Is hard to find when you’re trying to look for it.
It shows itself in the places you least expect.
In the way my mom makes 长寿面 changshoumian, noodles that are as long as we will live.
In the way I tape up my grandma on my wall, wishing to see her face in more than just my mother’s phone screen every night. She looks so happy there, standing next to her beloved garden that might’ve been the only thing she was sad about leaving behind when going back to China.
In the way I can still make mom and Hansen (my younger brother) laugh, by reusing the same old jokes over and over again. My mom might only half understand it, so it gets funnier each time she gets a little bit more of the language. Hansen’s just plain stupid.
In the way I braid my hair, tapering fingers speeding through the motions so that I can go back to doing whatever I was before without long, black strands getting in the way.
And the way it looks, crimped and curly, like the hair of my white classmates, which prompted me to braid my hair every single night of fifth grade, and come to school looking like an electrocuted hamster.
When curly hair fell out of trend, I found other ways to run from the Asian stereotypes. I sent two bottles of bleach to destroy my hair, until it was lighter than the yellow of my skin.
And for a very, very brief period of time, this brought me joy. I could be unrestrictedly myself, without the burden of my shameful heritage pinning me down.
But in a thousand ways, I was put in stride, and this little nightmare phase busted when I was faced with the ultimate truth: I could never escape being who I already was.
Sure, truth is not the same as joy. Sometimes, they can seem to be exact opposites. But if you work hard enough, you can find the little space of intersection within the Venn diagram.
It took a long time for me to come to terms with my ultimate truth. I ran and ran until I had nowhere left to go, and even then I struggled within its grip.
I was tired, tired of the weird looks and the isolation, tired of the jokes that mocked my eyes and my mom’s accent, tired of the pointed statements that turned everyone in the room’s eyes towards me.
But after being tired for so long, I realized how much of myself I had lost in trying to fit into a standard I could never reach.
Why had I wasted so much time?
In the way I reclaimed myself and my quirks, my good and my bad, I found hidden pockets of joy. Like a good bowl of 粥 zhou (rice soup), you won’t be able to get to the 葡萄干 putaogan (Chinese raisins) unless you drink everything altogether.
And so I drank, of the bitter and of the sweet. And slowly, with each new gulp, I began to enjoy this feeling. It was so different from being on the run from myself, in that it kept me rooted, no matter what other people said or did.
So what is joy?
Joy is a half n half deal- 50%, we choose. We do this by noticing and expressing gratitude for the littlest moments in life, the most precious ones. The other 50%, we find along the way, making things up as we go, until we by becoming fully ourselves know that we carry certain joys with us, no matter what.
We carry the joy of waking up to a beautiful sky, the joy of listening to our favorite song, the joy of hearing a loved ones voice, the joy of being a daughter, a mother, a brother, a son, or even the joy of being Asian.
In the end, the only people we can blame for our own unhappiness is ourselves. We can’t control the minefield of hidden shells that call out our impending doom, we can only continue to walk, bloody as we may be.
To mom, pt. 2
I miss the way my room looks at 6 in the morning,
The way you used to gently caress my face
With coarse, calloused hands warm from just wrestling the risen dough
“Dou, Mama made breakfast. Get up.”
What I would give now to see that smile once more touch
The cold corners of your lips, no matter how thin and patched, still split wide for me, still