A Private Miracle

(2022-02-09 08:04:50) 下一個

Since reaching forties, Bill has been constantly amazed by time. The years have

brought changes in him that he never thought possible. Without much effort

of his own, the past becomes clear. Half-way around the globe from his hometown

and with the benefit of hindsight, he could string early events and see better

how one led to another. Talking with his nephew over the phone during the

Chinese New Year, he urged him to take on challenges and told about a turning

point of his own young life.


    A kid from a rural family had few options if he wanted a different life than

    that of a half-illiterate peasant tilling the land. Going through the

    test-centric education system, however lacking or twisted, was almost his

    only hope. There, he was given a chance and a few things in his control. For

    the motivated, these would be enough to fuel dreams.


    Then, just as now, it was a hope that could lift a whole Chinese family.

    Nowadays, it is not uncommon for one parent to live with the student close

    to school while the other parent works to support the venture. Back then, my

    mom broke away from an unloving family in the village and moved to town, a

    decisive step as far as my life was concerned and taken even before I was

    born. Although self-centered, I knew early on I was carrying on my shoulders

    more than my own dreams and future.


    I was an OK student until a revelation sometime in middle school.


    It was an early Sunday afternoon in the dead of winter. I left home after

    lunch for the boarding school, biked three miles, and arrived at my dorm, a

    former classroom converted to host 15+ students under a holey roof through

    which one could see the sky. The corner door opened to a tiny foyer. Behind

    the door was a coal-burning brick-and-mortar stove, next to which stood a

    concrete shelf for our utensils. Two rows of wooden planks laid on top of

    waist-high brick walls took the rest of the floor and were where we sleep.


    Nobody else showed up yet and the fire was dead as the stove was not

    attended to during the weekend. I left the jar of cooked jiang (fermented

    soybean paste) that mom packed, a condiment to go with the white buns for

    the next week, and went out to take a look around on campus.


    Under a lead sky, the breeze was not fierce but freezing. The dirt yards

    between rows of classrooms, thronged with boisterous teenagers playing games

    and making dust storms during the week, were empty. The giant poplar trees

    had long shedded their folliage, leaving the bare branches weeping in the

    gusts. There were no runners on the tracks, no players in the soccer field

    or the basketball courts, and not even a bird in sight. As the air stilled,

    it felt as if I were the only one left in the entire world, suddenly so 

    boring, and even more frigid. Going back to the dorm to read Wuxia novels 

    seemed a good option by now. But before that, I went to check if I could find 

    someone in the classrooms.


    The fifth among a row of six 7th-grade classrooms, mine was locked as I knew

    it should be. I was the last one leaving on Friday after cleaning up.

    Something went wrong, however, with the wooden french window next to the door.

    It was not a new problem. The vertical slide latch was old and the hole at the

    bottom window frame was wearing out and couldn't secure the bolt well. One of

    the two panes was pried open by the wind, leaving a rectangular hole in the

    wall. It looked inviting.


    It didn't take long before I climbed in and re-latched the window. I wiped

    clean my desk and stool and sat down. It was no warmer. The body generated

    less heat as I stopped moving.


    That moment, a thought crossed my mind: I had a choice. I could go back to

    the freezing dorm and read novels to kill time, or I could for the next few

    hours in the equally freezing classroom glue myself to the seat, review

    homework, prepare for Monday's classes, etc. Either way, I was going to

    suffer but I also would feel guilty at the end of the former as I would have

    wasted time and in my own mind disappointed mom although she was not watching.

    I chose the latter.


    I was 14 and had never thought I could do this to myself. It was a miracle

    and the gods have favored me ever since.

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閱讀 ()評論 (3)
7grizzly 回複 悄悄話 回複 '暖冬cool夏' 的評論 : Thank you, 暖冬, for reading and your kind
comments and especially for sharing your
husband's story. It was very impressive!

Bill's making up his own version of history these days, just like Frank McCourt
said. :-)

He had his share of being bullied by bigger boys. It could be
crushing at times but a small dose of bullying was not entirely bad. A fair
amount happens these days among kids in martial art schools and is called
sparring :-)
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 Actually 10 now I think again. You know the Chinese way of counting ages:)
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 Love Bill's stories! You put your heart and effort into them, and this is no doubt another great one-- very descriptive with lots of details, great word choices (such as holey, boisterous, weeping in the gusts, pried open, etc. ).
Bill's mom is a great mom with visions and courage.
Bill's story reminds me of his-- a boy, at the age of 12 (he started school earlier), short and small, left home in a truck tractor for the boarding school... Actually his mom told me some scraps -- how he was bullied at school and in tears wanted to go back home. Both Bill and he were lucky though in a sense.
Thanks for sharing the story, my friend!