One Face Two Nations
“Twenty-seven times twenty-seven, please.” The young teacher at the front of the room asked her class. “Whoever works it out first, please raise your hand.”
I immediately raised my hand.
“Yes, Yuke” strangely the teacher sighed.
“729, Ms. Jones”. I eagerly responded.
“Yes Yuke, but I want you to work out the problem on paper. That is only fair to your classmates.”
“Yes, Ms. Jones.” I responded sheepishly. My classmates gave me dirty looks. I was used to it. I knew from the minute I stepped into a classroom that I was different than the other kids. They looked more like my mom and dad. The boys used to pull the sides of their eyes out to make their round eyes more like mine and laugh. The girls were meaner. Girls are always meaner. They would sit in their little packs and either snicker to each other or ignore me completely. Sometimes they would speak gibberish pretending they were speaking Chinese because I came from China. Most of all though it was silence and dirty looks.
The dirty looks have been there my whole life at least as long as I can remember. My mom and dad brought me home and my house is filled with love but these are not my first parents and not my first home.
I still remember my first home and remember my first mom and dad. My new mom and dad would later tell me some of my background, the name of the city, the name of the province. They told me the story I wanted to here, the lie, maybe they didn’t know the truth. I was a girl so I was a disappointment from my birth. I heard the words later and the tears would stream down my face and I felt a stone in my chest that always hurt. I guess my birth parents loved me. They say parents always love their children. My mom would show me love sometimes with a hug or a pat but my father never did. My father ignored me. I was not what he wanted.
I was there for four years and then everyone was excited because my mommy was going to have a baby but they kept it quiet too. Only the closest of friends and family knew my mommy was going to have another baby. Everyone kept whispering prayers asking for a boy. I knew by then what a boy was and I knew I was not one. When I heard those words I wanted to be a boy.
The day came and my mother gave birth to a boy. I saw the joy in my father’s eyes and I saw the relief on my mother’s face. It was as if she had saved herself when she gave the boy to my father. All I heard in those first days was the crying of my brother. Forgive me but I hated him. He cried and kept them up all night and he got love and smiles. I was well behaved and did my best in everything and my parents wouldn’t look me in my eyes anymore. When my mother would go out shopping I no longer went with her. She would take my brother and my first home became my first prison.
It did not last long. A couple of months later a man came to our door. Even at that young age, I could tell he did not look right. His suit was too shiny and too big for his small frame as if he wanted to appear larger. His hair was greasy but my parents seemed pleased to see him. My mother offered him tea and he declined saying that he had several more stops to go to before the end of the day.
“Stops?” I thought to myself. He then took out a packet of bills with our leader, Mao on them with the number 100 on them. I was so proud that I could recognize the number 100 at my age. He gave them to my dad. My mom did not show any emotion but left the room to tend to my little brother. My dad walked over to me and I thought I was going to get a hug but instead he grabbed my arm and brought me to this man.
My dad said matter-of-factly, “Her name is Yuke”
The greasy man replied, “What a pretty name for a pretty little girl. Come with me little one. I will bring you to a new place.” He grabbed my arm and started walking me out of the door of our apartment. I cried as my dad stood there. I cried for the man that had ignored me my whole life and did nothing to stop this as he counted out the Yuan. They were a pink color, such a pretty color. I cried for my mother who walked out of the room without even saying goodbye. I even cried for my little brother. I was never going to see him grow up. All my crying did was wake up my brother and we cried in unison. My dad pointed towards the door and ushered the man and me out. When he closed the door, my dad had no expression. My first world, my first home was gone forever.
The man continued to keep a firm grasp of my arm as he pulled me towards the stairs. He cooed, “Don’t worry little one. You will end up in a nicer place, a place across the ocean where a new mommy and daddy will love you.” His voice sounded as if it crawled with lies. Only later would I find out he was telling me the truth.
However that did not happen right away. I was first brought to a white building. It was filled with kids just like me. We were all girls. Some were babies the age of my brother, some were my age and some were far older than me. I did not see the older kids long. They went away as quickly as they came in.
I was five by now but I was put to bed in the crib of baby. I had no pillow and one small blanket to keep me warm. There were only two times I left the crib. Two times a day we would be taken out. Once we would be marched off to a room with long tables. We would stand in line and be given disgusting food and a glass of milk made from a powder. Once we were done we were brought back to our cribs.
