Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Count: 15,816

Perhaps he paid the price by comparison when the time came, but would involve not just himself but the entire Asian-American community on campus. Gunter was the most famous Asian American growing up, though he didn’t know it. At university, he was the famous Asian American on campus, and everyone knew.

But as troubling as elementary school was for me in my isolation, at the very least we were self-contained in classrooms under the eyes of watchful teachers, who out of their own guilt at their inability to deal with me, much less provide me with the adequate English-as-a-Second-Language on a school level which I so clearly need, do their best to shield me from any other students, and to cater to my needs. My classmates get to know me well enough to know that I am harmless, a little unfriendly at times, but mostly meek and content to furrow my brow and work on the math that I am given. As little kids, we are comfortable with the idea that others are better than us, if only in some limited ways, as we ourselves have compensatory advantages, however minor.
Middle school, however, was chaos, chaos which erased any of the gains I might have built upon after my four years in this country. Moving around in groups with individual schedules, with class periods of only forty-five minutes, with freshly pubescent classmates, except for those who were already developmentally delayed in one way or another, with teachers who were more than a little exhausted at the end of a day, having seen 150 other little children, lugging about textbooks in various subject areas from class to class, and always wondering if there was time to make it to one’s locker, or whether it would just be easier to carry everything at once. These tiny calculations were the calculations of survival, and what little one could do. There were whole other worlds outside of our reach and our control—the creeping onward of development and anatomy, and of the courtships which had to navigate the then-prudishness of middle school girls. But all this anxiety and doubt would have been all right were it not for two things: passing periods and recess after lunch.
These two were marked by the same lack of adult supervision, with the key differences of objectives and setting. Our school was overcrowded, and so many of the tensions of hyperauthoritative classroom management spilled out into the narrow hallways, where without any accepted norms for traffic, it was usually a bodily pushing melee just to get to class. In this journey one’s bookbag would often be rifled through, and so back pockets of backpacks were always being carefully watched by someone or another. Nor did the bells quite allow enough time to get from one classroom to another, and so the more diligent kids lived in constant anxiety of tardiness, tardiness which never quite materialized for the truly concerned. But so there were collisions, around corners, within hallways, outside classrooms, and also the random ones which followed me with regularity. I would rarely ever reach my next class without being bumped or thrown off balance at least once by some stranger, and it began to wear upon me, I began to expect it, though I was unsure if it was my own clumsiness, my own bad luck, or something rather more sinister.
Two other incidents stand out of the broad backdrop of humiliation my middle school years brought, leading me to believe that my uneven passages through those hallways were not merely a product of bad luck—recess, first of all, was over a large former parking lot of asphalt, with a few trees surrounded by walls of a sitable height, though usually providing minimal shade. It was to this area that we would pour out and mill about after we had eaten lunch but before the entire period had expired. It was here that I would usually sit quietly in the corner, even as the other students walked about, chatting easily with their friends, or engaging the security personnel or each other in games of “slaps.” It was a generally untended place, where we were mostly too relieved with momentary freedom to worry about anything else, even uncompleted homework for the later periods: the afternoon periods would usually breeze by by comparison. It was here that one day I was walking to a wall and tree, when suddenly, without warning, I was knocked down by someone that no one was able to see. Knocked over on my back, my head has hit the asphalt, and there is no bleeding, but it hurts, there is a bump that is rapidly swelling on the back of my head, and I try dizzily to stand up, but the wind has been knocked out of me as well, looking up I do not see black or spots or spinning or anything but the clear crisp fall sky and the barren branches of the trees, not even swaying in the wind. Lying there for a few minutes, I am prone, and the first reaction of the gathered crowd is of course to laugh, to laugh at this poor unfortunate, to release their relief that it is not themselves who is lying there, holding head in hands, and still twitching a little involuntarily. The security guards manage to disengage themselves from the students whose hands they are trying to slap before those hands can be pulled away or vice versa, and they rush over. I am whisked away unsteadily to the nurse’s office, where I am given a large packet of ice in a cloth bag, and they immediately call my mother at home. I feel just fine, except for the throbbing and insistent pain in the back of my head, which feels like something has rubbed it raw with gravel.
