I’ve haven’t quite figured out what I’m living for yet. But I do know what I’m willing to die for – either an unrequited love or a humanistic revolution. To my cynical friends, this sounds ridiculous. But to me, it sounds almost redundant because I believe love and revolution are essentially the same. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary whose iconic image occupies many of my favorite T-shirts, once said, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” On the other hand, the simple act of loving someone translates and transcends elements of revolution. A lover blindfolded by desire is no less ready to dissolve his individuality than a soldier summoned by his political ideology. Therefore, it is no surprise that I, a helplessly romantic socialist, have often found myself at the crossroads of baffled love and untimely rebellion.
Two years ago, with one hand clutching my wrinkled notes and the other awkwardly supporting my newly broken glasses, I gave my speech for class president to the freshman class of my school. Standing on the wrestling mat where, three months earlier, I had been pinned by my opponent after six minutes of struggle, I felt obliged to win this time.
I wanted to win. I wanted to change my classmates’ perception of the nerdy kid from China, whose few emergences in the social sphere of our boarding school had been a shaky, raised hand in classroom discussions, a trembling “Hi” to an unfamiliar face in the hallway, and a few unsuccessful forays into the “popular cliques.”
I wanted to smash that all-Chinese-people-eat-dogs joke. I wanted to show them that I didn’t have to be a Buddhist to burn incense in a temple, that I could be a socialist without pledging loyalty to the Communist party. But I knew truths told with anger had no appeal. So I tried to be funny. I wanted to be laughed at while being taken seriously.
Most of all, I wanted the attention of the girl sitting cross-legged at the corner of my left eye, with long, curly hair, whose smile had often danced wildly against the stained glass of my imagination.
Never in my life did I need a revolution so badly.
Here is the problematic part of my speech: “Being a president can give me many things. I can practice English more and learn more about American culture because the only football player I know is Tom Brady, and I don’t really know what a pelican is. Learning English is same as making a girlfriend to me, which both turn out to be unexpectedly hard. I have learned that there are different bases in making a girlfriend and if English is a girl, I need much more practices to get to the so-called Home Run. Though I know nothing about baseball, but I feel it’s a sports starting from home and trying to come back at home. I left my home in China and I found a new one here. I am also trying to help you guys find your home. Home is where you belong, what you good at and the person you really want to be.”
Well, everybody was laughing like crazy, but I didn’t yet realize why.
I knew something was wrong when I was quickly surrounded by a group of boys, including some popular ones, and held up like a trophy of my own ignorance. And when that girl tossed me a look of disgust, I felt like I had been shot.
When the results came out, I lost. All six boys who ran lost. The only female candidate won.
Two hours after the election, I looked up “Home Run” in the Urban Dictionary online, and an English teacher explained to me that it is appropriate to say “make a friend” but not “make a girlfriend.”
But in that moment, I had no idea what I had done. After congratulating the winner, I sauntered back to my room on campus. Outside the window, the captain of the tennis team was kissing his girlfriend under a maple tree. With the spirit of revolution drumming against the backdrop of my feeble consciousness, I prayed for a poignant, fatal kiss that could unfold me right there, right at that unresolved moment, slowly and sin by sin.
In the months that followed, I felt like the whole school had declared a nuclear war on me. Words like “misogynist,” “stalker,” and “pedophile” floated around like gunpowder while rumors, suspicious smiles, and averted eyes swept across my sensitive soul. I knew people were offended, but I was too hurt to say sorry. I was too sorry to admit I was hurt. My wounded pride and disillusionment drowned all the apologies I rehearsed alone.
No one ever mentioned the incident again, and I couldn’t stand the silence. I wanted to fight someone. I wanted to beat someone until I found the necessity to apologize. Or I could get beaten and beaten until they felt terrible for me, something that had happened often during my troubled public school years in China.
Then I remembered what my mom had told me: “The more you speak, the more mistakes you make.” So I avoided talking, stopped laughing at jokes I didn’t understand, devoured cold lunches in the basement, and hid from the girl whose look of disgust continued to burn me alive during my sleepless nights.
Instead, I picked up my pen and started to pour my unreciprocated desire into sonnets, fallen hope into fictions, and wordless confusion into essays. Finally, I poured my pain into the impotent rage with which I would tear everything I had just written into pieces.
When my friends asked me to join them for a walk, I chose to be left alone with grotesque stories. While they made first discoveries of love with pretty girls, I became infatuated with their sassy counterparts in the fictional world. When my friends were filling their nights with giggles and secrets, I sat by a shadowless lamp with nothing more than the vast expanse of darkness and a few desperate lines of poetry.
I wrote to disappear, to protest, to escape, and to forget. I wrote and wrote until I could not be convinced by words anymore. I wrote until every comma looked like a dagger, every period a dead end, and every sentence a false confession. I wrote until I felt that violence was the only logical conclusion.
When I pressed the knife I had stolen from the architecture classroom to my wrist, I thought that the act would give voice to the scream I held inside. I would die for an unrequited love as well as a revolution. A revolution on a much smaller scale.
A revolution against myself.
A year later, I sit with a cup of coffee and retell this story from the perspective of a survivor and a writer. It was not an “adolescent anxiety disorder with signs of minor depression,” as my psychiatrist concluded. It was not a failed assault on high school popularity, as my classmates might have assumed. It was not the aftermath of unrealistic love and apologies withheld, as I used to believe. Rather, it was a tragic encounter between a crowd prone to judgment and a solitary, sensitive mind susceptible to overreaction. It is what happens when you put a hundred teenagers, each absorbed in his or her own destiny, in a suffocating wrestling room on a Friday afternoon and let one of them tell a lonely, painful truth under the masquerade of American humor.
Really, it’s no one’s fault. All I can do now is try to push my vision across the sizzling hot air of the wrestling room and beyond the pen I’m writing this story with, and try to see the larger meaning. Maybe one day I will look back and be glad that it happened at an age when all can still be redeemed in my future, whether by love or by revolution.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.