by Julia Lin
Snowfall is the heart's kin. Sometimes, its vital beat is a slow flurry, sometimes it is a blustery blizzard. When it descends as fragile crystal, I sit down on a bench, completely still, to hear the resonating echo of the twinkling bells that toll as the ice-encrusted flakes ricochet off the concrete. I think my personal favorite, though, is when the snow comes down in giant UFOs, those snow-pancakes that lazily flop down on whatever terrain, forming a tight-fitting cap.
When I was a little girl, I was always the first one outside when the flurries arrived, even before the snow had started accumulating. I could feel the featherweights sitting on my hair before they melted, with my hair acting like a miniature springboard when they touched down. If you ever see me standing still in the snow, eyes closed, I am probably trying to feel the flakes on my hair again.
I guess my connection to the snow was somewhat intimate. I was quite a loner; I was friendly to the others, but somehow, I knew deep in my heart that even though I had the same hairstyle and clothes as them, and even though I spoke the same language as them, they could never accept my heart. And so I confided in the snows.
Telling my parents I was going to go play outside in the snow, I stole into the backyard forest to visit my special place, a small clearing that always accumulated the most snow because no one touched it but me. There, I would tell the snow about all my ideas since the last snowfall.
I was always thinking; I couldn't help it. Even in the darkest hour - indeed, especially during it - a little particle of dust would drift into my mind, and as it blew around, it would gather the clouds about it, just as an incipient snowflake. It would grow and grow until it began to drift down, and if I caught it, I would write it in my diary. It was probably just about the only "girly" thing I did as a kid. I always wrote in my diary, and I freely admit that it was pinker than a princess's blush, with little iridescent hearts in the center.
I brought the diary with me when I travelled to my secret hideout. I usually had at least a dozen fresh entries that I had jotted down in the interim, but over the summer, I could easily amass hundreds. Before you call me prolific, though, I have to tell you that some of these entries could be dwarfed by a haiku. I was young, and I thought I was writing the deepest and most profound of things, but now that I look back, I get a hearty giggle seeing how I scrawled "Why am I here?" over and over again, as if no one else had ever considered the topic.
By the time I reached third grade, I already foresaw that I had the potential to run out of space in my diary, and the thought filled me with fear. That's why I stopped beginning each entry on a fresh page. I had to protect the diary at all costs!
You see, my best friend Anna had presented it to me in first grade - my parents would never have bought me anything so girly-looking, even if it were intended to spark my interest in my academic pursuits. But in any case, we had made a secret pact to exchange the diary every week until it was completely filled, and then we'd bury it as a time capsule in the back of the elementary school, next to the blacktop where we played four-square. We concocted all sorts of plans just like that one, but they all came to a screeching halt when she had to move to Pennsylvania. Our last day together, she handed the diary to me, making me pinky promise that I would wait for her to write one last entry before we buried it. I was crying and trembling so wretchedly that I could barely hold my pinky still for her to intertwine it with her own.
The first time I tried to write in the diary, I filled the page with tears that melted my pen ink into a puddle that radiated like a wistful full moon, and I shut the book immediately. I promised myself not to open it ever again, but a month later, I cautiously lifted a pencil and began writing, and a soothing feeling overcame my body.
When fifth grade rolled around, I was writing in the tiniest font I possibly could, but even so, I knew I only had a handful of pages left, so I took a break from writing, hoping that I would find within me the inspiration for something befitting the end of such a journal, something that could be capped off by her entry and buried with a sense of satisfaction.
Two months later, I walked into the snow-covered
forest, and read to the trees around me:
Dear Diary ♥,
When I am grown up, will I regret what I chose to do today? Walking to school everyday, I just wonder if I am doing everything right. All my teachers say to just trust in myself and follow my goals. But a lot of their dreams never came true after all. I think most people's dreams won't come true. All those people who want to be famous athletes or firemen or actors or Nobel prize winners, don't they know that only a few hundred out of the millions and billions will be able to be those things? Don't they realize that only 10% of people can ever be in the top 10% of their class?
I know I will regret wasting my time as a kid. This is the only time to be happy, right? Adults are all so unhappy. And when they fall in love, they are even unhappier.
