To Fly Wingless
Fay Pon, 1st Place
By the age of six, I had moved a grand total of four times. And every time, Baba’s favorite gingko tree came along with us. No matter how many times its roots were pulled, torn, and cut from all the moving and replanting, the gingko tree never died.
Baba had brought its seeds from China to America when he was a child, and the tree has grown with him ever since.
“I replant my tree,” he explained, “because trees like this one will grow to be sturdy and it will live anywhere.”
Behind our new house was a small garden, and I would watch my father replant many, many gingko bilobas.
“Fay, when you grow up, you will be just like this tree. You will study hard and have a steady job and no matter where you go, you will survive and thrive well.”
I nodded obediently. I am a tree and I will grow up to be successful.
At the age of seven, I was going to be a wealthy business woman. It only takes four years of college, my mother would say to me, and it’ll keep you from ending up on the streets. It had been, indeed, a practical career choice. I again nodded obediently, not giving much thought for who I was going to be a decade from then.
However, as the year to choose colleges drew nearer, my outlook on my future began to change. I loved telling stories. I would tell them to the darkness of my bedroom when everyone slept and no one could hear, but it felt good because my voice echoed against the walls like a microphone. I would scribble them hastily on the margins of my homework planner. I would trace make-believe family trees and character-names with my finger. I was going to be a writer.
My Mama liked to tell stories too, but they all led back to the same moral lesson—
“And so, you have to study hard, and go to a good college, and be successful. You have to fulfill the expectations of your poor ancestors.”
Just like that, the phrase “good college” being the understatement of the century.
One day, when I was 12, I told my mother about my dreams.
She was in the kitchen preparing dim-sum whilst telling me about her life in China, a life of very little opportunity because of the death-strewn ravages of war, “You’re lucky, that Stanford is only an hour away.”
Mama gave me a gentle smile that flickered with hope. With dreams. With expectations.
I looked up at her, “But Mama, I want to publish a novel.”
“A novel, Mama. You’re going to tell me more stories and I’m going to write it all down.I’m going to be a writer when I grow up,” I replied.
The smile on my mother’s face, however, slid off immediately.
“No Fay, most writers end up on the streets. You need a practical job. You will study hard and become an engineer like your father.”
At that, she pushed an Algebra book into my arms, “Go study.”
Oh well. Amongst the crowd, I guess I am just one person, like any other. Why should I dream any differently?
I was 14 when everything changed in our family. After my younger sister was diagnosed with Autism, I found interest in something other than writing. I soon began studying diseases and learning about the research involved in treating such maladies because, at the time, the doctor had told our family that there was no remedy for Autism. That made me sad, and no matter how much I wrote and wrote about despair and angst and forlorn little things, I could do nothing with words.
I wanted to help others, to take action in improving my sister’s condition and that of other patients as well. And so, in the waiting room that night at the hospital, I told my mother,
“I want to be a doctor, Mama.” I told her this, despite the fact that I still gripped my writing notebook in one hand and a fountain pen in the other.
She turned to me and smiled gently, taking my hand, “You know Fay, you are a strong girl. You should be what you want to be.”
And in that instant, my dreams came back.
I am almost 17 now, taking college courses as a high school student just like all the other Asian students in town.
But aside from the usual classes, I take Creative Writing classes. Despite the lack of encouragement, my dream in becoming an Asian American writer has not faltered.
I will double major, one in Medicine to pursue Autism research for my sister and one in Writing & Literature for myself, so I can fulfill both dreams, connect both ends of my family’s gossamer thread of hopes. And through time, I have grown to love both.
I have stories to tell about people like me, here in America, I say. My English teacher gives an encouraging smile.
I have the hands and the heart to help save lives, I say. At home, my family nods in approval. After all, studying medicine is a dream shared by us all.
My dad once told me that I was going to grow like a gingko tree one day, steady and wise. The tree can grow and grow and spread its roots, but it cannot walk away.
I am a bird. And the gingko tree is my home. A bird that can spread its wings even when the weather grows drafty, that can fly back and forth from dream to dream, from home to home.
A messenger bird, indeed.
It likes to tell stories, to sing its songs for the world to hear.
I can live two dreams now.