But the minute I figure out who the nurse is calling, my heart sinks. Now my mother will ask into what is going on at school, and I do not know how to tell her. Was this an accident? Am I once again just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is there something more malicious at work, now beyond mischief? My mother rushes out of the house, jumps on a city bus, and makes it to school just in time to see the school bus I am on pull away. I see her frantically chasing the bus, before finally giving up and riding another bus home. I am waiting on the doorstep for her, my head now bandaged, a rapidly more drippy bag of ice in my hands, my eyes nearly closed in concentration against the pain. My father arrives home early too, and I do not know how he has been contacted, how he has managed to leave work so early, and I am more worried about that for the moment than my own injury.
My mother makes all my favorite Asian dishes that night, and my father wipes at my head with a cold towel he replaces at every opportunity, even though I do not have a fever. Even my brother, normally so covertly hostile toward me at this point in our relationship, makes himself scarce. I find this attention somewhat comforting, but also troublesome. My parents are whispering in the kitchen, and I can barely make out what they are saying to one another, but my brother reports to me cheerily, “They think that someone hates you! Is that true?” I honestly cannot think of anyone who actually resents me, or would even form any particular opinion of me—certainly beyond a few wrecked curves on various math tests, I have done nothing that another student would notice. I express this skepticism to my brother, and he just shrugs. There is indeed no cause, and though my parents ask me in all sorts of ways, both oblique and direct in the next few weeks about how I am perceived at school, if I have different sorts of friends, whether any one hates me, if I feel comfortable, are the teachers sensitive. They ask me because they do not ask the school, as there is no proof of any intent and they too do not know how to navigate the insides of the school’s formal and informal channels.
It would be flattering to think that someone has a secret vendetta against me, that they have made an attempt on my life or my intellect, and I have managed to not only survive the attempt, but shakily return to school the next still, still master of all my faculties, still th e best little Asian boy in the school. No one actually notices, though, when I return, except some whisper and make fun of bandaged head, which they call a turban. Dallas is wearing a turban.
The only other incident that stands out particularly was the mock trial. In our civics class, we took a textbook case and were assigned various roles by our teacher. The case was something involving either aggravated assault or voluntary manslaughter or murder in the first. The teacher, deciding that I would be a sympathetic as well as innocent-looking, and capable of only playing the simplest role most clearly defined by the text scenario, assigns to me the role of the defendant. I do my best to throw myself into the role, as I know that I will actually have the time to prepare, and will not be caught off guard in the middle of the class. I do my best to try and ham it up, to try and summon tears during my final testimony, but there is nothing that I can call up that can bring those tears in public. But my testimony is just a minor part of the show that day, as there are bailiffs and objections and stenographers, and all sorts of other minor scripted theater. The jury, though, while on the way out, is heard to remark, You’re going to burn.
It does not take them long to come back from their hallway deliberations to deliver a guilty verdict. The teacher takes me aside later, apologizing to me for this breach, assuring me that American jurisprudence really does not work that way.

But these humiliations are the non-routine, the highlights of a relentless march. It always starts out small, the sort of thing you can will yourself not to notice, the snickers after you read aloud for a class, the repetition of what you’ve just said in a more singsong key, the sports teams that do not choose you, not even when you’re close to the last left, the jokes, the endless jokes which are told to you with the expectation that you will find them funny and laugh at them, the sorts of jokes which even teachers decide to tell you as early as elementary school, that Asians have such slanty eyes because every night, they pull their temples back in frustration, exclaiming, “Oh, no! Not rice again!” And those are just the preformed opinions, for I am not universally ignored. I am a walking Asian dictionary and encyclopedia, but only for the curse words which I do not know, having never heard them from my parents, much less my brother—it seems as if everyone wants to know how to secretly curse out others in a language that only I would understand. There are other functional requests as well, but no real deep curiosity into morphology. In short, the curiosity is far from benign, as there is an expectation that I perform for their entertainment, though thankfully there is so little that they know and so little that they would bother to find out and learn that I am more isolated than abused. Nor is there anything in the curriculum—American history and civics only mention the coolies, and internment, and migrant workers, and other such plagues.