I want to be a kid forever. I never want to have to wear a bra. I never want to have a job. I never want to kiss a boy.
Adults are too boring. They always listen to the same songs over and over again that they listened to when they were teenagers. They go shopping every day but never have enough. Mommy has to spend an hour in the morning doing her hair and putting on her makeup. Daddy doesn't come back home til seven, when Michelle is already snoring as loud as the fire alarm. Michelle is loud, you know.
I want to just be me, the little explorer. I like my small place in the forest when it snows. I want my friends to be around me forever, and never have to move.
At least now, when I'm lonely, I can go someplace quiet and be alone and not have to do anything. And I guess I'm always lonely after all. But the forest understands me well enough. No one else tries to listen to what I have to say, which is why they always hear the wrong words. The wrong words all the time. I ask, "Why is it okay to eat a pig but not a cat?" They reply that cats are pets. I ask, "Why do people put on makeup in the morning when they know they have to take it off in the evening?" They answer that they have to look presentable at work.
I think that the adults have never been to school, because in school we already know that you should be confident in the way you look, just the way you are. People should be judged on their hearts, not their skin or hair. Isn't that how it is?
But the most puzzling thing to me is why I have to be the one reminding adults about the golden rule. When someone calls in the morning, I pick up the phone and they want Daddy. But then Mommy and Daddy moan and groan and say they're not available. Is that how they want their calls to be treated? But that's just how adults are. I think they're kinda rude, but everyone likes my parents just fine.
I think they just have lower standards. After all, kids are the ones who are angelic.
Ah, I'm getting way off-track! But the point is, when I bury you, could I bury myself, too? So that when I come out in the future, I'll still be ten and a half? Pretty please? I don't want live out my life in regret ... I'm afraid of who I will become, and how I will think of now.
Julia Lin *林雪花*
"Julia," sings my little sister.
"Juuulia!" she repeats.
"Jujujujujulia!" I can tell she's getting closer and closer to my room because her voice crescendoes to that annoying zenith of little-sister squawkiness.
"What dooooo you want?"
Matter of factly, she replies, "Mom wants you to take out the trash!"
"Tell her I'll be there in a sec."
"Right now!" insists Michelle.
"I said give me a sec!" I hastily dump my diary into the right drawer of my desk and stand up, stretching my arms out over my head. The sun's battalion of light-spears presses hard against the woven curtains. I draw them apart, realizing now why I had felt dazed in a twilight while I was writing.
I bump down the plastic-sheeted stairs on my butt, relishing the gentle massage. At the bottom of the stairs, I intercept Mom, who is looking at me intently.
"I'm getting the trash," I report.
"Julia, go dress properly first."
I look at my dinosaur-print pajamas and raise my eyebrow. "I'm coming right back in, Mom," I argue. "There's no need to change right now."
Scowling, I return to my room and fling on a t-shirt from some freshman year math competition and a pair of really worn Levis. I have a certain attachment to old clothes, as if I never want to insult their age by sending them to the equivalent of a senior center (the closet of disuse). But maybe, more than that, I just like how they seem to know me so well, stretched in exactly the right places, and so soft to the touch. Like people, clothes change to fit who they're around. Those people who buy too many clothes never get close to any, and you can see how stiff or awkward they look, even when they are exquisitely dressed up. They're the ones who tell you that it's human nature to never really change, and if you want a different kind of friend or relationship, you just have to find someone else.
I really beg to differ - neither clothes nor people are so rigid like that.
Just a few years back, I utterly loathed denim in all its incarnations. I had this conception that it was so rough and unforgiving, but my mom wanted me to stop wearing "sloppy" sweatpants and gym clothes all the time, so she bought me this simple pair of jeans. My friends said I looked cute in it, but I really couldn't stand wearing them. Above all, I felt really awkward, as if I had taken a nonretractable step into conflict with the fashion police, who ignored those who were completely out of range, but who preyed on the cheap imitations.
But the jeans changed for me, and I did likewise. It's a sort of transformation that takes you by surprise, and that perhaps only happens rarely in the real world. I think I even see a glimmer of beauty when I see photos of me wearing them, and if you know me at all, you know that I'd be the last person on this world to openly say "I think I'm beautiful."
