The peanut incident

My paternal grandmother kidnapped me when I was one or so and I nearly died as a result.
There, that’s the main content note. That’s the lede.
As with many stories in our family, and I suspect in other families where abuse was rampant, a lot of trauma was obscured behind a combination of amnesia, forced reconciliation, and “this is what I saw, but I am one blind person feeling up an elephant, so I’m an unreliable narrator”.
I’d known since I was small that I’d gotten into peanuts when I was too young to have them, inhaled one because I’d started crying when my older cousin snatched them away, and then had to have it removed.
My mother told me that story, just one of many of my “little mishaps” that had happened because I was too curious, too precocious, too much of a handful.
See how that framing works for that narrative.
I didn’t think too much about it, because, again there were many stories like that.
I’d climbed a fence at a Japanese onsen hotel because I wanted to know what was on the other side, and came gaze to shocked gaze of my uncle. Who yelled and startled me so I fell off the bamboo fence, stark naked. Because that’s how you enter an onsen in Japan.
Note how it was my fault I got into the peanuts. My fault I started crying when someone (rightfully) took the contraband away.
Then, a handful of years ago, I was at McKay Memorial hospital to get a physical done as a requirement for enrollment at graduate school.
I was prepared to set up a new patient profile and was told I already had one.
When I got into the car, I mentioned my surprise to my father.
McKay Memorial hospital is both out of the way for where I’d lived as a child in Taiwan and its distinctive architecture would’ve stood out in even my sketchy memories. That I had no recollection of ever having been there was out of the ordinary.
To my surprise, my father looked like someone had just socked him in the stomach.
Then, he said, “McKay was where you had surgery for that peanut.”
And because I have no tact when curiosity is concerned, I asked him why he looked so ill.
Dad’s turn to look surprised.
“You were so small and they had to put you fully under and it was so cold in the hospital you were purple and blue when they wheeled you out of surgery. It was the longest 24 hours of my life. I’d barely eaten anything at all in that time. Then they told me it was a lucky thing we’d brought you in when we did, because that peanut was disintegrating in your lungs. Even a few hours later and you could’ve died. Probably would’ve died.”
And it was my turn to feel like someone had kicked me right in the gut.
Dad didn’t say much more and even I, with my insatiable curiosity, left the story alone for the moment. Because there was the after-horror. And perhaps it was purely psychosomatic, but my chest was closing up and my stomach was rebelling.
Also, Dad looked like he was about to either burst out crying or something and that wasn’t something I could cope with at the time.
That was perhaps eight or seven years ago.
Then, a few days ago, I mentioned to my mother that Dad probably had unresolved trauma and anger towards my paternal grandmother over “the peanut incident”.
She looked surprised.
“Wasn’t I under her care? Wouldn’t it have been traumatizing for Dad that his firstborn nearly died while under the care of his mother?”
Mom: “Now that you mention it.”
Her face darkened. “Besides, she’d taken you and left Taipei. Because she was angry at me for “allowing” your father to apply to graduate school in the US. So she took you and a couple of your other cousins, and went back to the ancestral farm in Nantou. Which might be a five hour drive on today’s roads with the highways and so on, but back then, it was dark winding country roads, some not even asphalt.”
The sucker punches just kept coming.
I’d always assumed I’d been in Taipei.
But no.
Grandmother had essentially kidnapped me, but my mother had to let her because she and Dad were both working and couldn’t chase her down and get me back because there was no other childcare lined up.
Then, Grandmother had lied. For two days.
Mom: “I’d called every single day and I was getting the impression something wasn’t right. You didn’t sound right and you didn’t seem as lively as …well, you usually were. But your grandmother insisted you were fine, that nothing was wrong, but I just had this feeling that wouldn’t go away. Finally, it got to the point where I insisted that there was something wrong, you were wheezing so I could hear it over the phone, and then she admitted that you’d gotten into the peanuts.”
Here, I can’t help but wonder at the narrative of “your cousin snatched them away from you and you started crying”.
Was it really my cousin who’d snatched them away?
Also the “you’d gotten into the peanuts”.
Yes, but I was barely one and a half.
Who was supposed to be watching over me and wasn’t?
…and, dark thought, would there have been more attention given to me if I’d been a boy?
Remember when I’d said my grandmother was irate I wasn’t a son when I was born?
I remembered how my grandmother had nagged and nagged and scolded my mother until she’d had another child. Despite how the first pregnancy had clearly deteriorated her health. Despite her clear ambivalence.
How the reason my grandmother and mother weren’t on good terms was because my grandmother had visited us in Guam when my brother was a baby and had complained that my mother “was just lazy about having kids”, driving my mother to post-partum depression.
And my mother sideways confirmed it. “Your grandmother never liked you. Said you were too fierce. That you would snatch the toys from your (three year older) boy cousin. That you were too loud and talked too much.”

Yes. My mother’s view of the situation is hardly objective. But it fit with what I’d felt from that old woman the few times I’d met her. It’d fit with everything else I’d heard.
And gods forgive me for the suspicion, but it fit with the entire timeline of why I hadn’t been with my parents at such a young age, why that peanut had been allowed to rot in my lungs for days, why the story of my childhood so abruptly went from “you were taken care of by your paternal grandmother” to “we almost exclusively hung out with Mom’s side of the family”.
I had asthma after that incident. We’ll never know if it actually was inherited from my paternal grandmother, as they claimed, or if it was the peanut.
Was in and out of the emergency room as a child because I’d get allergic, start sneezing, start wheezing, and the next thing you knew I’d be unable to breathe.
I was an expensive child.
Not just the frequent ER visits or being sick constantly or even the expensive equipment (nebulizer machine in addition to inhalers) or inability to wear non-cotton clothing or, or, or.
But being allergic to everything meant there was no saving money in certain areas. No cheap hotels. No cheap rental cars because too many of them had smoke residue.
I’ll never know how much of my parents’ poverty was a direct result of my medical bills and I’m afraid to ask.
I’ll never know how much resentment I breathed in before I was even aware resentment could be a thing directed at me.
I’ll never know how much of my childhood trauma and the nightmares were a direct result of picking up on my parents’ stress and resentment and their traumas and feeling like everything was my fault.
But it’s okay.
I can sit here, with my body that’s held on through so much, and I can tell myself, “you’re okay. It doesn’t matter what that nasty old woman thought of you because she doesn’t matter. What she thought, what she told you, what evil she wrought because of her own sad views on the world — that doesn’t matter at all to you, today. That’s over and done. We’ve survived. And we’re going to keep being fierce, keep speaking up, keep standing up for ourselves, and we’re going to be happy because we’ve outlived evil and being sad and angry would be giving evil more influence than it deserves. Literally nothing of that was my fault, be it being kidnapped or the peanut or whatever was a direct result of that incident. I refute and refuse any responsibility shoved onto a baby not even two years old. I get to be curious and to try new things and to exist without guilt.”
None of that was my fault and yet I’ve mostly been the person to pay for that old woman’s sins.
That’s done now.
Even if I can’t change anything about the body dragged through hell facedown and sideways…
That’s done now. We’re done with that.
I still love peanuts, so thank the gods for tremendous small mercies.

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