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I like liked the redheaded boy, Bradley. And I couldn’t believe it myself.
It was Tuesday and Lisa and I were playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. The blazing Alabama sun burnt our toes, but we continued. It was the third round and Lisa looked a little flustered.
“I have to tell you something. Do you pinky swear to keep it a secret?” she asked.
I swore and shook her pinky in confidence.
“I like Josh,” she whispered and giggled.
“I do too. He’s nice,” I said.
“No silly. I like like him,” she replied.
I stood awkwardly in silence. She looked at me, trying to elicit a response. But I remained silent, searching for some way to comprehend her revelation.
“Cool,” I answered, shrugging.
She seemed put off that I didn’t giggle or comment on his perfectly parted hair. But it was my turn to hopscotch and I stepped up to the grid. When I reached the third box, she began her interrogation.
“So, do you have a crush on anyone?” she asked.
I froze. A crush? I was intimidated by this foreign terminology. But my reflex denied the accusation instantly. She persisted.
“Ok fine, I have a crush on Bradley,” I said unconvincingly.
But she was gullible and I was repulsed. I felt as though I was stuck in a Beverly Cleary novel. I was in Ramona’s world of love trouble, but the feelings eluded my grasp.
Love was a confusing emotion to me. In the culture my parents were brought up in, arranged marriages were an accepted norm. I grew up thinking love was more of an extraneous emotion—less practical than the rest. But the society around me had a different opinion. Ms. Spratlin’s lessons through Cleary’s novels romanticized love into magical feelings. Once Ramona solved her boy troubles, she was perfectly happy. But although there was an implied connection between love and happiness, I didn’t think I was unhappy.
As I stood in front of my best friend while she sang nauseating love songs about Bradley and I, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had betrayed my culture. I stared at the ground feeling ashamed for thinking about boys and love. But I sensed a spark of excitement in the prospect of “going out with someone.”
It was getting late and the burning sun was setting, so I said goodbye to Lisa and went inside for dinner. My mom was sitting at the kitchen counter and I approached her timidly. I felt guilty about my hopscotch declaration and I was going to confess my sins. But it seemed that as I got closer, my courage faltered.
A few years later, I tried again. Sitting at the kitchen counter at the age of fourteen, I listened to my mom lay out her hopes for me. The lofty subject of marriage intimidated me. But it continually nudged at me, asking for answers. So I satisfied my curiosity.
“I want to give you the freedom to choose who you want to spend your life with,” my mom said. “You should be free to make your own decisions in choosing a husband.”
I listened to her gentle words and I knew that I should have felt liberated, but still something tugged at me. It was a custom that I felt guilty leaving behind. Life was made of sacrifices. I thought that perhaps my parents had sacrificed a bit of themselves for tradition. And I respected them for their strength.
Although once I did not understand the meaning of love, I had come to realize that I did not want to make the same sacrifice as my parents. Tradition and culture were important to me, but I didn’t want to give up a part of myself for them. I didn’t want to feel as though I had missed out on a part of life. I wanted to experience all of the magical feelings of Ramona’s world.
I had been caught in a clash of two cultures. Of two generations. It was the world with Lisa hopscotching on the sidewalk versus the world in which my grandparents and parents had grown up. It was a tough tug-of-war between the two.
But I was ready to let the rope fall.