"And so it continued, night after night, a voice pressing against my wall telling me that this was the worst possible thing that could happen: the terror of not knowing when it would ever stop."
"I asked her, "Ma, what is Chinese torture?" My mother shook her head. A bobby pin was wedged between her lips. She wetted her palm and smoothed the hair above my ear, then pushed the pin in so that it nicked sharply against my scalp. "Who say this word?" she asked without a trace of knowing how wicked I was being. I shrugged my shoulders and said,"Some boy in my class said Chinese people do Chinese torture."
"Chinese people do many things." she said simply, "Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting. Not lazy like American people. We do torture. Best torture."
"Vincent got the chess set, which would have been a very decent present to get at a church Christmas party, except it was obviously used and, as we discovered later, it was missing a black pawn and a white knight. My mother graciously thanked the unknown benefactor, saying, "Too good. Cost too much." At which point, an old lady with fine white, wispy hair nodded toward our family and said with a whistling whisper, "Merry, merry Christmas."
“When we got home, my mother told Vincent to throw the chess set away. ”She not want it. We not want it," she said, tossing her head stiffly to the side with a tight, proud smile. My brother had deaf ears. They were already lining up the chess pieces and reading from the dog-eared instruction book."
"For all these years I kept my mouth closed so selfish desires would not fall out. And because I remained quiet for so long now my daughter does not hear me. She sits by her fancy swimming pool and hears only her Sony Walkman, her cordless phone, her big important husband asking her why they have charcoal and no lighter fluid.
All these years I kept my true nature hidden, running along like a small shadow so nobody could catch me. And because I moved so secretly now my daughter does not see me. She sees a list of things to buy, her checkbook out of balance, her ashtray sitting crooked on a straight table.
And I want to tell her this: We are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others."
"I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents' promise. This means nothing to you, because to you promises mean nothing. A daughter can promise to come to dinner, but if she has a headache, if she has a traffic jam, if she wants to watch a favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise.
I watched this same movie when you did not come. The American soldier promises to come back and marry the girl. She is crying with a genuine feeling and he says, "Promise! Promise! Honey-sweetheart, my promise is as good as gold." Then he pushes her onto the bed. But he doesn't come back. His gold is like yours, it is only fourteen carats.
To Chinese people, fourteen carats isn't real gold. Feel my bracelets. They must be twenty-four carats, pure inside and out."
"Can you see it? Shanghai people with north-water peasants, bankers with barbers, rickshaw pullers with Burma refugees. Everybody looked down on someone else. It didn't matter that everybody shared the same sidewalk to spit on and suffered the same fast-moving diarrhea. We all had the same stink, but everybody complained someone else smelled the worst."
"People thought we were wrong to serve banquets every week while many people in the city were starving, eating rats and, later, the garbage that the poorest rats used to feed on. Others thought we were possessed by demons--to celebrate when even within our own families we had lost generations, had lost homes and fortunes, and were separated, husband from wife, brother from sister, daughter from mother. Hnnnh! How could we laugh, people asked.
It's not that we had no heart or eyes for pain. We were all afraid. We all had our miseries. But to despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable. How much can you wish for a favorite warm coat that hangs in the closet of a house that burned down with your mother and father inside of it? How long can you see in your mind arms and legs hanging from telephone wires and starving dogs running down the streets with half-chewed hangs dangling from their jaws? What was worse, we asked among ourselves, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces? Or to choose our own happiness?"
"Why do you think you are missing something you never had?"
"Sue Sylvester’s not afraid to shake things up. You know, I am tired of hearing people complain, “I am riddled with this disease,” or “I was in that tsunami.” To them I say, shake it up a bit. Get out of your box. Even if that box happens to be where you’re living. I’ll often yell at homeless people, “Hey, how’s that homelessness working out for you? Give not being homeless a try, huh?” You know something, Ohio? It’s not easy to break out of your comfort zone. People will tear you down. Tell you that you shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. But let me tell you something. There’s not much of a difference between a stadium full of cheering fans and an angry crowd screaming abuse at you. They’re both just making a lot of noise. How you take it is up to you. Convince yourself they’re cheering for you. You do that, and someday they will. "