Away Again is a weekly newsletter from Beijing, China. Join us.
Unsolicited Praise for my previous letter While You Were Sleeping, the first Tiny Letter from Beijing, China.
"I’ve enjoyed your journey so much - the difficulty and triumphs alike. I hope you find peace in your journeys and adventures ahead. In whatever way I’m able to follow along, I’m excited. And kinda grateful I found this little tinyletter." — Abby
"Hi M, thanks for writing these! They were such a great insight into a culture I know very little about. All the best with whatever is next." — Dan
"I cannot tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading about your adventures. One of the first dispatches I read was signed “please write”. As you’ll see, I started to write, and realized Free Bird Lane is a state of mind." —Dorothea
From While You Were Sleeping "Fragments" sent July 11, 2017
Bigtu leans back against my legs. He’s the biggest kid in the class, but every movie we watch scares him. His hands dig into the flesh of my waist and it’s starting to hurt, but I don’t move. It's taken months to earn this level of trust.
By 9 am, the temperature is pushing toward 80 degrees. Sweat glistens between my breasts and I catch men on the bus staring and then looking away. I vow to never wear this particular shirt again.
If there’s a quarter piece of watermelon on the counter at the family-run store in my building, I will buy it. The girl who works there knows this, and so when I step through the plastic curtains, and there's cut watermelon on the counter we initiate the moves to our dance: I smile, she points, I nod. She weighs and I pay.
Hungover and bedraggled one Saturday, I teach my class to find similarities and differences in bats and birds. To use the words “compare” and “sometimes." Tina2, dubbed so because there are two Tina's, raises her hand and says, "Sometimes Monet is pretty and sometimes she is not.” This is an impressive & true use of the word. I reward her with a star.
Last week I completed my second short story since being in China, about a woman who visits her elementary school almost twenty years later. If the story is a puzzle then the border pieces came directly from my own life, but the inside, the rest of the picture is an experience unfamiliar to me. With every revision I wonder if I am moving closer or farther from the truth.
Back home another friend is pregnant, another is engaged. I make myself type, Congratulations into the text box. Hit send. Swallow bile.
My Chinese coworkers invite me to lunch now, some invisible test passed, and I shudder with the pleasure of being able to order exactly what I want. They apologize when conversation slips into Chinese, but I don’t mind.
I wonder if moving to China was the first step to becoming the kind of woman who eschews marriage and domesticity. Is there a man who can love a woman who is always looking for the next adventure, who has to go go go?
A knock at the door and my TA is standing there. She says there’s a student who wants to sit in on my class, so I stick my head out and make eye contact with a little girl who promptly bursts into tears and backs away.
I watch Him sleep in the lightning flashes of a summer rainstorm. He never stirs.
An old woman walks behind her grandson waving a reed fan in his direction.
I’m worried all this time spent learning to be alone will make it harder for me to be around people. More and more I feel like I’m acting.
Next week I head to Sanya, way south and tropical. The 2XL bikini top I ordered online arrived and barely covers anything and is completely indecent. I complain to my coworker about how hard it is to find bras for big-chested women. She apologizes for China and then remarks, “But at least you grew those yourself.” Indeed.
I buy myself a bouquet of flowers, light candles, and think about how much easier my life would've been to this point if I hadn't waited for a man to read my mind.
In my forties I'll be wearing loose-flowing dresses and running a bar on an island like my favorite character on Murder in Paradise. I'll take lovers at will and move on when I'm bored, which is quickly. My skin will get darker and gleam with oil.