“Hey Preston, do you want to go play outside with the other children?” The woman in front of me asked.
She scared me. Her body, centimeters away from mine, made me feel tiny; like David and Goliath. It was as if her closeness to my personal bubble wasn't enough to make me uncomfortable. I could not understand a single word she was saying. She continued on but I couldn’t find a clear answer. Torrents of tears started flowing rapidly from my eyes, causing my vision to blur, nose to clog, and left a salty taste in my mouth. This was the first time in my entire life that I felt pressured.
“Did you guys watch the new Spongebob episode?”
What were they talking about? The only show I knew was Old Master Q. They all moved to sit at the table in front of me and began to discuss about the new episode of this foreign show. Again, my vision began to blur, my hands sweaty, and again, I could taste the oh-so-familiar salty liquid course through the interior of my mouth. This was the first time in my entire life that I felt clueless.
When I was in kindergarten, I hardly understood any English. Whenever I went to school, I wouldn’t communicate with any other kids because I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I felt lonely in school. Kids would speak to each other and discuss T.V shows and toys while I sat in silence and listened. Everything I did was in Cantonese or Japanese: music, shows, my communication. The word was clueless, the cluelessness transformed into knowledge. As the world changed, so did my knowledge. I was starting to get exposed to things that were once foreign to me.
“Go wish your aunts and uncles a Happy Chinese New Year,” Mom said.
Her voice, along with the voices and conversations of the crowded dining room, gave me a brain freeze. I began to walk towards my family members on the other side of the room. My hands shaking, breathing unsteady, eyes focused on the ground. I had no idea what to say. It’d been a year since I used those phrases. I’d been exposed to so much English, that I’d fallen in love. I’d forgotten so much Chinese that I could barely pass the Chinese course I was taking.
“新年快樂!” Aunt Lisa said.
I chuckled nervously. “新年快樂!” I replied.
She waited patiently for me, red envelopes in hand. My mouth opened, then shut. I looked up quickly at her tense gaze and hurriedly averted my eyes elsewhere. My hands began to sweat again and my mouth began to dry. I regained my posture, taking a few deep breaths, and quickly excused myself.
“I have to use the bathroom, I’ll be right back. Auntie.”
This was the fastest I’d ever ran in my life. I rushed past the herd of people and shoved my way through until I reached the men’s bathroom. I stared in the mirror, thinking about the disappointment I’d face; the sneers, the looks of failure. The phrases began to resurface in my head. They don’t see the Preston that struggles with balancing two languages or the young boy who felt clueless and pressured throughout elementary school. They see the young boy who was able to speak multiple languages and is self-confident and strong.
I rinsed my face and stared into the mirror. I was going to wish them a Happy New Year and begin to balance my love for all languages, and attempt to speak all the languages I’m exposed to with the best of my ability.