for what it's worth

weekend of defeat & small victories

weekend of defeat & small victories

I’ve been living in Cambridge for the last two weeks—less if you count my time in New York—though it feels like it’s been a long time. I’ve always been interested in how long it takes to call a living space home, and this time it was particularly short. But I’m leaving for Wellesley in a few days, just ten miles west, a fairytale land, but one that lacks the inherent charm of the Central Square street lights. I suppose this can happen anywhere, but here we notice the smoke of our breath, the fog on the windows, the evidence of our being alive. It’s in the underground music, the local graffiti, the art on the walls, the chimes in the subway station. Of course these days are not always something to be romanticized; still there are the late nights of Friends re-runs and those stark moments of emptiness before the crosswalk signals you to keep going. And anxiety, anxiety, I can’t seem to forget that persistent follower.

Once when I was younger, I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, having heard about four pursuits of life: money, power, fame, and love. Now I know there’s so much more to life than those, pursuits like justice, art, worship. But at some point or other those four pursuits will grab onto a heart string and try to claim you. There will always be tensions between love and loneliness, between adventure and security, etc. And perhaps there will always feel like something is missing. No, we cannot be Eliot’s hollow men for forever.

Right now I work with data all day, surveys of Kenyan shopowners, their addresses at the intersections of roads. It’s not bad at the office; with NPR’s 24 hour program stream, the day passes by quickly. Then I make meals for one, sometimes two if my roommate is home, sometimes three if I pack for lunch the next day. Metro, boulot, dodo. Later this year I too plan to work at the intersection of numbered avenues, but high above the streets. But for what? For lack of else? For all I can be and do and everything that weighs on this?—more on this later, maybe.

Even though some days I feel like I walk on a plateau, these quiet walks have given me time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be and what purpose I want to serve, and I am happy that my life is heading in some sort of direction. I’m sorry if this, this whole blog, is too vague—I’d love to catch up over some other medium, particularly if that medium is coffee. Actually, I feel like I’m always catching up with people and never staying in contact with them. So I’ll mend that—I’d love to stay in contact over some other medium, particularly if that medium is always coffee. Find me marching by my anthem, a song I am still composing.

2014

"To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

The end of the semester is wrapping up; the first snow has fallen. Both exams and holiday parties are at every corner. Just finished up my photography portfolio. Film photography was incredibly difficult this semester, but here’s a bit of my “work.” (Only works on the blog, not the dash)

Hi. We don't know each other, I don't think, but I found you through SUBTLE mag's tumblr a while back and your most recent entry amazed me when I was hurriedly doing all my daily blog-readings this morning. I'm an avid blogger myself, and I truly appreciate candid, beautiful writing. Just wanted to give you some well-deserved praise, and to encourage you to keep soldiering through whatever hardships you're going through. Fight to the death!

Anonymous

Wow, this means so much to me, thank you, happy thanksgiving!

It’s been over forty days since my last post. This semester, as my best and only method of dealing with my problems, I swallow them. So these last forty day have grown to be heavy, heavy. Now I’m sitting on a bus to New York City, with windows fogged by rain and darkness and exhaustion, facing some of my realities.

It started with this: my roommate lied awake trying to forget the pain in her side. My friend was waiting for her fever to break. My family is in a perpetual waiting room pretending everything is a bug that will pass in a few weeks. I have been in too many hospitals this year, and sometimes I try to limit the melancholy on these posts,  but in truth, there have been too many confrontations with and conversations about our own mortalities this week. Sometimes I am sick of asking for grace I don’t always believe in, and sometimes I am healed, and sometimes I believe in miracles.

Then it was Halloween, “I like your mask,” she jokes, a stranger passing by to my un-diguised face waiting for a meeting on October 31; I laugh nervously. Sometimes we live in dreams, and sometimes other people get to live your dreams for you, and masks become your language, do not forget the poetry that lives inside you.

Another time in dance, with rhythmic drums playing in the background, I collapsed under the poise and lightness of the others, the effortlessness in their trained legs. “Drop your head,” my dance instructor yelled, “let it go,” I heard it in the reflection of the mirror, but my arms were not made for dancing, my shoulders were up in protection. Later, only in the darkroom, in the complete darkness, late at night, do I drop my head, double bounce, let it go.

