Last year in the land of the free and the home of the brave – Chapter 3

A little overdue compared to my plan and shorter piece of not-so-solemn writing this time.

At the beginning of the semester, I was usually cordial. Classes were still easy; homework was nothing; there were no crazy exams or papers. If there was something to upset me, it had not been there for long enough to drive me crazy.

April was sitting at her table to my left, with her back toward me. We hadn’t had classes for a couple of days because the heavy rain caused flood to Lake Placida. All students were cautioned against going anywhere near the area, commuters were advised to not go to school, and here we were, campus folks, staying inside glued to our laptops – me to post pictures of my US Open trip on Facebook and April to talk to her “boyfriend.”

April spoke in the heavy language, prolonging the ending syllable of each sentence that it sounded like Cantonese she was speaking. She sounded so different from how she usually talked. Sometimes she would inch closer to the screen, making noises as if she was kissing him. I warily turned to see if he could catch me on her webcam. April’s lips were just a few inches from the screen, on which low-quality black and white streams of her and the boyfriend jerked in two separate frames. April’s face was almost the only thing the webcam could record, but as she moved away from the screen, part of my body could be captured by the tiny camera, although the low resolution image could hardly reveal how I looked like or what I was doing. I sighed, returning to my unfinished job of adding captions to my photos.

I had expected to bond with my roommate so much during the summer. Just a few months ago, before the school ended for summer, April seemed to be a fun girl who I could picture having a great time with. She played with her hula hoop, she experimented with her makeup, and she had a car. I had planned so many crazy things to do with her every weekend, things that college students usually did. An “Everything but clothes” contest, a “The power of makeup” night, a “Stupid Challenge” game, a drive to the nearby picturesque Masonic village, an Asian food treat, a game night, movie night, karaoke night, shopping trips, sleigh-riding down the stairs of the library using trays from the cafeteria. We would take a bunch of photos to record every moment of my last year. I would show her my secret spot of watching the sunset. When we were really close, I could ask her to teach me how to drive. But now all she did was to spend her every waking moment not in class talking to her meaningless boyfriend. The only time we talked was during dinners and briefly before bed when we told each other how our day was and she taught me about 5 Mandarin words.

–          Hao la, hao la. Pai pai. Mmmmwaaaah.- April whispered. The whole lengthy conversation, these were the only words I understood.

I looked at the time at the bottom right of my laptop. 1 pm, or 1 am in China, he had to go to bed after all. April then watched a Chinese standup comedian on a Chinese website while I clicked on the publish button to publicize my photos on Facebook and went to take a nap. When I woke up a few hours later, April was sitting at her desk, immersed in her huge book. Life as a Biochem major sure was tough.

–          April. – I called and she removed her earphones, raising her eyes at me. – Do you want to eat dinner at six?

–          Six? – She asked. – Yeah sure.

–          Ok, I’ll text Reva.

Now that most of my friends were juniors or seniors who lived in the Quads and elected to cook their own meals, it was harder and harder for me to find someone to eat with, especially in days like these – when school was basically shut down and no one wanted to get out of their rooms. Nevertheless, Reva was a reliable companion when it came to eating. Her schedule regarding dinner time rivaled only mine in terms of regularity.

–          Dinner at six question mark. – I read out loud as I typed in the message – OK, send to, recent contact, Reva May, add, and send.

–          Chi, – April laughed – you don’t have to say every step of everything you do.

–          Sorry, just my habit. – I grinned.

I stretched my limbs and then curled up under my soft blanket like a lazy cat. It was only the beginning of September but the rain already cast a chilly veil over this land. These days were my favorite, rainy, cool, relaxing. I could enjoy the warmth of a thin blanket, listening to the rhythm of the rain on the background of some romantic music while reading some abstruse, unconventional piece of literature. There was no romantic music, no piece of literature now, only me and my roommate in this silent dark room. The overhead light was off; April’s desk lamp provided the only source of dim twisted light in the room through its stained-glass shade. I pulled the blanket up to my chin, quietly watching her study. If only life could be like this forever, calm, serene and peaceful. If only I could lie here, hiding away from the storms and rain, not worrying about my broken family, my classes, how to get the money to survive breaks and daily needs.

Dinner was always my favorite time of the day. After a long day, all of us got together, at a table, talking about what we did, the exciting or annoying things we experienced. It felt like a family dinner, me and my close friends. No one rushed. We ate, sat there for a little chat, got more food, ate again, and talked again.

–          So Reva, what happened to your study abroad plan again? – I asked.

Reva was a Japanese major, an interesting occurrence to our little school’s program. Unlike others majoring in Japanese or Asian studies, Reva did not take any interest in manga, anime, or video games. She wasn’t obsessed with Asian people. Why she had chosen Japanese was still beyond me, and I never cared to ask her. But she said Etown had smashed all her plans and interest in Japanese.

–          See, it was really stupid – Reva started and I knew immediately it would be an extremely long and slow explanation – Etown was supposed to pay my tuition in Japan, but they wouldn’t do so until they had received all of my tuition here. I mean my family had the money to pay my part, but the grant from the government couldn’t come in time. Etown refused to process my paperwork until they had gotten the grants. I tried to talk to them but they said it was rule. There was nothing I could do about it.

–          Well, they should have just processed your papers. – I shrugged – I mean the grants are from the government, of course they will get the grants. The government is not efficient but effective.

Reva and April gave me a confused look.

–          It means they’re slow but they get things done. – I explained. – Business terms. Efficient means doing something quickly with minimum resources. Effective means getting the jobs finished.

April nodded, seeming still somewhere up in the air while Reva smiled and gave me a simple, familiar “I know, Chi.” She was always proud of being the most proper English speaker among us. After all, she befriended mostly international students, immigrants, and white Americans whose English was ruined by inaccurate manga and anime language. She and I once had a hot debate about the meanings of tired and sleepy, with Reva arguing tried was a broader term than sleepy, covering and including all aspects of sleepy in it. I, on the other hand, insisted that sometimes you could be sleepy without feeling tired. The dispute ended with Reva claiming convincingly “I know what they mean, Chi. English is my native language” and I admitting that the sleepy feeling I had when I was energetic enough both physically and mentally to run a mile or study for an exam was called “laziness”. “But that means you can feel sleepy even though you’re not tired, but because you’re lazy.” – I yelled. Conversations with Reva made me feel so educated. The only person that made me feel more sophisticated conversing with was Kimberly, my crazy, college drop-out ex-roommate. Kimberly hadn’t appeared in my life since last semester and we didn’t actually keep in touch but I thought of her a lot, especially since I realized how much I could relate my life to hers.

When April and I got back to our room, we both stationed at our respective laptop. Her boyfriend was up, talking to her in bed while I sent Yahoo messages to my mother. I didn’t tell her much about the US Open trip. I knew she wouldn’t care even if I used the most exciting, jubilant tone to convey my happiness. She would feel down when I was having fun while she had to spend every minute of her life facing the broken marriage and dealing with the financial burden of paying my tuition, alone. She would lead the conversation to money-related issues, or try to break me from my father. She wouldn’t understand that I didn’t need to be reminded of the desperation and sorrow she was feeling, that I needed a getaway from that, that I was still only 20.

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