I don’t really remember much from the rest of my early elementary school experience. There really wasn’t much worth remembering I guess. Life leapt from unremarkable event to unremarkable event. It’s funny how every little thing seemed of the utmost importance as a child. After I leapt over the language barrier, it was much easier for me to make friends. Participating in after-school activities like Cub Scouts and Little League helped speed along the process of course.
By this time, my family had comfortably settled in our own home. We weren’t relegated to crowdedly coexisting with our relatives, my dad had found a decent job and my mom was working as a waitress at my uncle’s local Chinese restaurant (go figure). The hours were long and she was always home late so eventually she decided to find another job – one where she could work from home so she could look after my brother and I while we grew up.
In elementary school, my mom decided to take some time off during the workday to volunteer a couple hours at the school library, clearly the good suburbanite housewife thing to do. Oh how exciting it was to see my mom outside of her element. It wasn’t an easy thing for her to do. My home wasn’t exactly the type of home that the cool kids flocked to. I rarely had any toys. Just a flaccid Styrofoam-stuffed ninja turtle that we all took turns pummeling in a set rotation. The only reason some of my friends came over was because my house always had the most up-to-date computer technology because my mom had started a job as a computer programmer and her company always regularly upgraded her computer hardware. This only meant we could always play the latest computer games at my house.
The one instance I do remember of one of my good friends coming over ended up a disaster. My friend Peter and I were just horsing around, as boys often do, and since I’m Asian and obviously born skilled at the martial arts, we decided to have ourselves a little sparring session. I don’t know how things escalated. Who played dirty first? Who was running their mouth? But I do clearly remember losing my temper, balling up my small left fist and popping my friend as hard as I could just below his chin in the Adam’s apple. Bad idea. He instinctively wrapped his hands around his throat, his face contorted in pain as he struggled to breath in and out, in and out to no avail. Terror was written all over his features, his eyes tearing and his movements more frantic. His face was turning purple, his freckles less and less prominent as color rushed to his normally pasty white complexion. He was alternating between gagging and gasping and all I could do was stand there frozen in fear, gawking uneasily. After what seemed like the longest thirty seconds of my life, my friend was finally able to draw a full, life giving breathe. Afterward, Peter sat hunched over, visibly shaken. I was relieved. How could I have done something so awful to my friend? I didn’t really want to hurt him. He’d always been nice to me. Sure, friends have their disagreements sometimes, but is it worth engaging in this gratuitous violence and reactionary hatred? He isn’t so different from me. We’re all human – our lives equally as precious and deserving of that next breathe.
So my mom’s volunteer work at the library was really that significant. It was her own stand in a society that found her and her kind alien. Her broken English, her quirky Oriental way of thought – all of that separated her, but she was still willing to attempt to lay her differences aside and challenge herself, all for the sake of her sons. Instead of just being the courteous waitress that served you at the local Chinese restaurant, my mom became the Asian librarian that everybody knew to be my mom – just a little bit out of place, but still able to hang with the best of them.