But then again, there was the last year of middle school, for which I returned to Asia. This move was not, ultimately, much of an improvement.

My friend Sinclair also went to high school in Asia, if only for one year, on an exchange program. Sinclair must be the horniest Asian in the Western world. In part this is because he has the misfortune of being the most horribly ugly Asian imaginable—his skin pale enough to almost pass for white, but for his eyes which look not like slits, but as if they too are frowning, like his mouth which frowns over upper teeth which jut out at odd angles, and his small flat bridgeless upturned nose. And yet he tries, he tries with the full force of his parents’ fortune, though they have always been in Asia, and Sinclair has grown up with various aunts and relatives and in elite boarding schools. But he fails, tragically, and it is difficult to explain exactly why, though it doesn’t help that he has internalized a lasting lust for tall leggy blondes. I meet Sinclair, like I do so many of my other cronies for my university years, freshman year in my dorm. He is living in the floor above, and he is already in need of toilet paper, as the stall has run out. He comes down to our floor to borrow some, and is glad to see me. He remarks to me that it is a shame there are no hot girls in the dorm, and I remark, I’m sure there will be some in class. We introduce ourselves, and end up going to many things together with Geoffrey at first, even though Sinclair’s major is more on the biology and medicine side of things.
As we walk around those early weeks, Sinclair pours many things out, though not very quickly, and through a thin and nasal accent, mostly his opinions on the girls we walk by on a sliding scale of what he would like to do with them, though of course this scale is set rather high as a benchmark, and Sinclair has a vivid imagination all throughout, but he also catalogues for me his failures which would require a vivid imagination to even think up. I do not believe him at first, that girls can be so openly contemptuous, so mean, for even I have never quite experienced that sort of treatment—I am more likely to be ignored, though I find now at university that some girls are drawn to the nodding understanding I provide them, and the sensible advice, the more sensible, probably, given my inexperience and therefore my objectivity at the time. There is nonetheless a creeping sense that in receiving all of these grievances I am viewed as somehow rather less than fully eligible. But then again, I am not trying to objectify these women, or at least not to their faces in any disrespectful way. Sinclair’s philosophy is that one’s batting average is never that high anyway, and that any option available should be tried. Still, I am usually at a loss whenever he relates his latest failure, as there is little I can offer him in the way of comfort.
It’s odd, though, to think on my friends and to realize how many of them have ended up being Asian males. This trend is hard to explain fully, though I think that it has something to do with overcompensation my freshman year, the unconscious draw I felt toward other Asians, and their alien familiarity, and their own tendency to take me on as just another comrade. I have not really expanded far beyond my freshman circle, and so the Asian Americans tend to be rather overrepresented, from Geoffrey to Sinclair to Robyn. I also do know why these others seem to be so drawn to me, to seem to think that they can deposit their confidences with me, because while I am indeed discreet enough with their foibles, I am not the most sympathetic of listeners, though I suppose I have never turned them away completely coldly, without at least one cynical remark to bear away. And yet they confide in me, they tell me of all the little things that go wrong, and they complain—I am too considerate to be too openly rude, but I am just no help. And it is not as if these confidences are part of a symbiotic relationship, for I rarely open up to them, impose upon them my own inadequacies, confess my own minor sins and more major omissions. I act, it often seems like, just as a rock, from which they expect little but sitting and listening, and that is fine by me—it is all that I can do, and there is something of the instinctive trust that goes beyond mere brotherhood, but is something more deeply buried in the blood of it all.
It is sad, though, because my friendship with these Asianmen has led me to think that we are doomed to extinction, that we are boxed out of reproduction and that we will within just years be absorbed, or completely overwhelmed by American blood. So I am left then with few role models. I have discussed this problem many times with my friends, and they are all in denial. They do not think that they are all that badly off, they do not see the tightening noose, the options that are already closed off. Granted, the friends in my set are not the sort to try to change themselves fundamentally—they still believe that life or fate will bring them the girls they want, that or the right pick-up line, not the right physique, resume or apartment. And so Robyn has often said to me, “Is there anything more pathetic than a worked-out, butched-up Asian guy?” I dunno, what about you?
