if the house if you live in the house or condo or hut or tent or street (because, we all once came from the house) if the house burnt down what would you remember? what would keep you on the verge of tears what would keep you from spilling and poring for answers what pile of ash would be your family portraits grandpa's violin christmas cards head tax receipt lost belongings. proof of life. proof of belonging. what would be left if the A-frame closed in on itself, if dad could not save the roof with a hose if water lost to flame would the sidewalk bare ashen prints ? or would thebroken lot bear ferns & grass. & seeds. &vines þs &twigs &trees, your ruins & flowers
life's too short but it's fulfilling enough like getting lost in your mind while your feet sit buried in the sandbox in the backyard, the thought of flying away on a turtle because you learned turtles hatch from eggs in the sand was somehow magical so you wonder why the sandbox now has beetles and holes and millipedes... life's too short but it's meaningful enough to know that you can suffer the saddest sad a blue-soaked towel sagging under heavy eyes stealing heat from your armpits and ribs that you can turn around, fill with sand and shape into statues and castles and bridges away from here, collapsing as you step off, feet on new land life's too short because snowflakes, dance recitals, and moons don't last nearly long enough, and christmas only happens once a year, but even as the snail leaves its shell after it is gone, you can still hold the ocean to your ear.
I was cleaning up my email inbox and I found this piece of writing from two years ago. Ever critical and self-conscious about my latest work, this is chilling to read because it is so apt. What’s interesting is I don’t think I’ve ever really had a “best friend” since, at least not in the common sense. I’ve had very close friends whom I might have called my best friend in middle school, but now I feel like that’s not how I would describe my dearest. Anyway, here’s the story from my childhood, unedited.
I had two best friends
In Kindergarten and Grade 1, I had two best friends: Nicholas Dhaliwal and Jesse Jacobson. Every recess and lunch hour we would hang out by the school’s boundary and collect chestnuts or play soccer on the field with the big boys. We would discuss pressing issues like if you ran faster with karate-chop hands or with boxer fists – I think Jesse won because he pointed out that he saw an Olympic sprinter run with karate-chop hands.
Out of the two, I had met Nicholas first. He was in the same morning class as me in the first half of Kindergarten and continued with me when we switched to the afternoon class. We were the fastest runners in our grade. He wore Nike shoes like me and was taller and skinnier than most of the class. Best of all, his nickname was Nick.
Every gym class, Nick and I competed for first place. If we were skipping rope, I had to skip longer than Nick. If we were playing basketball, Nick had to get to the basketball bin first.
Later into Kindergarten, Jesse joined the class. He was the new kid and had long blonde hair that he slicked back behind his ears. Imagine a childhood version of Dog the Bounty Hunter. That was Jesse. He was of Irish descent and the first kid I knew to wear cologne to school. And damn proud of it.
All through Kindergarten the three of us forged a friendship made of steel. Or titanium. Always the greatest and strongest metal we could think of. We maintained our cameraderie with code names and top secret missions. If we were assigned to form groups in class for math or pick members for a team, we always schemed to end up together – sometimes by chance, mostly by choice.
After our first school year together, Jesse had his birthday in the summer. His party was at his house. There was a clown who made balloon animals and a magician who performed magic tricks. We ate rectangular Domino’s Pizza and shared a cake with quarters baked into it.
From birthday parties with clowns to Power Ranger play fights, we shared everything with each other: stories, secrets, and even first kisses (we were five and it made the girls at school laugh).
One day, in the middle of Grade 1, Jesse said he was moving. He was leaving for Mexico with his Mom. Jesse was excited and talked about going surfing; I was confused and sad. Here was one of my best friends about to leave. He said that he might move back in a few years. He didn’t.
Shortly afterward, I found out that I was leaving, too. My family was moving from Vancouver to Coquitlam, a forty-five-minute drive away.
That summer brought on mixed feelings: I was excited to live in a new house and sad to leave my remaining best friend Nick behind. I was going to leave my co-op where I had lots of friends and learned how to ride a bike.
For many, Kindergarten and Grade 1 are a long time ago but at age six everything is a first and time has a relative feel to it where there are few experiences to base your choices from; childhood is a time when you live through experiences that you do not know how to live through.
Being in a different school district, I had professional days off at my new school when my old school had class. Because my mom worked nearby, my brother and I took the opportunity to go back to our old school to visit our old teachers and friends for the day.
The first few times I went back, I even knew which class to go to see Nick, but I started to lose track of which room he was in and during some visits I didn’t even see him. Soon, he was more of a memory than a friend.
The last time I did see Nick was when I went to visit my old school on a professional day in Grade 6. I was walking out to the soccer field at the start of lunch hour when I ran into him on the way there.
He was with his friends, whom I did not recognize. “Hey Nick. How’s it going? Have you heard from Jesse?” His friends did not recognize me either.
Nick recoiled, saying spitefully, “No. Don’t you get it? He’s gone for good. He’s never coming back. Get over it”
Hurt, I pushed Nick down and walked away. I don’t know what was more painful: that I had to accept Jesse was gone or that so was my friendship with Nick.
Moving to a new city was like transplanting a tree. All the deep connections I made uprooted and planted somewhere new, the old roots severed and left behind. Though the tree is in its new plot with fresh soil covering the roots, it still takes some time for the ground around it to become solid and firm.
my font is "asian" it is the crooked letters that shape my words, porcelain tea-stained because i am a vessel for the flow my language consists of steamed bamboo huts salted pork and egg pastry, i'll eat vegetables tomorrow i am a map of cemeteries at eternal rest facing the sea, a calendar of the moon always rising and falling like a lotus in the wind duck yolk cake festival my burps are polite thunder, my aging joints fire crackers good luck blasts red money set afire rising into the realm of gods & godesses three bows, i remember three bows my name is 'good boy' 'smart boy' 'pretty boy' i smell of gardens carefully tended the greenest thumb that yields no fruit but becomes emperor my ears are a song that rings of opera pitches touching the heavens & a family dinner on day seven, lobster abelone and rice.
i am already starting )beginning to forget.. those houses built and raised by families children mothers below age growing side by side in rows in villages in a billion person economy a pocket of home here in the new land we are the friendly neighbours who-moved-away-neighbours and 'never returned' neighbours the best friend whom you shared your first kiss living always in the past- a memory a treasury... they tried to remove you, erase you, tell you that you don't belong put you in another town another pocket, put an ocean between you and called it separation 'immigration' 'integration' it was humiliation> but in my heart of hearts i know that we are connected by a bridge a melted ice land under sea, and all i need is a paper boat.
I wrote this poem today called “paper boat” but in private, I think is more fittingly called “our story.” In it, I’ve tried to tell the story of my family from the reaches of my own perspective which are limited to my knowledge and experiences and position in the family tree. I draw upon childhood images of the “first generation” as it may have been in Seck-Hee as well as how it was for the “first and a half generation” and “second generation” growing up in Canada:
Making paper boats with Grandma.
Everyone carries a cross. Or a star of David. Or a jade Buddha. There is some connection to our family’s roots we bring with us and, under the dust of the windy and clouded present, is the gravestone of our cultural histories. Some are heavy. Some are feather light. Whatever it is, I found my jeweled pendant around my neck again after reading this Busy Dad blog post, its stone warming against my chest. Take a minute and read it through, and tell me you don’t feel for him.