This is the first time I had a panic attack.
It started as a simple attempt at relaxation during AP Computer Science class. I accepted an ear bud offered to me from a project partner of mine. As soon as the little thing was snuggled into my ear the nostalgic mumbles of Jay Chou occupied a good half of my mind. Absent-mindedly I was typing out lines of code, trying to remember that I’m not sitting in the back of an old Toyota driving through a typhoon storm, and my mother was not pretending to be annoyed by my sister and my attempts at imitating the loose jaw and nasal voice characteristic of Chou.
Then the strangest thing occurred: some of my classmates conversed or sang off-key as per usual while they work on their own projects. For the longest time I listened to each syllable pronounced. For the longest time I knew not what they meant.
What year is it? Why are Taiwanese people so good at English all the sudden?
Why did I think I’m surrounded by Taiwanese people?
I stopped coding and attempted to convince myself that I’m in America. A shaking hand ran across the laptop before me. Right, a school laptop. That was not a thing in my elementary school eight years ago. But, still. The syllables ran on, a flood of syllables clicked against my ears, and I listened, drowned, only with a fixed eye upon the light at the surface of the water knowing full well all is but an illusion. My heart’s pounding was another chaotic noise that I failed to comprehend.
I pulled out the ear bud, thanked the person giving me the music, wondered and continued coding.
The air stank of cut grass and the fumes belonging to the author of the stench. ‘Tis the smell of uniformity, the blood of rebels who dared to outgrow the concrete bonds of humanity.
I tried to focus on the cracks on the floor, stretching across each rectangle aiming my steps beyond those lives to test my stubby little legs that carried me on, weaving in and out of sleepy high schoolers hogging the majority of the width of the sidewalk in a line of chattering friendship. The wind tried to chatter to me, but I needed coffee to maintain an intelligible conversation. I prefer to seek my silence, tainted by random blurbs of others’ words.
It’s not eavesdropping if I am not deliberately trying to get information, right? In fact, I merely chanced upon the conversation.
That teacher did it again! Everyone got C’s. She got asked to prom, they datin’. He called her, they hung out. Drunk? Nah, they higher than her grades. Did you see what she was wearing that day?
A cop yelled into his megaphone: helmets are more useful when they are on your head. A kid was grateful, for we would all choose a savage comment over a hundreds-dollar ticket.
The light turned green, the seconds began to trickle down. I walked between the white stripes wondering what of this will I miss and I looked down at the cracks upon the brick sidewalks. A hint of leaves reached out and said hi.
My mouth and nostrils burnt: the former from coffee and the latter from air occupied by too many people (plus a caged cat) and too little space. But this wasn’t bad, most of the times it’s been worse, and my mother was already thoroughly impressed by the efficiency and professionalism of the flight attendants.
This was a much shorter flight than I am accustomed to, anyhow. And being a high school senior — whose occupation of being a student of learning has been replaced by a brief period of false freedom, soul-searching, and sorrows or satisfaction, or both — my job is to find the most logical and jaded explanation to all that is good.
“Less people and distance, smaller plane,” These are the important segments one can excavate from my Chinglish. “More order. Entropy is pissed.”
But, now that I sat in one of the rows of three seats, serving dutifully as the divider between my mother and a young white stranger girl married to her phone, my eyes cannot help but wander as my mind wondered. The cat meowed, I disliked the sound because not only does it destroy the parallel I was going to make with Schrodinger’s cat (a dead cat doesn’t meow, duh) and the uncertainty of my future that made this trip in the first place, but also it tempted me to throw myself in that general direction to pet the thing.
So instead of mourning the death of my parallel, I chose to study heads instead: there were so many of them, bald and brunette and blonde and black and bristled, some alliterated combinations. If I just sit up straight my 5’2″ height allows me view of enough variety for me to imagine.
I imagined if these people would turn around if I start sobbing like I used to on airplanes since I didn’t want to leave my dearly beloved country. Perhaps they would react better if I just throw myself in the general direction of the meowing. Then I got distracted by the shiny handle holding the drop down table immediately before me, the grey plastic surrounding it had battle scars telling of past passenger’s anger issues or mere carelessness.
Then I started questioning myself: since when had I become numbed by the horrifying prospect of stuffing myself amongst hundreds of others onto a gravity-defying (or manipulating, whichever sounds more scientific to you…perhaps neither) machine that launches us thousands of feet into the air at speeds unsalvageable? Maybe at around the same time I started filling my writing with long-winded rhetorical questions? That could be it. Despite the lack of merit in long-winded speech — understanding that “brevity is the soul of wit” — it does take some proficiency in the language used. The growth of the proficiency of my English is directly proportional to my departure from missing Taiwan. It’s been a long enough time that I don’t look upon the sun or the moon to comfort myself in that the little tropical island is basked in the same shower of radiation, or that it’s phased by the same reflection of the former radiation.
I yawned, tired of sentimental recollections, and directed my energy to the bald head before me. It’s not nearly as shiny as the handle holding the tables, and it’s dressed in patterns and dents and a few scabs disguised as moles, or vice-versa.
Goddammit, its craters just reminded me of the moon.
So, back to sentiments I sank, interrupted by spurts of panic about the weather in Baltimore and whether if I know how to deal with a transfer flight and if Pittsburgh is going to be as intimidating as any city that I’ve never been to.
The cat meowed to defy uncertainty.