Dreamed 1996/5/13 by Chris Wayan
I'm in ballet class, near the end. My friend Cecy whispers "You LIKE Wendy--when you gonna ask her out, 2001?"
She's right, but that's irritating. I snap "Okay, okay... Now!"
The teacher, brushing up on a solo piece with Wendy, says "Okay, now! Echo the line, create a rhythm, then turn."
I watch her run through it twice. As she heads for her street shoes by the mirror, I ask "Uh... Wendy? Would you like to, uh..."
Her eyes light up and she beams at me. "Yes?"
The bell rings. "Oh, shit! I'll be late for my next class! I'll see you Thursday, okay? You looked great!" And I flee the room. Running across campus, past Pavlov Hall, I think "Funny, that bell ALWAYS rings just when I'm about to ask her..."
As I run, I find I'm beating a small Japanese hand drum. On it is the kanji "otoko", male. I bang it with each loping pace. Establish a rhythm, then turn... Uh oh! I look at the drum again. I was wrong, it says "onna", female. Yep. I'm a girl now, a skinny Japanese-American girl with a black ponytail, charcoal knee-length skirt and blouse, open-toe sandals instead of sneakers... I look respectable. "I turned AGAIN." It's been happening a lot lately when I go to this class...
BRRING! As I pass a pay phone, it rings. I want to run on by, but a tinny voice buzzes "Wayan!" I pick it up. "M-m-mom?" Yes. Long distance, from back in Hawaii.
"You study!" Mom says. "Learn PROPER Japanese, not like me, Hawaiian! You write me letter every day Japanese! I check your style POLITE!" The Hawaiian Japanese I learned as a kid has an American equality and informality--Tokyo ears hear it as crude.
"Okay, OKAY, Mom! I'll write! Look, I'm already late for class! Yes, I PROMISE!" I slam the phone down and stalk on toward the Abyss, fists clenched, muttering "what IS it with me and bells?"
A vast circular pit opens up before me--the Abyss. In the center rises a half-finished tower, a wall-less framework with only the floors solid. Cheap fucking governor cut the funds. But students sit in desks and chairs; classroom space is so short, the building's been used for months as-is. The only way across is a narrow footbridge. They keep promising us railings. And promising. I really hoped they'd be up this week. Shit. I use my textbooks as weights like a tightrope walker's pole, muttering "Isn't my life enough of a balancing act?" as I reach the far side and clutch a column, shaking...
Made it alive again.
On time, in a way. The teacher's late again.
"Hi, Wayan!" says Junko.
"Hi..." Then I see Cristy. Black skirt, fishnet stockings and sticky maroon hair. Devil girl! "What is THAT? Auto paint?"
"Nail polish or menstrual blood, what's your guess? Can you say 'Hello, Cristy'?"
"No teacher AGAIN?"
Chicken Bone, who wears a kimono but puts guess what in her hair, says "Teacher's sick, they have a sub, but he'll be late."
I sit by my best friend. "Hey, Cristy? I never asked you... why'd YOU take this class?"
She leans back as comfortably as you can in these chair-desk-torture racks, and snickers "Shuts up my mom. She's crazy on me knowing Japanese. My roots! Gotta call or write twice a week in 'hongo."
I gape at her. "Me too!" I lean back and my textbook slides off the desk. I stomp it just before it slips into the Abyss... "It's a conspiracy! Just dial toll-free 1-800-NAG-DOTR!"
Berudandi says "It THAT why this class is all girls?"
Akiko says "My BROTHER can be a unicultural asshole... just so he makes enuff money!"
Nijoo yells "Okay, troops! Confess! WHY ARE YOU REALLY HERE?"
"My mom." "My dad." "Mom" I say. "My aunt." "My big sister." "My grandma."
Suddenly I see Christy and me back in 18th-century England, in some ladies' finishing school, with a prune of a teacher gobbling at us "My DEARS! You must not GESTURE with such... UNLADYLIKE vigor!" I describe it to Christy.
She laughs "Are we in finishing school? You're right, we learn elegant speech, that stupid little-girl voice, deportment... hey, you know why they call the walk "deportment"? It deports us from a fucking democracy right back to our roots, so we can pass for respectable and marry some company kiss-ass!"
She sits on the brink of the Abyss and lets her legs dangle over, stockings fishing for trouble... Fretful, I stand up and grab two concrete columns and lean out and look down and yell, "How to be nice Japanese girl, how to be nice American girl... I want an UNFINISHING school!"
"Mmm" says Cristy, flipping through a catalog of air, in her lap. "Mom-defying for Art Majors... Intermediate Crudeness, Advanced Slackery, Independence 1a..."
The substitute's not coming. Can't blame him. I hate the Bridge of Khazad Duum...
As long class is canceled, I think I'll spy on my mom! She's been hounding me enough.
So here we are... just ghosts, all right? In a small house on Kauai, in the kitchen, where my mom's at the table, reading one of my letters. I feel a rush of fear, though I checked all the hard kanji in a dictionary--they're perfect, down to stroke order and calligraphy. Well not perfect, they never are. But right. My mom's smoking and frowning and her coffee's just sitting there getting cold. Found something wrong?
Then I get it. Her dictionary's open... she's muttering "eight strokes... no, nine.. what the hell is that? Oh, wait..."
Aha! What a laugh! Looking up every word, because she doesn't know them either! What a farce! I write 'em with MY dictionary, so she can decode 'em with HERS...
And I woke.
I woke knowing this dream was NOT about Japanese dialects, or school, or sexism... or moms.
It's about... I don't know. My hunger for the subtlety and grace of a REAL culture--not, you know, just the Price Club version. The American famine! We're always wannabes--wanting to be in, afraid we're just hicks, ne-kulturnies, Know-Nothings, tourists...
Or else, like Cristy and Chicken Bone, we get defiantly crude. Belushi Syndrome!
Bones in our hair... and chips on our shoulders.
Japanese = compulsive obligation, courtesy, comparing self to others...
My mom's voice inside me is hypocritical: she couldn't live up to this ideal she wants ME to fake.
Stretching myself is good--but not pretending I like what I don't.
The dictionary game: just saw the film "The Truth about Cats and Dogs." I found it poignant, even painful--not the two lovers, you know they'll get together by the end, they're too similar--gifted and kooky like me. Strangely, I identified with their gorgeous but normal friend the model, who always ends up with mean shitty guys. She tries so hard to keep up with her gifted friends, uses a dictionary to read a book they both love, the letters of Beauvoir and Sartre. But she says sadly "it was too hard for me, even with a dictionary." The movie ends with her alone and they don't seem to be helping her find someone though she sure helped THEM.
So, if you're not gifted, you doesn't deserve love or even decent treatment?
How many hoops do people have to jump through?
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