Life is simple when you’re a child. But I sit here, twenty now,
wondering if that had ever been true for me.
I never met him, so there was no sadness, no nostalgia
when I heard the occasional whispers of his name or saw
other children riding on the shoulders of their fathers.
I don’t feel guilty either, because how can I miss someone
I never had the chance to know?
Perhaps it was the same for her. Her hair, black as a raven’s,
fell softly down her back. She was the first to talk to the kid
the other children didn’t want anything to do with and her
smile alone was enough to light up a room. To the very few
who were able to see it, she was more than her stuttered speech,
noticeable limp and academic deficiencies. They didn’t treat her
any differently and she didn’t know she was different.
Not knowing is bliss.
Despite their efforts of whispering, I heard them. “Her dad’s dead
and now her mom’s fleeing to America, she probably doesn’t
want her anymore.” That was the first moment I remember
feeling like there was a rock stuck in my throat and no matter how
hard I swallowed, it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I waited for the
tears to come. But they never did.
A warm summer breeze carried the sweet scent of cherry
blossoms, its delicate flower petals sweeping past our innocence.
We were both eight years old, building forts to shield us from enemy
lines on the battlefield of the playground, when two older boys
came over, and the taller of the two pointed at Jennifer. “Hey look!
That one looks retarded!” Their hideous laughter stole their breath
until they were both red in the face. I wished it was never returned.
Bliss never lasts.
I remember staring at the bouquet of magnolias sitting in the pretty
vase perched on the window sill of my room in Beijing Hospital.
The aroma that filled the confined space I was bound to, gave me
an idea of what spring smelled like outside. I heard the doctor say to
my grandpa “your kid’s not going to make it past eleven.” My grandpa
sobbed. That was the only time to this day that I had ever seen him
shed a tear.
Her IQ level was 50 whereas other children her age had IQs that
averaged 100. “At most, she’ll be able to graduate from a high school
that offers a special education program,” her family doctor said.
She was bound to her genetic limitations for life.
There are no medications, no cure.
God is unfair.
In America, there is a medical procedure called cardiac catheterization.
It’s virtually painless, leaves only an undetectable scar the size of
a small paper cut and it could detect the heart ailment that
explains my short breaths and seizures, without having to do
an open surgery that would leave a centipede like scar that stretched
from my chest to my back. In China, it was either that—or death.
I was six years old when I left Beijing. It was a harsh winter and
all the flowers were asleep under the bitter white sheets and the only
scents that gusted through the air were cold slaps on bare faces.
It wasn’t the first time he struck her. She already had the lines
memorized from before. She knew just what to say tomorrow at school
when the teachers asked her what happened to her face. “I tripped and
scraped my cheek against cement,” she recited to her drunken father.
She prayed at night for it to stop and even though there would be
“good periods”, it never really stopped. Then one day it did.
Her mother packed their things and they left. And just like that, he
was left with the company of divorce papers and the alcohol
that’ll never go back on the promise of consuming his liver.
Things really do get better.
It’s about to be summertime again and the earth is awakening from
its slumber, bringing back the beautiful aroma of cherry blossoms from
a tree outside my window along with my seasonal allergies.
I’m sitting at my desk with Jennifer next to me, wondering what I can do
with this vague proposal for my final English project. She shrugs
and smiles at me.
Life is good.