I’d like to share a childhood story: one of hope and love. I’ve written in second person to put my shoes on your feet (tongue-in-cheek.)
Imagine you are 4 years old. You can’t get enough of banana popsicles. You’re terrified of pooping alone, especially in the outhouse in your grandma’s village, which happens to be a ditch. You love your mom. You don’t remember your dad.
After school, you and your mom go to a sand-brown, brick building. You wait for her on the steps. She walks in happy, she comes out sad. One day, she scoops you up in her arms and spins you in the air. “Lu ka!”she’s cries out. She’s gone mad over a green card. Timing is everything so you ask for a banana popsicle. The two years she has spent raising you alone are over.
At the airport, you go down the escalator towards a man with brown glasses. “Jiao Ba!(Shout dad!)” your mom pinches your cheek. You yell as loud as you can. They’re laughing, hugging, crying. You haven’t learned about happy tears, so you start crying too.
You move into a white house with black shutters called the Jewish Service Center. Having never set foot in a house, you’re certain it’s a palace. You don’t know your family is the live-in help nor that your dad works nightshifts at 7/11 and any parking lot that accepts Chinglish. You like your teachers, but not the kids. They pull their eyes into slits. None of that matters because you’ve discovered Happy Meals.
Imagine your first snow. The whiteness hurts your eyes in a good way. A strange creature awaits you on the porch. Her disheveled hair sticks out of her trucker’s hat and owl-eye glasses. “I’m Madeline,” she hands you something. “Hold this will ya?” Pop eye voice.
She sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistles. Streaks of color paint the yard like a Jackson Pollock. Their purring emanates through your belly like tiny grandfather clocks. You are bewildered, flattered, overwhelmed. Turns out you’re holding a can of cat food.
5 years fly. When you’re not being cat-dundee, your nose is in a book. Madeline introduces you to lifelong friends: Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Gulliver. You’re clueless about holidays: she brings you marshallow peeps. Her minimum wage is bank rolling your Americanization.
Happy birthday 9. Your family reaches the pinnacle of the American dream: property. They move outta there fast. So fast you don’t remember to get Madeline’s number, nor call, nor send Christmas cards.New school, new place, same loneliness.
Grow up. You equate money with success. You take shit from people you shouldn’t. You walk away from your country, partner, job. Volunteer abroad. Consume attention like drugs. Self-destruct. You’re so fucking lost. Start therapy. Learn about co dependence. Learn to say no. Set boundaries. You keep going to therapy. You don’t plan to stop. Discover meditation. Run. Re-educate on love. You grow healthy. Strong. You actually enjoy your job: how did Columbus claim land? He slaughtered children. What do Leonardo DiCaprio and Standing Rock have in common? Fight global warming. How can we help? Eat less beef. Who was the first woman to make it to space? Valentina Tereshkova. Why isn’t her name in the book? “They thought girls were stupid,” your smartest kid says. Think, not thought. Ask questions. Never stop. Love is love is love is love.
Arrivez election results. For everything you’ve been teaching, the opposite stands. You shut off facebook cuz it just fucking hurts. Chimamanda, where art thou. You’re safe for now, but what about everyone else? What about L? “Everything will work out,” he strokes your hair and smiles. Storm meet lighthouse.
You apologize to all your friends. “Orange is the new Hitler,” you choke on your jokes. “Trump tells the hard truth. Hilary doesn’t,” one blurts out. Your friend is one of the nicest people around. So you give him a hug with 3 words: “Please fact check.” Be like Trevor Noah, you repeat to yourself. Commit to conversation even if it’s hard. How else will we understand what’s going on?
A sliver of silver shakes up the clouds. Madeline it spells. Once you’ve met a true American, you’ll never forget. Once you find your voice, you can never be silenced.
Dark days lie ahead. Fortify my friends.
Compassion. Wisdom. Love.