But maybe this is just bitterness, an easy blaming of others for a different situation to pin down, a certain meekness often mistaken for a lack of masculinity, but of course our ideals are different. We Asian men were the original metrosexuals, the long fingernails of the well-read literati, the wardrobe carefully dictated by tradition and layers of signification (though I suppose the pleated pants are an exception), extreme attention to hygiene certainly outclassing the European analogue for centuries at least, and emphasis on the pleasures and treasures of the studio rather than the musty odors of recreational contact sport. For centuries, the model Asian man was the scholar, the melancholy wine-drinker who gazes too much at the moon, but is philosophically tranquil in his ability to kill upon demand, fearing not death and not succumbing to the many-fold denials of butching up, for that is the work of the farmers, the peasants who eat their tea leaves after drinking their tea. The odd thing is that these values are largely missing in most American-born Asians I know—they do not strive for a life more meditative or contemplative or even more useful—they seek a more mercenary aim, seeing patronage not as a means for support for one’s art and self, as the point, but rather patronage as the point, the end itself. The great Asian poets needed no degrees and attended no schools—study was enough, but this apprentice model has since been lost, and we seek not masters nor then disciples, and there is a vast impatience—public life once began at 40, and now we rush our sons and daughters so that they are expected to be ready to serve, to decide, to manage by their mid-twenties, and all the while we live longer.
But I am also not crediting the jumble that the jungle of university brings. My parents, for instance, still act as if they are growing up in the same hermetic communities as when they were young, where every move is telegraphed to an attentive audience of relatives, half-relatives, allies, and rivals, where the history of any person or family has a real weight and extension into the past. It was in that context that such fundamental concepts as shame fully captured a normative, inescapable feature of everyday life. And these are the impulses which even make sense for my friends as they were growing up, under the scrutiny of the other Asian parents, with numerous other meter sticks against which they can be compared, are much more difficult to justify in a community of thousands from across the country, from divergent strands of Asianness, many of them no doubt heterodox, like mine. What happens when no one is watching? When your grades are just your business, and your disgraces are unheeded, just the expected minor burps on the way to growing up? And then of course I can only further pity my parents, for they had barely any friends in the neighborhoods where we lived, as we were growing up, and so they had two sons they poured all their surplus energy into making braggable, but had no one to brag to, no one to actually compare. And when our shame became unmoored from our communities, when our shame became not a correction by the community to ensure a smooth functioning, we ran directly into the corresponding Occidental notion—guilt. Our faces never burned in public, we rarely felt like we had let anyone else down, we focused just on ourselves, taking each failure, self-contained though it may be, as a fatal flaw in ourselves, some inability to be successful without an asterisk, to merely achieve something without acquiring the epithet, “the first Asian American to…” We could not be ourselves, for we were always representing some one else, and yet we blamed ourselves for not doing this well enough, for not catching up with the carrot dangling in front our noses, for still leaping at every tiny jerk of the string.
But I have tried too much to articulate what cannot be related, what cannot be pinned down in any sensible way—often the uneasiness a young Asian feels is not even identifiable as guilt. It is an anxiety which I can read on the faces of my friends, which is sometimes too deep to be identified as even anxiety, it is a hesitation when the reaction should be immediate, the habitual pause, a looking about at others’ plates when one’s is already far too full. This is an itchiness, an eczema of the self, which never goes away, and gets the worse for scratching. It is the only response left when even Orwell says that Eastasia lives under the spell of “Death-Worship” the obliteration of the self, and the merging with the dictates of society at large. It is this formlessness which one must learn to cultivate, a filtration of oneself past any particular quirks, leaving only achievements, though also at the same time one’s special talents, one’s artistic pursuits, if applicable, toward abstract painting, activism, and other such liberal pastimes. Self-reflection is for mirrors, and yet self-criticism is free, so long as it is not heeded. One is turned inside out by the pressures, as we too easily forget that an atm is quite a lot of pressure, enough to crush a metal gasoline can if one’s insides are just a vacuum. Equilibrium, then, is the best that can manage from day to day, and yet the perturbation come in a ceaseless march—we are thin-skinned enough to be dinted constantly, to take any affront personally, to seek out causes to which to adhere, for there to solidarity, somehow, in the face of these peltings. And yet we do not learn to give, to sway and to keep our center pointing down, rooted despite where we are blown in extremity. We live as guerillas against ourselves, the uncaught saboteurs, tapping our own noses but not seeing the signal, nor getting the hint. We lie. We lie mostly to ourselves, in making compromises, saying that we do not truly believe in that which we are doing—it is a means to an end, it is something which will take just a few years, and then—then my rich life, rich in the inner ways of course having the fulfillments that we would truly want, will truly begin.
