By age six, the world's mysteries open up and offer this pearl.
I'm a girl.
Sometimes I wear a dress that floats above my knees and lifts when a gust blows in. Or at times I play with dolls. Or god forbid, mommy combs my hair vigorously, then tightens two clumps of hair on either side of my head to create pigtails. And the ribbons, she never forgets those. I'm told to never talk to strange people. It's unclear how that word translates into the crosswalk patrol near my elementary school, or my first grade teacher who smells of stale cheese and wears coke bottle glasses. I chalk up "strange" to mean people with goitres, maybe some other unspeakable deformity that will terrify me.
More rules follow when I'm twelve. Don't wear such a tiny shirt. Cover up. Ooh, those jeans are all wrong. We have to fit you for a bra or everyone will notice. I peer down at my chest. Notice what? That I breathe? Exist? I begin slouching, caving my torso in on itself. It seems to work, people notice me less.
At fourteen, things turn surreal. You know, you and your people. I snap my head around to see who else is with me. Nobody. "My people" begins to form shape: dark hair, flat nose, almond shape eyes and full lips. I seethe at my reflection, wish my face could spontaneously combust into sparkling blue eyes, regrow hair that's golden and shiny. Boys rarely look my way. My mother nags me to stop slouching, even pressing my shoulders back with her palms. My chest disobeys.
Twenty years old, eyes are black flint and defiant, my mother's home from church, berating me again. She started with Buddha, then shifted to scripture when that failed her. You must marry soon. I know many nice boys. Chinese Christian boys. I want to spit at her -- make her stop. Oh my gawd mah, we're not even full Chinese. Who are you kidding? Like what you married? She's in the kitchen, beginning to prepare dinner for my father, who may or may not peel himself away from his mistress. The mistress use to live down the street from us, but now lives further west. Sometimes my father goes drinking with his buddies and arrives late in the night. Or it's a marathon bout of mah-jong. Usually he's the loser. My mom will wait, like a dutiful Chinese wife. Cook his meals, cut his nails, accept his sexual advances, do as her mother did. Age spots on her hands tremble while she washes bak choy. My heart softens, knows she's trying to guide me based on what she was taught. My resentment is a mask for uncertainty. Who am I? What am I?
It seems that being a woman is a problem. Something I have to be sentient of at every moment. At so many angles. As I grew up, it became clear that I was supposed to operate within a strict set of rules. Don't walk alone at night. Don't smile too much at him. Don't dress too sexy. Don't, don't, don't. Then when I discovered race and culture, another layer was added to womanhood. What my mother expected of me (marry early, bear children immediately, self and career is last) and what she demonstrated as happiness was a chasm in a fault line. So far apart that it messed with my head for years.
I had dreams, but they looked nothing like my mother's. I had dreams, but they would be lost on my father. In those dreams, I felt alone and helpless. Then the sky changed for me. It was marvellous.
Now is now. I left. I travel. Write. Share. I chose the most unconventional life possible. What I've figured out from childhood, to adolescence and finally to full adulthood is that my tale is dusty and ancient. That so many other women lived or is currently living the same narrative.
Are you? Then you are not alone. I feel your pain. Know the thrust of that knife, the one used to define your race and womanhood.
Go beyond. Don't be what your race or culture dictated to you, be who you are.
Originally posted on my website: www.nomadicchick.com.