I am starting to wonder how many tears the human tear-duct can produce. It is looking like it is infinite. I have been crying for an hour, and they keep rolling down my face. I stopped trying to suppress them long ago. My fingers curl on the desk where I sit, and it feels like there is a rushing in my ears. Water. Am I about to faint? I am starting to hope I am, sleep comes so much easier that way.
My eyes squeeze shut. If I pretend I did not hear, maybe–
"HITOMI!" My mother calls from the floor beneath me. From her tone, my presence is non-optional. Is it time for the weekly yelling already? I sigh, viciously rubbing at my face to rid the tears from my white cheeks dusted with pink. My eyes are puffy, but there is nothing I can do about that. I might as well ignore it and hope they do as well.
With a rather un-lady-like grunt, I push myself up and pad over to my door, the sound of my bare feet on the wooden floorboards echoing in my small room. With the utmost reluctance I start down the stairs, each step making my heart grow heavier. Whenever my parents call me down with such anger, I generally am about to be berated for something. Whether it is my grades, my social life (or lack thereof), my future, or my brother's newest achievement. I do not know which it will be this time, but whatever it is, I may have the answer to how many tears are hidden away in tear ducts in due time. I think it is infinite.
I round the corner to see my mother, sitting stiff as a board on our couch, in her favourite black pants and silken white and pink blouse, her hair tied back in a bun and glasses perched on her nose. My father, balding head held high, is standing in the middle of the room in his work suit. His arms are crossed, a paper in his hand, his foot tapping.
"Hello mother, hello father." I bow in respectful greeting.
"Hitomi." My father starts, voice stern. Internally, I wince. "I have just received a letter in the mail on your account."
My heart sinks. I had hoped to get to the letter before they did. "Hai, father?"
"Do not interrupt." My mother snaps from the couch. I bow my head, letting my short brown hair cover my still-puffy face. Obedience. Always obedience.
"'Dear Hitomi Chou,'" My father reads, holding the letter out so he can both see it, and so I have a very clear look at his disapproving face. "'Congratulations on your acceptance to The Art Institute of New York…'" He said the name of the school like it was poison on his lips, spitting it out. Poison. Not even bothering to finish reading the letter, he merely tapped his foot. "Well? Why have you received such a letter?"
My shoulders hunch slightly at the tone. I am suddenly wishing I had thought to run to check the mail earlier today. "I… applied last semester, Otousan."
"And you did not tell us?" He sounds like he is getting angrier. Bull Toro.
"I used the money from my job to pay for the application. I did not think I would get in…" I say. This is a half-truth. I did pay for the application, but I did think I would be accepted. They have been recruiting me ever since I had an art exhibition the fall of my junior year. My parents also had a talk with me regarding that. My parents like to have talks with me.
"I am not going to pay for you to learn how to move paint on paper!" My father says, his face flushing. "You are not going!"
"With all respect," I bow again. "I have enough money saved, I think I can afford to go." I bow in respect because it is expected. I wonder if they deserve it.
My mother tuts from the couch, shaking her head. "Art, Hitomi? There is so much more you could do with your life! You will have no future as an artist." Disappointed.
I frown but quickly hide it. They must not see. "I have already sold five paintings since February, okasan."
"You were always good at Chemistry." My father huffs, walking to stand next to my mother. "Why don't you study this?"
"It does not interest me." It never did.
"Such a shame…" My mother shakes her head again. "Such a disappointment… We will talk more later, Hitomi. Go to your room. Study" She says, looking at me with hard amber eyes. I bow a fourth time, and turn for the stairs.
I am not out of earshot before they begin talking again. "Such a disappointment…" My mother says again. "I expected so much more from her."
"As did I." My father's voice sounds. "Why could she not be more like her brother…?"
They are saying more, but I hurry to my room. I do not want to hear it. They are always comparing me to my brother, Shin'ichi. He is five years older than I and has just entered medical school. Just like my parents wanted. I have not heard from him much the past five years. Were it not for photos, I might have forgotten what he looks like. Shin'ichi. Brother.
