“I dwell on the future and live in the present. The future is happy, but the future hasn’t come yet.” – diary entry at age 11
Nine years ago, I was an acne-faced ragamuffin with embarrassing hand-me-downs from China, “insurance-only” glasses, hair that wouldn’t lie flat, and a roller backpack people laughed at. My grandmother was verbally abusive, I was terrified of my father, and friends were more or less bullies that wouldn’t leave me alone. By 5th grade, my parents were already grilling me for grades, even though I had to do my homework through the daily soundtrack of their marriage battles.
I use a lot of cliches when I describe my life from ages nine to thirteen.
“I wanted to be twenty-two since I was eleven years old.”
“My childhood ended when I was twelve. I’m like Batman.”
“I didn’t get to have a childhood.”
I joke about it, but I was actually ashamed of my childhood for most of my life. It’s still hard to read old diaries. I hit an emotional rock bottom in December 2006, when a bored classmate decided to make me her target and I couldn’t walk anywhere at school without being jeered at. People hid my clothes, ripped up my drawings, and laughed at me when I tried to go to adults for help. I felt completely alone and formed the idea that only I could help myself. As a twelve year-old whose home and school life was a nightmare, the only thing that kept me going was the dream that one day, I would be able to get out.
I had an image of a future me being a successful woman in a suit, with friends, a job, and respect. Depression, betrayal, and rage had been the birthplace of ambition. It was never healthy, but at least it stopped me from offing myself at that age.
I dreamed about age 22, the magical number, like my age was somehow the solution to all of life’s problems. In a way, it was. I hated being helpless and self-sufficiency was liberating. I got a job at 18 and discovered the freedom of financial security. At 19, the freedom of sexuality, and at 20, the freedom of travel. Today, it’s become a bit of an escape. I’ve cycled through 20 jobs in three years, spent too much money on dates, and thrown the rest of the money away on overambitious weekend trips.
I’ve failed so many times, lost friends and admiration, and decided that some things are just what they are. I have a big mouth, and as an ENFP/J perhaps I am doomed to be hated and annoying. I will never be good at math. I will never be easily accepted like many of my high school peers. I choose to stay controversial, brassy, and haughty, and accept the self-inflicted battle scars that come with it.
At 21, I don’t think I became what I expected to become at 12 — a short-haired pseudolesbian that dropped out from a dream school, decided to graduate a year late, and has never been in a solid relationship.
At the same time, it is better than I ever hoped. It’s hard to envision myself in the future because I keep changing. Throwing out the cards to exchange new ones. The incarnations keep changing, but I like to think that they are getting better. Maybe the 12-year-old me would have appreciated the evolution. At least I never became conventional.
My first nature has always been to rebel. I grew in a stingy low-income Chinese household that valued obedience over love. I treasure free speech because I was told not to argue. My political views are liberal, bordering on socialist, a product of years of seeing my family claw up the Cliffs of Opportunity, but never forgetting the rocks that bled my fingers, because poverty doesn’t come with protective gloves.
For the first time, I can throw back my head and laugh at all the misfortune. Today, I’m perched on a ledge, where I can see the top, and how close it looks from where I am. I haven’t picked a clear path yet and I don’t see all the obstacles. But the sun is shining and I am laughing.
Originally written May 25, 2014. Revised June 19, 2015.