But alas, real people are never satisfied.
"Julia, why can't you wear your blouses and new pants more? You really should pay attention to your appearance, since you're so old now."
"Moooom!" I cry. "I'm not going to an interview or going on a date! I'm going to take out the trash. Trash - dirty, get it?"
"I'm going to take away those pants if you wear them to school again," she says. "They're getting holes on the knees."
I ignore her and walk over to the kitchen, where I tie up the trash bags and dump them into the big movable canister in the garage. I start whistling a little tune as I roll the huge plastic tub out to the curb. I don't really whistle songs that I've heard before - I just make these tunes up as I go. After a phrase or two, I'm already at the curb, so I mechanically backtrack to carry out the blue recycling bin, which is chock full of shimmering glass and plastic.
Instead of returning back home, though, I decide that since I already changed, I might as well spend a bit of time outside. I really need to sit down for awhile and have a good talk with myself. Although I spend almost all my time thinking about one thing or another, I've never bothered to devote a moment to thinking about the most important things of all: who will I be, who will I become? I can't be at home taking out the trash for the rest of my life. Almost everyone else knows for sure what he or she wants to do, but I've foolishly stayed a kid all these years, not thinking things through.
It's almost the end of Senior year. In a way, most things are behind me. I got into MIT, went to prom (with just a friend, mind you), took all my AP exams, decided on a career (yes, I'm Asian and I want to be doctor. Bite me >_<). No, those are not the sorts of things I need to worry about. I just get to wondering ...
// May 22, 2004 //
I overheard my friends talking in Nettlebach's room the other day. I was supposed to be at an Art Club meeting, but I had to run down to get some palettes that a teacher had borrowed. For whatever improbable reason, I heard them talking about me. I remember pretty well what they said, although I can't pretend like this will be verbatim:
"Well, Julia's really smart, but she's really incapable of saying no," said one girl.
"Yeah," agreed another. "You can't be so eager to please in this world. You just get trampled on - people too nice just get taken advantage of."
"Dunno, the way she talks, it's almost like she wouldn't mind being taken advantage of. She just wants to make everyone happy." The girl scoffed cutely.
"Well, maybe she can't really think for herself. After all, she's always being sheltered by her parents. I don't think she knows what this world is really like."
And on and on they went. It really bothered me to hear all that. At first, I couldn't do anything but start to slouch a little, beginning to doubt myself, but as they continued, their tone of arrogance slowly got to me, and I had to leave before I gave them a supersized piece of my mind.
What right did they have to say that, as if I didn't know what this world is really like? I see almost everything, more than most people see, in any case. I see so much that it puts great stress on me. Ignorance is truly bliss; those who see no evil have no responsibility to report it or fight it. Noticing who people are associating with, always hearing their conversations, extrapolating small actions to peer deeper - all this happens so naturally, so frequently. I know when people are cheating on each other; I know when and where people go to cut drug deals; I know where the big party this Saturday is going to be; I know who is trying to hack into the school router. Knowing all this, what am I supposed to do? Knowledge is poison as much as it is power.
And knowing what these friends had to say about me was really a part of me that I could do without. But the cut was already made, and it was bleeding freely.
No matter how hard I try to do things right and not have to regret anything, I still end up disappointing everyone and, above all, myself. Sometimes, I just want to escape to a place where there is nothing to see, and no one to offend. A place where people will honestly befriend me, and understand me. But being kind to everyone in this world, this adult world, does nothing to make others be kind to you. People do not even appreciate kindness anymore. Kindness is only a weakness, and as life has proven, large breasts and a love of beer would probably do better for a girl than sweet, undying kindness.
Come to think of it, I don't really have any really close friends. I am an expendable person, because, by doing favors for everyone and helping everyone, I am only a robot to them. They think that I am kind to people in an attempt to buy friendship. But they think that because it's the only way they can think. It's the prevailing line of thought that even my parents subscribe to - you need connections to move forward in life; you need friends for when you are sad. Everything is a commodity that we bargain for with whatever chips we have on our side.
I don't belong to any of this. I am kind because it brings happiness. I don't betray people because I don't want to hurt them.