I only remember bits of him. I was thirteen, yes, but he was always in his room. And I was in mine. Just as they wanted. He had it harder, learning English at eleven. He is the favourite. It is not a secret.
I throw myself onto my white and pink bedspread and bury my face into the pillow. I am never enough for them. Nothing that I am is enough. I feel as though every day that I look at them, I see less love in their eyes looking back at me. Can a parent stop loving their child? How numb can a person get?
Maybe it is not my parents. Maybe it is I. Maybe I am not meant to be me. As long as I can remember, my choices have been wrong. My hair, my speech, my interests, my country, my language, my orientation. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Girls are meant to have long, flowing hair. Mine is choppy at my neck. Americans are meant to have perfect colloquial speech. English is my second language; I do not speak it perfectly, even after twelve years. My parents want me to have a career in medicine, science, law. I want to be an artist. The children at my school tormented me as a child. They called me 'Jap', 'Chink', 'Chinaman'. I am a foreigner. An alien. An unwelcome guest. They evolved as I went to high school. 'Jap' became 'Fag'. 'Chink' became 'Queer'. 'Chinaman' became 'Dyke'. Girls are meant to like boys. I do not.
Fag. Chink. Dyke. Dirty Jap.
These words circulate in my head. I cannot get them out. They have been playing in my head ever since I first heard them. Are they right? Is this what I am?
When I was a child, my parents enrolled me into kindergarten. I had not fully learned English yet. I was a beginner. I spoke with a heavy accent and I said many words wrong. It was a struggle to make myself clear every day. I called the teacher 'sensei-sama'. Most respect for a teacher. But I was instructed not to. Honorifics get you nowhere in American Kindergarten.
The children laughed at me. They always called me Chinese, though I would tell them I was from Japan. 'Isn't that the same thing?' they said. No. They referred to me as 'The Oriental Girl'. Even those of Asian descent in my class did. None of them knew what that meant, but their parents did. And they did not correct. Dirty Jap.
In high school, I transferred to a school as far as I could from my last place. We had moved across town: a new school district. I was now in Apollo High School. My freshman year was the best year of my life. I was a new girl, an exotic with an accent. But as soon as people realized I had nothing much to offer, they left me alone. I had no friends my sophomore year. Worthless.
Then the other nicknames started. I cut my long hair pixie short. Dyke. I changed my clothing from pastel greens to pink and white. This did nothing. I was still just a fag. My classmates laughed and even pushed me, often with a cigarette in their teeth. I have no friends.
I got a job two summers ago. It started as a way to escape the words that cut me from within, but I always called it a way to get money. Which it was. But having an escape was a happy bonus. Or so I thought.
I work in a Grocery Store. I was hired to clean isles and organize the shelves. I am fairly good at what I do. The isles are pristine, the shelves always in complete order. Perhaps it is because of my strict upbringing that I am always so organized. Or maybe I am just obsessive.
I had always thought that my peers there would be my friends, I would meet people with whom I had common ground, I would meet someone who I could connect with. I would have a friend. I was in for a surprise. It seems as though my peers are only interested in me for my body. The men smack me on the behind as I pass by. I have had stern words with them and with my boss, but they just laughed it off and continued as if nothing had happened. Disappointment. If I did not need the money for school or the escape I continued to imagine I had, I would have quit.
It started to really get to me. The constant degradation. Like I was not even a person, just someone to make catcalls and wolf-whistles at. When I had been working for over a year, I asked to be promoted. Perhaps if I moved up, I could be taken more seriously in my work.
"No." My boss said, smirking at me in the way he often did. "We are reserving those jobs."
"For whom?" I asked, my face blank, hiding the anger I was starting to feel.
"Just stick to what you know, eh sweetheart?" He grinned and ruffled my hair. "Go clean something."
I still cannot believe this. I am still working for him, too. I am still working for someone who treats me badly. I have assumed it is because I am a woman, but I cannot be sure. I have never had the heart to tell any of them that there are reasons why I am not interested.
Like I have said before, when I entered high school I started being called horrible names. Fag. Dyke. I think it should be obvious why. My sophomore year I came out of the closet. I am a lesbian.
