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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Column: Storytellers

I can’t tell you a whole lot about who I am. But I can say a lot about who I’m not.

I’m not white. I never drove myself with a provisional license to visit my brother in jail. I was never called into my high school counselor’s office because another student caught me purging in the girl’s bathroom after lunch. I never stumbled across a picture of my collegiate father smoking from a bong.

I never lied to my parents when they asked me why I was gaining weight during Ramadan. My grandmother never told me that if I didn’t marry a Jewish girl, her surviving the Holocaust would be in vain. I’ve never eaten a watermelon.

I’m not a woman. I never read Harry Potter. I’ve never stumbled across my parents’ marriage certificate to find that the date was just five months before I was born. I never found out I was the last girl my ex-boyfriend had sex with before he came out as gay.

I was never jailed for standing across a freeway while protesting the UC fee increases. I have never knocked on strangers’ doors to tell them not to vote for a president because the king we worship is from above.

I never put my finger through the hole in back of my boyfriend’s driver seat where a bullet had stopped just two inches from his brother’s back. I never hid in the trunk of my mother’s car as she drove to a hotel she’d spend the night at while my father was still at home.

I never got financial aid. I never lied to the cops to keep them from taking my parents away on child abuse charges. I never turned my face away when the elders at my church prophesized that my mother’s cancer would disappear overnight because I couldn’t believe them. My mother never scolded me when I brought an Elmer’s glue bottle to school for an art project because it was near where my father kept cocaine.

I never told people I was Puerto-Rican because I felt guilty for being three-quarters white. I never met up with my grandfather’s illegitimate grandson who published a book in Philadelphia about his family history.

I never broke a bone. I never punched anyone. I never lived a month off shoplifting at the North Davis Safeway by walking out with carts full of unpaid food. The cops never pulled my black boyfriend and me over on the side of the freeway to ask if I was safe in the passenger seat.

I never saw the pasty blue glow from the laptop on my roommate’s ass after I accidentally walked in on him having sex freshman year. I never listened to other girls on the track team make fun of a kid with autism to my face without knowing he was my brother. I was never speechless when my childhood friend from church told me he no longer believed in God.

I never ran the two miles around my neighborhood after I left a note for my mother saying I was a lesbian. I never had sex in the poetry section of Shields Library. I never watched my friend from my Christian fellowship cry as he thanked me and the other friends from church for driving all the way from Davis to San Diego for his high school sister’s sudden funeral. A goddess from space never told me the meaning of love after I left earth on a shroom trip. A homeless Vietnam veteran never yelled at me for not being a man as I tried to give him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I never stepped down from being president of my Christian fellowship because of the guilt from losing my virginity to a guy I met over a gay chatroom. I never stood on the fortieth floor of a building in downtown L.A. as it swayed from side to side in the middle of an earthquake. I never begged my sister to defend me while all my cousins believed my uncle when he accused me of trying to seduce him.

I never grabbed the knife from my grandmother as she threatened to burn the house down if my aunt didn’t give her money. My parents never gave me a Korean boy’s name and dressed me in boy’s clothes for the first two years of my life because they were still in denial that I’d been born a girl. I never prayed in the basement of my church while awaiting the rapture on New Years Eve, 1999.

These are all stories passed down to me by people who got too tired of carrying them alone. I sometimes carry them with me when I drive home from campus and I take a 20-mile detour. I drive out on the county roads where the sky is so oppressive over the Davis landscape that the fields lay flat on their back.

At night when all of Davis falls asleep, the sky is even brighter than the day. I drive, imagining all of these stories stuffed in my ’99 Honda Accord, pieces dropping along the road because there are too many to carry. After I drive past the city limit, there are only fragments of each story left. The rest float upward.

The sky looks like an expression of all God’s beauty, all the beauty in the world. I drive faster hoping that if I drive fast enough, I might drive straight into the sky. It feels like flying.

GEOFF MAK thanks all the people who lent him their stories this past year, and all the people who listened to them each week. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu.


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