Why I write

Over winter break, I vowed to write every day. And then I didn’t. It’s been ages and ages since I’ve blogged. I’m still not blogging here. Instead, I’m cross-posting something I wrote for a group blog by my creative nonfiction class. I’ll write there sometimes, and so will plenty of other cool kids.

***

“I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race — that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.” — The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

For a long time, my parents were sure I’d go to law school. They couldn’t quite grasp why I wanted to study journalism and become a writer. To them, I might as well be pursuing a degree in poverty and minoring in hungry forever. So it’s funny that part of the reason I write is because of them.

My parents are complete opposites: My father calls me on the phone almost every night, when he knows I’m stuck on campus for three more hours. He asks what I ate for dinner or reminds me to wear my jacket when I go outside. Sometimes he calls just because he wants to say hi, I love you. Are you having a good day?

My mother only calls when she wants to remind me to schedule a dentist appointment, or to ask what I want to eat at our Friday night dinner, or when it’s been a week since we’ve talked and she just has to make sure I’m not dead.

He hugs hello and goodbye and just because, still reaches for my hand crossing streets even after more than 10 years of my pulling away. She tolerates physical affection as if she’s counting the seconds until it’s over.

And yet, more than 30 years ago, they were in their 20s and terrified and in love. They met. He says he knew the moment he saw her. She says she thought he was too young, four years younger than her, but cute. The Vietnam War ended. He told her he was leaving. He wanted her to come.

They fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. He said goodbye to his parents, brothers, sisters and traveled through a jungle. She found herself on a small, overcrowded boat in the middle of the sea, a diamond ring hidden under her tongue. Pirates had already taken her earrings.

They never talked about the rapes and the violence and the brutality they surely encountered, or the tropical diseases or starvation that came with being “boat people.” On the racism they encountered as the U.S. took on wave after wave of Southeast Asian refugees, they said only that they hoped their daughters grew up to be well-educated, so no one would trouble them.

And now, more than 30 years after that boat in the middle of the sea, they grow lemons and grapefruits in the backyard. They go on morning walks, remind each other about taking their vitamins and paying the bills. They plan weekend dinners for when all three of their daughters are off work or out of class. They plan their retirement — probably here in Tucson, but they’ll spend a few months of the year on the coast so that they can go fishing.

They’ve lived through the worst moments of their lives together, and now they’re living the most ordinary moments together.

I write because even in the ugliest moments of their memories, or in the most mundane, my parents can find something brilliant and beautiful in their lives. I write to find the thing that terrifies me and thrills me, the diamond under my tongue.

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