Fiction

Hold On, Sour Grape

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

Even though my mother was the total sum of everything you could ever ask for in a person, my dad was born with a wandering eye and would die with his eyeballs lolling around, still frantically on the lookout for attractive women. At least that was what my mom told me. Shortly after we were kicked out of our Flatbush apartment and found the class-A steaming heap of dung apartment in Bushwick, my dad started dating a woman he’d met through one of his waitering jobs at the Chinese noodle house where he worked the late-night shift on the weekends and sometimes on holidays.

Her name was Lisa and she was from Taiwan. My dad’s girlfriend wasn’t beautiful, not like my mom who had eyes that reflected the moon even in the daytime, not like my mom who had thin arms and wore dresses all the time, even in the winter, and not like my mom who had a long high neck that made her look unapproachable; my dad’s girlfriend was short and she had big breasts but that was all she had going for her. She wore heavy perfume that made her smell like an armpit that happened to have touched a strongly scented flower.

The first time she came over to our apartment, I couldn’t stop sneezing, because her perfume was so strong and I was allergic to artificial scents and bitchy dopeheads who had no business spending time with my dad. My dad introduced her to me as “your auntie Lisa.”

“She’s not my auntie, Dad.” I looked at Lisa. Her big stupid knockers hung down very low and I wanted to kick them back toward her face. “I’ll call her nothing, thank you very much.”

After that, she would come over every now and then, always when my mom wasn’t there, although my mom knew and it wasn’t a secret, it was just one of those arrangements where everyone compromised something so that one person could have a selfish and insincere happiness. Of course, Lisa didn’t give a rat about me or my mom, and probably not my dad, either. She was just a desperately lonely person who needed to be part of someone else’s family unit. She pretended to be nice to me when she came over, sometimes offering me sandwiches, or once she brought over a blender and asked me if I wanted a milkshake, and I told her I was picky about my food, and she asked me what I meant, and I said, “I mean I only like the food my mom makes, and I only hate the food that people I hate make,” and she said, “Oh, suit yourself,” and I said, “Your perfume makes me sneeze, did you know that?” and she said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about that.”

“Yes, you can, you cunt,” I mumbled.

“What was that?” she asked, and after that, there was just silence.

I prayed nightly for her to be attacked and maimed on her way to our apartment in Bushwick, but she always made it there intact, ruining my afternoon when I got home from school and found her already in our house, waiting for my dad to show up, sitting on the couch cushions that we pretended was a regular couch and not just cushions on our floor, flipping through TV shows and pretending to let me decide what I wanted to watch when I came through the door. But the minute I got up to get a snack, she immediately changed the channel, and when I got back, she said, “Oh, I thought you didn’t want to watch that show anymore, so I switched over.”

I told my father that I hated seeing Lisa in the apartment, but what I really meant was that I hated Lisa, period, and he told me to try for him, and I said, “But why shouldn’t Lisa try for me? Why I do have to try for her?” and my father said, “Not for her, for me. And she did try, sour gummy. She bought you that bicycle, didn’t she?”

It was a boy’s bicycle, and it used to belong to her kid, who was all grown up and probably hated her for giving away his bike. I never used it, even though I’d wanted a bicycle so bad for so long, but I wanted things to happen for the right reasons. My mom didn’t complain about my dad’s girlfriend. He always had one, it turned out, I just never knew because I never knew all the things that went on between my mom and my dad, but my mom knew them and she accepted them, and she told me not to sweat things like that because we still had each other, he still came home to us, he still loved us more than anyone else, we were still his number-one girls.

My dad’s girlfriend entered our lives at the worst possible time: I was in fourth grade, and we were dead broke. We lost our deposit on the apartment in East Flatbush due to our landlord being crooked and punishing us unfairly for not paying three months’ rent because my mom’s mom in China had cancer and my mom had spent three months’ salary on flying back to see her mother at the end of her days.

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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.