Third Prize Short Story 2006
Into The Sun by Michelle, Korea/Illinois, Age 17
"I'm concerned for you, Sara." Mr. Reed leaned back in his reclining leather chair. "College applications are just around the corner and you show no avid interest in your future. What can I do for you?" While I basked in silence, he gazed at me intently, searching for a logical answer behind these pools of dark brown mass.
I hated visits to the guidance counselor's office; I avoided them at all costs. It was only through threats and bribes could Mr. Reed bring me down here. Today, it was the large plate of brownies sitting on his desk.
He picked up my transcript and sighed. "If only you would take advantage of your talents. Your English teacher tells me all the time about your knack for writing. Have you ever thought of going into journalism?"
I shook my head as I forced back a heavy feeling at the back of my throat. "It's already been decided. I'm going to become a doctor," I informed him coldly. Sensing that he would extract nothing else from me today, he nodded his head in sad understanding and sent me back to class.
At night, I thought about what he said as I pulled out my notebook from its hiding spot under the bed. I wasn't denying that he was right--because he was. I knew that I was good at writing. I didn't need confirmation from anyone, not even Mrs. Doherty. When I wrote, it was as if I could forget all my problems and let myself pour into these pages. Nothing could touch me when I wrote. I could soar, higher and higher, further away from this place of entrapment.
Tonight, I made a foolish mistake. I let myself go too high. I became so entranced in my work that I completely lost track of time. At a quarter to midnight, my mother barged into my room.
"Mee-jin," I was always Mee-jin to her, not Sara, "how is your SAT studying going?" Her calm demeanor turned sour when she saw me sprawled out on my bed, no giant College Board book in sight.
"You stupid!" she yanked my notebook out from under me before I could stop her and began ripping apart the pages. "What did I tell you, Mee-jin? Tonight, you study for your SATs. Now you go behind my back to waste your time on this? " She angrily thrust the remains of the notebook into the trash bin. Still not satisfied, she ransacked my room for the next fifteen minutes, releasing her anger at anything that looked like writing. I watched her single-handedly destroy everything I had worked so hard on. Those works that she ruined, they weren't just meaningless scribbles, they were my hopes, my dreams, my aspirations. But now, they were just a thousand torn sheets of paper sitting in a pile.
But I didn't cry. I never cried in front of her. She could never know that she defeated me.
Whenever she got really upset, she transitioned into her broken, heavily accented English. "You know what? I work two shifts today. Why? For you. Everything for you." Disgusted by her attempt to rile guilty feelings within me, I turned my head away.
"Mee-jin," her tone softened. "You are everything to me. Did you know? You are my hero, Mee-jin. I know you are meant for greater things. But you know what you have to do to succeed." According to my mother, success was defined through money and social standing. In order to be successful, I had to become a doctor. In many ways, I was living my life for her. But she couldn't see that. She never could.
When she left, I closed the door behind her, turned off the lamp, and crawled into bed. I placed my headphones into my ears and blasted my ipod as I drifted off to sleep. Somewhere, in another world, I was flying, high above the clouds and into the sun.
Michelle on life between cultures: The hardest part about balancing two cultures for me is definitely dealing with parents. There are so many times when we don't connect or understand each other, but I can't blame them because they grew up in a totally different culture. It's hard enough being a teenager without having parents who've never shared the same experiences as me. The best thing about being an immigrant is having a strong sense of cultural identity. I know that I am American and I'm proud to be one, but I also stand tall as a Korean American.