“Is this a translation, reflection, or rotation? Who can tell me?” The questions bounce from the animated grin of my math teacher. She points to the chalked grid on a blackboard.
The question reverberates, a drum-like echo in a room full of charcoal oval tables and sleepy twelve-year-olds. Some respond with wide-eyed wonder, others in blank stares screaming boredom and exasperation. I look down at a breadth of slanted grey trail marks on my notebook paper. I know the answer. But a week earlier, a boy had told me, “You must be good at math because you’re Asian.” The words that slip out of his mouth seem automatic and effortless. I had never associated my race with my academic abilities, or anything at all, for that matter. I respond with an elusive gaze because I am too young to know what he means.
Seventh period just ended with the shrill sound of a bell. By my locker, a girl with flaxen hair and leopard-print glasses looks me intently in the face. She asks me why my eyes look the way they do. Attuned to my distinctive ebony hair and almond-shaped eyes, I am old enough to fathom the difference between us. I begin to loathe it. My cheeks gradually flush to a violent shade of fuchsia. I respond in fraught silence.
I go home and stare at the zodiac on my wall with bitter disgust. My mother bought the psychedelic apparition of a twelve-animal hierarchy while in China. She seems prouder of my heritage than I am, even though I am the adopted one. I am flooded with an overbearing sense of shame and repulsion. But I had plastered my face in makeup today, and crying would ruin the eyeliner I had worked so hard to paint onto my eyelids in order to hide the monolids. The black gel shadows, like spilled ink on a white canvas, make my eyes frown less.
I have performance anxiety. With shaking fingers and seismic heartbeats and knobby knees, I sit as my fingers tap away at Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. The concert hall was lined with other girls and boys in black suits and dresses, many who were also Asian. It’s performance time and with every chord I play the unsung fury of being mocked in a nasally accent, words biting. “Pork fried rice?” “Every Asian plays piano.” “Do you want to be a doctor, too? How about an engineer?” I hold back tears, but this time for another reason. Every cadence is a culmination of TI-84 calculators, forgotten locker combinations, the darkest shade of pink, and continental stereotypes. Losing myself in the tantalizing final melody, I am swept away by the current of emotion. I bow with a final flourish. I see myself in the luster of the polished Steinway, face beaming like the full moon.
The answer had been “reflection” all along.
Jennifer Boyd is a high school student from Hull, Massachusetts. Her poetry and essays have appeared in several publications, including Poetry Pacific, Alexandria Quarterly, Tower Journal, and The Critical Pass Review. Additionally, her work has been recognized by Smith College, Hollins University, Princeton University, and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Most recently, Jennifer published her first chapbook, Stretto (2017). Jennifer is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Onism Journal, a digital publication which features the creative projects of young artists around the world. She enjoys blogging for Voices of Youth and HuffPost in her free time.