It will be December 7th when you hear the news. You’ll have been at the beach with your friends all day; it will be a Sunday, and on weekends, your mother allows you to do close to whatever you want. It will be almost dinnertime, and, realizing this, you’ll scramble out of the water and pull on your clothes without drying yourself, shouting a hurried goodbye to the handful of boys floating in the water, only their heads visible, mostly shining blonde crowns of hair with one ginger and one brunette.
You’ll make your way along the narrow San Francisco streets by the light from a few dim streetlamps and burst through your front door a few minutes before six. Expecting your mother to scold you for being home so late, or for dripping seawater onto her clean linoleum floor, she’ll instead nearly faint when she sees you. “You’re safe, you’re safe,” she’ll repeat, and run to lock you in a tight embrace, sopping clothes and all.
“What’s going on?” you’ll ask her. You’ll realize that your older brother is slouched around the dining room table--your mother despises bad posture--and that your father, your punctual, practical father, is nowhere in sight. You’ll ask where he is.
“Your father is listening to the radio in his office,” your mother will reply quietly.
“Why? What happened?” you’ll ask again.
After a pause punctuated only by the drip of water falling from the tips of your fingers to the floor, she’ll tell you, “There’s been a bombing.”
A bombing? Where? you’ll wonder frenziedly. “Is everyone okay?”
“It--it happened in Hawaii, honey,” your mother will reply. She’ll sigh and pick at a spot on her apron. Your mother hates fidgeting. “At a place called Pearl Harbor.”
A puddle will have started to form around your feet carelessly shoved into your worn-out shoes, but still you’ll stay rooted where you are, determined to get the full story. “Did the Germans-?”
“No, honey,” she’ll whisper, so low you can barely hear. It somehow seems to reach your older brother’s ears, though he’s half a room away at the dining table. It will be scattered with cold, unwanted food, carelessly arranged, no steam rising from the rice or chicken. You’ll wonder how long it’s been there.
“No,” she’ll say again, and you’ll know what she’s saying mostly by the shape of her lips. Her voice is almost inaudible. “It was the Japanese.”
Your stomach will lurch, but even then you will not understand the full force of what she’s saying. “Did we--why--I don’t see--”
“We can talk about it later,” she’ll say, and push you, your clothes still wet, towards the dining room. “Go eat.”
You won’t eat. Neither will your brother. You’ll both sit there for a few minutes, then simultaneously go upstairs to your separate rooms. You’ll change into your pajamas and sit on the bed, hardly even thinking, just there, just existing, because you won’t know what else you can do.
In the morning--it will be a Monday--you’ll go to school, expecting everyone to be talking. They’ll talk about the bombs, and the planes, and the guns. But instead, they’re not talking, they’re not talking at all; they’re only looking, and they’re looking at you.
You’ll be confused. Did you do something? Are there things going on that you don’t know about? Have your friends had some sort of assembly in which they decided they didn’t want to interact with you anymore?
You’ll ask Harry about this after gym class. He’ll avoid eye contact while he quietly replies, “Don’t be a fool. Or do you think you can somehow change yourself ‘til your skin’s no longer as yellow as my hair? Or til your hair’s less black than the Jap’s hearts? Or until your eyes are straighter than Miss America’s shining white teeth? What would you do? Can you really blame them?”
You’ll stand there in stunned silence until someone calls for you to exit the locker room. You’ll stumble through the rest of the day, thinking that this is a mistake, it’s all a mistake, people are just in shock and tomorrow they’ll go back to normal.
They don’t. One by one, stories will leak out of Japanese storeowners’ shop windows being done in; a man who was assaulted while he was just trying to buy matches; and Mrs. Ketter, who was a born American, screamed at from her neighbor’s backyard, the threats not even stopping when she runs inside with her children.
But through all the sneers, all the glares and turning of shoulders against you when you approach, there will be one friend who does not betray you. Matthew, who you’ve known ever since fourth grade, will be there always, through the slurs and the curses and the growing incidents of violence, always, Matthew will be by your side.
In January, he’ll bring you a button. People have started making buttons now; they say “I’M CHINESE,” in big letters, and the people who wear them can only hope they’ll be believed. Some Japanese wear the buttons, too, and for those of whom it’s beyond their honor to do so, hang signs that tell the world “I’M AN AMERICAN,” or some, “I LOVE MY COUNTRY.”
Matthew will live several houses away, but still in your neighborhood, so he’ll come under cover of night. You two will meet at the back door. The stars will be out that night, shining brilliantly despite everything that’s happening, and you’ll look up at them before turning to Matthew, wondering how something so beautiful can exist during such a terrible time.
Matthew will bring you the button, clenched tight in his small, sweaty hand, fingernail marks embedded in the palm of his hot, flushed skin.
“Here,” he’ll whisper to you. “Take it.” He’ll shove it toward you.
You’ll take it between two fingers. It says, of course, in black text against a white background, “I’M CHINESE.” You’ll not bother asking where he got it--you’re not sure you want to know--and after he goes away, you’ll stand outside a moment longer, turning the button over and over in your hand.
Will you wear it?
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Second person and future tense...so creative!
Enjoyed reading your story; One when gets punished for being who they are, it just sucks
Well Dam...I'm speechless
Wowowowowow So powerful. I initally clicked into this because my story I'm writing is also in second person. Great story!
thank you so much!! i’m glad you enjoyed it :D