An alien on my own pl
Argh, Mei-Mei is calling me. Probably wants me to do some chore that she ought to be doing herself .... Oh well, I'll finish this later.
I glide my feet along the forest carpet to gather pine needles into a time-out huddle. Once the nest is complete, you can see the dirt paths I created radiating all around the stack, pointing straight to where I casually sit down my bottom.
I exhale slowly, slowly enough that my cheeks puff slightly. Then, I rest my face on my hands, letting it sink lower and lower. I vaguely sense my heartrate calming down, and I fall into a windy trance.
Once upon a time, I had fabricated a massive, intertwining set of worlds that I would explore during the summers on the grassy fields and in the forests like this one. When there wasn’t snow, I had to amuse myself somehow.
I imagined that I lived in a small village called Trimbusen, in a war-torn country; it was a small valley town, largely agricultural, along the fertile Sonosan River. Because of the war, there were hardly ever enough police, since they were stationed elsewhere as stations, and there would be bandits, and my friends and I would defend the town against these conniving thieves.
I was a new member to the group, but Anna and Maya were there to make me feel welcome. We were the only girls in the ten-member coalition, but we got along just fine with the guys, too.
At first, I spent most of my time drawing up maps of all the secret passages by which we could surprise-attack the looters and assigning special powers to all the items we reclaimed so that we could use them in future adventures. But as I grew older, I found myself devoting more and more of my time to imagining conversations with a friend in the group, a boy my age named Seth. Unlike Anna and Maya, Seth was totally made up.
I guess you could call him a Prince Charming, although I didn’t realize that my character was developing feelings for him for at least a year. He wasn’t one of those gentlemen who gave you roses while wearing a tuxedo. He originally liked the youngest princess of our village (not really a princess, but a daughter of the mayor), and for her birthday, he made her a cat out of the mud in his backyard that was said to have a natural nourishing power that allowed things to prosper, such as the large camphor tree that was the centerpiece of his backyard.
But the princess could only see mud, and Seth was devastated. When he came back that night crying, I held him tight, but I didn’t want to make him feel even worse by telling him that I loved him, but I really did. I loved him more than just as a character in my story. I think I was really falling for him. My heart quickened as if he were really nearby, as if I could really feel his tears on my nightshirt.
Something in me screamed to me that it was all wrong, but maybe it was just too late, or maybe no one gave me an alternative, or maybe I just didn’t care. I wonder if it’s the same kind of “didn’t care” as teenage smokers and drinkers who completely ignore the consequences of their actions. I would really hope not, but still, all I could care was that for those minutes or hours that I spent in my world, I could be truly at ease and so happy and so blissful. Sure, there were problems, but they were external. Between Seth and me, nothing ever went wrong. We were an inseparable team, and he always said the right things without even trying to do so.
And one day, he made me a clay cat, and I was overjoyed. I didn’t care if he had offered the same thing to the princess; I didn’t care even if it was made out of the same clay. I just cared that it was from him and that he thought it was magical. That was the first night that I kissed him. I was wearing a patched-up blue tunic and peasant’s pants, but he didn’t care and said I was so beautiful anyway.
So beautiful …
His face lingers in the forefront of my memories. Even now, when I am so much older, I can still see his outline in this forest, smiling at me. I want to run up and hug him, but I know I can’t because if I do, I will know for sure that he doesn’t exist. And, maybe, all I need is to let this illusion live on just a little longer. Just one little bit longer …
~ end Chapter 5 ~
The May sun wraps its fragrant rays around my shoulders, gently nudging me onwards to school. After an entire week of on-and-off showers, it seems as if the sun has come to stay, and I see all the students in the lots and fields lingering just a bit longer than they normally would, perhaps considering in their minds the sun’s invitation to take the day off and just sunbathe.
But the warning bell pushes the sun aside, and the students rush in; I scuttle into first period, sliding efficiently onto my seat with a horizontal glide. Something is slightly different than usual, but I can’t quite put my finger on it at the moment. As I pull out my notebooks, I suddenly hear Joshua’s voice.
“Are you new here?”
I look up and realize that a desk left empty when a student switched over to another period is now occupied by a relatively tall girl with long, blond braided hair.
