When my family first moved to North Carolina, we lived in a rented house three blocks from the school where I would begin the third grade. My mother made friends with one of the neighbors, but one seemed enough for her. Within a year we would move again and, as she explained, there wasn’t much point in getting too close to people we would have to say good-bye to. Our next house was less than a mile away, and the short journey would hardly merit tears or even good-byes, for that matter. It was more of a “see you later” situation, but still I adopted my mother’s attitude, as it allowed me to pretend that not making friends was a conscious choice. I could if I wanted to. It just wasn’t the right time.
At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning when ice coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer. Naturally I swore at the hammers the reckless thing, and in the moment of swearing I thought of what my father would say: “If you’d try hitting the nail it would go in a whole lot faster. Don’t you know your thumb’s not as hard as that hammer?” We both were doing carpentry that day, but far apart. He was building cupboards at my brother’s place in Oklahoma; I was at home in Indiana, putting up a wall in the basement to make a bedroom for my daughter. By the time my mother called with news of his death–the long distance wires whittling her voice until it seemed too thin to bear the weight of what she had to say-my thumb was swollen. A week or so later a white scar in the shape of a crescent moon began to show above the cuticle and month by month it rose across the pink sky of my thumbnail. It took the better part of a year for the scar to disappear, and every time I noticed it I thought of my father.
I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose.
When I found out that my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried. What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappointment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?
The most exciting time to live in Vermont is mid-February. This is the time when one is given the privilege of a 30-minute walk to school in sub-zero temperatures, with a 30-minute trudge home in the dark after a long day. It’s been four months since winter began, and it’ll be two more until it’s over. The firewood is being rationed to keep the house at a barely livable temperature, a steamy 50 degrees, and colds are so rampant that people lose half their body weight in phlegm each day. Yet, however dull Vermont may seem to students and teachers as they wrap themselves in layer after layer of flannel, make no mistake, today is the beginning of an era. Today is the day when Isaac (that’s me) starts his job of putting smiles on grim faces as the reader of the morning announcements.
There it sits, sullen in the passenger’s seat like a child in time out. Here we go again — someone else’s laptop to navigate, another Wi-Fi network to hack, another stubborn connection to overcome. After a frustrating drive through the neighborhood and careful identification of a network, success is stated simply: Connected. It is a brief moment of victory, but short-lived as I race against the clock to complete my stack of assignments. Sure, it would be ideal to have my own Wi-Fi, but I’d be satisfied if my family obtained a home first. Every day there is a new challenge; it is a game of adaptation: I beat each situation before it beats me.
Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamonsugar rocket gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree. I sprinted through the aisles, looking up in awe at the massive bulk products that towered over me. Overcome with wonder, I wanted to touch and taste, to stick my head into industrialsized freezers, to explore every crevice. I was a conquistador, but rather than searching the land for El Dorado, I scoured aisles for free samples. Before inevitably being whisked away into a shopping cart, I scaled a mountain of plush toys and surveyed the expanse that lay before me: the kingdom of Costco.
Excerpt from piece originally published in The New Yorker
by Lena Dunham
Family legend: I am four. It’s midafternoon, between mealtimes, and my mother has a friend over. They are chatting in the living room and I am playing in a corner when the buzzer rings (another guest has arrived) and I cry out, “Dinner’s here!”
We are being raised on delivery, but it’s a fight. Every day around 6 p.m., my parents come home (from their studios, which are two floors below in our building, on Broadway, with its rounded fire escapes) and the dinner debate rages.