January 15, 2023

She has been unearthed.

Beautiful Country
By Qian Julie Wang

As determined as I feel to read 50 new books this year, I keep thinking about the books I listened to and loved last year. I'd like to revisit them, this time as hard copies with a pencil in hand to underline all of my favorite sentences. 

"Beautiful Country" is one; "Olga Dies Dreaming" and "Ghosts" are two others.

I started "Beautiful Country," read by the author, just before my trip to Thailand last April and I took it with me. I listened to the final chapter on our road trip to the island of Koh Chang and got teary while identifying with the emotion of Qian reaching out to her younger self. Many of us still walk with our littler selves within hoping to be acknowledged and freed.

As waves of peace washed over me on Koh Chang, I could feel I was at a turning point. That everything would soon change. I felt confident I'd leave my job within the year but I didn't yet know how. I only knew what awaited me would allow my current self to unfurl and help younger me—bright, joyful, fearless—rise above the heavier parts I carry. More on that some other time, but for now, I am so thankful to Qian and the permission slip her words formed.

"From then on, the little girl makes her home in my shadows, even as I make the move back to New York City to work in a top law firm. I know she is there, watching as I play my assigned role in my gilded American Dream, living my empty Manhattan life full of all the food and clothes and things I could ever want. You cannot know that some things are not enough until you have them. 
At first, I act like she doesn't exist. I try to kick dirt over her in my mind again. But it is too late: she has been unearthed. 
It comes to me clearest in the first seconds of every morning. Upon opening my eyes, I forget who I am and how I've come to chase this life. And then I see her in the corner of my bedroom, still scared, still starving. I look past her and out the window, my mind roaming beyond the Hudson River and into Jersey City, through the door of the condominium unit where Ma Ma and Ba Ba now live, apparently free and safe, but really behind bars wrought from trauma. And then I slide forward in time and see myself many decades older, hair gray and skin loose, behind those same bars myself, the little girl still cowering next to me.
I repeat the judge's words. It has become a daily morning practice, but this time, after almost a year, I feel the lies slip away through the weave of my mantra. My muscles lose a tightness I did not know they have been carrying, and against the backdrop of my truths I am at long last free to admit: I am tired. I am so very tired of running and hiding, but I have done it for so long, I don't know how to stop. I don't know how to do anything else. It is all I am: defining myself against illegality while stitching it into my veins. The judge's words are my blanket nest, and in its snug embrace I rediscover a safety I knew once, long, long ago.
I turn back to the window and see for the first time the little girl cast aglow against the light of the waking sun. And then I try something new. I look that wise little girl in the eyes and reach my hand out for hers."(pp. 296-7)

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