“Oh, I guess …,” she replies, turning her head around and lowering it slightly to be on the same level as Joshua. “I actually used to live here, but it’s been awhile since then – at least nine years.”
“Where did you just move from?”
“I lived about thirty minutes out from Philadelphia,” the girl answers. This comment catches my ear, and I scrutinize her face carefully.
“Um,” I half-mumble, half-cough. It doesn’t catch anyone’s attention, so I try to go straight to the point.
“Er, excuse me,” I begin, “Which elementary school did you go to when you lived here?”
The girl looks at me, and I see the fullness of her eyes, which resemble little moons. “I went to Lakeridge, why?”
“Hmm … oh, I was just asking because you look really familiar.”
She grins a little and then turns back to Josh. I sigh and stare at my English assignment. Instinctively, I know it’s her, but I didn’t want to acknowledge that realization because I was sure I would end up disappointed, seeing how much she had changed, or even worse, how easily she forgot about the diary.
Throughout the day, I watch her, see how she interacts with the others, and realize that she fit easily into a completely different crowd. She still retains that outgoing, positive demeanor, and now that I think of it, the one who changed was probably me. I had all of a sudden become so cautious, so conservative, so studious, while she was still so carefree. Carefree … and true to herself.
I sighed again … I’d probably end up spending a good part of my day sighing. All this while envying her, I wonder if I would ever want to return to her lifestyle. It seems so inviting, yet something holds me back.
I finally work up the courage to inquire if she remembered the diary at all, and I approach her at the bus stop at the close of the day.
“Anna,” I say, not having to check her name first.
“Oh, hi!” she responds in her brisk soprano voice.
She smells faintly of perfume and burnt tobacco, a strangely intoxicating and sultry odor that initially repulses me slightly.
“Um, I don’t know if you really remember me at all, but I’m Julia. We used to keep a diary together in elementary school.”
“How could I possibly forget!” she cries with a grin that fully fills her cheeks. She lunges forward to hug me, and I return it graciously, even though the scent irritates my nose. “My goodness, ‘Lilia. I’m really so so sorry that I didn’t recognize you! You’ve gotten a lot cuter over these past years,” she says with laugh, pinching my right cheek with her thumb and index finger.
I blush a little bit, instinctively rubbing my cheek lightly, letting the little bit of sweat residue soften the skin.
“So,” she continues, “Do I get to write that last entry or what?”
A promise is a promise, no matter how much time changes the situation. “I’ll bring it tomorrow!” I announced.
But deep down, I feel lonelier than ever before.
~ Chapter 7 ~
wuz up, diary!!!
you feeling down too, huh. well, I just moved back here. its good to see all the people but its like no one is the same. they don’t even talk the same. i dunno what the hell i’m doing with my life. Ruth’s begging me to go crash at Ben’s with her next Sat, but I don’t want to have a fscking hangover on my mom’s b-day, you know what I mean? any day but that one. we never doing anything for mom and she’s always so crabby but silent about it.
but Ruth’s the only one i’ve been keeping up with, and she’s going to be so pissed if i outright diss her in front of everyone. i don’t wanna be a freaking outcast all over again. it feels like shit knowing no one cares about you.
oh enough of that depressing stuff. there’s this really cute guy in my english class named Josh. he’s got the greatest nose and dude he’s so ripped he could probably grab down the moon for me if i asked for it. whenever i …
~ Chapter 8 ~
The Saturday breeze is almost titillating, and I feel the lightest of fizzing desires bubble gently within me. The diary is safely tucked under a blanket of Earthen dust, and the new day brings new things to worry about. After all, today is the meeting for all the new MIT students in my region. The whole event reminds me of those pilot episodes of TV reality shows when you are suddenly introduced to a random sampling of people who you will have to live with for the rest of the year.
I hope that I can find at least one friend among the crowd, but I know I am not very adept at making friends at all. I guess, my greatest fear is that they will all clump among each other as they always do, and I will assume that they’re all already friends, when in fact they probably are all meeting each other for the first time, too.
I put on a slightly frilly, sleeved top and a deep blue denim skirt, which will probably be just dressy enough to pass my mother’s inspection. After washing my hands (after doing some requisite business …), I pause briefly in front of the mirror, recalling Anna’s comment from the other day. I shake my head, deciding she was probably just humoring me.
