Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying
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Framed by Wayson Choy’s two brushes with death, Not Yet is an intimate and insightful study of one man’s reasons for living.
In 2001, Wayson Choy suffered a combined asthma-heart attack. As he lay in his hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, his days punctuated by the beeps of the machines that were keeping him alive, Choy heard the voices of his ancestors warning him that without a wife, he would one day die alone. And yet through his ordeal Choy was never alone; men and women, young and old, from all cultures and ethnicities, stayed by Choy’s side until he was well. When his heart failed him a second time, four years later, it was the strength of his bonds with these people, forged through countless acts of kindness, that pulled Choy back to his life.
Not Yet is a passionate, sensitive, and beautiful exploration of the importance of family, which in Choy’s case is constituted not through blood but through love. It is also a quiet manifesto for embracing life, not blind to our mortality, but knowing how lucky we are for each day that comes.
I’m not lining up for the privilege.” I shrugged. My mind was focused on all that I had lost. “You should know,” he repeated, “poor Karl finally had to hire a truck to take everything away from the back deck—a great big construction dumpster.” Did he actually say dumpster? Centuries later, on the site of ancient suburban landfill, a curious hand will dig up my precious junk and wonder at the miniature plastic dinosaurs, the disjointed dolls, the dried-up pens, the rotted bits of clothing,
bottles (blue and red ink), and a turtle bracelet draped over a carved sea dragon. “Wayson?” Leo’s voice was very soft, tentative, directed at my back. We had established an understanding, like congenial prisoners in a shared cell: To see our backs meant Do not disturb— Dozing, Thinking, or Want to be left alone His voice came at me again and pulled me away from my deliberations about the possibility of actually exercising. “Wayson?” The grave voice rose from a half whisper to a final wake-up
nothing more than how these days of rest and careful exercise were a gift. The first small hill was climbed, then a second, and a third even higher, and then another. I was walking entirely on my own, climbing stairs, using the handrails, always stepping carefully, and sometimes I was propelled by images of those stairs in the Twin Towers smothered in black smoke and screams before their final collapse. How terrible to be pushed by that tragedy to move on; yet through those days of recovery,
mother-in-law’s recipe —helped me to get back to familiar routines. Like reading a dozen newspapers and magazines to catch up and doing some writing on the computer. Folding my laundry. Cooking for myself. Eating out. A little shopping at the local mall. Driving my Toyota again. I soon took to driving away from the house in all kinds of wintry weather—against Karl’s advice. Eager for the good company I missed so much, I went dining with friends and stayed late at their gatherings and celebrated
response to most awkward situations. Larry picked up his chopsticks. I started on my bowl of won tons. Nothing more was said about ghosts, hungry or other wise. By the end of our almost two-hour lunch, everything had returned to normal. Before we parted, Larry and I arranged to meet again later in the week. When I stepped through the front door and saw Jake and Alice working together on the Sun crossword in the living room, I decided to say nothing about my afternoon at the Mekong. What was