in this life

Weinong Teng

my grandmother ran away from home in her early twenties because she opposed her mother’s remarriage. or, my grandmother ran away from home in her early twenties because she was her father’s daughter and no amount of death could erase that. or, my grandmother’s presence in her home was always her mother’s greatest sorrow. or, my grandmother left because she could.




it was love at first sight. my grandparents — a military academic and a runaway nurse — meet in a crowded, sweaty room. it is the aftershock of war and everyone knows they’re only alive because they are lucky. they are drunk on being young and alive. my grandmother is radiant, dancing in the fluorescent light.

or, my grandparents never loved each other. they were introduced by mutual friends, and eventually got married and had a family because that was what young people did back then. they had three children, then my mother, an unwanted last daughter. they are poor, but my grandfather refuses to let his wife work because she would earn more than him. the war sleeps in their bed and carries their children into adulthood. there is always rice for the war even when everyone else is hungry.

or, walking through life hand-in-hand eventually turns a convenient marriage into a patient love. the aftershocks of war don’t stop their children from being successful in every way possible. their grandchildren love them with the single-minded devotion of children who don’t know otherwise. every sacrifice brought them to this soft, backlit ending.

or, my grandmother never speaks of her husband after his death. i grow up with one glassy memory of him and my mother’s stories which grow less and less fond the older i get. both of my grandmother’s daughters get divorced, her sons do not. none of my cousins marry — we are either fiercely independent, or the aftershocks of war threaten any foundation we might lay.




in this life, my grandmother has never known sorrow. she is one of many children, their family’s wealth outmatched only by their love.

in this life, i am never born.




it is february and i am drunk for the last time, drowning in vengeful ghosts of my own making. my mother’s mother’s mother sits at my desk, her hair perfect black waves. she is untouchable, a distant beauty i look nothing like, and i am the product of her most bitter heartbreak. great-grandmother, i say, won’t you tell me if you hated your daughter. there is no reason for me to know who she is. after all, i have never even seen a photo of her, and i know all too well which parent my grandmother takes after. despite this, my teeth ache in recognition.

she says: black sesame will keep your hair glossy and dark. i laugh. this, i know. that she was a beauty with hair darker than the black sesame soup she drank regularly is the only thing i know about her. great-grandmother, my hair will never be dark enough to satisfy. great-grandmother, won’t you tell me something else.

my mother’s mother’s mother says: you have her eyes, this will only ever bring sorrow to your family. pray your daughters will look nothing like you and everything like your husband.

this, i think, is why i could never have children. resentment gnaws at my bones, sucks the marrow out to feed its hunger. it will never be satiated — a generational curse gorging itself on our organs. bold of you to assume i would start a family with a man. i am drunk on sorrow, every nerve in my body disconnected, i feel nothing except loss.




my great-grandfather is wealthy enough to raise all his children but he does not. he sends his daughters to live with their future husbands’ families, keeps my grandmother because she looks like him. my great-grandmother resents her husband, her sons, her only daughter who remains. she tells my grandmother that her sisters, who look like their mother, are prettier.

when she is old enough, my grandmother leaves and never looks back.

i look like my mother and my grandmother says, you are beautiful. my sister looks like our father and my grandmother tells her, your older sister is prettier than you. my mother, who was told the same thing, overhears this and her rage at this cycle repeating is enough to shatter an already tenuous relationship.




in this life, i am born a boy. in this life, i have relationships that last longer than the time it takes me to run away. in this life, i pray for daughters with their mother’s eyes.


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