I can still vividly remember the day I told my parents. I come downstairs to find them on opposite ends of the couch, my father reading the paper, my mother knitting quietly. I clear my throat. "Mother? Father?"
They look up at me in question. "Yes, Hitomi?"
I swallow. "I… I have something I need to tell you."
My mother smiles a wry smile. "Go ahead."
I hesitate. I can feel my heart beating in my throat. My palms are sweaty, my lip is trembling. I bite the betrayer and take a deep breath, steeling myself.
"Mother, Father…" Another quivering breath. "I…. am gay."
Pause. This pause feels like it stretches on a hundred lifetimes. I feel as if I am dead and reborn. Over and over. Every drop of my blood is conscious in my mind, and my nerves are making me take effort to keep from throwing up.
My father frowns. "No you are not."
I blink. "…."
"It is impossible." It looks like he is swelling. Like a balloon inflating underneath a silk and cotton suit. His neck testing the elasticity of his white and pink tie. "You would not dishonor our family like this."
My heart sinks lower. Dishonor. We are traditionally Japanese; honor is very important to us. Dishonor is the worst anyone can do to his or her family. Hearing the word alone makes my heart sink in my chest. I wonder if it can sink through me and down through the floor. Down Down Down.
I look to my mother. Her face is as if she had sniffed sour milk. "Do not joke about such things, Hitomi."
"I am serious." As serious as the grave.
I look into both of their eyes. There is a flash that shows in human beings sometimes. A flash indicative of loss. I believe I know what that flash was with my parents. The beginning. The beginning of the death of love. Their love for me died a little bit that day. I think it has declined since. Dishonor.
I turned and walked back to my room, throwing myself on the white and pink bedspread, burying my face in the pillow. Much like I am doing now.
My bloodshot eyes rise to bloodshot skies. It seems as though my windows are tinting the world red. Or is the world already red? Maybe I am seeing clearly for the first time. I do not know.
Slowly, I push myself to sit. It is November. I will be in college in nine months. I will be away from this. But those nine months is at the end of a very dark tunnel. I need to stay afloat to reach the light, but it is starting to look further and further away. Can I stay up that long?
My red eyes fall upon the mirror across from me. I see the girl looking back at me. Is she worth it? Is she worth those nine long months? Hitomi. The name means beautiful eyes. But these eyes look like a sad Christmas. Red and Green and watery and puffy. They look like bad decisions.
I cannot look any longer. I turn from the reflection mocking me and face the other direction. My painting. My painting stares back at me. It is beautiful. Cherry blossoms. My favourite. They are blooming, swaying in the wind, petals falling like dewdrops upon the sunlit concrete sidewalk. My lips twitch as I stare at it. My parents would never appreciate this. Waste of time. Waste of money. My brief smile falls as quickly as a candle being blown out. Waste. Fag.
My hands curl into fists as I look at the white and pink colours swirled onto the canvas. Something is missing. It needs a final touch.
I stand. There's my friend. My friend who helps me feel. With his help I can feel something instead of the constant nothingness. He is the clarity in the white noise. The one thing I know for certain. My hand gently closes around him. He is the knife my oujisan got for me my fourteenth birthday. He has been my friend ever since. His pretty white and pink handle. I press the button and the silver and red blade snaps out. So pretty. Hello, friend.
I roll up my sleeve. There are a lot of marks here. I am surprised so much can fit on one arm. Here's the mark from Alice Pinkley. There's the one from my boss. There's one for my mother using 'disappointment' and 'dishonor' in the same sentence. Worthless.
I find a free spot. Be gentle, friend. But not too gentle.
My ghostly white skin shines with red now. My lips twitch upwards again. Good. I drop my friend to the floor and approach the painting. You're missing something, pretty cherry blossoms. White and Pink. Too white and pink. You need some more red. I touch the red with my fingertips, gently spreading some across the petals. Diligently. Each and every one. Just at the base. There. Just right. Chink. The colours are perfect now. White and pink and shining red. Just like me. Now it's my friend too.
I smile as more tears roll down my cheeks. Will I last, friends? Will I last?