I don’t think I could live in New York — where, then, would I escape to? Every place I begin to call home, I then look to leave. But I’ve spent years looking for a place to call home before finally realizing — the world is not our home. Today, pieces of my life are falling together, but I am always longing for more of what we were made to long for, to love and be loved by a perfect and gracious God.

Now winter has come, and the wind tears at our faces, skin cracking like lips for a first kiss of winter after vacant months; despite the frost, some need winter to survive. Winter moves in for their sake, and sometimes it is a lesson in generosity. Now that the leaves turned red and yellow and have fallen, the bare trees reveal the Quad’s arches and lights, a once hidden city on a hill. I can’t decide if this is the time to be young and free or if this is the time to act on my future, and I don’t know why those are in conflict. We imagine the could-have-beens, the cliché roads untaken, but from the first snowfall, I am making footprints, decidedly putting my weight, leaving my mark on this world.

It’s been over forty days since my last post. This semester, as my best and only method of dealing with my problems, I swallow them. So these last forty day have grown to be heavy, heavy. Now I’m sitting on a bus to New York City, with windows fogged by rain and darkness and exhaustion, facing some of my realities.

It started with this: my roommate lied awake trying to forget the pain in her side. My friend was waiting for her fever to break. My family is in a perpetual waiting room pretending everything is a bug that will pass in a few weeks. I have been in too many hospitals this year, and sometimes I try to limit the melancholy on these posts, but in truth, there have been too many confrontations with and conversations about our own mortalities this week. Sometimes I am sick of asking for grace I don’t always believe in, and sometimes I am healed, and sometimes I believe in miracles.

Then it was Halloween, “I like your mask,” she jokes, a stranger passing by to my un-diguised face waiting for a meeting on October 31; I laugh nervously. Sometimes we live in dreams, and sometimes other people get to live your dreams for you, and masks become your language, do not forget the poetry that lives inside you.

Another time in dance, with rhythmic drums playing in the background, I collapsed under the poise and lightness of the others, the effortlessness in their trained legs. “Drop your head,” my dance instructor yelled, “let it go,” I heard it in the reflection of the mirror, but my arms were not made for dancing, my shoulders were up in protection. Later, only in the darkroom, in the complete darkness, late at night, do I drop my head, double bounce, let it go.

I don’t think I could live in New York — where, then, would I escape to? Every place I begin to call home, I then look to leave. But I’ve spent years looking for a place to call home before finally realizing — the world is not our home. Today, pieces of my life are falling together, but I am always longing for more of what we were made to long for, to love and be loved by a perfect and gracious God.

Now winter has come, and the wind tears at our faces, skin cracking like lips for a first kiss of winter after vacant months; despite the frost, some need winter to survive. Winter moves in for their sake, and sometimes it is a lesson in generosity. Now that the leaves turned red and yellow and have fallen, the bare trees reveal the Quad’s arches and lights, a once hidden city on a hill. I can’t decide if this is the time to be young and free or if this is the time to act on my future, and I don’t know why those are in conflict. We imagine the could-have-beens, the cliché roads untaken, but from the first snowfall, I am making footprints, decidedly putting my weight, leaving my mark on this world.

Other People’s Mail

It’s fall break, but few of the plans I had seemed to work out. Going to New York, going to Rockport, going anywhere. But new, unexpected things fell into place, and that’s okay.

Yesterday, after walking up and down State Street for quite some time, I ended up taking the city bus to SoWa Vintage Market. Someone asked me for directions at the bus stop, as if I were a real Bostonian. The lead-up to SoWa was a farmer’s market, then an antiques fair. Inside was a huge collection of vintage clothing, furniture, records, and assorted memorabilia.

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The last time I was at something like this, back in Pontiac, I bought other people’s letters. This time, I bought other people’s postcards. It’s weird, but that single record of someone’s life, and the mystery behind it, always strikes me. I dug through a box of old postcards and found a few beautiful ones from Europe written by different people, but all addressed to the same Joanne Cerasoli in Newton, Massachusetts. I wonder why; all I’ll ever know of her life is what these people wrote to her.

