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— Mami? I had my sweetest, most grown-up voice as I sat on the kitchen table, dangling and dangling my eight-year-old legs, watching my mother cook up something from her ubiquitous American women’s magazines. I enjoyed watching out of curiosity and helping out when I could, out of boredom, and sometimes trying to befriend my mom, but the English food was barely acceptable. After growing up with Dominican and Chinese cuisine, this new American cuisine menu of meatloaf, overbaked cod and pasta salad made me almost see my ribs. At least Mom brought our rice cooker with her, so we had white rice every night, a concession to her beloved first and only son, Wong Alex himself.
“Mami, I, uh, I, well, so Julie went to Disney World,” I stuttered.
“Mm-hm.” Mom left the confection she was trying; her plastic apron did not completely protect her skirt from flour.
“Well, I was interested. . . Can we go to Disney World one day?”
Mom paused. Had I angered her with such a grand request? We were middle class, but we didn’t have enough money to take two babies, me with curly hair, an older brother, and two parents flying to Florida to meet Mickey Mouse. The girl could dream.
Lupe turned and patted my knee with her mealy hand. “You know, maybe one day.
I took a deep breath. “Really?!”
“Sometimes if you ask the Universe for something, it will give it to you.”
Why did not you tell me? Carmen Rita Wong
My mother instructed me to manifest. I had no idea how it would happen, but you better believe that I prayed and wished and prayed again for it to happen. Her encouraging emoji and wonderfully inspiring quote gave me a strangely determined hope. And I was relieved that she didn’t get mad and scold me for being so selfish about asking for a vacation.
Maybe a week or two later, while I was sitting on the bed with my head buried in a book, my mother came into my bedroom and threw a bag of clothes on the floor.
“Well. Your dad lives in Florida so I called him and asked him to take you and Alex to Disney World.” You could scrape me off the floor as it was definitely a school miracle. that you need to dress nicely on the plane.”
I was that little girl again in a fur coat and go-go boots. I dug into the bags. There was a new loose sleeveless light green and white striped dress with a matching short sleeved bolero, an outfit that blew my mind. Adorable terry top and shorts combination that I can still feel between my fingers, more shorts and tops and even socks and sandals. It really happened. My first flight on an airplane, and alone with my older brother, without adults. It was the excitement I needed in my life. But anxiety is the brotherly twin of fear. Florida gave me both.
Papi called our home in New Hampshire quite often. Always during the day when Marty was not at home. Mami yelled for me to pick up the phone after I talked to him, and he yelled and asked (he yells on the phone, always and forever), “What are you doing at school? How are your grades? As? Are you doing fives? What do you eat? Do you eat well there? When I see you, we’re going to Chinatown – take your favorite! Steamed fish, steamed big fish. . “.
Every Chinese American child knows these questions. Grades and food. Love languages. And although we saw Papi twice or more a year when we returned home to our family in the city, we did not see him there that year, and I did not dare to ask why (never asked Lupe why). I learned about this later when he sent postcards to Alex and me from his travels in Malaysia, where one of his brothers settled, and Singapore, where the other settled. But Florida? I had no idea he was there. Intuition about the timing of my Disney World request.
— Hey, Carmencita, don’t wake Papi, okay! Keep Papi to sleep! Your job!” My father begged, half-jokingly, holding the first grader responsible for avoiding a fatal car accident as we drove down Florida highways in the middle of the night. He kept nodding, but didn’t stop to rest. Alex was sleeping in the back seat and luckily I was too excited to go to sleep. Throughout the trip, probably from Orlando to Miami, I watched Papi out of the corner of my eye as his head fell and jerked up, dangerously close to swerving off the road several times or into oncoming traffic. “Pinch me! Pinch me, wow! He grabbed my hand to put it on his hand. Even though I was afraid to touch any adult, let alone my parents, I pinched and beat Papi on the arm with our little hands to the end of the road.Somehow we got to our destination without injury.
