Arriving in Heaven This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 28, 2012
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She pointed at the sky and said, “You know you are a very lucky girl; soon you're going to be in a giant metal bird, that will take you to heaven to find a better future.”

At the time I was confused, really believing we were going to heaven.

I asked, “When?”

“Soon,” Grandma said with a sad smile.

Every morning, roosters and birds make noise; as I rise with the sun. Mom and Dad are already at work, while my brothers and sisters hug their blankets, small heads against pillows. I splash my face with water and dry it. Opening the door I start to walk. Dirt, sand, rock, and stone brush lightly against my bare feet.

At a distance, I see Grandma's red cloth wrapped around her head. She is working on her paj ntaub design, saying, “Morning, sweetie, you're up early today.”

As I help her with the design, I ask, “Grandma, what does heaven look like?”

She points at the sky and says, “Look, what do you see?”

“I see white puffy clouds and the color blue.”

“You are right, but it is not just puffy clouds and blue sky. Each of them has a meaning, which you will learn when you go up there.”

That answer didn't help me understand, but what confused me the most was that Grandma should be sad about my family going to heaven. Instead, she seemed happy.

Then on November 16, 2005, we finally arrive. In heaven, it's cold and windy. Everywhere I look the ground is covered with white sheets of fluff. When I touch it, it melts in my tiny hands. I scan the airport with my eyes and see people with white skin and yellow hair for the first time. Big metal boxes take people and luggage from place to place. To me, heaven looks scary.

My aunt finally tells me, “This is not heaven. This is America.”

Maybe “America” is another word for heaven.

Once we are settled in America, school starts. I meet a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman named Mrs. Carly who teaches me to write, read, and speak English. ­She also teaches my siblings and me how to make wonderful, tasty ­noodles that she calls spaghetti. She takes us to a place filled with people and all types of animals.

Mrs. Carly cares for my siblings and me, but I never dare talk to her. It's not that I don't want to. I wish I could speak to her like I talked to Grandma. One day, she gathers all of us, along with a translator for a meeting. My eyes focus on her face, and as she speaks, the translator translates.

“I want you to know that I will help you whenever you need it. I wish I could speak your language so I could communicate with you better. I will try my best to help you learn. I will teach you everything I know. Now that you are in America, I want you to push yourselves and not give up.”

As she says these words, her eyes sparkle. I can tell she really cares. I want to say something but can't. Seeing Mrs. Carly every day makes me miss Grandma a lot.

A year passes and my family moves to another town. I regret that I don't see Mrs. Carly to say good-bye and thanks. Our new town is different. The teachers are not like Mrs. Carly. They just do their jobs but don't go above or beyond. They don't teach or treat us like a part of their family. The worst part is that I'm shy, so I'm always alone at school with no friends and no one to talk to; the swing is the only place I go during recess. School has always been my worst enemy, especially reading, writing, and speaking English.

I don't like acting like someone who is not me. At home, I can be as loud and as silly as I want, but at school I can't because everything is different. I can see, speak, and hear like other people, but I can't understand. Some days I feel like I have been beaten down so much by people and life in general, I wonder how I can still have hope.

Then I remember what Grandma said, “Look up in the sky. What do you see?” When I first looked at the sky with her, it was just blue with clouds. But now I understand that it's more. It's how you look at life. When you first look at it, it's just life, but if you look at everything that is involved, it's everything.

Grandma told me, “If you go to heaven, your future will be better than it is now.” I thought that heaven would have everything – good food, clothing, and shoes. However, in heaven, everything is not as I imagined. Everything is new and strange. But as the years pass, I start to understand how everything works, including how Americans speak. Learning their language helps me communicate and understand why they are the way they are and why they do what they do. Piecing everything together in my mind, it begins to seem like a normal place to live.

When I came to America, the food was very different from at home. I hated cheese on hamburgers. It tasted salty, but the hamburger itself tasted really good. I also didn't like chocolate. When I ate it the first time, it melted in my mouth, and I didn't like that feeling. I also didn't like the color. I honestly thought it was poop. But now, I like chocolate and cheese. I've gotten used to the taste.

When I came to America, all I felt was determination. Seeing things that I didn't know or understand, I was confused by it all. I wanted to know what they were and why they existed. Once I figured out one thing, I wanted to learn more. I was helped by looking at what others were doing. The world seemed like it would be an easier place if I knew more.

When I lived with Grandma, I was eight years old. Arriving in America meant I wouldn't see her for a long time. The one time she finally visited, Grandma got into a car accident and passed away on the way from the airport to my home. I was young, so I didn't understand. When I realized I wasn't going to see her ever again, ­I thought: Is this really happening? She's the only person I've been waiting for.

Looking back now, it all feels like a dream. As if she only existed in a dream. I miss Grandma, but I can't do anything about it. I have to let my feelings go and find hope, find my voice again.

Hope was achieved when I became the most artistic student in my class. I drew and painted a Chinese dragon, which got everyone's attention; they liked my art work. They understood me. They saw me through my pictures. And because of that I finally made friends. Drawing also helped me in school. I'm better at being patient, focused, taking my time to fix mistakes, and I don't give up: it will always turn out to be a beautiful drawing.

The more time you waste dream-ing about how life could be better, the less time you have to make the choices that will lead you to a greater dream. It's time to hold my head up, smile, and show heaven who I really am.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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