in the second grade, jeremy and i sat in the back of music class, staring at the books of lyrics in front of us. i knew how to read lyrics; the fold-out insert of a simon & garfunkel cassette tape was the first thing i had seen that let me understand that words could be read on paper, and corresponded to words i heard in the songs. there are videos of me at age four, declaring my love for cecelia, belting my heartbreak at finding her with another man.

these were not the lyrics jeremy and i read in music class. he kept his mouth clamped shut through 'god rest ye merry gentlemen', and i asked him why he didn't sing along with the class. 'my family doesn't celebrate christmas,' he explained. 'we're jewish.'

i sat for a moment, thinking to myself: my parents didn't celebrate christmas, either. it didn't seem to matter that i didn't know what jewish was; the obvious fact was that christmas carols were for people who celebrated christmas.

the teacher noticed me sitting in silence with jeremy.

'why aren't you singing?' she demanded of me. jeremy, she knew, was excused from participating because everyone knew he was jewish. the fact that i was chinese didn't seem to be an obvious reason.

'we don't celebrate christmas,' i said.

i got sent to the principal's office, where i read to him from the stack of books he'd been keeping on his desk, for the next time i'd inevitably get sent to him by a teacher who didn't feel like dealing with me. i picked up where i left off, halfway through the boxcar children.

04 June 2018 23:15

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