I got called a Chink today. The last time I remember being called a Chink, I was an 8 year-old in a fading blue one-piece swimsuit at the Boys ‘n Girls Club in Mt. Kisco, NY. In the shallow end. I don’t remember what I did to raise the hackles of Bully, a short blond chubby boy whose name’s been redacted by my neurons. All I remember is that I was dazed and confused when I first heard the word. I looked into his eyes and saw derision – I knew not of what or why – and a lonely, boiling soup of mysterious inadequacy rose in my belly.
I wasn’t angry at Bully. I just didn’t understand why he was angry with me. In an effort to understand what had just happened, I told my swimming instructor what he’d called me. I knew it was bad. Perhaps her intervention would reveal what it meant. Denise (sister to Dennis, also a swimming instructor – thank you, neurons) told me to ignore him or said something equally dismissive. I swam back into line on my back (this I remember too), trying to align my body with the rafters through puddly tears and swallowing gobs of phlegm. Maybe I felt anger then. Maybe I briefly flipped onto my stomach to catch my breath and hold in the soup that had turned into boiling bitterness. I remember it now. I can feel the same, helpless, indignant outrage or I can hold it at bay.
That’s why I didn’t tell Jin that we’d been called Chinks today, in the bible-belt, by a convertible-driving Catholic School boy: me in my skirt suit with briefcase in tow (saving the poor) and she, a new J.D. with intolerance only for American fast food. I choose to feel nothing.