I run, chasing the other girl. She runs past me and the wind that follows brushes my face and my cheeks flush with excitement—and freedom. Her steps ring sharp like a harsh knock or shout in my ears. My feet, delicate, float above the hard cement making a soft noise like cotton. Everything I do is like cotton. Soft, delicate, and without substance. As I follow—which is basically all I can do at this point—I realize I am alone. With her. Her eyes narrow and she begins approaching me like a predator. I back away in surprise; her aggression is unprovoked, and she begins coming closer and closer. Too close. Suddenly, I’m scared of her. And confused. I thought we were friends, but her eyes are filled with coldness. Why does she resent me?
She examines me the way my mom picks out ducks at the market. Getting closer and closer, she looks at my neck, my hair, my teeth. The coldness in her eyes intensifies and she squints her eyes until they are so narrow that I can’t tell if they’re open or closed. For years, my appearance has not changed. I like the routine. I really like the compliments I get from the aunties when they point out my porcelain skin, thin fingers (they always exclaim “Aiaa! This one could be a doctor or piano player with those fingers!”), and my shiny hair. For some reason, my straight hair, glass skin, and dainty fingers anger her. The traits that our culture sees as beautiful anger her. And now, she takes that pride away from me with her grubby hands. They grab my tender cheeks and her sweaty palms palm through my freshly-washed hair. She is ruining me. She is making me ugly. The aunties won’t compliment me anymore. They’ll avert their eyes and compliment my height instead of my beauty. That can’t happen. No, I won’t allow that to happen. Tears stream down my face as I realize she is taking everything away from me—my beauty, my confidence, my culture. My life.
I’ve never said anything to make her mad. I’m always silent because I’m always scared. I’m scared of angering others or letting them down with my stupid words or making myself seem weak. But now that seems like it’s already the case. In class when she speaks, her voice quivers like a freshly plucked string. She sounds unsure and timid, like she’s afraid of her own voice. But here, alone with me, it rings out loud and echoes in the hollow bathroom. Aren’t we supposed to stick together? We’re both outsiders, silent Chinese girls in this white school surrounded by white ghosts. She hates me. She rejects me. The one person who looks the most like me rejects me. The one person who is supposed to be the most like me rejects me. That hurts.
In America, when the other kids run and shout and play, I am too scared to join in. What if their games have different rules? What if I ruin their fun? But back at home, where a little taste of China remains, I scream and shout and play. There, I know all the games. I know all the rules. And they accept me. There, everyone looks like me and I know what they expect. But outside, everyone is a stranger. I have no idea what they expect and no idea how to conform to please them. I have no idea how to please her. We are outsiders in this community, forever foreigners who try to adapt. But the truth is, in the end, the color of our skin and our smaller eyes mark us indefinitely. She hasn’t accepted that, but I have.
I thought I had a friend, but maybe I have made an enemy instead. Maybe I have done something wrong. Maybe this is just how Americans behave. This is exactly why I’m always silent.