(Author: HaiYun, Translator: Kevin Tang, Published in 《Influence and Confluence: East and West》A Global Anthology on the Short Story By East China Normal UniversityPress)
I asked the officer to give this letter to you to try and tell you that I love you, I just don’t know how to face you or how to face this unknown and unpredictable world.
After I received my college acceptance, I chose to end my life; I just want you and all my teachers to know that my decision has nothing to do with academics. I have always believed that I would be accepted by my top choice: Cornell University. Upon seeing you cheer me on and my teachers’ and peers’ congratulations, I knew that my time had come. I don’t want my decision to further affect Cornell’s reputation, though many of the Cornell students who resorted to suicide may have hurt and struggled in the darkness as I have, yet could not find the light.
My death is my own decision; it has nothing to do with anyone else, it just hurts too much to go on. Dad, you have always been a hero to me. Years ago, when you used to throw me up into the air and – without fail – catch me on my way down, you appeared to me as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Terminator.” No matter if you were at home or at work, you always held an indisputable authority. I wish I had inherited your big manly figure and your confidence, yet I have always taken after my mother: small, skinny, and lacking in self-confidence. I think I was never meant to have that kind of manhood or strength. The year I turned 13, I made my closest friend, Jason. He was both big and strong and the captain of the school’s football team. One time, while I was walking through the school’s hallways, a few students yelled at me, “You chinks should all go back to your country!” It was Jason who walked over and threw the kid to the ground. He turned to me and told me that if anyone were to ever talk to me like that again, he would take them all down. My admiration for Jason reminds me of my admiration for you. Perhaps all that I lack I found in you and Jason, so I followed Jason around just as I used to run after you years ago…
Once we came to high school, Jason was injured while playing football. There was a period of time where he became grumpy and hard to talk to as a result, but he only needed to be with me for him to cheer up a little. One day, he told me that I was his everything. Now that he couldn’t run and tackle on the football field, I was his only source of happiness. As long as I was still by his side, he would have the strength to go on. When I suddenly realized that our relationship was in fact predicated on a mutual love and dependence, I felt at once both elated and afraid. I never had the courage to tell anyone, because I remembered the conversations that you and Mom had about homosexual relationships were overwhelmingly negative and mocking.
Even though I really did love Jason, I purposefully began to distance myself from him. At the time of my greatest suffering, I indirectly hinted towards Mom that I wasn’t attracted to girls. Not long after, you and Mom both forced me to follow her to church. But, Dad, how could you, who doesn’t believe in God, expect to make me believe in His existence? How could you, who openly mocks the idea of an afterlife, expect to make me believe that God’s word on love between a man and a woman is absolute?
In church, those teenagers who had already been baptized constantly pressured me to do the same, lest I become ostracized and left out. If I didn’t accept their terms and demands, they would not accept me as a person. Going to church every Sunday became my weekly nightmare, until one weekend I could not take it anymore. I yelled at Mom and ran away at the church’s doorstep.
That day, I searched all over for Jason to tell him that I had always loved him, and that I had only distanced myself from him out of fear. Yet when I finally arrived at his front door, I saw him with another boy. The way they held each other made very clear that Jason no longer needed me, that my place by his side had already been replaced.
From that moment on, my life became a mess of sadness, loneliness, and pain.
The few years since then, the pain I’ve gone through has exceeded what I could handle. Yet all I could do was bottle it up and force the feeling ever deeper into myself…
Eventually, one singular event caused all the hurt that I’ve accumulated over these years to overflow and spill out of the cage I’d built for it.
Last year, one of my female classmates decided to tie a plastic bag around her head in a lonely New York hotel room and died of asphyxiation. Dad, do you still remember the painting she made that won all manner of awards? Its subject was a long-haired fair-skinned girl, eyes wide in the midst of night, as if she had just witnessed some terrifying nightmare. She and I were classmates in the honors art class at school. When she was painting that piece, she asked me in passing, “What do you see? Do you understand? No, of course not, no one can understand.” I told her that I saw loneliness and a future without light or hope. She stopped painting, her eyes resting on me for but a moment before she turned around and resumed her work. Not long after she finished that piece, she went alone to Manhattan, where she found her escape from this frightful world.
