I wrote this a long time ago, but never got the chance to share it. So now I have an excuse to…
It is fairly common to hear stories of success, and even more common to hear stories of failures turned into success. But what about…a story of failure that remains a failure? Those are the ones you never ever ever hear of.
Suitcase in hand, a mere sum of $200 in pocket, he walked toward where his American dream lies, leaving everything behind. Wife, child, mother, family, friends, home. “When everything is settled” he thought, “I’ll go back for them”. Failure was but an undefined term in his dictionary. What China couldn’t give him, he was absolutely CERTAIN America could. America, with its streets overflowing with opportunity at every turn. America, where dreams come true and people are rich. America, where working hard is the only tool necessary for an abundant life. America…right at the tips of his over eager fingertips, yet several galaxies away.
Child in arm, heavy heart, a look of utter dismay, she watched her husband depart, leaving her with more than she can handle. Their child, finances, their families, and she still had to work. But he trusted her: this was the only piece of sanity she could hold on to whenever she thought of him, a million miles away in a foreign land, all by himself. What was so great about America anyways? So alienated it may as well be on another planet, it had nothing of what she loves: her family, her friends, and her job. The possibility of ever having to live there was the definition of ridiculous itself. Actually, it wasn’t the job that she loves, for her job was simply assigned to her; she didn’t have that much of a choice. Rather, it’s the community that’s built around this job that she loves. But what could she do but watch her husband leave and try not to cry? They’d had countless arguments over whether or not to go out there, fully exposed, and “seek a new life”, as he had put it. What was so bad about his job here that he absolutely had to quit?
“There’s no room for growth” he had said. Goodness gracious, why couldn’t he just be satisfied?
Yet, somehow, beneath the anger and the worry hid a sense of understanding. Her husband, always so hardworking and motivated, has never liked the connections that were so intricately integrated into the Chinese community. He never believed in bribery, never for a second believed in a life of pleasing your superior, for a lot of them had gotten their position because of family background or connections anyways. He wanted to be his own man, live freely. That, she empathized with. How often did she not dream about a life where she could say what she wanted to say, do what she wanted to do, with only her self interest in mind. How often did she not dream about a place where her opinions could be valued, without having to base her words upon the expressions of other people. How often did she not dream about…freedom.
However, she still doesn’t 100% believe what he tells her: that in America, as long as you work hard, you will get somewhere. Wherever there are people, connections always exist: this she was sure of. Is it really worth it to give up everything you’ve ever known for the CHANCE of there being a light at the end of what isn’t even that much of a tunnel?
A faint “Mommy, where’s daddy going?” from her three year old daughter jolted her out of her thoughts.
Oh dear, how is she supposed to answer her? That she doesn’t even know where exactly her dad is heading? That he may not come home for a few years? That he’s going to come back with nothing and they’ll have to start over from scratch? She’d been avoiding this question ever since he started packing the day before.
She looked down at her daughter, holding in all her tears till later tonight: she had to be strong for her little girl.
“A place where dreams come true”
“My dreams won’t come true here?”
“No, no, your dreams will still come true. Daddy is just going to a place where his dreams will come true. Then he’ll come back and we’ll be able to see him.”
With not even a phone or anyone to call, with not even a map or any sense of direction, he hopped on a bus and hoped for the best. He wasn’t even sure what the closest stop to his college was, so he turned to ask the man sitting next to him.
“Sir, what, uh, how get to, college?” he managed to get out.
“Which college?” the man kindly asked, seeing that he was a foreigner, utterly lost.
“The, uh, the, um…ah!” he opened up his backpack to reveal an acceptance letter to Texas A&M University, and pointed at the name sprawled on top.
“Good thing you’re on the right bus. In four more stops,” the man held out four fingers, made sure he understood, “ you get out, and take the taxi to the University”.
“How..cost…how much money?” he tried.
“It’ll be around $20.” the man predicted.
$20! That’s one tenth of all he had!
“Walk, how long?”
“Young man, it’ll be a nearly 40 minute walk. And it’s almost nighttime. You really want to try? Are you sure?”
“Yes” he was confident. For that old glimmer, that old fighting spirit he once had back in college, destroyed by the toll that society has had on him, had once again ignited him, and what was 40 minutes of walking compared to what was waiting for him in the future, anyways?
The man drew him a picture of where exactly to go, and his heart overflowed with thankfulness. For sure, he had made the right decision.
One day, two days, three days, four.. what in the the world was he doing?! Not even a phone call? Certainly he had to have gotten to a phone booth by now? She had no way to contact him. What if his plane crashed? What if he went to the wrong state? What if the acceptance letter was fake? What if he got robbed? What if…a million what ifs flooded her mind, till she could no longer breathe. What’s wrong with being sheltered and not being able to see the world? She didn’t care for any of that, only for him to be safe.
But what could she do but get on with life? Wake up, take her daughter to school, go to work, pick her daughter up, cook, check up on her parents, laundry, etc. A bajillion tasks waiting to be done, not enough hours in a day. The fact that she had always been independent, and it was her independence that her husband had been attracted to when they first met, motivated her long days ahead.
A week here, and he has most of the bare necessities for survival. Food (Ramen will have to work for another week), water, shelter, some clothes, some scholarship money, and finally, a friend. His friend is also here for his Doctorate degree, and had only been here a week before him. Finally, someone who understands him, someone who knows what he’s going through.
This weekend, he was invited to this particular friend’s house to have a few beers. They talked of everything yet of nothing at all. They thought of every possibility the future holds, yet knew of nothing. They argued over Chinese politics, and American politics, yet revolutionized back to where they began, essentially arguing over nothing at all. Their aspirations, plans, goals, and dreams…
And so the days passed, in each of the husband and the wife’s respective lives. As long as they had plenty to do, and they both did, the days didn’t seem as long as it felt.
After six long, mutilating years, he finally finished his PHD, and on graduation day, the family reunited. No words could be used to describe a joy so exhilarating, as if the whole world was lit afire with the immensity of their emotions. He was finally able to work as a true engineer, with his wife and daughter by his side. The ship floating on the seemingly endless river of loneliness had finally reached dry land. The American dream, ultimately stabilized into reality. Stabilized?
He graduated towards the end of 2007. In 2008, there was an economic collapse…
It just never ends, doesn’t it?
(Photocreds: Wallpapers Craft, Knowledge@Wharton The University of Pennslyvania, Hey Brian photography)