Second Place, Fiction: “7,000 miles,” by Sally Liu
Grade 12, Albert-Einstein-Gymnasium, Holzheim, Germany
A letter to my grandmother, written from my mother’s perspective
I am writing this in an attempt to apologize for something that cannot be righted by words, but right now, words are all I have.
Words and the hope that you will believe me when I say that I would have single-handedly walked these 7,000 miles, just to hold my own brother in his last moments. And even though you have always seen in him nothing but a disappointment, I know that you believe he did not deserve to die like this, suffering from terminal lung cancer without the doctors disclosing his diagnosis, getting thrown out of hospital for want of health insurance and being reanimated against his will, forced to sustain a life unworthy of this very term.
For, even though we are 7,000 miles apart, the universal love for our own children unites us, a love strongest felt when in fear of losing part of ourselves. Never have I been so aware of my love for Sally than when she developed an eating disorder five years ago, when she starved herself to the point of being hospitalized for her own safety. She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, but how can I even hope to make you understand that in a country providing what you would call “abundance” to its citizens, anybody would deliberately refrain from satisfying their most essential needs? Do you remember how we used to work for hours on the rice fields, overwhelmed with joy if we happened to get our hands on a bowl of rice, rather than sweet potatoes? But did you know that nowadays, the Germans have established a mentality of deeming sweet potatoes the angels of health whereas white rice is almost considered the direct path to hell?
I cannot grasp the whole complexity of Sally’s illness, but I am certain that this collision of obsessive health and beauty ideals on one side and the promotion of perfectionism on the other can easily tear a fragile heart apart. And she is not the only one.
With your son and only remaining companion gone, must not you feel as if being swallowed by an ocean of loneliness?
Because I do.
You probably think that I have everything because I live in a wealthy country with a social safety net that will catch me should I ever fall.
But what is all this money, this security to me? Can it repurchase the time I wish I had spent with my own father and brother? Can it protect me from losing yet another loved one, from losing you, without a chance of being there for you when you need me the most? I have never told you, but if I could remake but one decision in my life, it would be this: the decision of moving to Germany.
I often think of you and in my mind’s eye, I see you sitting in your small flat, how you look out of the window for several hours, observing the children on their way to school.
Do you ever wish that you could turn back time? Or that you could at least freeze one moment and preserve it for eternity? That way, you never would have had to watch me leave China, and I would never have to watch my own children leave for university; you never would have been lonely all these years after Father died, and I would never have to face that same impending loneliness.
Here, in Germany, people often talk about the hardships faced by so-called “second-generation immigrants”. But I don’t see any of it in my own children, and for that I am grateful beyond words. Instead, I see a bright future awaiting them, a successful career, and, most importantly, a profound meaning in their lives. It has taken them some time to get there, but they do not feel torn between two worlds anymore; in fact, they have learned to cherish the gift of belonging to two worlds simultaneously, and being accepted by both.
But what about us?
Who bears the brunt of trying to reach for a cultural confluence that eludes one’s grasp, if not us? Who understands what it is like to be confined to jobs way below one’s skills, if not us?
Who feels truly torn, not between different universities but between different universes, if not us?
Everyone talks of being torn between different options, but no one seems to understand our struggles for what they are. They are not so much the result of a collision of different places, different people, different lives, even. They are part of a whole world within us, a world in which disparities are not social but emotional, where battles are fought not between conflicting nations but between conflicting values. I am torn not between, but within.
And I know you are, too. Sometimes I wonder whether it is meant to be like this; that, for everything that separates us, there will always be something that unites us.
You might not understand why such a bond would matter to me at all, because you are convinced that I already have everything you can only dream of. Yes, I have everything that money can buy, but without a home, everything is nothing. And sometimes, all I want to do is return to our dilapidated flat that is so rarely visited by the sun yet still glows like a beacon from my ocean’s surface. To some, this place may seem like a prison; but to me, it is home.
Without your lullabies to guide me, I often find it hard to sleep. That is why every night, I look at the moon; and I find consolation in knowing that you are looking at the very same moon, that we are just on different sides of the same world.
Even so, I cannot help but wonder: if all that separates us are 7,000 miles…
then why does it feel like so much more?
Sally Liu is an 18-year-old student from Germany. She has been fascinated by reading and writing for as long as she can remember and enjoys writing short stories, poems and songs that capture and reflect her feelings and thoughts. Aside from writing, she is also passionate about music and sports. Sally loves singing, playing the piano and she has recently started teaching herself to play the guitar. She also enjoys running, being outside and spending time with her friends.
This is the second time that she has participated in the Young Writer’s Contest. Writing for Peace has given her the opportunity to express her feelings and personal experiences and to reach out to like-minded people all over the world – a dream she has pursued ever since she took up writing.
Having passed her final exams last month, Sally will begin studying pharmacy in Zurich this autumn.
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