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Venesia-Ponte dei Sospiri (The Bridge of Sighs), 1952

Dear Joanne,

This is Venice, Italy. I have had a wonderful time here so far doing alot of sightseeing in the boats called “Gondolas.” I hope you are having a nice summer. 

Love,
Miss Murphy

Roma, 1956

Lots of love from us to you all.

Love
Mary O’Clements xx

Milano, Vedula generale, 1955

Hi

We arrived at Milano. The plane trip was wonderful. I saw the white mountains and stopped in Portgual + Paris. Take care.

Love, Mary

L’Aguila-Castello-Porta d’ingresso, year unknown

Hi Joanne,

We got here finally and it’s really beautiful that is the land not the house. We went to Aguila and I took pictures. How’s little Prin? Did you go out in the tooboat yet? Take care. and write soon.

Love your best friend, Mary

Roma-Tempio di Satunro, 1955

Dear Cousin Mary + Cousin Helen,

Hello-

Visiting medical students in Rome. A lean and modern city; wide streets; reminds me of the states. It’s been so long that I didn’t [?] recognize some of my friends.

Love, Frank

I wonder what the records of my life will be. Maybe this blog? For some reason, I was reading through my old college applications and was proud of myself for being true to who I felt I was—not really what admissions wants to see. Even though I’m really glad I’m at Wellesley now, there’s part of me that regrets not submitting that “best” mask in my application. And I know that’s something I’ll have to do in the professional world.

I’m trying to capture that kind of idea in my next photography assignment, which is about intimate portraits. If it works out, I’ll share that with my last assignment about manufactured landscapes. Being in the darkroom takes so much of my time, but making art makes me happy; many things fulfill me, but things like art, dance, music, poetry—they make me whole.

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Some days this year have been really, really heavy. On Sunday before church, I woke up with the sun and the fog, taking in "the strange glory of ordinary things," and I made a sort of promise to my 19-year-old self, that I would live bravely, with consideration for others and hope for the future, by the grace I’m daily given. That won’t solve everything, or maybe anything, but it’s something to hold on to; it’s a step.

Slow and Steady

This week has been really difficult (and it’s only Tuesday), but the beats of this song and some other things are getting me through it. I heard this live a few weeks ago, and it was so beautiful.

On Monday, I found myself sitting in my photography class with my unsatisfactory prints up for critique. Three prints took hours to plan a narrative for, to travel to and shoot, to develop, to contact, to enlarge, to print. Maybe it was that vulnerability of having work I wasn’t pleased with shown, maybe it was something else that brought a rush of everything to mind.

When I call my mother, she asks me for good news. I am sad that I don’t have anything to offer her. I wish I could live my life in a way that could. Things are complicated with the family situation at home for everyone; on my end, trying to get loan promissory notes signed and work-study worked out is proving more difficult than I thought.

And today’s government shutdown didn’t lighten any burdens. When I was younger, I wanted to be in politics and government, but these days I’m disillusioned by ours. Congress needs to get its act together, but honestly, I don’t know how either. In the past, I’ve always been in support of Obamacare/ACA because it allowed low-income families, artists, people with exisiting conditions (i.e. women because insurers suck) to have access to health insurance. But my mother’s workplace won’t allow her to work over 29 hours because at 30 hours they’d have to provide health insurance. So there’s good and bad, and I’m morally conflicted between something I think is fundamentally good but personally bad. Maybe this is more than I’m supposed to divulge on the internet.

Anyway, last week was great, and now it seems like a fantasy. I’m nineteen now and it’s time to be brave. I’m so blessed to have great friends who care deeply and show that love so readily. Friends from at home and here, my other home. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without them. I’ve also been out to Cambridge a few times, meeting up with old friends from years ago, which has been really nice.

Yesterday at small group, we talked about what freedom Jesus offers. It’s the freedom that I want. In the middle of midterms week (i.e. the whole month of October), there’s a strange tension and comfort in the hope offers. I’ve been listening to a lot of other people’s struggles, and I’ve been paying attention to my own. There will be a hope and a redemption for us all who are children of God.

