For several sleepless nights, I sat by my window, staring into the stars surrounded by darkness. They, tiny and timid, twinkled once in a while and buried their faces into the ocean of stars. I called my baba and mama.
“How are you today?” They would ask.
And I would swallow my sobbing, raise my pitch, and reply, “school was fun today, the teachers were nice, the students were kind.”
“Do you miss home
That was the question I hated to answer, but my response was always the same, “not really” followed by a smirk to dilute my emotions. But I missed home. Deciding to come to America was my choice, they didn’t need to bear the guilt of sending me here, they didn’t need to know I missed home. My parents would go on telling me about their day, things they did, places they visited, people they saw, food they ate. I would be jealous, envying their lives. Every call was staged by me, designed to reveal the enjoyable parts about my life here. They thought I was never homesick.
On Chinese New Year evening in my Freshman year, after a full day of joyous celebration with my friends at school, I sat by the window, waiting for the sun to set. I remembered, back in China, my whole family gathered around a huge round table on New Year’s night. No matter how far away my family members were from home, they would always be there for dinner, for Tuan’Yuan. I waited eagerly for 6 P.M to come that evening, the time when my baba and mama would awaken. I waited patiently for their story about the Tuan’Yuan dinner, and about my cousins whom I had not seen for more than 6 months. I remembered my 6-year-old cousin asking me where I was going the night I left China. He was building his Lego skyscraper as I packed up in the living room.
“Come play with me”, he said. I paused what I was doingand knelt beside him. He pointed at the Lego box and asked, “What does this English say?”
“Empire State Building in America”, I replied. “That’s where I’m going.”
“Really?” His eyes widened. A six-year-old boy couldn’t really grasp what it meant for me to voyage halfway across f the planet, study, and live there for some time. It was a daunting yet exciting adventure.
“Where is America? Is it far? Farther than that time when we drove to Hai’Nan in eight hours?”
“Much farther. It takes a plane sixteen hours to fly there.”
“When will you be back? Next week? We should go to that shopping mall when you come back, I want a Lego Plane.”
I didn’t answer him, but my grandma did. She said that I would be home again soon. Somehow his tiny brain could tell that was a lie. The parting was difficult, my grandparents had to wrestle with my cousin in order to get him off me. He clenched onto my jacket, he knew grandma was lying.
That shopping mall reminded me of the crossroad I used to pass through every day on my way to school. It was a crowded crossroad, packed with pedestrians trying to traverse to the other side all the time. Weeks before Chinese New Year, the vendors there would decorate it with homemade lanterns, fortune couplets, and Chinese calligraphy. The normally anxious and busy crossroad seemed festive and elegant in an ocean of red decorations. Traditional music would be playing in the background, in harmony with the loud laughter on the street.
But none of them were near me by my side when I waited for my parents’ call. This was the first New Year without my family and the crossroad. Everything felt a bit cold, a bit empty, a bit lonely.
When my parents finally called me, I was surprised they tried to FaceTime me. Trying to sound energetic was already hard enough, I couldn’t possibly force a delighted smile. I hung up and called back.
“Hey Nana, how are you today?” They asked.
“It was good, we had a Chinese New Year special Chapel today. The speaker was the student we met on the first day of school, remember?.”, I tried sounding as bright as possible.
“Why don’t you want to FaceTime us?”
“The Wi-Fi isn’t working well”, I replied. The room was quite cold and dark.
“Did you perform a Chinese song or something. It might help you get a girlfriend, huh?” Baba teased me. He seemed to believe my excuse.
I returned with a perfunctory chuckle: I wasn’t in the mood of joking. “So how was the dinner last night? Was it fun?” I asked.
A pause followed, unnaturally long. “hello?” I added. “Maybe the signal isn’t well there, mama can you hear me?”
“Oh yea, the dinner was good. Your uncle and aunt came. You know how they are they just fought over small things last night. What a cute couple!”
“Haha, I know they haven’t changed much, have they? How’s Doudou?”
“Your cousin misses you. Also he wants you to bring some of his favorite chocolate to him when you go back this summer.”
I missed him too. I pulled my phone away from me. I realized I made a long pause too.
“Nana, I heard the Chinese club is hosting a Chinese New Year Dinner tonight. You should go join your friends.”
“Oh yea, I almost forgot about it. Xin Nian Kuai Le, baba mama”, I tried to sound calm and I did.
