Seven years ago today, on December 6th, 2009, my father passed away after two years of battling cancer. Since then, I grew insatiably curious about the idea of an afterlife to cope with my own grief. I also had a lot of questions unanswered. Between spending four years away from home when I was young, and coming to the U.S. as a high school student, I only had 12 years together with my father.
He often said he was proud of me, but what did he actually think of me?
A few months ago, I decided to spend some time in China. Because my mom had planned our trip, there were groups people I barely recognize surrounding us all day everyday.
A middle aged man walked up to me while I was in the middle of having breakfast with my mom. Please leave me alone, I thought to myself while trying to look away.
He pulled up a chair, sat down firmly next to me. “Fei-Fei, remember me? I met your dad 40 years ago, way before you were born.” He took out his cell phone, put on his glasses trying to search for something. That is how most stories start in China. I knew then that he wasn’t leaving us alone anytime soon.
“Your dad, Mr. Chen and I were very good friends back in the old days. Since then, Chen moved to New York and became a writer and he blogs constantly.”
“So whenever Chen came back to Beijing, the three of us made sure to hang out. He loved your dad, because your dad was such a great storyteller. He made everyone laugh. Apparently he told Chen a story about you when you were still in high school in Maine, right?” His eyes lit up.
“Yes, I did.” I started to blush. “What is this story about myself that I have not heard?”
“Look.” He put his phone in front of me and kept scrolling down on a rather lengthy essay. I spotted a few words here and there. My fake name “Jane”, my high school, and the title was, The Young National Flag?!
“This is the story!” I could tell that this man was about get ecstatic. “Fei, Chen’s article was featured in the Best Short Stories in 2014 AND the same article was chosen by the Chinese High School Entry Exam Committee in 2015.”
“What? Are you kidding?” I shouted out, turning my chair toward him. “Seriously?” I said, “The entry exam is like the SSAT in America. Millions of kids go through every year.”
Forget about the Best Short Stories Book for a second, I desperately pulled out my cell phone and started Googling the number of Chinese middle school graduates in 2015: 14,000,0000 people.
“Your dad told 14,000,000 people about you! You can see just how proud he is.” The man smiled.
I read the entire article that morning, word by word. Then a few more times in the next few months. I could imagine my dad telling the story to so many people, not just Chen. I could also imagine him writing the story himself, in a tone that’s funkier, perhaps humorous and lighthearted. There were so many more stories he told about me, about us that weren’t written on a blog, shared with millions, I can imagine all of them now.
The Young Flag 年轻的国旗
Author: Jiu Chen (Originally published by Chen’s blog)