Room to Breathe

I’ve found myself sitting in class or at a desk in these past few weeks completely confused about where I’m going with my life, what I’m even doing for the day. I’ll be dramatic and call them existential crises, but I think some of the tension is between a) the need to speak out and the pull from within to hide and b) the desire to do and study what I want and the realization that I don’t have the financial privilege to do that.

But I’ve also been taking a few personal days off. Last week, I spontaneously went into the city for nectarines and Central’s farmers market and used books from Rodney’s.

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Over the weekend, some friends and I went out to along the Charles River for a free concert with Gavin Degraw, Backstreet Boys, and Of Monsters and Men. They were unbelievably good; the sunset over the river was unbelievably beautiful. And it was just a good time to spend on an afternoon on a picnic blanket with some of my favorite people.

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On Monday, other favorite people of mine and I gathered for bread and cheese and a weekly small group discussion about race, and justice, and reconciliation, and life.

And yesterday, I biked to the Ville to have some tea and a burrito and take pictures on my new 35mm film SLR. I’m super nervous about how my first roll will turn out (if at all…), since it’s actually really different from my usual DSLR style. I’ll post some on here if I like them! I also took some more during my dance class yesterday, to capture movement. My modern jazz class is another two hours a week I just get to forget about everything in my life but the lines and the beats and the choreography.

As busy as my schedule is with 5+ classes and 2 jobs, I’m making a promise to myself to breathe, breathe, breathe.

Beginnings

It’s been a week since I moved in from a long and sometimes difficult summer. Wellesley, of course, has been just as beautiful as ever. I’m so thankful to be back with everyone again; I’m blessed to have people I can trust and talk to anytime.

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So far, sophomore year’s been a lot harder than first year, especially academically. We keep getting these emails about studying abroad and major advisors and job recruiting, being forced to think about our futures. But there are still things I have to do for the me now before I can focus on where I’ll be in five years. Things like, how do I show love to others, and it will it break down the masks of cynics like myself? Looking for restoration for my own brokenness; do I believe God’s hand is strong enough to do that? There are other habits I’m trying to change, from things like flossing more regularly to keeping in contact with people to being authentic in listening and in conversation. One of my biggest mantras in these past months is that change should come by grace, and not by guilt. Though this makes progress somewhat slow, I’m making goals to aspire to rather than rules to follow.

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(I’ve made time for breakfast!!)

There are a million things I’m excited for this year, and I’ve already filled in the next…four weeks or so of my schedule. It’s crazy, but it’s fun. There’ll be more updates as I go to a wedding tomorrow, thrift shopping in Boston next week, etc. I’m taking a photography class where we talk about the transience of life through art/poetry/photography, which is perfect. Yesterday I developed my first photogram (taken on an enlarger rather than a camera) in darkroom chemicals!

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I’ve updated this blog and its layout to be more about my life, but I’ll still be posting poetry and stuff from time to time. There’s a sign on my desk that I painted with my sister over the summer: “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Looking ahead.

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we are ghosts of our past selves,
radical incarnations of used-to-be’s,
in dreams,
echoes sigh through the holocene,
i am a valley
smothered between two peaks,
one gone by and one yet;
yet without them i am nothing
but a sandbox on a beach

dark though it is, this week

They say your first Marathon Monday is the one you remember forever. For our class of 2016, that will always be true.

It started Sunday night, as we were winding down from the weekend and preparing for this long awaited Marathon Monday. We planned what time to get to the street, what we’d write on our signs, what we’d wear. Wellesley that morning was buzzing with excitement. By the time we all made it to the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, it was about 10:30, and who would know the events happening later that day? There we were, holding our signs, proud to be Wellesley students, proud of each face that came by, slowly trickling in at first with those who swept right past us like wind, then quickly, then in clumps, in costumes. We cheered until our voices were hoarse, laughing and wiping sweat off our cheeks and hands from the runners. I kept watch out for two guys running from BCEC and the buildOn team, neither of which I saw. But I made eye contact, gave high fives to so many, and there was so much joy.

