By: Karen Zheng
The current COVID-19 pandemic and my family’s situation in it has inspired me to write this piece. Ever since the pandemic began in China, my family was already very cautious and nervous around the virus, collecting masks and information on testing. When it came here, my parents and I got laid off our restaurant jobs because the restaurants closed. That was March. After almost four months in quarantine, my parents are going back to work as part of the reopening process. In this piece, I hope to share with the Asian American community a little part of the lives of Asian Americans who is working at a Chinese restaurant, where I fear for their lives.
T-2 days. Mother is scheduled to go back to work July 1st, in two days. Mother works in a Chinese buffet restaurant. A few days ago, she went in to do some deep cleaning before the official reopening. When she came home with a huge yellow stain on her black work shirt, I glimpse her face. She looked different. Tired. Old. I never realized Mother had wrinkles around her eyes. That moment, I knew Mother is not superman. I always thought she was, working all day and everyday and never complaining about it. She said money is worth more than life. She still says it, and it infuriates me to hear it. I am mad at myself because I don’t have the ability to give her what she wants right now. Money.
There is another woman who is important in my life. I will call her D. She will also be starting work. I am not sure what the reopening of a buffet restaurant entails, but I know they will come in contact with lots of different people throughout the day. Close one-on-one sessions. Like therapy. I will a certain future into existence, but there is no answer. Every morning, I still hear the cheerful chirping of birds. Does my will even mean anything when so many people are dying? I’m sure those people’s families willed them to live too. Why should god, if there is one, listen to mine?
This is the first time in my life that I have become afraid. Truly afraid. Afraid of losing. Mother. D. There’s this saying in Chinese. 失去才懂得珍惜. This roughly translates to: when things are lost, they are cherished. For me, there is a possibility of losing Mother and/or D, and I am panicking. I am regretting. I want to cherish them, but I do not know how much time I have. It’s funny because both of them will die one day, but when death nears or the potential of death nears, I want to be good to them. More and more.
I wish so many things right now. Things that I haven’t done.
I’d been a better child to Mother.
I’d given Mother my money when she asked.
I’d treated D better.
I’d grown up faster because growing up means I can somehow protect them?
I’d earn so much money for them.
I could support them.
I’d hugged D and kissed her and spent all my money on a trip with her.
I’d propose or something.
I don’t know.
How does one enter a gamble with a loved one’s life?
I want to be good is what I’m saying. How?
Karen is a queer, first-generation Chinese-American undergraduate student studying English and Creative Writing. She writes poetry and occasionally creative nonfiction. In this piece, she explores her anxiety around the perhaps too-rapid reopening of restaurants that impacts her family’s livelihood.