Only Half of the Journey


In Vietnam, there is a tradition for children to live with their parents even when they are grown up. My father married my mom and I was raised in my grandmother’s home just like my uncle’s family. My family’s multigenerational house snuck cozily in the corner of an alley with the ground underneath slightly elevated. During the rainy seasons, our house became an isolated island surrounded by furious water, but the kind and loving people within gave me security and warmth. When my brother was too small to play with me, I had the company of my cousin who was roughly the same age. We played around the house, ate at the same dinner table, and sang songs together every day. In the time of holidays, my uncles, aunts, and cousins who lived in other homes reunite as a family under my grandmother’s roof. Before the big dinner, everybody was busy preparing the food, catching up on lost time together, and meeting new members of the family. At the family dinner, the adults laughed and chatted as much as the little children, and we were all grateful for the delicious food passed around.

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The last staircase up to the top floor leads to my room. The flight of stairs, dimly lit. A candle burns bright orange, illuminating at the top of the staircase. As I took the first few steps, an unexplainable black silhouette formed under my small feet. The massless figure which displayed no expression stretches itself on the walls and kept up with my pace. What started out as a walk turned into panic sprinting as I can feel my heart thundering in my chest. Reaching the top, I glanced quickly out the glass door that looked to the rooftop, checking if anyone was there before making a sharp turn to run to the warm light of the bedroom. The bedroom door closes behind me. Silence.

After a while, my parents noticed the commotion every night and knew what to do. They sat me down on the bed and turned off all the lights except for a small lamp that pointed toward the wall. My body tensed up. There’s nothing to fear. They positioned themselves by my side, and my dad raised his hands against the lamp. Two hand-shaped silhouettes formed on the wall before merging to form a bird. Dinosaur, deer, duck, fox, rabbit. My mom joined in. One shadow became two. Two shadows turned into a story as the words found their way to my ears. I put my tiny eager hands up, struggling to copy my parents. A small rabbit appeared. A happy family of rabbits.

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5 feet. That was how far I made it before falling. 5 feet. Why can’t I do this? You just need more practice my Dad says. More practice? I’m too tired. My knee hurts. But instead of saying that, I just sat there and thought. And thought. My knee hurts. Then a figure whizzed past, laughing giddily. As I looked up in shock, I saw a young boy racing down the street on a bike. Me too. I want to too. I got back on the bike, somehow expecting things to go differently. 7 feet. Then 10. Then 20. Then I made it all the way down the street. Day by day, week by week I made progress. Finally, a full month after my initial fall, I victoriously raced down my driveway. Thank you. That nameless figure that raced by me a month before was my reason for success. My nameless hero who gave me the inspiration to be like him. Thank you

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Three Simple Words

I love you. The words seemed so simple. But I didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know how to save our friendship. I love you. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. They promised that we would be friends forever. Why did they have to ruin it? Didn’t they know I didn’t have the same feelings back?

I gave them an uneasy smile, Oh that’s nice… Slowly, their smile faded. That’s all? Stares and blinks. After each blink their eyes seem to fill with more tears, and I feel my heart slowly breaking apart. I never wanted it to end this way, but what can I do? The words I love you can’t come through my lips. Because it wasn’t true. Blink. Blink. Blink. Slowly, the tears started streaming down a face torn with anguish. I couldn’t take it anymore. I looked away, and slowly the tears started streaming down my face as well. I love you. Simple words ruined my life. Simple words that took my best friend away from me. I love you. And before I knew it, the tears fell. Why did it have to end like this?

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Monsters. I don’t remember when I started seeing them. Maybe three or four years ago. No matter how happy a person seems to be, no matter how virtuous, the monsters spill out of them. Inky black and menacing. I hate him. Why is she so useless? How come he doesn’t love me? Nobody else seems to notice. Nobody else seems to care about this horrifying plague that is taking over the people I know, one person at a time. Slowly, I see monsters start to grow inside all of my friends. I’m no longer so trusting of the relatives that wear a smile at reunions, now that I see the menacing aura that they have. I don’t know what to do. I can’t answer their questions, but more and more of them are told to me. Why did she break up with me, that pig. Stop trying. There is no god. I only hope that the monsters don’t make their way inside of me, but even that I doubt. Some day, maybe my own smile will be corrupt. Maybe one day I too will wear my smile like a mask, just like my peers. Maybe I already am. Monsters.

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My roof, my rules. That was something that I never really put much thought into when my parents enforced it years ago, but now that idea is taking hold after I’ve moved out. A roof over my head was something I took for granted as a child; something that I’ve always had. Wisdom comes with experience they say, and it has never been so true. Although I long for the blissful years of my childhood ignorance, I’ve never regretted how far I’ve come. Although the long days working are hard, the sense of satisfaction of being able to provide for myself and those who are most important to me is well worth the cost. Sometimes, I’ll look back at those childhood years that shaped me and laugh at how little I understood. My roof, my rules. Hopefully, that is something that those who come after me will understand and appreciate. My roof. My rules.

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