The House on Live Oak Road

Chuck E. Cheese Cake

I walked into Chuck E. Cheese to the glorious salty smell of the arcade grind. A lady stamped my hand with invisible ink. I saw the wet outline of numbers on my hand. 

I slid the slippery gold coin into the slot and it made a clunking noise. It’s game time. I felt the moisture in my palms start to warm the button. My heart raced as the countdown went off. I slammed it every time the flappy bird went into the hole. Forty-one. My new high score.

I reached in my pocket to find nothing but last week’s tissue.

“Can I please have a few more coins, Dad?” I pleaded as I noticed a brown, circle-shaped item on the table.

Cake. I usually don’t care much for cake, but Chuck E. Cheese chocolate cake was on a whole different level. It was served round with Chuck E. Cheese in the middle and perfect ribbons of chocolate around the borders, sprinkled with multicolored star-shaped sprinkles. I took a chunk off of my slice and tasted the perfectly moist layers. It wasn’t overly sweet like most cakes. It was light and the chocolate wasn’t too overpowering. My taste buds were satisfied.

The Doctor’s Office

It’s not like I hated the smell of clean rooms, paper, and successful people. What I hated was the paperwork I had to do. My Mom didn’t speak English and my brother was too young, so the duty lied with me to do all the paperwork. I don’t understand why they make us do the same paperwork every time we visit. Do they not keep the one we filled out last time on file?

I listened as my name was called to the office. The doctor told me I am doing a great job at opening my mouth and handed me a lollipop. Finally. Something good came out of this place.

AR Testing

I walked into the library. The smell of old paper and silence was mesmerizing. My mom told me to pick up 10 books. I went to the computer to make sure the books I chose are at least 7 points each. “Echo” was 32 points. I had never come across a book that was 32 points before. Excitedly, I exited the library on my way home.

I arrived at school with a few of my books completed. AR testing was a simple system. You read books. You test on them. You get prizes at the end of the year. But, the three top students with the highest number of points got a trophy and I was determined to get one. 

Then came the awards ceremony. It took months of constant reading and testing. I end the year with 127 points. When it was time to call out who got the trophies, my heart beated out of my chest. I was so excited to see if I got it. 

“Avery Hoang”.

I saw my mom in the crowd with her smile wide. She was so proud of me and I was so proud of myself.


My mom always packed me some meat and rice for lunch for school. It was delicious. I didn’t think anything of it until someone said “Who’s lunch smells like that?”. I felt so insecure. 

All the kids at my school brought ham sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school. I wanted that. I asked my mom to bring me sandwiches to school instead. She didn’t seem to mind, but I think she knew what had happened at school.

Looking back on it now, I regret giving in to the pressure. 

First Generation

There’s pride in being a first-generation kid. Imagine being the first in your bloodline to be born in America. I think the bad outweighs the good.

My grandpa was a governor in Vietnam. He went to the west point of Vietnam and was given the opportunity to come to America during the war. He came here with the clothes on his back, 3 kids, and a wife. 

My dad grew up with nothing as his parents worked hard to provide him with the life they sacrificed their lives for. He always told me about how he had to re-tape his shoes when they would fall apart. The man went to an excellent college and now makes great money as a Lieutenant in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Then there’s me. Firstborn on my Dad’s side. Never got a 4.0 in my life. I live on a solid 6 hours of sleep on a good day. I have dreams and aspirations to be a lawyer that I feel like I can never accomplish. Every time I get another B, I feel like my life and my future is being ruined. But I’m living on with the first-generation pressure.


“Go to college so you never have to depend on a man to stay alive.”

I never understood this statement until later on in my life. Not until I saw my emotionally abused aunt try to divorce her husband. I was so angry. “Just divorce him.” I pleaded. I didn’t understand why she had to stay. She was so close. All she had to do was go through with the lawyers. Until her husband decided to drive up and manipulate her into changing her mind. 

My family is filled with stay-at-home moms. Everyone says that it’s the dream to stay at home and take care of the kids, but it really isn’t. It isn’t the dream when you get into an argument with the only source of income in your house. It isn’t the dream when you’re left with nothing after a divorce.

It’s different when it comes to people who have been in America their whole lives. When you’re left with nothing, you are left with absolutely nothing. No education. No knowledge of the English language. No work experience. And 4 kids to take care of. 
My life mission is to get a good education so I have the opportunity to be independent. Everyone says that, but I really mean it. I’ve seen the effects of being dependent on others and that will never be me.


I’ve seen my Mom cry on four occasions in my life. All of them were because of my Dad. I think the hardest part is that I love my Dad more than anything in this world. It’s hard to see your role model and best friend hurt someone else that you love.

The fighting was never obvious to me until we moved to Fountain Valley. Memories of Fountain Valley will always be bitter for me. I really understood the importance of the stability of a house in a family. It was Valentine’s Day. Out of all days it had to be Valentine’s Day. I knew something was wrong when my Dad didn’t come home with flowers like he usually does. My brain has blocked all memories of this day, but what I do remember is crying with my Mom while also having pure anger for my Dad. I couldn’t believe he just left after making my Mom cry. The audacity.

I always saw my Dad as the model man. I’ve seen my fair share of awful men in my life, but he was perfect. Selfless, patient, respectful. But that day I saw a flaw in him. His perfections ended up being his flaws. He’s selfless. He gave everything to my Mom. He moved to Fountain Valley for her and now doesn’t have a house. He’s patient. He kept it all in until one day he couldn’t anymore. He’s respectful. He gave a fresh start for all my Mom’s siblings when they came over to America and they now take advantage of his kindness.

Floating Rock

When I’m having a mental breakdown about something, I like to think about how meaningless my problems are. We are literally living on a floating rock in the middle of the universe. I am a spec. Not sure if this is a healthy way to think of my problems, but honestly it’s true. I have gone through too much and will go through too much to care about anything anymore. 

Sometimes I just want to live my life and have fun, but then I realize that all my grades and all my choices will feed into my future and the entire world will end if I don’t get into college and have an amazing career and have a family while also being vegan. But then again, I’m living on a floating rock.

Chuck E. Cheese Cake

I went back to Chuck E Cheese to try the chocolate cake I remembered to be the best thing I ever tasted. I hadn’t been in years but when I walked in, it felt so familiar yet so new. It didn’t feel huge with so many games I could never play them all in one day. It felt small and empty. There weren’t as many kids as I remember there being. 

Then came the cake. I looked at it and it didn’t look like the cake I used to order at the arcade. 

“Are you sure this is the same cake you have always been serving?” I asked.

“It tastes the same, it just looks different.” she shrugged.

It came as a rectangle. It didn’t have the star sprinkles that I liked. I cut off a small piece and put it in my mouth, hoping that it at least tasted the same. I was astonished. It didn’t taste the same. It tasted like regular chocolate cake.

Disappointingly, I walked out. “Would you like a stamp?” said the girl at the exit, thinking I was too old to have expected a stamp.

“Of course I want a stamp,” I replied, remembering the invisible stamps I used to receive at the arcade.

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