I’ve never quite figured out what I’m living for. 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: the pursuit of a Petrarchan ideal, the emphasis on romantic solidarity, and the willingness to sacrifice oneself for something greater. 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.
More than two years ago, with one hand clutching my wrinkled notes, almost illegible from repetitive revisions, and the other one 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 was pinned down by my opponent after six minutes of headlong struggle, now I felt almost obliged to win. In front of me, my classmates, a swarm of excited anticipation and doubt, awaited.
Why was I even doing this?
I wanted to win. I wanted to change my classmates’ perception of this nerdy little kid from China, whose few emergences in the inflated social sphere of the boarding school had been punctuated by a shaky, raised hand in classroom discussions, a trembling “Hi” delivered with a timid brusqueness to an unfamiliar face in the hallway, and a number of other unsuccessful forages 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 truth told with anger had no appeals. So I tried to be funny. I wanted to be laughed at while being taken seriously.
Most of all, I wanted the attention of that single girl, sitting cross-legged at the corner of my left eye, her curly, long hair tilted slightly towards the right, and whose smile had often danced ever so 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 by far 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.”
The sacrifice was complete.
Well, I mean everybody was laughing like crazy. But it didn’t matter.
I knew something was wrong when my speech was over, when I was surrounded by a group of boys, including some popular ones, when I was being held up like a trophy of my own ignorance, and when that girl tossed me a look of disgust. I felt like being shot.
I knew something was wrong when the results came out, and I lost. All six boys who ran lost. The only girl candidate won.
I knew something was wrong when two hours after the election, I found out the definition of “Home Run” at the Urban Dictionary online, and when two years later, an English teacher explained to me that it is appropriate to say “make a friend”, but not “make a girlfriend”.
But at that moment, I had nothing to grudge about. After congratulating the girl briefly, I sauntered back to my room on campus. Inside, I played the album “Revolutionary Vol.1” by The Immortal Technique. The songs were about Peruvian gangsters and their cocaine, women, and revolutions. Outside the window, the captain of tennis team was kissing his girlfriend under a tall 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. I wished that it was the end of another failed attempt, never knowing that approximately the same time a year later, I would find myself sitting beside my desk, with one hand holding a pen, suspended like a metaphor over an unfinished essay, and the other one hesitantly pushing a cold, thirsty blade against the skin of my wrist.
I felt like the whole school had declared a nuclear war on me and what I stood for. Words like “misogynistic”, “stalker”, and “pedophile” floated around like gunpowder while troops of rumors, suspicious smiles, and averted eyes swept across my little utopia, scaffolded precariously upon a sensitive soul. I knew people were offended but I was too hurt to say sorry. I was too sorry to admit that I was hurt. My wounded pride and disillusion drowned all the apologies I had rehearsed alone.
But what I couldn’t stand the most was the silence, which dusked like a conspiracy over me, the only casualty of this loveless war. No one ever mentioned the incident again. I wanted to fight someone. I wanted to beat someone until I found the necessity to apologize. Or I could get beaten, beaten and beaten until they felt terrible for me, something that happened way too often during my troubled public school years back in China.
Then I remembered what my mom had told me, “The more you speak, the more mistakes you make.” So I avoided talking to people, stopped laughing at jokes I did not understand, devoured cold lunches in the basement, and hid away from the girl whose look of disgust continued to burn me alive during those sleepless nights.
Instead, I picked up my pen and started to pour my unreciprocated desire into sonnets, fallen hope into fictions, wordless confusion into essays, and finally I poured my pain into the impotent rage with which I would tear everything I just wrote into pieces. When my friends asked me to join them for a walk, I chose to be left alone with some grotesque stories; when 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 endless night 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, protest, escape, and forget. I wrote and wrote until I could not be convinced by words anymore. I wrote until every single comma looked like a dagger, every period a dead end, and every sentence a false confession. I wrote until I realized that there would be no escape without violence.
Therefore, in the spring of 2015, when I saw my writhing, green veins surfacing under the pressure of the knife I stole from the architecture classroom, I almost smiled, thinking about how blood would burst out in a rebellion against my broken heart, how it would give voice to the scream I held inside of me, how I could grasp the fleeting truth in a scarlet swamp, and how I could die without betraying my promise.
This time, 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 down with a cup of coffee, and retell this story from the perspective of a survivor and a writer. Now I’d like to see what happened as a tragedy. It was not an “adolescent anxiety disorder with signs of minor depression” as my first psychiatrist concluded. It was not a failed assault on high school popularity as my classmates might have remembered. It was not an aftermath of unrealistic love and apologies withheld as I used to believe. Rather, it was a tragic encounter between a crowd prone to judgments and a solitary, sensitive mind susceptible to overreaction. It is what will happen 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 is no one’s fault. All I can do now is try to push my vision across the sizzling hot air of the wrestling room, over the blade leaning against my wrist, and beyond the pen I’m writing this story with and try to see the larger troubles behind all of this. The troubles of our culture and of our generation. Maybe one day I will look back at all of this and be glad that it happened at a tender age, when all that is lost can still be redeemed in my future, whether by love or by revolution.