By that afternoon, I was exhausted from having extroverted too much in the morning and retreated to the living room to prepare for Tuesday’s presentation and Wednesday’s exam. I could still hear cheers in the distance when the texts came, when the tweets came. “Explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line.” Went back to my work. More buzzwords: bombs. IEDs. Deaths. Injuries. Amputations. Medical tents. Fires. Suspicious packages. And every minute, something more was falling apart. And then the pictures came out. The blood made it real. And the background made it real, streets I’d walked on a few days ago, stores we’d passed by, rejoicing in the weather, the beauty of spring and life. And then the video. The first video, the man down. Then more. Lost limbs at a marathon. Then more. Then people around breaking down. Then tears. Then hugs. Then silence.

Calls and texts came in, and I’m so grateful to everyone who took the time to check up on and pray for me and Wellesley and Boston. I was grateful to be safe. And yet a little guilty—sitting at the back of my mind, always a question to God in tragedies, why do I get to live, and not them? And, too, a little fear, that I’d considered going to the finishing line that day. And all my concerns were shut down and taken over when one of our friends was still in Boston, right near the finish line. Slowly we learned about Wellesley and BCEC runners who were safe, who were close and shocked but safe, but we still hadn’t heard from a few friends who were in the city, and there were no calls going out or in, only silent texts (and no comforting ones from the nonchalant parents), only looks from one pair of red swollen eyes to the other. Then we learned of more scares at JFK, at Harvard, at BU, and we headed to the dining hall for a nervous dinner.

We had been looking forward to Macklemore all year long. It was Macklemore, after all. We were planning to line up much earlier, but it wasn’t until 6 that we saw the line forming outside and rushed there. Even standing, then sitting on the pavement, waiting, eventually everyone we were waiting for from Boston came back; we kept waiting, even that was a chord of dissonance. Hours later, after waiting and a poor opening and more waiting, even as Macklemore came on, maybe our minds were elsewhere. “Thrift Shop” brought us back to Thursday night’s party, which seemed like ages and ages ago. He was a fantastic performer, and took our minds away from Boston for a while. Singing love is patient, love is kind over and over with a full crowd of people brought me back, not just to Boston but to the world, to justice and to love and around again. And he gave tribute to the victims and the survivors and their families in his closing song, “Irish Celebration.” We felt better. And at the same time, not at all. Besides the ringing in my ear from the concert, there were these lines,

limbs left along twenty six miles
at mile 13 we shared smiles, shook hands
at the concert tonight,
were not our shouts of joy also cries of desperation?

It was all very real and very surreal at the same time. A lot of thinking that night, a lot of crying on the inside, a lot of dissonance, of feeling so close and yet so disconnected, of trying to process.

The next three days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, went by quickly as I drowned out the events with school and work and extracurriculars. The sun shone these days, too light for our heavy hearts. These days on campus were quiet. Too quiet. We winced at passing jokes and phrases, like “that was the bomb,” the classic “the bomb dot com,” the all-too-frequent-and-casual “I’m gonna die.” Thursday in World Politics class we hid some of our pain behind discussions of terrorism and racial profiling in academia, with only hints of emotion. But there were still periods in between classes and shifts, between meals, laying on my bed, reading more of the news, of anger at racism and false conclusions, of names and faces revealed (of, did I see this face pass by that morning), of speeches and letters, of trying to make sense of things by music, playing and listening to “Oceans,” of wordless prayers. Of being struck by Bostonians’ generosity and compassion—people who ran away from the bombs and to the hospital to give blood—of pride for this new home of mine, of wordless prayers.

By Thursday night, I’d finished the week’s overwhelming pile of work. I headed off to Harvard for a dinner and then a small group until about nine, then out to froyo until ten. It looked like I, like we, were recovering. Back to normal life. I was planning on taking the T, the red line and the MIT bus back to Wellesley. Instead a friend offered to drive me back to Wellesley, and since it would save me a bit of hassle, I thanked him and took the ride. Back at Wellesley, I gathered with friends per usual on weekday nights just to talk and chill. Then someone came in—“Did you hear about the MIT shooting?” And then texts came in. And tweets. And it felt like Monday again. Then pictures. Then videos.