No, we lie. We lie because we think it will help us get laid, but of course it does not. We are skeptical of our butched-up cousins, who lifted themselves out of 98-pound weaklingness into the buff, because we are jealous of them, even while we know that it will do them no good, and we resent them for failing, for they can still go places where we cannot, they still have more of a plan and determination than we can commit themselves to, so scared we are of falling behind from where we already are. We dread the notion of losing any ground, and yet we take for granted the suffering that led us here—we lack a sense of history, we are unmoored from starting out, as we live in the trappings of upper-class privilege, but with none of the invisible perks. We are junior partners from the Asia office, we do not yet have our own office, and that is the only goal that we can see. We plan for families because we instinctively know that our only hope is the long-run, our only hope is to land the family builders, the chunky girls who need to feel safe.
But I have overstepped—I have overspoken, for it is hard enough to speak for oneself, and here I claim to speak for others, united though we may be in outward aspect and inward bents, when I have no real insight into the heads of my Asian brothers born here, or raised, here or otherwise confused about how others view them. Ultimately what we share is not any particular set of beliefs, practices, views, but rather just the same perceptive footprints, the same residue if at all in the eyes of others—the only thing we share is the role that we play, or the roles, and that’s all that they are, and still I feel that that is all that some of us have. And yet this is enough to extrapolate, for I can see, I can see this new malaise that threatens to grip me as well, and in which my friends are already in the deepest throes.
And I am bitter. This bias I should admit right away, though it is hardly anything I could have done. I am bitter at the role assigned to me, the corner into which I have been painted. And it was not always thus—even freshman year I was skeptical at arm’s length, a bit suspicious, a little withdrawn, somewhat anxious, and so on. I was off-balance, wobbly, but had not yet tipped.
No, there was still hope for me yet then, and even the disappointment of losing Geoffrey to the onward march of the larger Asian student community was not what fazed me. I saw this move to university as another fresh chance, the fourth or fifth chance I could start anew with no history, and let only myself shine through. And I was almost right.

Cyrena I met in one of my non-major classes, a generalist’s class in Asian history from the prehistoric era to the Middle Ages. We did not sit next to each other at first, in that lecture hall of hundreds, crowded deep, shiny faces both Asian and white, and at first we even spilled out of the doors, all gathered round to hear the professor give his broad overview of two thousand years and billions of person-years of Asian history, both the grand stories of rulers and poets and the more prosaic lives of the ordinary citizens who have comprised nearly 40% of the totality of human experience. I take it my freshman year in part because I flatter myself, I flatter myself that I can live in the role of a debunker, an resident expert and arbiter of disputes. But of course I am off—I realize quickly that either the professor is making everything up, or I have not learned a thing through all my youth about the history of Asia that amounts to anything. And so I had to learn such things as how a white horse is not a horse, how one must preserve one’s precious male essence in that spot equidistant between navel and one’s manly way, how emptiness was the point of form, how the filial son shrinks not at tasting his father’s fecal output, and that sex hormones come from (human) urine. In frantically taking these notes, though, it was difficult to stay focused, with all the temptations all around, for without putting too fine a point on it, this time was the first time I was surrounded, not since Cindy all those years ago in grade school, the first time I was surrounded by non-maternal Asian females, and it would somehow drive me crazy.
