My parents still live in the house I grew up in though it is not how I remember it as a child. In 2012, an electrical fire originated in my brother’s back bedroom and snaked through the house, bringing it to its foundation. My parents rebuilt, but by the time the house was done one year later, my childhood refuge with the soft, pink blush carpet was no longer.
As a pre-teen, I spent countless hours in my bedroom escaping the uncomfortable tension ever present in our home. Though it felt like we were constantly struggling financially, I remember my engineered wood bookcase always being full. I’d find myself lost in the latest Lurlene McDaniel novel, moved to tears by a young adult’s battle with terminal illness temporarily distracting me from my own troubles. For a more light-hearted read, I’d immerse myself in The Baby Sitter’s Club series and identify with Claudia, the Asian American character, one of the very few examples of representation I came across growing up in the 80s and 90s.
In my early teenage years, music would fill the room from my silver Sony stereo, the white walls unable to keep the sound in. Click, stop, click, stop, click, stop was regularly coming from my room as I tried to catch and record my favorite songs on the radio. Most frequently, though, I was making mix tapes of my favorite R&B slow jams by Boyz II Men, 112, K-Ci and JoJo, New Edition, Dru Hill, and the lesser known Asian American groups like Kai, Devotion and One Voice. In this quintessential teenage era, the phone line from the living room would often be ran all the way to my room as I spent countless hours on the phone sitting in my black, inflatable chair, a trendy furniture choice of the 90s.
This same room saw my darkest moments as a teen, hours I spent shedding tears into the pink and white pillow on my full sized bed. Bullying didn’t have anywhere near the social awareness it has today. In my junior year of high school, in what was a complete one-eighty, my best friend decided she didn’t want to be friends any longer. There was no disagreement, no argument, no escalating incident that brought on the change in behavior. Traumatized by the viscous verbal assaults and the physical intimidations, I tried to make sense of the ordeal years later with a mutual friend that blessedly was mature enough to stay neutral. The only explanation the bully ever gave was that she was having a hard time at home. I was collateral damage. I imagine she was stuck in a situation she couldn’t control, so she created one where she had all the control.
To say the ordeal was devastating is to put it lightly. I had three classes with this girl and was absent to 50% of them. I couldn’t bring myself to be the victim of her aggression. Looking back now, I recognize I was going through depression as a result of the bullying. I had self-harm tendencies, cutting myself with a knife on my forearm, looking for a window of relief from the emotional pain I was feeling. The cause and effect, the cut followed by the bright red blood, made so much more sense to me than what I was living through daily. I drove at unsafe speeds on the 10 freeway multiple times fantasizing a crash, thinking it’d be better for my life to end and for all the pain to go away. What was further disappointing was that I raised the issue with the school twice, once to a teacher and once to a counselor. There was no action, no repercussions, no parent conference. It pains me so much to look back at how hopeless the situation was. The school administration failed me.
Mercifully, the bullying stopped a year later, but there was never an apology. The events of this distressing experience have stayed with me, even now as an adult. Late last year, I found myself crying at my Pre-K daughter’s parent-teacher conference as I inquired about what I perceived to be her lack of empathy. Though I generally ascribe to the notion that any issues that arise with her are normal, this particular one has consistently triggered me. Her or her brother growing up to be a bully would be my greatest failure as a parent. As a mother of two young children, there is a host of things I’m constantly worried about but none weighs heavier than making sure I raise good humans.
Years later, I still struggle to wrap my head around how a human being could so willfully harm another human being. The blazing flames of the fire in 2012 extinguished the worst part of the aftermath. My childhood bedroom which reminded me of the relentless sadness was gone. In its place is an inextinguishable passion to ensure my children thoroughly understand the importance of being kind.