To Be Normal
By Shelley Yang
Throughout my childhood, I noticed differences between my friends and myself—their experiences, senses of home, family structures. I desired normalcy, yet my culture, my family and I… we thrived in the differences.
I always woke up to sound and energy. Our apartment was the clashing of pans and clinks of plates as my mother made breakfast porridge for eight. The muffled crescendos of the Chinese opera as my grandparents crowded around the television. The scuffling of my brothers as they dragged themselves from their nearby bunk bed. Per always, the apartment was inhabited by its usual noisy scene—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, my aunt and my uncle packed into one space. This was chaos, yet this was home.
School was a different story. Structure ruled with the daily plan on the whiteboard and teachers ushering us from one subject to the next at the bell’s decree. In this space, I could be the same as all of my friends. And yet, I knew my friends lived a normal life outside of the school walls that I did not have: a tidy breakfast served at exactly 7:30 am, parents waiting at the dismissal gate at exactly pick up time, and a quiet space at home to do their homework and relax. In comparison, I felt my life was a glitch in the system; it was not only unusual, it was wrong. A different family member arrived at the steps of the school 30 minutes after dismissal time every day. And in those moments, waiting alone in the silent courtyard, I wished to be like everyone else.
After years in the cramped apartment, we moved into a small blue house where only four bowls of porridge appeared on the dining room table. The move was a quiet affair; a memory dominated by taped brown boxes and the smell of fresh paint. As quickly as we moved in, my sense of home disappeared. I had my own room. Quiet where there was once noise. Our home was now ruled by order and routine, and my wish had been granted. But my heart felt as empty as before.
In Chinese culture, the new year is the most important holiday. It’s traditionally heralded by the gathering of the family, the chorus of New Year’s greetings, firecrackers, and most importantly, chaos. And in my first new year celebration in our small blue home, I realized that chaos makes family. It makes my family mine and my culture my own. My normal is chaotic. Sound and energy are my home.
What is meaningful to you? Out of all the topics that came to mind, family and culture were the most prominent. Throughout my childhood, I noticed differences between my friends and I—their experiences, senses of home, family structures. My essay tackles the unhappiness I had with home and my desire for normalcy. ‘Meaning’ was a large factor in the language I chose and scenes I portrayed. I wanted to be different, yet my culture, my family thrived in the differences. My essay explores my sense of normalcy and my rediscovery of home.
Shelley Yang is a passionate high school junior studying social science in NYC. She enjoys exploring the city, accumulating large amounts of unfinished pieces of writing (working on it!) and listening to music. Shelley aims to better herself, her community and the world around her through writing. When she’s not attempting to page through thick, used books, Shelley translates the endeavors of daily city life into her ongoing writing journey.