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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Heart of Gold.

A Heart of Gold

           My mother and I had always had our differences. We shared contrasting opinions in almost every matter, resulting in petty disagreements almost every other day. Our biggest altercation came during the winter I turned fourteen. It was also the year I learned how much my mother loved me.
           My friends, up until a certain point, were my world. They brought me into a place that my mother couldn’t. A place that wasn’t enriched with piano lessons and countless hours of studying, but a place I could actually be a normal teenager. They were not Chinese, and because of that difference, my mother was, in a sense, inferior.
            When I found out that my best friends were throwing me a birthday dinner, I almost collapsed in happiness. It meant that I could get out of the typical Chinese Christmas slash birthday dinner with my mother, and actually have a birthday that I would forever remember. But as all this wonderful news washed over me, I knew, in the back of my mind that my mother was to come along. There wasn’t a chance in the world that I would be able to leave reality behind. And with that thought, the dread began.
               I woke up the morning of the party, not knowing what was going to happen. My mother was already bustling around in the kitchen soaking the fungus-like tofu in a bowl and steaming a scaly, length-long fish. “Your friends will love,” she said, as she saw me eyeing her delicacies disappointedly. The morning rolled by, and suddenly it was time to get ready. As I put on my tweed miniskirt and pearls, I was filled with shame. I did not know what my mother had planned. And I was just so certain that she was going to ruin everything.
              We arrived promptly at five—and my mother began taking out bags of her food and Chinese trinkets. My friends came running our across their long, green lawn and as we squealed excitedly about the evening’s plans, my mother barged right in, handing everyone a five dollar ‘red-pocket.’ “Use wisely,” she said with a big smile, as she began trudging across the lawn and into the house. Our previous chatter was instantly replaced by an incredibly long silence. Rolling my eyes, I gave the girls a weak shrug and began to follow her into the seven-bedroom wonder.
          Dinner put me into deeper despair. The dining room was filled with the jingles of Christmas carols and the warmth of holiday candles. The table was piled high with a roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, casseroles, and any other Western delicacy that one might be able to imagine. My mother’s food sat in between everything else, and it looked exactly like an inter-continental mess. After grace was said, my mother began handing out her food, waving her chopsticks saying, “This good,” or “You try!” Everyone’s plates were filled with mashed potatoes and squid or turkey and tofu, and it seemed as if nobody was touching their food except for my mother. She licked her chopsticks and went on in her broken English about how well I was doing in piano or how many A’s I had gotten that semester. My friends murmured their responses as I sunk deep and deeper into my chair. Then came time for the fish. She had eaten almost the whole steamed fish when she started to nibble into the tender meat of the cheeks and the eye. My friends looked as if they were ready to vomit, and I was quite ready to disappear.
                In my mind, dinner went on for ages. But when it was finally over, it was time for cake and presents. A Chinese-taro cake sat next to the chocolate-fudge cake my friends had so lovingly baked. As they sang, the candles went out, and I wished hard for an American life. When presents were handed out, my mother bustled around the room like a Chinese Santa Clause, handing every single person a crumpled paper package. When she got to me, she said, “Your present too important, we wait until go home.” This was the last straw for me. How could my mother be so publicly embarrassing and uncaring? What had I done to deserve this?
            The drive home was quiet. I said nothing, and my mother knew that I was angry. When we got home, I stomped up to my room, slammed the door, and cried like I was a little girl again. My mother came up during my sobbing and said, “You want American life, I know.” She handed me a neatly wrapped package. It was a beautiful golden locket that I had been eyeing for months, and inscribed inside was my full Chinese name. She placed her hand to my heart, “But in here, you always be Chinese. You must be proud you are different. Your only shame is to have shame.”
             Even though I didn’t agree with her then, I knew that she understood how much I had suffered on that cold December night. She knew how much shame I had in her being there. But it wasn’t until some time later, that I was willing and able to truly appreciate her gift-- as well as her valuable lesson. For Christmas that year, my mother had given up two months salary to buy me that locket. My friends told me later, the pride she had shown at the jewelry store when asking them which locket I would prefer. And I began to understand that she wasn’t out to ruin my life. She was there to love it.



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