Leftovers soupy and chewy
Once when I was eight years old, a challenge stood in front of me. My mom had made soup that morning for me and my cousin who visited. Inside my cousin’s bowl was a large chunk of meat. A piece of meat that was too big for any eight-year-olds mouth to chow down on. Throw it out, my aunt said. But looking at the food being thrown out was so wasteful I thought.
“I can eat it!” I shouted.
And so, the challenge fell into my soup spoon. If you were eight-year-old me, it seemed like Mount Everest and the instructions to climb to the very top without an oxygen tank.
I brought the spoon up to my lip and blew on it as my cousin observed. The piece of meat stared at me. CHOMP. Chew, chew, chew, chew. Chew. Chew… Oh no, I thought. The challenge was too much for me and I knew that the second I put it in my mouth, but I didn’t want to look like a loser. So I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, and chewed. Eventually, my jaw grew tired and my teeth were in pain. My mom noticed this and, of course, took a napkin and told me to spit it out. It was ok, she said.
“I can’t eat it,” I said softly.
And so, I spit it out.
Maybe the mountain was too big for eight-year-old me, but I was proud of myself for trying.
In the Moment
Study harder— again— that one’s wrong — no — Redo it.
Mom sighed with a grim face.
“Look. You add here, divide there, and then subtract. It’s not that hard.”
I didn’t understand — but I sure knew that I would be here until I did. The living room coffee table and the kitchen table were always the two locations for late-night homework checking with mom. The clock ticked ticked ticked. Keep your eyes on the work, the clock isn’t going to move any faster she said. Add here, divide there, then subtract, add here, divide there, then subtract, add here, divide there then subtract. Those instructions were ingrained in my head.
Eraser shavings are weird. Can you make another eraser using all the eraser shavings from one eraser? Do we lose a whole eraser just because it shreds up slowly and we wipe them away? The only difference from before is that it has graphite mixed in it. But you can mash them all together and make it usable right? Get back to work she says. Sorry I say.
Study harder — again — that one’s wrong — oh wait. You got it right.
Mom looked content.
“You can put your work away, let’s go eat dinner.”
The dining table was my workspace but every night after 9 PM it turned back into its original purpose. The familiarity with the seat I sat in was hard to adjust to. By the time dinner ended I finally got used to it being a dinner seat but then the next day when I was with mom, It was back to homework seat — this made things difficult — I was in dinner seat mode when I had to work again and work seat mode when I had dinner. When will this get easier? I sighed to myself. Tick tick tick. I looked up. 8:30 PM.
Mom doesn’t do work with me anymore. She says it’s better for the teacher to explain the harder stuff and that I’m big now. The work is more difficult but I can manage my own time now. Tick tick tick. Get back to work I tell myself. I didn’t understand what was in front of me — but I knew I would be at my desk until I got it. Plus minus B, square root here, multiply there, square that.
Eraser shavings make sense to me now. Eraser shavings grasp and absorb the graphite from different experiences and mistakes — Mixed and mashed from past uses and is able to become anew again if you keep the shredded pieces and improve upon it. Get back to work I tell myself. I guess eraser shavings arent as weird as I thought they were.
I was five when the steering wheel stopped. My mom had made a gasp louder than life itself while I was in the back seat trying not to let the sunlight bother me, like a roasting hotdog. Stay here she said – and left the car to talk to the man behind us. I could see her hands trembling. I wondered why she trembled so much? Was she scared from the noise that the car made? Was she scared from the thunk of the back trunk made by that other car? Was she scared of that guy? I couldn’t understand – I’ve never seen her that way before.
Five years later, we were on our way home from a shopping trip. It was just me and my mom again this time. She had always hated driving but It had gotten better over the years. This was one of the few times I convinced my mom to go to a shopping center further away — this meant she had to take the freeway to get there. BUMP. She screeched. Someone had hit us from behind. We were like stalagmites except for a few sounds of water dropping to the bottom of the cave — those were my mom’s trembles. She got out of the car. I waited again in the backseat in the hot sunlight being barbecued. I had many questions for my mom, but after that day, she never drove on the freeway again.
It wasn’t till a few years later that I would find out that my mom’s brother had died from a hit and run many years ago. Why did my mom hate driving? It all made sense now.
What do you say? I don’t get it. The words all jumbled in my ear. Blur after blur, speech after speech.
Moving to America was difficult. My husband had to earn his way to America through camps and training. From escaping the Vietnam war and coming to America for a better opportunity. I followed along once he had gotten his green card. But what was I? The people. The culture. The language. All were unfamiliar with me. I feel isolated. I yearn to go back to China, but I cannot. My whole family is waiting for me to bring them over. My whole family is relying on me. Me. It’ll be okay I tell myself. Everything will be worth it. My sacrifice will be worth it.
Beautiful and the Progress
I was small when someone first said it to me. You are ugly. Oh, I thought. And went along with my day. What was I supposed to say? When you’re young and impressionable. What was I supposed to say.
The fifth grade.. Another comment was made. Except this time, it would make a lasting impression. One so strong that I wouldn’t heal until five years later.
“You’re 92 pounds? At your height? Oh my god that’s alot.”
Words like that hurt the strongest when they come from your best friend.
The seventh grade. I had already been dieting for two years, trying to get down to a point where I would be seen as pretty. But no matter what I did, no one noticed, the declining amount of meals I ate, the more I looked in the mirror, the obsession with exercise. Why couldn’t anyone see.. That I was asking for someone to notice? To accept who I was. But I didn’t even know who I was becoming at that point.
The ninth grade. When covid hit, everyone was sent home. A year of online school— great I thought— I had more time to control my diet. But then, I made a friend. Someone who didn’t care. Someone who stuck by my side and accepted me. I thought about it some more. I had time to think. If I don’t love myself, who would? My behavior was already damaging my relationship with my family, I knew I had to change.
The tenth grade. I’m recovering at my own pace. I feel content, no longer looking in the mirror for long amounts of time. No longer counting each and every calorie. No longer taking to heart what some people say about my appearance. I was small when someone first said it to me. But now I’m big. You are ugly. Oh, I thought. And went along with my day.
A Battle for Life
The canvas stares at me. Draw on me it says. Why do you leave me empty? All white and boring and plain? I have no ideas I reply back. Truth be told, I didn’t know what to draw, I felt like I had run out of ideas. You see, after an intense art preparatory program in the summer, I was drained. My creativity was put on hold to learn techniques. The results were amazing but the way I felt toward making new pieces… it became difficult. I wished to go back to a time when I didn’t have to think so much— when I could make pieces out of nowhere and not be so attached to what I did right or wrong. But I knew this was the only way for me to improve. I had to let go a part of me to create better work.
Paint splattered vermillion, ultramarine blue, burnt siena. I just needed to get something on the page. Don’t think about it too hard. Just paint. Just like when you were small. When the emotions from my head go into the page like the transferring of blood, I feel a release of stress, almost like what had been trapped in my head was finally allowed out. I don’t know how much longer I have to battle between technique, creativity, and my own emotions— perhaps forever—but art is what keeps my soul alive. It’s like what they say, art is suffering. A battle between heart and mind.
One thought on “Untold Secrets in the House”
All of this is great, but I really loved “In the Moment.” It felt incredibly cinematic.