As a child, I attended a Christian school. We wore maroon sweaters, clip-on ties, and corduroy navy slacks. I sang in the choir, and performed in dramatic productions of Biblically-themed stories. Thinking back, I find it funny that my Buddhist parents would send their only child to a Christian school. We never talked about religion.
Whenever it feels safe to joke about Christianity, whenever I’m in the company of people who will probably laugh at my experience with Jesus, I tell the story handed down to me by my sister. If you know me, you know this story. If you don’t, here it is.
My sister picked me up from kindergarten one day. I have memories of my father picking me up, but in this case, it was my sister. You see, she’s old enough to be my mother. And, in many ways, she raised me like she was my mother. She taught me how to place a fork and knife down on a plate to signal that I was done with my food at a restaurant. She taught me how to properly clean a bathroom so that dust wouldn’t accumulate on the light switches. She taught me that being “only” a half-sister or half-brother was bullshit, and that it didn’t matter one bit that we had different fathers.
My undeveloped hippocampus at age five prevents me from recalling specific details, but I’m pretty sure she pulled up in her tan Firebird. Pretty cool. My face probably lit up as I spotted my sister—flowing dark brown hair and long legs waited for me in the school lobby. I ran out to hug her, and we walked out to the sleek machine shimmering in the parking lot sun.
The Firebird had heavy doors. Cars don’t have doors like this anymore. This door, to a five year old, was like pulling shut a bank vault. My little muscles tensed as I yanked on the handle as hard as I could. The door slammed shut with a thunk, and my sister surely rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to slam the door, sweety,” she said in a soothingly serious tone.
“Okay,” I said, wondering what a thirty pound asian kid is supposed to do.
Pulling out of the driveway, turning right, down the hill, my sister asked the questions you always ask a child that you just picked up from school. “How was school?”
“Good.” At the time, I wasn’t so adept at qualifying my experiences.
“Did you learn a lot?” she asked.
“Yes.” Yes, I learned a lot. I learned that I liked Lincoln Logs. I learned that recess was fun. I learned that you can cut a perfect circle out of your slice of processed cheese with the bottom of a paper Dixie cup and put it on your forehead to make a big round yellow eye. I learned that some kids like to eat paste. I didn’t tell her about what I learned.
“Do you have a lot of friends?”
“Well, there’s David H.” We peed in the same toilet. We tried to top each other’s Lego spaceships. Sounds friendly to me.
“Oh, yeah, I know him,” she said. Outside my window, the cars slowly slid backwards. Signs glided past, and beyond them, the hills turned blue as they disappeared beyond the horizon.
“Well, do you have a best friend?”
“What’s his name?”
This is the punchline. The story ends, and people laugh. They imagine a tiny Japanese boy, hands clasped, looking up to the sky. They see him intently muttering five year-old prayers about Transformers. They see all the hopes of naïveté channeled through the small, slanted eyes, looking up at nothing but the blue, gaseous mix of chemical elements, hoping that his parents will laugh together tonight. Hoping that his father puts on Be-Bop-A-Lula on the turntable. Hoping that he could listen to his mother’s churning stomach. Hoping that the Sun won’t become a red giant overnight, and that the G.I. Joes, obediently lined up next to his bed will be there, standing at attention, when he wakes up the next morning.