The case study assignment for this week is about Box, a cloud sharing application. So I logged in my Box account and accidentally found this, something I wrote years ago. It was March 2011, during spring break, I was in Miami with my friend, lying on the beach and enjoying sun shine. I can’t remember why that brought me back to elementary school, with my best friend of that time, Tina. (this story happened in China)
Here’s the story.
The day I met my childhood friend Tina began with heavy snow. I went with my mom for Christmas shopping. We had parked the Buick Lacrosse at a parking lot down the street where we almost lost sight of the shopping mall.
Hours passed with no sign of time. The night came, but inside the mall it was bright and warm, made it harder for us to imagine the cold outside.
While waiting for mom outside the fitting room, I heard someone calling my name.
“Daniel,” a girl’s voice, “there you are.”
I looked up.
It was a girl about my age, though the heavy make-up made her more sophisticated. She was wearing the mall uniform and looking at me with perplexity. I wondered if I knew her.
My dad turned to look at me.
It was a night in January, during those New Year family get-togethers. I was seventeen then. I knew my dad wanted my thoughts when he said how he wished he learned calligraphy back in high school, but never had the chance. Outside the window, the sky was clear, and moon shone brightly high above. Mom called for help in the kitchen. Neither of us moved. I tried to study the moon. The moon was huge for the size of a moon, I thought.
My dad knew he had me.
He always does.
I hate dad’s expectations on me, but I love to be his favorite child even more. I know this fact would either be my salvation or the reason why I am a nerd and can never get a date. I know I must do whatever he says. We both know what will happen next –
I looked directly into his eyes.
“Oh dad, I have always wanted to learn calligraphy.” I admitted.
That is where it all starts, doesn’t it? Those piano lessons, swimming trainings, language camps, after-school classes of math, science, chess and private tutoring – always keep one step ahead, my parents would say. I spent all those years meeting what they have expected.
Since I learned how to read, I always sat in dad’s den, surrounded by bookshelves with books piled from the floor up to the ceiling. I spent most of my spare time sitting there and reading. My dad is not like other men around the neighborhood, at least not inwardly. They spent most of their everyday life complaining about work, murmuring about unfairness or soaking in alcohol. However, my dad, as early as I recall, in every snatched moment he always spent his time sunbathing and reading fat books, as last summer: one on the conflicts of the world civilizations, one a biography of Taiwan’s former president Chiang Ching-kuo, with his portrait on the cover. Whenever dad acquired new books, he would immediately stamp them with his name on the flyleaf. At first, I laughed at dad’s obsession with books secretly. Fewer people really care about books now. But later I too, had my own stamp, and stamped all my books once I had them. It started out as a pure imitation, and later turned into a true habit.
I inherited all dad’s habits; if not all, I don’t wear gloves when reading newspaper. However, sometimes I would wash my hands before reading a book. It made my friends uncomfortable.
I believe that is not what made me a solitary today, but it is what made me the kind of solitary I am. Nothing is more acceptable than what we are born into.
A day later, I ran into the girl who recognized me at the mall.
Tina, that’s her name, and she used to live across the street. “We were friends back in the first grade.” She said.
In fact, we were friends since kindergarten, and we used to do everything together. We were both on sports teams, she played tennis, and I swam. Everything seemed wonderful, until one day her mom fled away from home with her tennis coach. Her dad then started drinking, and later imprisoned because of a bar fight. The absence of caretakers in her life eventually dragged her life to the street. We started out the same though; our parents had diverted our lives into different directions.
She started missing school frequently, and later withdrew officially without completing junior high. In order to make a living, she went out to look for jobs. What kind of job is she qualified for with a fifth-grade in reading, and a sixth-grade in math on her academic assessment? Or should she just find a man — any man — who can provide her the occasional ride to the jail 30 miles away? How, then, can she make a way out of this dead-end life?
She has no way out.
Later that day, I lay on the bed but could not fall asleep; thinking about Tina’s life and wondering what I was up to all those years. I had drifted through, ambitious, attentive and serious, worked hard and turned in good essays, passed all the exams and started the life I have today, the real life.
Where have all the fathers and mothers gone? Once the fathers went to war and returned, if they did return. Yet still other fathers and mothers fled away, or went on business trips. Do they think about their children? What better things do they have to do? Why escaping the life they have is so essential that made them left? Or what else are they hiding?
I should ask my parents why they didn’t leave.
Whenever I bleed, it is their blood I shed.
I felt gratitude for all those things my parents did for me.
When their friends flew all over the world for more fun, bought new cars, moved into million dollar villas uptown — how jealous am I over their material abundance. Dad and mom remained in our narrow apartment, kept on the moderate way of life – make plans, work hard and put money aside for my education – so we could get to where we are now. Mom once said, the more you learned the more money you would end up making. Mom used to get up every day at six, to prepare my breakfast, and wake me up on time.
Dad did say that he wanted me to be a doctor, and I did consider it, but probably only because I like Milan Kundera and Andy Warhol and dad liked Confucius and all those classics. In the end dad told me it was hopeless to take up something that wasn’t going to provide me with pleasure for the rest of my life. He was wise in early education.
Though no one has ever taught me the art of being alone, it has already become indispensable to me, as important as the Beatles, or as the kisses on my neck, or as good human nature. Herein, regardless of reading, writing, meditating or even wasting time, I can follow my thoughts and roam in the world of myself – I’m saying the kind of doing nothing but getting lost with deep pleasure. The pleasure I gained through reading is too private to speak of. It was probably inevitable that I grew up to be a solitary.
In earlier years, my dad too, got a high-paid job in Hong Kong that required him to stay there. He worked there for a while, but eventually returned home, because he did not want me to grow up without a father figure that I could look up to. To my parents, this is still the era that family is something you always choose without a doubt – Tina’s parents are one of those few exceptions, and Tina simply has bad luck.
We moved to a new neighborhood after I finished elementary school. My parents wanted it to come to an end, everything with Tina, and the life before. Did I wave at Tina when I was about to move away or did I fight against my parents will? I must have, of course, yet I couldn’t remember now. It is the same as everything else I’ve left behind.