I Pledge Allegiance

Liwen Xu

My first allegiance was to Virginian cherries, blooming crimson sweet in summer sun. I sled down hills while sucking them dry, savoring their flavor through leaf storms and snowfall. The pits were thrown to squirrels, and the stems stayed in my hand-me-down books, keeping my place.

I imagined cousins I’d never met before sucking on the same cherries, impossible images of midnight hair and my father’s eyes. The orchards ripe with laughter and ladders could surely take in a few more bodies, and I dreamed them into reality.

When we moved to Dallas, I never saw another cherry tree. Still, the stems stayed in Goodnight Moon and Seasons, splitting photos down the middle of midnight skies, splitting my allegiance between cherries and words. I consumed books ravenously, searching for that balance of sweet and tart until I grew out of picture books into novels. In the chill 3am lamplight after long days, I’d seek out English words and English class and stories that sprung to life on the page.

In third grade I pledged allegiance to my legs in motion. I was reading Maniac Magee under the table, resting on perched legs, waiting. At night, my father told me about his mother, stories that he rarely said aloud or to us at all. She grew up in villages near Mongolia, farmed during the day and woke up at nights to feed the fire while her husband turned away and snored. In the mornings as cold as that uncoddled rejection, she’d wake up before sunrise to run up and down the mountains behind her home. Her backyard, my father would say.

I imagined myself as her, the playground as her mountains. My previous mile times were my own goals to surpass, and all of a sudden, I was not only her, but also Maniac Magee, and my father, and me.

The first time I returned to China, I made a loose allegiance to family. My uncle asked me over a five-course dinner if I liked China or America better. I chewed the peking duck slowly, sucking its fatty juices steeped in bone and garlic the same way I’d devoured cherries and books and trails. China, I’d said, despite having no previous memories of the country. All my family is here.


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