Overlooked (China)

This story is based on the life of Alex Wang. He immigrated from China to California in 2016 to receive a better education.

“So how’s California?” his voice pulling me from my thoughts.

“It’s fine,” I reply, “Not as good as there.”

“Come on, tell us all about your new friends!”

My mind went blank, I had nothing to say. “There’s nothing to tell,” I sigh.

They stared blankly at me. “I’m sure they can’t be that bad.”

I glanced at my hands, reflecting on my subpar first year in America. My heart beat fast, it’s the last period of the day, school was almost over and I could practically taste the freedom. I wanted to run back to my room in the house on Lowell and escape this school, tired of drowning in a sea of people, so many people. I yearned for home. To saunter down the familiar cracked concrete, cars honking in the distance, and where I knew everyone, even the teachers. A place where after school meant fun and friends, not the dreadful decaying house on Lowell and the video games I would soon become immersed in.

“Hello?”

My soft brown eyes quickly flicked to my right, meeting her blue ones, as blonde hair cascaded down her back and shoulders. I felt my heart racing in my chest, more people.

“Hi?” I said breathlessly, my palms uncomfortably damp as I wished I could be anywhere but here.

Correction: not anywhere, China.

“I noticed you’re new. Some of my friends and I are going mini golfing later, want to come?”

No, I thought, too embarrassing.

“Yes,” I responded as my jaw dropped, fingers fiercely rubbing the bottom of my shirt. Her mouth creeped upwards, white teeth glistening under the

fluorescent lighting.

“Cool.”

The next day I found myself standing under the awning of Golfland, surrounded by strangers and faces I barely recognized from class. My familiar grey sweatpants hung loosely around my lanky, ungracefully tall legs, my sweatshirt providing security in this strange place. The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up, I shook my short black hair from my eyes feeling the smooth, cool metal of the golf club, heavy in my grasp. Why did I agree to come? Immersed in my own thoughts, I barely noticed the group move toward the first hole. Just get through tonight. The bright lights lining the golf course reminded me of the bright city lights of home. My mind wandered to thoughts of the city and old friends. In this moment I failed to see the new friends standing right in front of me. There’s no point in making new friends, surely my parents will soon reveal this has all been one big, cruel joke. We will move back home. Their laughter penetrated my thoughts, and I felt my heartbeat slow as they jumped and joked. The brisk air gently blew my hair back, the dew on the grass finally meeting my socks. I felt the cool metal fence against my back as I watched them, like I was the only viewer of a new television show. My chest tightened and my eyes began to blur. Is it raining? No. My eyes became damp, eyelids blinking rapidly to overcome the drops threatening to fall. I forced my mouth upwards, watching them, I saw nothing more than a mediocre group of friends, a group in which I didn’t belong in.

The next monday, a shrill cry pierced through my dream, an invisible force of what felt like 400 pounds pressed against my body as I reached blindly for the source of the noise. Light creeped through my shades as I dragged myself from the warmth of the sheets. As the year continued, time seemed to inch by sluggishly. The days repeated in an infinite loop, sending me into a spiral of despair. Shuffling across the expanse of the room, my limbs felt heavier than ever before. After breakfast I hopped on my bike and finally I made it to school, my least favorite part of the day. At lunch I hunched over the table that we all had managed to have squeezed on, shoulder to shoulder together. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to slow my racing heart, the walls are not closing in, I reminded myself. Why are there so many people at this school? Opening my eyes I noticed they were watching me,

“How’s your day been so far?” the girl with the bright smile asked me.

I let out a sigh, “fine” I replied. Her sleek brown hair twinkled in the sun as she persisted, “Come on you have to have a story! I feel like I don’t know you at all!”

I looked down at my hands, rubbing circles into my palm, but as I opened my mouth, the bell rang. I smiled slightly as I quickly grabbed my bag and rushed toward the classroom. After school, as I wandered through the house everything felt heavy again, the weight on my chest returned and became unbearable. I crawled into bed and drew the covers over my head, forming a cocoon around me. I tightened my fist into fists and hit the pillow. I hate my parents for making me move to this awful town! Suddenly my body shook, the pillow growing damper as I hugged it firmly, filling my mouth with the bitter taste of salt. Faintly I heard my mother call, “dinner!” Forcing myself up from the bed, I stumbled down the stairs and plopped onto the smooth wooden chair. The single lamp poorly lit the room, casting deep shadows on the drab beige walls, perfectly in sync with my somber state of being. The deep scent filled my nostrils as my mom set a bowl of steaming hot white rice onto the table. I slouched deeper into my chair, counting down the seconds until I could disappear from the table. Scarfing down my food, barely noticed my mother stand.

“When school gets out we are going back to Nanjing!” she announced.

My eyes shot open, heart thumping against my ribs, and I finally felt light for the first time in months. My mouth opened but no words came out. Soon I would be with my friends, I thought, I just had to make it through the rest of the year.

After a terribly long flight, I was finally greeted with the familiar bustle of people, buildings that towered over everything, and odors from the nearby restaurant surrounded me. I looked into the group of people and I called my friends, the corners of my mouth lifted, heartbeat intensified as I raced toward them. Laughter escaped my mouth as we embraced desperately. Our giggles filled the warm air, the city lights shined a hundred times brighter than the flashiest lights in Palo Alto. My heart felt warm, breathing easily and steadily, eyes glistening. I am home, I thought, with the people I love and trust. I have no one back in California. I longed to move back, my mind swirling with propositions and bribes I could use on my parents. I’ll write a list; A Hundred Reasons Why We Should Move Back!

The days morphed into weeks, time sprinting ahead and completely disregarding my desperate prayers willing it to slow. We walked out to the water, observing the city from afar. Swapping stories we talked for hours, our laughter seemed to echo for miles. Leaning against each other I shuddered. Soon I would be on a flight back to California. I sighed as I watched my friends aimlessly joke making each other snicker and smirk. Nothing had changed when I left. Their lives continued as if nothing had happened. The sun had long ago set as we huddled together and hustled down the streets, illuminated by the countless shops and buildings. Hugging them tightly, I held back tears, feeling their warmth against my skin. Our goodbyes were whispered in hush and breathless tones. My heart sank to my stomach and my breath hitched, the cold uneven stone of the wall steadied me as I watched them grow smaller and smaller, finally disappearing into the horizon.

The stale air from the plane caused my lips to chap. Just a few more hours, I thought to myself. A few more hours and I’ll be back. As I got closer to returning to the place I had once resented, I thought of my friends in China. Why can’t I have friends like those here? Reflecting on the conversation I had had in Nanjing I realized that perhaps the people weren’t the problem, maybe it was me not allowing them to see me and stopping myself from seeing them. As I landed in SFO I didn’t feel dread. Rather, I felt hopeful that this was the beginning of a very fun journey. Approaching the lunch table on the first day of school I watched them gossip, chuckling at stupid jokes. I noticed their unique features and personalities, the ones I had previously written off as annoying. They had been so welcoming when no one else was. I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat. I had been so quick to overlook them, I thought. I took a deep breath and stepped forward. Setting my bag down I flashed a bright smile, “Hey! How were your summers?”

This story is based on an interview by Caroline DeBruine, a student at Palo Alto High School.

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