I blame the Freshman for everything. It’s his fault I got on this wearying mission in the first place. He was one of those disappointing ones, the awkward boy just out of middle school who speaks in a low, macho vibrato. He’s disappointing because when you hear him behind you you’re expecting a hunky, suave athlete and then you turn around and see a spindly stick of a person who is unmistakably, unfortunately, a Freshman.
I was in practice room two fiddling on the oldest of Mr. Yackley’s pianos, a weathered, brown piece of work with yellowed keys. It made that hollow echoing sound that an aging piano forte makes to tell you that it is not “cheap,” but it should not be expected to have the lifespan of a Steinway.
The Freshman came in—he actually had the nerve to open the door and come in—and said “Oh. Do you play piano?”
“Yes,” I said. I did not feel beholden to make eloquent replies to ninth graders.
“That’s cool.” He paused, and I thought he would leave. He didn’t. I glared good naturedly at him. “How long have you been playing?” he asked.
“Since I was little,” I told him, my left hand fingering an A minor chord. It was one of my favorites. I liked things in minor keys.
To my continued surprise he stuck out his hand pompously and said: “I’m David. I like music, too. Do you write songs?”
It took me a moment to address his question; I was still wondering how on earth he thought he could freely bother an upperclassman like this in the first week of school. “I—no. I don’t,” I said, not worrying because if there was any awkwardness in the room, it had to be coming from him. That was just a rule.
“Why not?” he asked. His eyes searched mine eerily. I wondered if this was some strange, unusual sign, and an underclassman had caught me in a strange, unusual mood and was seeking to tell me something strange and unusual.
I thought a moment, determined to keep my dignity and give a reasonable reply. I tilted my head and looked at a spot on the wall.
“I guess I’ve had the notes but…I’ve never had the words.”
That was what set things rolling.
I loved the blue sky almost more than I loved the half gallon ice cream tubs and Friday night pizza deliveries. I had few qualms about moving halfway across the world to a place called America, a country that was like a dream to me. Maybe I thought that ice cream and real candy bars would solve all my problems—don’t look at me like that, we all have false hopes sometimes that worm their way into each human’s subconscious. I happen to entertain more ideals than other people.
My family had just moved back to the USA after living in Asia for the past eight years of my life. I was American, but on the day we landed I did not know all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and I had never thrown a football or eaten a Reeses cup. But I was not Chinese…as far as I could tell.
I wearily handed the guy in the customs booth my battered passport. He thumbed methodically past the first page to the shiny one that had my picture and information imprinted. The dark hair in the photo seemed to obscure my face and almost the rest of the page, scattered across those glossy pictures that are hidden on the pages of the new US passports. I had spent many hours in grungy airports making out those pictures aided by fluorescent lights. They were Americana to the extreme—a pumpkin, the white house, an ocean wave, fireworks, and the words to the Star Spangled Banner printed backwards…don’t ask me why. These were as far as I had made out, but as I sat in every one of those airports, the pictures were shiny symbols to me, of the tantalizing land, The United States of America.
“So…Kathryn,” read the customs guy. “I hope you had a good trip?”
“Oh,” I said, “we lived there actually.”
“That’s great. Welcome home!” he waved me through.
I smiled cynically and rolled my suitcase to the exit. ‘Welcome home’? I thought. Am I in the wrong terminal, sir? Because I don’t call this place ‘home.’ Home is…
I stopped next to an immaculate metal bench.
Home is…not here. That I know. Come back to me on that.
I walked out onto American soil with my parents and sister, and together we breathed in the clear air and greeted a world of sunshine, consumerism, and major league baseball. My dad was probably thinking about football season and the flat screen TV he was waiting to buy. My mom was thinking about her Kitchenaid mixer she had left in storage all those years ago. I’m pretty sure my sister, Alice, was thinking about hot American guys and college looming in the future. I thought, well, maybe I could work with this. ‘Home’ is a relative word, right?
Read part two here.