This weekend, I asked my boyfriend if I could borrow some money to pay my income taxes.
I can feel all the spirits of my ancestors, rising from their respective graves somewhere in China and floating across the Pacific Ocean, crossing the country at light speed to fly into my living room here in Miami, only to look at me disappointingly, and then fade away.
This is the first year in six or seven years where I owe a good chunk of money to the IRS, and it’s all due to my condo in the Bay Area making a modest profit from renters. For those who don’t know the backstory: I bought a condo in 2005, right next to a strip mall right off the exit of I-880. Dad was super into the real estate as investment thing, buying houses to rent out, selling houses the family had spent weekends fixing up for a minimal property. He eventually offered to pay half the downpayment.
“WALUE,” he said, trying to say the word “value.” So I agreed.
Let’s pause here: Asian parents do this because their children are an investment, the same way a social networking startup or a young prizefighter or an acre of sorghum is an investment. Asian parents also pay their kids higher education, those who can afford it. Asian kids usually aren't expected to pay their parents back financially, so much as we pay with our independence and individuality. For the case of my education, a waitlist at private Carnegie-Mellon University was vetoed for a public university with Chinese power, and I got to choose from being a doctor or an engineer.
In the case of the condo, it served multiple uses for my parents: the condo was a five-minute drive from their house, a nice break for each of them individually as they started the separation process. Each had keys, of course, and read my mail. It became an extension of their house, and the realization that I needed to get out of there was when my dad had found my Senior Ball photo of Christine Kamphaus and me, and taped it to my bathroom mirror.
You know, as a reminder. To not be gay.
It was dad’s version of how white moms leave sweet notes in their kid’s lunchboxes, except I got self-loathing instead of Lunchables.
That was my breaking point. Later that summer, I rented a room from my friend Don who lived in SF. Dad agreed to it so I could “get San Francisco out of my system.” I never moved back.
It’s for this reason that buying a house has never been my “American Dream.” When Kareem wanted to go in on a house here in Little Haiti, I was in San Francisco worrying about my Fellowship and ambivalent. Eventually, I caved in: “I’ll go in on the money,” I said, “but you have to do all the paperwork.”
The paperwork process — especially the mortgage paperwork process — was fucking terrible. But hey, Kareem wanted to do the legwork and three years later we’re still here:
At this point, I’ve spent more years living in Miami than I have lived in that condo. I don’t plan on moving back — too close to the family. I miss the friends I have in the Bay Area, but after the little nervous breakdown I had this summer, I don’t think I’ll be moving back to Northern California for a while.
I’ll sell the condo in California. Eventually, I’m sure. It’s an artifact of my father, someone I have little to no communication with nowadays, the least it’s ever been now that my dad is 90 and his Mandarin has regressed to Shanghainese, a dialect I was never taught. I don’t even know if he knows he does that, honestly. He’ll forward video clips posted on WeChat; an antidote from the CEO of Alibaba here, a fireside chat with a white guy who lived in Mainland China for 50 years with perfect Mandarin. Even when he’s trying to reach out and empathize, everything he sends me reminds me we’re two different cultures and philosophies.
Now that I think about it, I have no idea what the value of the condo is worth. I go to Zillow, type the address into the search bar, and a satellite map appears, suburban paisley roads attached to a four-lane highway.
I look at the property values. The neighboring unit just sold for six times the original buying price.
“You clever bastard,” I say out loud to a father that will never hear it. “You were right all along.”