Asked and Unanswered
By Megan Xing & Jihii Jolly
This is a collaborative audio memoir of our relationships with our maternal grandmothers, who we lost in the spring of 10th grade. Our relationships mirror each other’s in many ways, especially as daughters of immigrant parents.
An Excerpted Transcript
I don’t remember when I last saw my grandmother.
I only remember laughing at her funeral.
Not maliciously, of course;
I was a jumble of nerves, dressed in a too-thin black cardigan
goosebumps covering my arms and my legs.
My hands were cold and clammy,
the incense sticks slick with my sweat.
After someone is gone
I tend to remember them entirely by their hands.
And yours I’ve always loved the most, Naani,
because they remind me of my own
So thin and so fragile, and yet somehow
responsible for the weight of so many small, important worlds
Lean, breakable marvels.
When we knelt at the altar and bowed, my brother lost his balance.
How could I not laugh?
a skinny boy in an over-large navy suit,
almost falling on his face at his grandmother’s funeral.
How hilariously inappropriate.
No one cried.
Did you know that?
Were you watching?
What did you think of your own hands, Naani?
What did you make with them?
Clothes for your four girls?
Prayers for the boy you lost so many decades ago?
I’ll never forget my Masi painting your nails
when you couldn’t use them anymore,
while lying in that bed
Did you feel like the precious treasure we all wanted to protect?
The only thing I have in this world to remember you by
is the necklace you gave me when I was a child
The one from some street-stand in China,
purple resin on a red silk cord.
You draped it around my neck with a such a warm smile on your face,
And though you never said it
I could feel your love.
I sometimes wonder if regret stays with us after we go
or entirely washes away once we do.
From where I stand,
I feel mostly proud to be like you, Naani,
proud to eat peaches with salt on them,
proud enjoy the smallest corners of my home.
Proud to be cut from a delicate cloth.
Though the me of five years ago
Might have missed you more than I do now
I miss you, Nai Nai.
And I love you.
Wo ai ni.
Over the course of several weeks, we took turns reflecting on questions we never got to ask our grandmothers. We wrote reactively and introspectively, always reading each other’s stanzas before adding the next.
Jihii Jolly is a multimedia journalist who specializes in production and community engagement. Currently, she hosts the podcasts Buddhist Solutions to Life’s Problems and Buddhability. She is also Director of Engagement for the International Association for Feminist Economics. Her writing focuses on gender, work, news literacy and religion and has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Tricycle, and The Juggernaut, among others. She is originally from India and grew up in New York, where she still lives.
A junior in high school, Megan Xing began writing at a very young age. She had loved to read even before she started school, and upon discovering her father’s computer in kindergarten, she learned she had an attraction to writing as well. Her favorite genres are narrative, memoir, fiction and fantasy, and she is increasingly eager to explore the worlds of poetry and film as well.