Last week, I published a review of Audrey Chin’s book As the Heart Bones Break–a novel that I found both intriguing and instructive. In this review, I mentioned that I actually put the book down at points and found myself writing little vignettes–responses to her work– compelled by the rich subject matter. What I ended up with was stuff that, in another liftetime, I swore to never take on–stuff that previously turned me off–but which I decided to take a stab at. I’m glad I did it. And I’m indebted to Audrey for opening a new world for me. For this piece, I used the second person narration (the “you”) that Audrey made her centerpiece device. Give me your feedback. Tell me what you think!
Short, squat, brutal—you could have had a promising career as a mixed martial artist but you were born in the wrong time. All you needed were the tattoos, you think, appraising yourself in the motel mirror, watching the fuzzy television set, which is feeding you spoonfuls of a blurry premium channel for free.
“He’s got the shape of a trash can,” said your uncle Hong, always rosy-faced with booze. “He’ll never amount to anything.” And you showed him. You punched him in the face.
Now he’s dead.
Almost everybody around you is dead—you’ve got the igneous touch. Hong killed himself with cigarettes and booze, then ran his car into a tree. Your mother was a whore and she died a whore’s death—putting food in your sour little gullet. It was easier to tell you she ran off with a man, instead of telling you the truth, but you found it out anyway, in your own good time.
The rest of your family, they all fell into the ocean on a boat. And you, the deserving one, floated like a message in a bottle into the arms of a religious couple in Minnesota.
At night, this is your foster child dream: Underneath the black blue of the South China Sea lies the treasure of your extended family–diamonds, pearls, gold in the form of necklaces. Drifting. Scattered. The currents are pushing them away, into oblivion. Your mother is a mermaid and she glides among the wreckage, dapples of wayward sunlight like freckles on her shoulder, but she never turns back to you. And then with a flick of her tail, she is gone.
How much could that treasure have bought? Could it have turned your life around? Could it have bought you a tract house in Orange County? Would that have changed anything about the life path you have come to know as your own? Probably not.
You became a little food horder. Thief of Spam and Corned Hash. Then, you kicked that habit and horde nothing.
Here you are, at fortytwo, already an old-timer.
But when you washed up on the shores of these United States, you were already fully formed—a delinquent.
You look at yourself in the motel mirror. It vibrates from the couple next door, who are continuously fucking or fighting. “Do it. Go ahead. Do it.” The voice is a female’s, high pitched and yappy. She is speaking alternately in Spanish and English. But you have stayed in hotels long enough to know the Esperanto.
Your body, it is a funhouse mirror—lengthening and folding into itself, distorting, buckling, weaving. Now’s the time you could say I could have been a contender. You with your wifebeater shirt and your sneer. You with your comb in your back pocket. You with the igneous touch.
But you wouldn’t have gotten that reference.
Growing up most of your life in a foreign country means you are lobotomized of most popular culture. No accent have you, but everything else is a little bit messed up—not all the wiring with all the factory parts.
You’re a perpetual foreigner, a dispensable cog. You’ve only ever made enough money to splurge on a shit hole hotel like this. That announcer who does the play-by-play asks you this question in the voice of Howard Cosell: How does it feel to be on the run?
And in that finely tuned instrument that is the harpsichord of your mind, you answer deadpan—no accent, no stutter: I been running all my life, my life all one run.