An hour later, we arrive at the host’s clubhouse, the barometer rapidly dropping as the wings of rain’s eagle swoop over the landscape. I glide out of the car and admire the rows of May flowers along the sidewalk.
There is so much talk of jobs and futures and résumés that I begin to wonder just what I can hope to find in my life. Will there ever be a chance to be a child again? To talk to the snowy forests again?
I know that becoming a doctor can truly fulfill all my dreams, and yet I fear that it would be no different if I became a janitor or a bus driver. For isn’t it all for money? Wouldn’t I depend on people becoming sick for my livelihood?
That is why I realize, in this spring hour, that none of this adult business could ever fill that one void. Specialization is inadaptable, and capitalism is an addiction.
Except that one thing that can bridge all people, all countries – the only investment where you can lose money and end up happy – the reason why I can become a healer who strives to heal all, forever. If I can find it, searching through this world, then maybe I can rid myself of his clawing ache that withers my heart.
~ End Chapter 8 ~
~ Chapter 9 ~
“Seth!” I cried. “Seth, you have to wake up.” I gave him an urgent shove.
He rolled half a turn before opening his eyes, straw dangling down from his hair.
“There were a few of them spotted over near Kassa Valley. I think they’re after the farms.”
Seth sprang into action, grabbing my wrist as we charged out the door into the brilliant night. The roads were dim, but the lightly glowing grains lit our path as we raced down the dirt paths.
“Over there!” announced Seth, under his breath, “I see one of their horses, so they probably dismounted nearby.”
I nodded and we ducked into the crops together, where he finally let go of my wrist.
“Sorry, Julia,” he said. I swatted him playfully on the head for nearly choking off my blood supply with his firm, loving grasp.
I heard rustling at two o’clock and responded by drawing my knife out of its sheath. There seemed to be just three of them, judging from their sounds.
All of a sudden, I heard a loud rip in the crops, and one of the bandits tackled me. I quickly slashed him on the side before he could pin down my arms, and he “yarrgh”ed before letting up just enough for me to plant a juicy kick in the groin.
He crouched in anger, an aura growing out of him; his partner leapt on his back, and the two melded into an enormous ogre, wielding a large slingshot. I dodged the first rock, but the second one knocked the wind out of me, and I crumpled into the dirt.
Seth and I had never seen bandits of this kind before, so we tried to improvise. I gestured at a grain branch and made a small dusting gesture with its tip gracing my stomach. Seth nodded from the other side of the ogre.
I yanked off a large stalk from a particularly tall grain plant, hoping that the damage to the crop would be minimal. When Seth signaled “three” with his fingers, we jumped in and rolled to the side of the arches of the ogre’s foot, waving the silky grain-heads onto the bottom of the feet before the ogre could try to stomp us.
Although its feet were certainly calloused, one never really develops thick skin on the parts of the feet that never touch the ground. And thus, we successfully tickled the ogre until he began to wobble. Seth’s eyes widened in fear, and then everything happened so quickly that I could hardly catch up with time.
All I know is that a large shadow crashed over me, but something warm and vaguely fragrant was over me the time I felt a gratuitous plop.
I opened my eyes after a minute, breathing deeply.
“Seth, are you okay?”
He nodded. “Um, J-Julia, would you like a cookie?”
~ End Chapter 9 ~
~ Chapter 10 ~
“Um, J-Julia, would you like a cookie?”
I blink my eyes a few times and see a boy standing in front of me, staring quizzically.
“Er, sure?” I say, pulling my hands out of my pockets.
“You looked a little spaced out there,” he comments, reaching out to grab an M&M cookie from the dessert table.
I look at the cookie and realize that it has three blue candies on it. “Ah, did you just pick that one up randomly?”
“Well …,” he says. “Actually … I picked the one with the most blue M&Ms.”
I laugh and tell him that the blue ones are my favorite as well, and thank him for letting me have that lucky cookie.
“So, daydreaming or something?” he asks as we sit down on some lawn chairs lined up outside.
“Something like that,” I say, contemplating whether the ogre had fallen unconscious or not after its great fall, and also wondering if Seth