We made Disney World where I prayed like I had never prayed before in my short little life. I was certain that Alex and I would die on Space Mountain as we raced through the “warp speed” tunnel. I rode this ride for my brother who insisted on it. Anything he could do, I could do, I assured myself. If he liked it, then I should like it too. Sharing with me that I was making every promise to God while my head was tossing left and right as we flew through the plaster artificial space, Alex sat in front of me and rested while I yelled the damned screams. But don’t you know, as soon as we got off that first ride and stepped back into the sun, my terror turned to complete euphoria and I begged to continue again and again and… . . That day, Alex and I rode this attraction eight times in a row.
Then there was SeaWorld, Reptile World (I love snakes and always have) and even Monkey World. But then there was a day when Papi emptied his wallet on his two children in these “worlds” to his heart’s content. It’s time for Papi to satisfy his inescapable itch in his beloved world of gambling. Alex and I spent hours alone in the hot, humid Miami sun, without water or snacks, sitting in the car outside the greyhound racetrack, a gambling hall, while our father busied himself inside.
– When will he return? I whined my brother. Papi told us it would take twenty minutes or half an hour (“I’ll give you twenty dollars when I get back!”), but we were running a couple of hours later, sitting on the sticky, smoking vinyl of his sedan. I remember the damp feeling of curls stuck to the forehead and back of the head, soaked with sweat.
“I’m going to go sit over there,” Alex said as he got out of the car. He was a young teenager, but he had the air of a man about to break down. My brother was furious that our irresponsible father had left us two children alone in the parking lot of a gambling establishment for several hours on a hot Florida day without water. At least our windows were open.
“But wait! You can’t leave me here!” I begged my brother. I was alone in the car, watching the men get in and out of the cars on the highway and vice versa. Alex did not answer me. He went and sat on the steps of the bluish-blue building. At least I could see him from where I was. I leaned my head against the edge of the window, exhausted and withered. I knew that Alex would not leave me. He was angry and in the mode of the big brother, the owner of the house. When Papi finally returned, there was no apology. There was no talk of why and how he was gone for so long. He was silent, and neither were we. I don’t think he gained anything. But not all was lost in the long run. I learned a lesson about who our father is, which I don’t knew up to that point because I had never lived with him that maybe he shared the same feelings for me that Marty and my mom shared when they forgot to pick me up from the dump or when my mom picked me up an hour or more late after school, in the winter, when I had to wait outside in the cold.Not a priority.
When we got back from our Florida adventures with Papi, I reported the wonders of Disney World to my mom, including my pretty blonde daughter of the motel owners (“They had a pool and the rooms had these little boxes you could put coins in and the whole bed would shake.” !”), and then how we were left alone in the parking lot while Papi was gambling, and how I kept him awake while we drove in the middle. night. At the same time, Mami’s face darkened, and we never traveled alone with Papi again.
Our father was a gamer and lived in Miami because his “business” was there. He gave me my first plane ride, a motel stay, Disney World, and new clothes. In his youth, it was difficult to get too angry with him, because, like any good manipulator, he compensated for this with gifts and adventures. Marty could not necessarily compete in this arena. We were far from our once instructive trips to the Metropolitan in the city, and money was getting scarcer as more and more children appeared in the family. Instead, in New Hampshire, we had weekend walks at the local potato chip factory, maple syrup, apple picking (which I still hate), zucchini festivals, and flea markets. But Marty could give something critical that Papi never could: the American dream of the “white picket fence”, riding on a banana seat, country life of a nuclear family with a father who carried a briefcase to work every day and brought home bacon, along with a housewife wearing an apron that rang a bell (literally) for all her wandering children to return to the house for dinner. It was good housekeeping and “Little Golden Books” and “Dick and Jane” come to life. At least in the beginning.
From book Why did not you tell me? Carmen Rita Wong. Copyright © 2022 Carmen Rita Wong. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.