But when the time came for recitation section, in which some abstract-flying Orientalist or some mumbling native Asian, confuses and demands arbitrary performances from a small, more concentrated group of students at each time. I had the fortune to be in the same recitation as Cyrena, as well as Geoffrey, as well as Sinclair, and Robyn. It was a small but fluctuating group of around twelve, all told, many of them fading into memory, as the only expectation was that they pipe up at some point, whether with a set speech or some other contribution, which would be duly not noted in the section leader’s notebook. Our classes here were rehashes of the main themes, and “close-readings” of texts translated decades ago into English from the original Asian by the anonymous graduate student ghost-translators at the Open Door Institutes with direct pipelines into the since-fallen dynasties which had then ruled over Asia. My preparation was minimal for these sessions, but of course attendance was at least sporadically noticed, especially around paper time. It was for the second paper, which was on the modern interpretations and Western visions of some great Asian hero, that I was paired up with Cyrena in a peer-edit team.
Cyrena was never any great beauty, and she had about her not the brassy larger-than-lifeness which some of her sisters possess, of a bit too much enthusiasm, but rather was somewhat more withdrawn, and a little shy. She had a bookish look about her, and managed to do well in most of her classes mostly through diligence and an unflagging love of the abstract heights and simultaneous depths which philosophy and the great theoretical authors provided her. She managed the most detailed exegesis imaginable without an ounce of poetry or actual insight. She did what was on the strength of sheer will and determination alone. I doubt that we would have ever exchanged two words outside of the stilted scriptedness “Well, Dallas, what do you think about what Cyrena has just said?” of recitation, were it not for our arranged partnership on our second papers, which we had chosen to write on two different heroes for Asian history. I chose the great legendary emperor who in his quest to stem the floods that had plagued his country without end worked ceaselessly for his entire reign, not even stopping by to visit his parents and family in his childhood home when his public works led him past that way. Cyrena chose the famous poet-recluse from a lateral dynasty, who left the world of officialdom to live a life among the geese and goats in the wilderness between two famous mountains, writing poems in the sand on the lakeshore with a willow twig, and then wiping away his words with his silken sleeve or allowing the wind to carry his words across many leagues, like the feather of an exiled swan.
We meet the first time in the student commons, and I do not feel nervous, even though I am rather unaccustomed to being around Asian girls my own age. I get there first, of course, and am flipping through my first draft, checking the citation format when she comes, and sits down next to me, “Hi, Dallas! How is your paper?” Okay, I guess. What about you? “Oh, just fine. I guess maybe we should talk about any concerns we have and then maybe read each other’s work?” Sure, I shrug, that sounds pretty good. “Well, in thinking about the poet, I want to really examine the bucolic pull in his work, the tension that he feels at having been forced out of his commission by the political winds of the day as counterbalanced by the tranquility and purpose he nonetheless is immersed in when he lives in his humble hut, calligraphing by day, drinking and looking at the moon in sadness and loneliness at night, which is still somehow a purposeful loneliness, predicated on a Derridean notion of absence, which while masturbatory in its power and force, is still miraculously generative. Somehow then I want to envision his corpus as a sort of bank of seeds of ideas, germs for future growth, a return to bountifulness in spite of the barrenness of the personal and political landscapes.”
I see. Have you ever been on a farm? “No.” What about the forest? “Not really, no, but when my poet describes it the way that he does, it comes alive with a vividness which surpasses mere lived experience, and in that textuality there is a texture which makes it its own constructed hermetic object, or rather solar system of objects, its own sign in its own semiotic system, born of nothing, which is after all how an outsider might actually think of the wilderness, upon first encountering it.” What about when he gets drunk? “Well, then he is just channeling the Dionysiac spirits which allow him to see the inter-significations of his signifiers, and I am thinking of one poem in particular when he always touches the signified itself.” Isn’t Dionysius Greek? “Well, the idea is the same—the sages all were drunk on wine or quicksilver or their various other elixirs.” Oh. Have you ever been drunk? “No, but the way that my poet writes when he writes while drunk, and I mean also the calligraphic texts lets the light shine through more than enough.” Hrm. So what’s your question? “Well, right now I’m more concerned with the intertextual possibilities his corpus opens up, the cross-fertilization possible, both backwards and forwards in time. What about you?”
