We wanted more. We watched BoJack Horseman, Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones with the subtitles. We traded VPN passwords when the shows started showing up blank, we accumulated a list of websites where they could be found. We wanted more sky, we did not want to be left behind.
We watched as our mothers and fathers pulled money from here and there — the uncle who put all his money in stocks before 2007, the grandmother who went immediately to her mahogany dresser and produced a stack of weathered bills.
We did summer classes, winter classes, after-school classes. We raced each other to see who could fill in the S.A.T. bubbles fastest, and then travelled down to Hong Kong to take the test. We watched How I Met Your Mother, House of Cards, Friends without subtitles, we gave each other English names from our favorite characters, like Marshall and Phoebe. We copied New Yorker and New York Times articles word by word, and had to learn a few good wrist exercises.
But when we got there, when we finally, finally got there, we saw each other. Lots of each other. At University of Illinois, at Rutgers, at University of Austin. We looked away at first but then couldn’t stop looking.
We shared where to buy Zhenjiang vinegar, how to get a credit card, which teachers would gladly spend time with you in office hours and actually pronounce your name correctly. Our shared language became a bubble of protection: against the cold nights where the whole campus was silent, against the other students and teachers who talked too fast and looked at us too dumb, against the jokes we would bravely try, to then only grapple with the silence. A few of us went off into their own corners, to join fraternities or dance teams, and we looked at them with admiration and envy.
We wanted more, but we started to not be seen. The chasm grew bigger and bigger until we were living in our own world. It was a warm world, full of homemade hot pot dinners and karaoke parties, where we shrieked at Harry’s air guitar solo, smirked at Becky and Min’s elbows touching. But when we stepped out of our rooms – to the library, cafeteria, the student center – we became observers to the other world, inactive actors, seeing scenes we could somehow not penetrate; another TV show we binged.
Amy Zhang is a segment producer at Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj and the non-fiction editor at Hyphen magazine. A writer for the page, stage, and screen, she was a 2017 IFP Screen Forward Fellow, a 2016 VONA fellow, and has worked in documentary theater at Ping Chong + Company. Her writing is published on Catapult.com and is forthcoming on Atlas Obscura. Twitter: @azhang852
Jellyfish Review depends upon the generous support of its readers, so if you enjoy the magazine and are able, please give a little.
(Next: How do I get unlost on my own by Lucy Zhang)
(Previous: The Long Con by Audrey Bauman)
Feel like submitting? Check out our submission guidelines
SPECIAL ISSUE submissions INSTRUCTIONS FOR COMMITTING CRIMES (paid!)
Art (modified) Susanlenox Public Domain