In one of my classes, a girl singlehandedly intrigues me with her curiosity and controversial statements. Despite having to work many jobs in order to pay for her tuition, she is still able to hold her head up high in class and cause a stir. Her stoic face reveals nothing of her complex thoughts, but her eyes dart around wildly, trying to read ours, to find that small fissure in order to pry her way through our walls we’ve build to prevent people like her from revealing too much. We would try our best to counter her sharp and graceful words, but sometimes we end up twisting ourselves up into those masterful metal art pieces. Most of us let those who are armed to combat her rather than letting our soft hands grapple at her. Let me make this clear, she isn’t a bad person. No, not at all. We are simply jealous of her fluid ability to manipulate words and spit them out without them being mangled. It’s a little embarrassing for us to constantly lose to the same enemy with no cheat book in how to defeat it just once perhaps. Her words hold power that no one else can learn from sitting in class.
In another one of my classes, another girl who sits in front of me manages to rack my mind full of questions because she is not like other people who aim to quietly blend in with the rest of the crowd. She doesn’t try and make herself on the same wavelength, but she twists around time and drags the atmosphere with her. On cooler days, her back is shown to us through the intricate patterns of her shirt. Perhaps she doesn’t feel the capacity for cold. On warmer days, she comes into class prepared not only with a massive water bottle, but with a hot beverage. Perhaps my perspective on her would shift slightly if I knew her preference was coffee versus tea. Perhaps it depends on the day. What if she chose tea on the day she broke down in the bathroom and her friend and classmate had to rescue her. What if she chose coffee on the day she came in late on the day the class had a quiz. If I asked her the questions, she wouldn’t answer. I know that for sure.
On the train ride back home, in the frantic nature of needing to find a seat as if there weren’t enough seats, I quickly plopped myself next to a girl who looked too small for her seat. I learned that she was going to Boston and that we went to the same school. She found out that I was two years above her and her exclamation surprised me because for once, I was reveled as somewhat of a role model. She bombarded me by asking me which classes were the easiest and I couldn’t help but chuckle. This girl honestly thinks that she could get through college the easy way. Mentally I bid her good luck, but verbally, I told her what I’ve heard. En route, there was a moment when she became older than me and my pride for my age was quickly lost because the moment to regain it was lost.
As I was walking home under the torrential downpour that my city carries, I look up from underneath my umbrella only to catch a glance of a man running through the rain and sheltering his bagel with wax paper. His feet sunk into the puddles and his head was doused in the rain, but his bagel remained dry. From this brief encounter, I was reminded by the universe to breathe and relax.
Written: 11/23/16 11:46pm
In elementary school, the student with the 64 pack of crayons was the most popular. It didn’t matter if you got a 90 and they got a 100 because in the end, if you could play tag with me without being a baby, then you’re my friend. I’ll even let you borrow some of my crayons. Everything changed when we started to study multiplication in third grade. Whoever got the most right and whoever moved through the times tables the quickest was deemed the smartest person in class. The ones who struggled bonded together and those who raced ahead whispered together, refusing to tell anyone of how they rose so fast. I was struck by how slow I moved on certain times tables and how quickly I could surpass some, leaving me too fast for those who struggled and too slow for those already at the ten times tables. I wondered if I could gain some insight from my friend who was moving onto the twelve times table, but all she did was shrug and started practicing. I shut my mouth, sharpened my pencil and found myself making enemies with the seven times table.
In eighth grade, my school offered high school classes that were a lot harder than the typical science and math classes. Because of my above average placement (my hard work) managed to get me into those classes, I found myself sitting with my classmates I envied for their speed. I wondered if I could still fit in because I’m here among them, but they had already had the time to bond together. Throughout the year, I found my assignments graced with bright red Fs and number grades never higher than 75. I retreated more within myself and refused to earn points with my voice. The labs spit at me and I spit back at them. I was ashamed about how quickly I was able to come up with numbers and responses.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had become complacent with the red marks I earned. My heart only ceased in fear when I only had one opportunity left to actually make an impact. I felt like the president with all the power under my nose, but it was only until the last day of my term did I realize how much damage had been done and how little power I had left. Yet, my classmates continued to only look upon each other and whisper their secrets. I saw how they exchanged papers, the student who actually did it gloating in their quick popularity. I saw “study groups” that were full of complaints and critics of the teacher themselves, as if they were above the ones who graced them with knowledge and they complimented it with their skill to cheat. I heard remarks to those who put too much energy in their regard and managed to earn full marks. They called them “Try-hards” because they tried too hard. They tried so hard that they had defeated those groups and those groups hated that. Once again, my past echoed my life and I found myself hissing and spitting at not only my papers, but my peers. I showed them that I wasn’t a try-hard, but I also didn’t have their intellect to be with them. I showed myself that it was easy to not fit in. Was I fine with it? Sometimes I just wanted my papers to not scream and bleed.
It wasn’t until junior year of college did I realize how capable I was especially now that my work benefited my future. It was as if I had been handed the most powerful weapon in the world and I finally figured out how to turn it on. Of course I tried hard. What else would I be doing?
Written: 11/18/16 4:36pm
I remember watching you from across the table. You unzipped your power ranger’s lunch box, revealing a triangular box. I glanced at my sandwich and back at your chocolate pie and questions ran through my six year old mind. Is this what you ate every day? How come you got a chocolate pie and not a sandwich? In order to satisfy my curious first grade self, I decided to ask him the exact questions that were racing through my mind. You were about to take a satisfied bite, but you looked up at me shrugged and started to eat. I quietly watched you eat your pie and a small part of me was envious that your mom allowed you to have chocolate pie for lunch while my mom gave me the typical sandwich. This became my usual routine – I watched you eat with intense curiosity while I started to envy my own meal.
Unfortunately, not everyone had the gentle curiosity I possessed. Rumors started to spread around the small school and we all came to realize that you didn’t eat sandwiches with ham or bologna in between the white bread because you were a vegetarian. The only knowledge we had of vegetarians was that they didn’t eat meat and that it was weird to us, so my classmates started thrusting their ham and bologna sandwiches in your face pestering you by asking “Ooh, meat! Are you afraid of it? Do you want to eat it? It’s really good!” And you didn’t understand at first, but you slowly had to harden your heart and quickly hide your food and loudly push those who bother you at lunch. All you wanted to do was eat. I sat in my spot and I also wondered why you quickly backed away from the ham and bologna sandwiches, why you never reached for the chicken patties and why you always ate that chocolate pie.
One day, you bought Indian food and you ate with your hands. If you were my classmate today, I wouldn’t have given a second thought. Since we were children, we didn’t know better. The only thing that possessed us were questions. The naan bread you used to accompany your curry and rice looked repulsive to us with the bright and spiced meal being too loud for us and I joined in berating your lunch. I remember glancing at you after I gained the thrill of teasing you about your lunch and the look your responded with me was full of hurt and betrayal. From then on, I stopped my teasing, but I stopped sitting across from you. Sooner than later, I learned my lesson in third grade when my mother packed me seaweed for snack and I listened and watched my classmates gag and shout in fear of the green, salted snack I cherished. In that instance, I understood how you, a Hindu boy and how I, a Chinese girl were united in our classmates’ repulsed reactions to our cuisines. Our confusion slowly turned into a routine disengagement from the words tossed at us as these discourses slowly became more frequent. All we wanted to do was eat.
Written: 11/16/16 10:15pm