Fiction

Hold On, Sour Grape

There was no such thing as failure—only starting over a million times and then some.

It embarrassed me whenever my mom or my dad trumped me (although it was never on purpose) with how thoughtful they were, and, by comparison, how thoughtless and selfish I had been in only thinking of myself when it seemed like every second of every day my parents were planning to undergo yet another sacrifice to make our lives that much better. No matter how diligently I tried to observe these minute changes, there was always so much that was indiscernible—it was so hard to keep track of every detail, like how my father only took showers every four days so that we could have more water allowance to use in making soups, which was my favorite hot food, or the way my mother wore my father’s dress shoes when the soles of her shoes started to wear off and how she wore them to work at the restaurant even though they were four sizes too big and that’s why she tripped so often and fell on her side and came home with scraped elbows.

There were so many days when I came home to an empty house with nothing at all to distract me except an oozy desire to come up with all the ways I could possibly sacrifice enough to catch up to my parents, who were always sacrificing. But I didn’t know how I could compete with my mom, who got fired from her job baking donuts after spending a night scavenging all over for a desk so that I wouldn’t have to do my homework on the floor or the bed or standing up with my workbook pressed against the wall, and how she found me a beautiful desk that was perfect except someone had written fuck ya momma on its side with black spray paint, and how she dragged it down 20-something blocks on her own and was too exhausted to wake up in time for work, and that was why she was fired, and why she couldn’t ever keep a job because she was so tired all the time from taking care of me. Or how was I supposed to compete with my father, who was so good about not wasting a single thing, like how between the ages of zero and five I used to always throw up my food and no one was able to figure out why, except maybe it had something to do with the time I was two and caught pneumonia because my mom put me in a beautiful blue tiered lace birthday dress in the middle of a snowstorm in January. I spent a month recovering in a hospital even though we couldn’t afford more than a night, and the bills from that time were part of the reason why for so long my parents had to work three jobs at a time. After my bout of pneumonia I was always terrible at keeping food down, and there were times when my dad would spoon the food I had vomited up into a bowl, which he would then eat with his eyes closed, because that was how much he loved me and how much he was willing to sacrifice for us.

When I got home from school (if I went to school that day), I would sometimes wait, slumped against the wall, for my parents to come home with a box of doughnuts or leftover mein fun or a pair of earrings with the paint peeling off, like when my mom worked as a seamstress for a woman named Donna who gave my mom gifts to give to me because she liked how I wore my bangs so high and pouffed, and I thanked her a million times whenever I went with my mom to work. I waited and I wondered what I could do in those six or seven hours alone in the apartment to show my mom and dad that I, too, was part of this amazing, intricate machine that saved us from the kind of utter and complete desperation that coincides with everything falling the fuck apart.

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14 Comments

  • doikoon February 28th, 2014 3:13 PM

    When I saw that Jenny wrote this I gripped my school laptop my eyes went wide, and I swear I didn’t breathe for I like twenty seconds.

  • Hallie I February 28th, 2014 3:52 PM

    i mostly like this story, but i don’t really feel great about the cheap objectification of the latina women in Christina’s neighborhood- she came to admire them because of the deep-v of their asses??? i expected more from rookie and i’m not sure what purpose that was supposed to serve other than to compare “Those Women” with her milky white skinny mother (who i realize is also a woc).

    • Maryse89 February 28th, 2014 7:55 PM

      I think you have to consider that the perspective of the story is that of a little girl who has probably absorbed a lot of the ugly stereotypes surrounding her as she’s grown up (as most of us do to an extent when we’re kids…)

      I think the views of the author and the character are clearly separate in this case

  • ahowl February 28th, 2014 4:24 PM

    I’ve never posted anything on Rookie before but this resonated with me so much that I can’t passively consume it like everything else. This reminds me so much of my childhood, but you write about it in a way that’s never pitiful. Feeling alienated, sour, deviant in a my parents are trying to make rent every month while you’re preoccupied with going snowboarding over the break, not nice but not evil, full of misplaced pride and anger. As an immigrant child growing up in North America, you’ve validated all of these things that I thought I alone had to bear the weight. Jenny, you’re my hero.

    Just, thank you.

  • Jesss February 28th, 2014 5:07 PM

    Jenny I really love your writing! This was amazing, like, really amazing.

  • izzywayout February 28th, 2014 5:55 PM

    whenever i see a piece of fiction written by jenny, i know it’s going to become one of my favorites, and this was no exception. you are brilliant.

  • dumbpling February 28th, 2014 9:32 PM

    i havent even read past the first page but i was just so excited when i saw the name jenny at the top of the page. this sounds a bit strange, but i have seen so many connections to my own life in previous pieces that i almost feel like i know you, and everything you write just really resonates with me and its all so beautiful and relatable.

  • DianeK February 28th, 2014 11:07 PM

    You’ve managed to make a superficially depressing narrative into a very human, life-affirming story. Although this piece made me cry, I felt uplifted. It was cathartic.

    The ending was absolutely brilliant. Xie xie ni for transferring these undescribable, nuanced feelings into a story that feels so familiar.

  • eza_236 February 28th, 2014 11:08 PM

    This is unbelievably beautiful, it paints a picture of a place and time I’ve never known, but at the same time feel like it was my life she was describing.

  • marysilverbells March 1st, 2014 8:00 AM

    so beautiful

  • mangointhesky March 1st, 2014 12:46 PM

    This was such a good story!

    http://theconfettireport.blogspot.com

  • teafandoms March 1st, 2014 8:37 PM

    This really was superb, good job Jenny!

  • llamalina March 2nd, 2014 3:30 AM

    Jenny, you are, without a doubt, one of my favorite writers- not just on Rookie but in general. Your pieces resonate so soundly with me as an Asian-American teenage girl. This story was no exception and I found myself seeing parts of the hardships in my own childhood. It’s amazing how much I can relate to your writing, and how beautifully you can word the simplicity of a child’s perspective and the complexities of Christina’s situation. You’re an incredible writer and I will always look forward to reading anything from you.

    http://llamalina.blogspot.com

  • fluorescentyesterday March 2nd, 2014 9:39 PM

    I will never tire of Jenny’s work, and this piece was just too good.