I have friends on the West Coast who have yet to meet Manyu or Clare. They know of my wife and daughter through emails and phone calls from me, but they do not have a true sense of the life I now live.

A few days ago I received an email from one of these old friends, and she commented on an email I’d sent her months earlier. Although I don’t remember, I’d apparently made a casual remark about being busy on a particular weekend because it was Dragon Boat Festival. I’d mentioned the holiday so matter of factly that it disrupted the image she had of me. To her, I was still a befuddled kid from nowhere Wisconsin who’d wandered into the San Francisco Bay Area during the Reagan administration. While some of that description still holds true, she felt the need to tell me that most Americans don’t celebrate Dragon Boat Festival, don’t eat moon cake on the September full moon, and don’t know 2022 is the Year of the Tiger. 

My friend’s observation reminded me that while she does not know much about my life since meeting Manyu, it works both ways. My old friends may not fully understand my current contented life with a Taiwanese wife and bicultural daughter, but conversely, Manyu and Clare know little about me prior to 1991 (in Clare’s case, prior to her birth in 1999). Clare doesn’t care. All kids accept that their parents experienced life and had adventures before they ever showed up.  Manyu, however, is sometimes taken back by the fact I enjoyed a full and varied existence before she became part of it. One time she asked me whether I’d ever been to the state of Oregon and was stunned when I told her that I’d lived there for a while.  Another time she overheard me reminiscing with American friends about the 1970s and ‘80s – and learned for the first time that my past included antiwar protests, drugs, and a brief New Age phase. I did not remake myself the moment Manyu and I took our wedding vows, but I can see how she might see it that way.

There is not a single person who’s been with me for the whole ride. Of course, this is not unique. In fact, it’s probably the norm. When I attended my fiftieth high school reunion last month, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who’d married their high school sweethearts and were still married to their high school sweethearts. For these people, their entire adult lives were with each other. Ten years ago I might have found this notion to be boring. Now, in the homestretch of life, I also see it as endearing. 

When I was in my late 20s, I saw the movie Reds. Even though the story was based upon an actual person (communist activist John Reed), I found the extreme twists and turns of the main character’s life so extreme as to not be believable. Now in my late 60s, I realize some people really live that way. Had I been more daring, I too might have jammed three or four lives into one – but unless something unexpected occurs, I will be satisfied with having lived two.

Steven Simpson