Well, with my emperor, it’s the notion of duty over power. As emperor, he does not need to directly do anything, with his own hands—all Asia and all Asians serve him, and so he would need only to turn his hand and the dam would be made. Yet he is there every day for decades, not just supervising every step of the way, constantly innovating, and encouraging, but putting himself on the line with all the workers, heaving the great clumps of earth in defiance of the raging will of rivers themselves. This duty is even one which outweighs family, another tension which I think torments the Asian to this day. “So what’s your question?” It’s just an observation, it’s a matter too of looking at whether this stereotype of the career-man who neglects family carries through the present day.
She nods, and tries to inject some semiotics into what I am saying, but I resist her efforts. We read each other’s papers in silence, and offer minimal advice. I leave the commons and go back to my room to tap away at the paper some more. Cyrena has impressed me, not because she seems like she really knows what she is talking about, but because she does not. She seems somehow helpless and naïve, untrained in the intricacies of the Asian domestic arts, which even I have managed to pick up from my mother, at least in part, and just by watching. Part of me wants to shield her, and though we are quite unsuccessful when she tries to communicate her big blobular ideas to me, we get along just fine in more casual pursuits. Around her I am disarming in my listening ways, and I absorb her many-fold anxieties, which she pours out hesitantly at first, but with gathering speed as I show my willingness to at least nod. We begin to save seats for each other in the lecture hall, depending on who arrives first, almost always I am there, waiting, fending off others eyeing the prime seat I have staked out, ready to write notes on her notes, or to nudge her slightly when there is some obvious goof-up or faux pas the professor has made, even as he barrels onward, oblivious to the giggles and derision of those who know just a little better. Our papers pass muster, though hers is graded higher mostly out of the intimidation factor of the range of her vocabularies, and her analytical techniques, so advanced for a mere freshman. We fall into the habit of studying together, as she has a tendency for grant overarching theories and structures in which to place everything, and I tend to be good with facts and relations between specifics. This combinations works out well for us, and we continue to work in this way, together. It is not very grueling work, as it is just hardly even a departmental course, and so there is plenty of time for soda, and joking, and other forms of organized idleness. She enjoys the attention, I think, and our sessions sometimes go longer than they need to, as we obsessively pretend to feverishly look up facts we already half-know.
As freshman year turned from fall to spring, we have fallen into a very casual and friendly pattern, and we are comfortable with each other, and she does not feel alien, it feels like she and I are reading from the same book, and indeed we often do, and it seems like despite the veneer of continental philosophy she has slathered on top of herself, that she can actually understand what it is to be Asian, Asian in America, that she has kept some part of herself, while needing also the approval, the romantic approval she has never quite received, for though she can neither cook nor clean, the prudery has seeped through, and completely soaked her. And it is not as if I have many models to go by at this point. My secondary school years did not provide many models to which I could hope to aspire, not being athletic in a beefy way or landed generations back, in good American soil or other capital. And was I to look to my parents? Their courtship was a mystery of state, an axiom in my deductive system, and just as taken for granted. There was not much in the way of television romance, either, between my parents, their match was something that only made sense to them, and which was plucked out of the context of common history, common goals, and a common language, to say nothing of a conventionalized set of mores, and peers whom they could ask for advice in matters of the heart and genetic propagation, for surely my brother and I were premeditated, long long ago. When I was younger I took their silences to be an absence, something missing which I wondered at the few times I saw the public displays of affection my classmates received from their parents at open school nights, and the other signs other parents exchanged each other, much less the school-bound hanky-panky I could not seem to escape. But now I take it to be a fullness, expectation and small acts already fulfilled without need of redundant narration or other expository captions: the declarations were in every movement; only a Westerner would need to think of and define chivalry, the only reins that one could put on the runaway horse of bloodlusty professional warriors, and for the rest, there was always prima noctis.


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