And then sitting on my bed again, trying to process the proximity, texting friends frantically. Then realizing — I almost took the T at 10. For the 10:40 bus at Kendall, too close to its previous stop on Vassar. By building 32. I would’ve gotten to MIT sometime between 10 and 10:40. Shots were fired at 10:20. Then it became all too real. (“We don’t talk about that anymore, Alice.”)

But as it went down on Monday, I was safe, and in brokenness and gratitude, I continued to follow Twitter and live news feeds. More frantic texts. More thanks to those from Michigan who checked in. It meant the world. The roommate and I watched, read, shared news until two in the morning. Buzz words: shots. Police down. Police dead. Hijacks. Bombs. Hand grenades. IEDs. Run. Suspects. Chase. Was this related to the Marathon? We didn’t know. Were they the same people at MIT? At 7/11? We didn’t know. At any rate, they were moving west, Boston, Cambridge, to Watertown, westward toward my safe bubble of Wellesley. We turned off our computers and our phones, turned to trust. We went to sleep with the promise that things would be better in the morning.

I didn’t sleep well that night (was that last night? seems like ages ago). Nightmares of a Wellesley girl in critical condition. Waking up from that mess, asking to myself, that didn’t really happen, did it, at 7 a.m. Checked my email first thing for emergency alerts, and nothing except that MIT had closed, which made sense. I went to get ready for my classes. Then the emergency call and text and 8:36, when some classes had already begun, that Wellesley was closed for the day. People asked to leave and stay in their dorms. Buildings locked. A quiet stir. Silence suspended in the air. We’d really rather not have the day off.

The remainder of the morning was filling in on the events between three and eight, too much that happened but too little that happened at the same time. One brother died, but more had unfolded. The concept of Boston on lockdown and images of a ghost-town scared me, and as everything canceled, like a sleepover at BU I was supposed to go to, the air filled with uncertainty, more fear. More prayers. God of this city. Even though I walk through the valley. Our afternoon went by with love in our community, as love is the only thing to carry through so much confusion. We distracted ourselves with chick flicks and TV shows throughout the afternoon, watching while refreshing our news sources, not even knowing what to look for, but looking for something. We called too many pizza places looking for one to deliver, giving us something to do for at least an hour.

And this evening as we were too many episodes into a new season of a show, news came in, good news at first, Boston no longer on lockdown. And quickly after, not so much: “More gunshots heard in Watertown.” Silence. Turn off the show. Turn on the police scanner. Computers and phones freezing because too many people were watching. Pregnant silences between voices on the police scanner. Boat. Blood. Eyes peeled, we were addicted to the news. They were getting closer and were hopeful and we were terrified but at least we were together. We went downstairs to the TV room, on the way seeing the new storm unfold outside, weather to match the situation, hearing news of deaths by tornado in the midwest, then learning about the 7.0 Chengdu earthquake, and then smoke coming from the main dorm kitchen, too much tension in one room, you could see it in the lines on our faces, engraved deeper and deeper in that one long hour.

“They got him.” What? We all looked at each other, did we hear that right? Confirmations came in on twitter, on Facebook. We’d been holding our breath for four days. You could hear the exhales. You could hear the new lightness in our steps. We listened to the press conference, and thanked God for the police. To all the responders, thank you, thank you, thank you. There was some closure. Closure that, too, we knew, was the beginning of a long investigation. Questions remain: mainly, why? But closure to us, for safety, and rejoicing, for us, which in turn brought us back to sadness, for them, for “it can’t bring them back, but…” Prayers again, and this time, differently. Tonight was perhaps the first time we, from Michigan, Texas (and oh, Texas), South Carolina, Mexico, Rhode Island, Hawaii, really claimed Boston as ours.

Now it’s raining. The rain, it is our release; it is crying our sadness and our relief. It is washing away the blood stands at Copley, on Vassar, in Watertown. It is watering the earth that will hold Martin, Lingzi, Krystle, and Sean. It is raining in Boston tonight. But tonight, in this place, in this city, we are finally safe, we are finally home.