The other time was when we were brought to the front lobby and people with round faces and round eyes with light skin would stand in front of us. We were dressed up in outfits I had never worn before and ordered to stand up straight, look pretty and do not speak someone unless someone spoke to us. They would look at each of us. Some had love and worry for each of us in those round eyes but others just walked down the line and without stopping would point to the prettiest one and hand the greasy man or this fat woman money but this time the bills were green in color. I remembered back to going to market with my mom and watch as she went through the fruit lifting each one and looking it over. Sometimes she would put the pieces of fruit down and other times she would put them in the cart. I felt like a piece of fruit.
One day a woman about the age of my mother or a little older knelt down in front of me. She looked at me and I saw in her eyes something I had never seen before me. I saw love and want. Before she said any words to me I wanted to be with her. She brushed the hair out of my eyes and looked at me in a way I never was looked at before, not in my home and not in this place where kids were barely cared for. She said something to me but I did not understand the words. The tone was soft and loving.
The man came over as the woman stood up. They exchanged words and the man turned to me and said, “She will be back for you.” I did not see any exchange of bills, either green or pink. She gave me one last look and waved goodbye to me. I did not want her to leave. I did not want to stay there anymore.
Each day she was gone was horrible. I would cry and when you cry in a place like that no one comes to help you. You simply are ignored. I was no longer taken out to be seen by other people. I thought my crying had gotten me in trouble. I was scared because weeks went by without seeing the woman with love in her eyes. I wanted to be taken back out to be seen by other grown-ups if she was not coming back to me, for me. Then I felt guilty as if I was misbehaving, not to the greasy man or his fat wife but to the woman from across the sea.
Just when I was giving up.
Given up on being away from this place.
Away from the gruel and chalky milk.
Just when I was giving up on the woman who gave the man no money.
Just when I was giving up on being part of a family, a real family; one where I was loved like my little brother was loved.
Strange things began to happen. The man would give me more food. It was still gross. I was allowed to walk around the rooms and not stay in my crib. I would only go a little way when my legs would get so tired. They hurt but I never wanted to go back into the crib. Of course I had to sleep there so there was no choice. They took my sheet, blanket and even mattress and brought new ones for my bed. The fat one took me to a tub and scrubbed my skin raw. The water was so cold but I didn’t care. I had not had a bath since I left my first home. My hair was washed so many times I thought my hair was going to drown. When I got out I was put into new clothes.
However the biggest change was my skin did not itch. My skin under my hair did not feel like it was moving underneath my hands as I scratched. I had seen the little bugs before, the black ones and the white ones. I knew they were what caused me to scratch. I fought a losing war of killing the little things. There were so many and there were places I could not reach and that was the worst of it all. Now they were gone. My little brain understood this was why I got the bath, why I got the new clothes and the new bedding.
I just did not know why this was being all done.
The next morning as the other children were taken to the long tables, the greasy man grabbed my arm and brought me to the front where I used to be shown with the other children. I saw a man there. He was wearing a white shirt and black pants just like my father had. My heart betrayed me. I thought my father had missed me after all. He came back for me.
The man turned around and I realized this was not my father. I didn’t realize the stone had left my chest for that brief second when I thought it was my father until it landed back on me again. He was a round eyed man with a little gray in his hair and I realized he was taller than my father and much taller than the greasy man. It was so strange to see him. He had hair on his face, under his nose and around his mouth to his chin. I had never seen hair on a man’s face before. Strangest of all were his eyes they were blue. They were the color of the sky and they looked so familiar to me. I realized as he bent down whose eyes they were. Behind the man stood the round eyed woman of love. Her eyes were brown like mine but their eyes were the same. He looked at me with the same love and want.
I knew then. I just knew. I was never going back to my crib. I was never going back to the gruel and powdered milk. I was never going to have to itch and kill little things. I was going with them. No matter where they went I was going to be with them. The stone was gone from my chest, blown away with love as if it was the weight of a feather. The woman ran over to me and hugged me lifting me in the air. I did not know what to think. I was breathless and not because I was being squeezed too tight. I couldn’t breathe as the man stroked my hair and arm. I was breathless because for my whole life no one showed me in those few seconds what I now felt. I was loved. I was wanted. Maybe more importantly I loved and I wanted.
The beautiful woman spoke to me in Chinese with a funny accent that I barely understood. She looked at the man and said, “Zhè shì nǐ de bàba”. (This is your daddy). Then she said with the biggest smile ever, “Wǒ de māmā” (I am mommy).
I cried in their arms. I cried because of all the hurt I knew when I was smaller. I did not know how much it hurt until I was in their arms. I did not know that I would be hurt by others as I got older but then all I heard were soothing whispers as they embraced me. I felt something that no hurt would ever take away, not the ones of the past or now. I said the words first in the land of my birth, “Wǒ de jiā” and then theirs, “I am home”.