“Happy New Year!”
After the call, absolute silence. I collapsed on my bed. The nostalgia was always the strongest after the call, when the voices disappear and I have nothing to extend my memory upon, the feeling of emptiness. Lying on my bed, I tried to keep reminiscing past Chinese New Years I spent with my family. Habitually, I raised the phone in my hand and started browsing through my Chinese friends’ New Year posts. Why am I here? I asked myself. I could be with my family if I didn’t come here. I sighed into the darkness and thought seeing my friends would help me feel better, so I dragged myself out.
When I opened the door, I could not believe my eyes. I just stood there silently, chocked. Thousands of images went through my mind like the flow of memory was triggered by what I just saw. I thought of my grandpa’s pork stew, firecrackers I used to celebrate New Year, clicks chopsticks made against the porcelain bowls… I could hear, see, smell, sense all of them around me. In front of me stood my parents with two huge suitcases by their sides. Hallucination, I thought. But that ephemeral glee was enough, even if it wasn’t real.
“It’s real!” My baba laughed.
I walked up, hugged them, held them tight. It was real.
“I miss you guys. I miss home”, I could no longer bear the secret, it burst at the end.
“We know, we know… We missed you too”, they looked into my eyes, smiling.
They looked weary from the long journey, but in their eyes I saw the warm security I longed for in the past six months. That warmth quickly burned my loneliness away.
“This lad is hungry”, my baba announced. “Let’s go to the celebration dinner.” He disturbed my string of thoughts from the surprise.
That night I spent my Chinese New Year with my parents and my friends. It felt like I had a family around me. I could even brag about how my parents came all the way from China to visit me. When the celebration concluded, my parents dragged me aside holding my hands.
“When I went to Italy for a Post-Graduate program, I missed home. I know exactly how you feel.” Baba told me.
I looked away, quite unwilling to bring up the topic again.
He said when he went to Italy for Post-graduate to earn a living, he went by himself. He and my mom were newlyweds when he received the scholarship from Italy. Poor as he was, that was his only opportunity to study abroad. Of course, my mama encouraged him, his dream of studying MBA. My mama and baba knew very well what it meant to study abroad, a few years of life without each other. When he arrived in the alien country, unfamiliar with Italians’ native tongue, he couldn’t even find his school and had to sleep in the train station.
“But life got better”, he laughed. “My longings for my family never went away though…”
I was still staring at the far corner to distract myself from feeling emptiness.
“It is the same for you. Don’t try to cover up your emotions, I understand how hard it is to live in a foreign country. That feeling of loneliness and dreams of me standing alone in the dark often woke me from my sleep.”
I looked at him, watch him peeled off layers of my shell to reveal my true feelings.
“‘Why did I even come here? An ordinary life at home can be much more comfortable’, I would often ask myself”, baba said.
At night he would look at the stars and wonder what his family was doing on the other side of earth. Nostalgia struck him often. It was mama who motivated him. You’ve gone to Italy to become extraordinary. My baba took this her support with him wherever he went. When he graduated with a MBA, he earned huge success in Italy and became manager in the leading fashion company in the world.
“I would call back home once or twice a month when I had the money to spare on this luxury. Eventually, I could get a ticket for your mother to come to Italy”, He continued.
I listened quietly.
“When I fought for my prosperity in Italy, I wasn’t fighting for myself I fought for my family. Now you are in America, not fighting for us but for yourself. Xing xing bian cheng le yun; yun ye cheng le xing xing de mu yan; xing xing de gu xiang, shi ye kong shen chu de ye kong; yun de gu xiang, shi yuan fang yi yuan de yuan fang. Stars turned into clouds, and clouds took the shape of flowers; Stars’ hometown is yonder the dark night; Clouds’ hometown is beyond the far distance. That quotation is you, a cloud that went to a foreign land and became a star. But deep inside, the cloud misses its home. By studying in America, you’ve become a cloud that takes the shape of stars. You’ve become extraordinary, and we are proud of you.”
That night I sat by the window, stared into the stars surrounded by darkness. I kept repeating baba’s words in my head.
I said to myself, “Xing xing bian cheng le yun; yun ye cheng le xing xing de mu yan … Maybe I’ve come to America to be an extraordinary star in the sky.”
The stars twinkled brighter and brighter.