Wellesley by sunset

life was really beautiful today

this is for my immigrant parents

my father is sitting at a table. he does not speak. dust is collecting on the forms he does not touch. a video of new american citizens flashes across the screen, they are laughing. tonight, the night before his naturalization, my father is practicing his smile. my sister is teaching him the pledge of allegiance. he does not speak.

twelve years ago we got a phone call that would change our lives, a late night infomercial from one of dad’s friends, advertising the promise of the American dream, so we dropped everything and flew ourselves, shipping handling fees and all, trusting old white men to have built a land where golden gate bridges and statues of liberty were erected in every city, where we’d living in skyscraper apartment buildings, where the sun would never be missing—or so we thoughtwhen we landed in detroit. in december.

and now, through surburbia and snow, what about the culture i’ve lost, nothing more to say on a phone across the world than an hello, goodbye, xin nian kuai le? and what of my mother, the first of her village to graduate high school, then college, mother, did you ever imagine yourself here, forced to go back to community college, again, having to ask your daughter to translate your textbooks? father, did you ever imagine yourself working in a basement? did you ever wonder if it was worth it? was i, was my sister, were we ever enough to make it worth it? had they have known, would they have sent their baby girl to first grade with those who would pull her hair and laugh at her eyes, mocked her accent as she whispers, ipledgeallegiancetotheflagoftheunitedstatesofamericaandtotherepublicforwhichitstandsonenationundergodindivisiblewithlibertyandjusticeforall. 

so yeah, these last twelve years have been quite the dream, if dreaming means playing the great American sport of battered pride as my parents walk down the aisles of grocery stores, pledging allegiance to themselves to at least learn the word for corn, for peas, if dreaming is sitting baffled at PTA meetings, if dreaming is being laughed at in the back of the DMV—if dreaming can even happen on my princess bed of a used mattresses held up off the cold floor by the cinder blocks of kings

and yeah, being a kid in america was fun, if fun is when your sofa cushion pennies and tooth fairy dollars are saved in leftover funfetti boxes for your college tuition, if fun is when your ESL teacher tells you, i know how hard it is to learn a language, i took french in college, if fun is practicing the pledge of allegiance, letter by painstaking letter, copied onto the back sides of a used college-ruled notebook, other hand on my newly tattooed heart, by moonlight, until, under it, i drifted off to sleep.

so you would think it was all a dream, had it not been for the nights, year after year, woken up by the fears and tears and “why did we move here”s? the shouts!, eyes closed, your family is a crowd, have you ever so scared as when you realized the sound was coming from your own mouth? has it ever been so loud

it’s silent? silenced like the lives of japanese americans, japanese american babies sentenced to silence as they were saying the pledge of allegiance, silenced in the land of the free and the home of the brave, silenced, for being asian, twenty minutes from my house, vincent chin was silenced by the great american sport of a swinging bat, one, two, three, four, and racism whistles out out of the park, and the batters get to run home, safe and silent. no one dare cheer. no, in our silence, listen to our pipe dreams playing requiems on a organ, listen to the bells toll.

the bells tolled for these Americans, and the new cheerful bells tolled at my dad’s naturalization, as if he were not yet natural, they tolled when we became Americans, as if we were not already, as if we were not all ready as the school bells tolled for my hand on my American tattooed heart, as they told me what it means and what it takes to be an American, I am an American.

so this is for the immigrant parents, the restaurant waitresses, the dry cleaners, all of them Americans, this is for the individuals who could never live up to what an asian nor what an american was supposed to be, we are all just supposed to be trying to learn how to live, and to look for a place to call home, to be. some of us are still looking for a pen to start writing our stories. so this is for stories of mothers who came before mine, in search of a better story for their babies, for the first time they stepped foot on this one-way street called America, did they know this land? a land of dreams, it seemed, that closed its doors on us for too many years, but the doors will be closed no more. we will not be silent, for I too sing America, and I speak out loud, and sing it proud, and say, I pledge allegiance to this goddamn country, and to the people who together stand, one voice among many, indivisible with solidarity and racial justice for all.