachment are natural and due to the tiny deaths and constant rebirth of being a Scorpio, but it’s likely rooted in my father abandoning me for methamphetamines the first 15 years of my life and never fully recovering from the trauma.
It’s two evictions and, not once, but twice kicked out of overrated bridesmaids rosters. It’s being fired from my college newspaper for saying fuck in an email to my managing editor and demoted as student council president my senior year of high school for getting in a fight at my last home basketball game— and it wasn’t with an opponent.
It’s all the awkward acquaintances whose friend’s partners dislike me for having a connection with their significant other, like a former best friend whose soon-to-be baby daddy lost his virginity to me in middle school at my friend’s house in her sister’s bed— a waterbed, which is an endangered swinger’s species. The brother of this same former best friend came out a decade later and relayed a message to me through a mutual friend at a New Year’s Eve party that if he ever were straight, he would want to be with me. It took me years to recognize that as a compliment, but even now I’m not so sure.
The layers of relationship complexities are further muddied by sexuality and a small-town upbringing. I recently coined the saying: “the only guarantees in life are death, taxes and complicated relationships.”
I don’t speak to the brides who dismissed me from their wedding parties, or the German high school teacher I met in AA who kicked me out after I decided to start drinking again. Thankfully I have a semblance of a relationship with my first Minneapolis landlord who continues to encourage my creative writing even though she asked me to move out a month before “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” entered our lexicon, before six feet referred to personal space and not a grave.
I don’t even eat beef— unless it’s from my family homestead farm, est. 1897— but I have plenty of it. If only emotions and relationships were plant-based like my diet. I usually gloss over the back side of a fortune cookie, like only listening to the A side of a record. The truth is fortunes aren’t part of Chinese culture anyhow. They were created by Japanese immigrants to the U.S., namely California, where I’m visiting a good friend for the fourth time since helping her move out there in 2017. That bridge is not burned. There are still chords unbroken. Best friends and beautiful connections. I’ll attend upcoming weddings of women I endearingly call my wife and cry tears of joy. I’ve secured a lease on Hennepin Avenue for nearly two years. No roommates. Fuck roommates.
I ascend from a lot of ashes, with some bridges still smoldering and others holding onto the potential to rebuild. I found stability in the dysfunction like a comfort blanket. But I’m still learning to let go of vindictiveness and relationships meant to be in the rear view mirror. The former classmate who works at a fake abortion clinic forcing unwanted pregnancies to term who accused me of calling her work unethical and I didn’t disagree. My cousin with a pedophile husband who unfriended me after I asked her to stop sending me videos of his ugly face. Maybe we’ll reconnect when he’s behind bars. Sometimes burned bridges are weights lifted.
At a musical festival in Eau Claires a few summers ago, Paul Simon left the crowd with a sermon on how “anger is addictive.” It struck me then and stuck with me ever since, but that doesn’t mean the lesson is learned. My personality can be best defined as addictive, impulsive, and according to one conversvative columnist in Fargo who referred to me as his colleague when he infrequently agreed with me, credulous, all because I profiled the Democratic Socialist of America’s new softball team. Somehow that column included a mention of Jim Jones which seemed so far off base that it made me laugh thinking back to my eighth-grade self preparing for her first international trip to Guyana. My family kept telling me not to drink the Kool Aid and I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. It was a mission trip, of course, because the rest of the world needs a bunch of white kids from the midwest telling them what and who to believe.
That’s where I fell in love with my first boyfriend — nearly four years older than me — and despite our religious introduction, we excelled at sinning on our way home from bible study and Sunday service. After he graduated from high school, I began binge drinking and he said I had to choose between him and partying. I chose the booze. I always choose booze over boys, or a combination of the two, which often leads to beef— a whole damn list of beef I’m bearing witness to because of a missing aphorism from an abbreviated Chinese lesson without translation.