Her death shocked me, but it also made me understand that there is an end to pain, if only you have the courage to embrace the end.
Recently, I’ve been seeing her in my dreams. She smiles and beckons to me, “Come. Here, there is light and happiness.”
I’m sorry, Dad. This whole time I haven’t mentioned anything to you or Mom because I don’t want either of you to worry about me. And I don’t believe that either of you would have understood. These last few years I’ve been locked up in my room without any social contact, often without the motivation to get out of bed or do anything out of a fear of the world and of the future. Only this corner in my room gives me any feeling of security. This is my refuge, where I can find some sense of calm in my dreams.
Dear Dad, please don’t feel bad. Just know that I make this decision for the sake of my own peace and well-being.
If there really is an afterlife, then one day we will see each other again.
Tomorrow is Qing Ming (Tomb-Sweeping Day). I once told you that Qing Ming is the day that we Chinese remember those who have passed. We believe that burning our letters and paper money in front of our loved ones’ graves will bring them fortune and happiness in the afterlife. I used to write these customs off as mere superstitions. But now I believe, I have to believe. I need to write down all that I want to say, and once I burn this letter tomorrow in front of your grave, you will know the shape of your father’s heart.
Today, you have been gone five months. Those first two months, I don’t even remember how your mother and I passed the time. Those days, we lost ourselves in the many memories that we shared with you: from when you were growing in your mother’s belly to when you were born, from the day you learned to walk to the day you learned to talk, your maturity and your consideration for others, your sensitivities and your weaknesses.
You’ve been a smart but introverted boy since you were little. Your mother always wanted a daughter, and she used to jokingly dress you up in a feminine way. There were so many times I scolded her for it, even though some of your features did take after your mother’s elegance and femininity. Sometimes I would grow impatient with your over-sensitivity. Especially when you cried, I would tell you that men should not cry so easily. That’s what I was taught when I was young; I always thought a man’s behavior could be taught, and that I could keep reminding you to be masculine as you grew older, but I never knew that my reminders would be one of your hardest burdens, or that my son would be one to fall in love with another man.
Your mother and I always denied this possibility. We regretted allowing you to make so many American friends instead of Chinese friends, as if your tendencies came as a result of American influences. Even bigger of a regret was our neglect in taking you to church when you were little. Until later, you would refuse to go to church and point your fingers at my non-belief. You didn’t know that my forcing you was my last resort; I no longer knew what to do, so I could only offer you to God in the hopes that I could “correct” your wrongs. Ah, I’ve remember something. Those first two months after you left, your peers from church came to our doorstep and kept us company in your remembrance, day and night for weeks at a time. Upon losing my only son, in the darkness of loss and guilt I’ve accepted the light God into my life.
At one point, your mother and I even regretted coming to America. We thought that if you had been born and raised in China, perhaps you would not have taken the path you did, and we wouldn’t have felt the way we did about your decisions. Now, I see that that kind of thinking is both narrow-minded and unproductive. We ignored your loneliness and your pained cries for help. We felt that perhaps it was our obligation as parents, that we were doing what was right in trying to force you to accept our ways. Our judgement of you caused your avoidance of us and your continued struggle with your own pain.
Son, if I could redo everything, I would want to tell you: I don’t care what others think of my son, I just want you to be happy. I also want to say that I don’t care if you love men or women, as long as you find someone who brings you happiness, I would be forever satisfied. As long as you could grow up to be strong and healthy, that’s all I would want. If time could rewind, my son, I want to sit with you under the tree in our backyard and listen to all of your dreams and aspirations. My son, if I could do everything over again, I want to stand by and watch you paint and draw. Though I don’t understand art, I just wish to see the colors and shapes that represent the inner feelings of your heart.
Son, I believe there is a heaven. I believe that you are there waiting for us, where someday we will finally reunite.
Love Forever ,