Hey APC! My name is Jillian Louie, I’m 17 and born and raised in New York City! Growing up between Chinatown, Long Island and Queens, my mother is an immigrant from Hong Kong and my father is a first-generation American, born in New York City. These specific pieces are pieces of my previously fractured identity, the fear and confusion and love that comes with realizing you are unable to change who you are, but you can change how you feel. As a part of the LGBTQ community and also the daughter of a deeply traditional immigrant, I have learned that although they might not feel as if you are the same person when you first tell them, I am lucky enough to have parents who read what I write and want to understand.
THANK YOU, COME AGAIN
By Jillian Louie
There is a girl in the third-floor-window of my apartment building. Sometimes I wonder if she is breathing, she stares at the stars for so long.
My mother used to tell me about the dreams she had about aliens— The ones from other planets, with other gods, under other stars. She used to dream about apocalyptic worlds and if she would survive. She told me she would always find a way, for she had spent her life dreaming of these timelines.
“You study business and white people, I dream. We find ways to breathe.”
I spent ten years wondering what she meant. Ways to breathe? I am already breathing, oxygen filling my lungs with every word I speak and with every step I take. What did she mean, “to breathe?” The careless ways our mind wanders. Unable to see clearly what is in front of us when it is what we do not understand.
After the third year of wondering, I had graduated from college. With nothing but a business degree and a low paying intern job, I moved to Brooklyn. Manhattan was too expensive, the Bronx was too far, and all my exes lived in Queens.
I worried for myself, living in Brooklyn. I believed in this stupid idea that I was the centre of the world. Me, myself, and most importantly, I. So I got myself roommates, people who I felt I could outrun in case of apocalypse. My roommates were two girls with entirely different lifestyles; one a mathematician with a heavy Jamaican accent who preferred coffee over tea, and one a wispy ballet dancer who was always gently perfumed with roses and ash. Their names fade. When the ballet dancer moved to Chelsea, I took up a second job— Chinese food delivery.
I am not Chinese.
I am not from China, I am from America. I have held this distinction all my life, separating myself from the sallow faces of seniors in Chinatown and the over-zealous attire of the new immigrant children. I was no chink. I would never be a chink. I held this even as I stepped into Péng You Restaurant, in search of an easy job with a steady income. I spoke not a single word of Chinese, nor did I ever intend to learn. It was not something important to me. My mother was Chinese, and all she did was drink.
I scoffed when the interviewer asked me where I was from.
“America. Westbury, right off the Northern State Parkway. New York.”
I kept adding until she told me to stop. The next day, I got called in— I was to work the 7-9 delivery shift on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. How little did I know? How mindless could I have been? The more I worked, the more I asked myself these questions. I watched families come in and mock the hard-working chef who always made me and my roommate a dinner before she left, every night, at 10:30. I watched Cheshire-grinned old men come in and harass the fifteen-year-old standing at the cash register, her hand brushing over the knife hidden inside. I watched the owner shuffle across the beaten wooden floors, carefully cleaning every inch of the restaurant before silently retiring to his room upstairs.
When the sixth month came, we had found a tenant. I no longer had to work, the mathematician no longer felt the need to call me every night at 9:31 to make sure that I would lock the door. Still, I returned to the restaurant on Tuesday. Still, I sat quietly in the back as the late-night Wednesday patrons played a gossip fogged game of mahjong. Still, I brought the cash register girl clothes from promotional events at work, still, I learned Chinese phrases from the cook, still, I cleaned the floors so Mr Li could sleep easy.
And I learned to love it. Every single delivery I made, I loved. Every time I parked my car and handed the fragrant paper bag to a passing hand, I loved. So desperately I loved these things that I hadn’t seen what my mother was saying all along. The mutual antipathy we had towards this culture, the way we learned to breathe without our heart, the way American never fit right in my chest.
There is no manual for loving yourself, but I wonder if there was, what the first line would be. What would the last line be? How would it all end? For me, the first line would be “I am not Chinese.” The last— “Thank you, come again.”
NEON PUFFER JACKETS AND THE END OF THE WORLD
By Jillian Louie
I have never been this scared
to make a sound. Everything
echoes when you are alone, I
knew that from the beginning.
some nights my street smells
like fresh laundry and the high
school students down the block
play music out of smoky windows.
some nights the stars poke their
heads out of nature’s dark stew
so that I might make a wish all
in a row, three for the cloudgazer.
tuesdays I get home late and rock
to sleep on silver bullets, fridays I
skip the bullet and swallow flames.
saturdays I open windows and cry.
to cough means to say I am here i
am awake I am sick and I am not
sick but when I look in the mirror
my mother says I might as well be.
I push buttons with the edge of my
sleeve and refuse to hug my yinyin
without changing and I carry a knife
in my sleeve when it’s past three pm.
bite the gloves, paint the glass, keep
the masks in little bags between your
fingerprints. blackout empty blocks
and watch each street sign fade.
I FINALLY DELETED YOUR NUMBER
By Jillian Louie
clutch at the camera angle,
forty-five degrees too dark
to make out the lines of your
smile. twenty-two too light
to trace your hips with a lit
cigarette, seventy-one too
red to make out your lipstick
from your blush. no, but i see
you. no, but i postulate that
three inches from me you are
licking your lips and planning
an escape. fire hatch and fifty
grand, across from girlfriend
jeans and star studded boots.
the evening fades into evening
into afternoon into dawn. you,
time stealer. you, me lover. how
peculiar it is to be honestly loved.
By Jillian Louie
the last girl to fall in love whispered
her secrets to me after school, behind
the bleachers, next to a heart-shaped
arrow-stabbed set of letters. she pulled
me close to her chest and said jillian,
you’ve really done it now. i smile when
she says my name. she says it like
she says it like it is illegal not to want
me like she does, she says it like it is
impossible for her to ever touch me
she says it like she knows i want her
just as bad. but this is no poem about
house girls. this is no sonnet for pure
lovers. we are but halfway built humans
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