Today is not meant to be pretty.
Today is the day for a fight.
Today also has no time for late-comers. Kiyoko makes this clear with her eyes like iridescent beetle wings and wild hand gestures. I navigate the tree she’s perched in like my childhood years on the monkey bars. When I finally bend my ragdoll-limbs into an acrobatic criss-cross-applesauce, she lectures me about native Arizona trees. I’m not listening. I’m surveying the beautiful sunrise projected like a utopian film over the Golden Canyon Golf Course bunkers. They’re sugar-soft and raked clean. But everyone knows this is not a utopia. The sight is interrupted by flashlights glaring on phones and cardboard signs and the escalating chants of the neighbors.
Kiyoko fiddles with her bullhorn. “How do I turn this on?” she mumbles, and eventually hands it over to Jamie’s patient, wide-open palms.
I see-saw on the branch, not dangerously enough to tumble down but enough to wake myself up from a stuck-in-animation night. Kiyoko is on high-alert, eyes scanning down effortlessly like she’s got nocturnal vision, ready like an owl for anything that comes skittering her way. She smells sweet like butterscotch but holds herself like she can easily employ a sword without a shield. She and I are friends only because of the trees. We’re so different but I set my alarm for 5:30 am to be here. If we were the rainbow spectrum, she would be the striking red at the frontline of the march. She’s the hero. She wears her cape because she’s in it for everyone else. She doesn’t care about me, or Jamie. I’m a tipsy violet. I’m in it because I need to be a part of something bigger. I’m in it because I want to be the hero. I’m in it because in some way, it affects me.
Kiyoko planned this weeks in advance. She sent out lengthy emails and even made me distribute neon orange fliers to the neighbors. Most of them had already caught wind of the revolution, so I folded the papers into a fisherman’s pyramid hat and handed those out instead. By the looks of it, people had read the fliers. They come prepared with axes and sunglasses in case the Arizona heat sets in.
The bullhorn is fixed. Jaime clicks a few switches and scrubs sweat off his forehead. He is a kid with rectangle glasses and a fair share of black-and-white zebra stripes to fit into the crowd. He and Kiyoko are best friends, if that’s even possible for someone as distant and focused as her.
He tosses her the bullhorn. She clears her throat like she’s breathing desert sand and begins. “Good morning residents of Golden Canyon!” Only a bit of the chatter wilts away. People still giddy with adrenaline in the back still sing “Stop Asian hate!” like an anthem for a country they’ve yet to discover. Although she’s on the same side as them, Kiyoko becomes mildly irritated and finally unravels like a bee about to dive its stinger into an unsuspecting victim. “Good morning residents of Golden Canyon!” she repeats, louder, “Thank you for joining us today. As you all know, we have worked tirelessly to elect a mayor to address the segregation in our hometown. But this mayor has done nothing since moving into City Hall! Now we’re going to take matters into our own hands!”
The protesters respond with a sizzle of cheer. Kiyoko does not smile. She continues to speak but my eyelids begin to droop and my legs are shaking like dandelion fluff scattered in the grass. I remind myself why I’m here: the trees. The looming Arizona sycamores that sway in the wind and litter our streets with leaves that hitchhike on the bottom of our shoes. If there’s anything I know it’s that I hate the way they change colors as easily as fireworks burst and disappear. If there’s anything I don’t know, it’s how Kiyoko plans to cut them down.
Golden Canyon Golf Course just recently allowed women and people of other races and ethnicities to join the club. Because it used to only be white male Christians hitting double bogeys and blaming it on the wind or the toughness of the grass that day.
Imagine this: an Asian community sharing a fence with a racist golf course. The owners of the club complained overtime, diligently throwing around baseless complaints as if they were making up for slacking off at their normal day jobs. They wrote letters to the ex-mayor that they were losing members because the view from the golf course was horrifically ruined by the sight of citizens dragging their heels and watching pollution drift like waves on the other side of the fence. The mayor, an impartial guy who had lived in our town his entire life, did not play golf himself but eventually gave in because all the town was known for was its pristine, well-maintained golf course like the suites of the men who played it.
Now imagine this: the mayor, instead of helping clean up our community’s streets, made the town more segregated by having billowing Arizona sycamores planted on the golf course-side of the fence. Hallelujah, the golf course had its members back. But our community no longer got a view of the golf course. In fact, the sycamores completely blocked out the sun.
Kiyoko does not call any tree-removal services. She takes matters into her own hands. In the end, those hard-hearted golfers are too blind to see that even when they mistreat us, we are metal and they’re only wood. Kiyoko holds the bullhorn. She is talking about the trees and the rude pigs at the golf course. The protesters are silent—or rather silenced by the power in her words, by the destruction they’re about to cause. It’s a calm feeling, a nervous feeling. Like the smoke detector alarm inside their heads has quieted and the world stands still. I’m everywhere but my mind, outside my body, watching myself next to Kiyoko, her lips moving but only speech bubbles coming from them.
And then suddenly I’m back. She is swinging on a branch with the bullhorn handle in her mouth. She lands. Jamie follows and I do too. My feet ache when they hit the ground. The sun has risen and demands a standing ovation.
Kiyoko stands in front of the crowd. She offers her bullhorn to a middle-aged woman who stands protectively in front of a little boy. In return, the woman hands over a silver axe she’d been storing in a canvas bag hooked around her shoulder.
A few protesters voice their concerns for the children who like to play in these trees and name them silly things. We ignore them. Kiyoko takes a few steps forward.
Today is not meant to be pretty.
Today is the day for a fight.
And metal splinters into wood.