Everyone thinks of my neighborhood as a quiet place with the grassy expanse of nearby Rainbow Park and the shiny new schools. Perfectly trimmed cherry blossom trees and flowering bushes grow around every house. The homes are mostly new, some large or small, all painted in a variety of tan colors. Here, the traffic comes from the neighbors going to or from work, or driving kids to school, or picking them up from after-school activities. It is a neighborhood full of practical cars, like Toyotas, Hondas, and Mazdas. It is a neighborhood full of child prodigies: pianists, flutists, Science Olympiad winners, American Invitational Mathematics Examination qualifiers, tennis champions, ballerinas, national golf champions.My adult neighbors work mostly in Silicon Valley, all of them computer hardware or software engineers.
In my neighborhood, people like to walk their dogs after dinner when there is still light. I often see their dogs yanking the leash, forcing the owners to run after them. On holidays, I smell grills roasting hot dogs, steaks, and chicken. At Christmas Time, everyone puts up decorations and flashing lights, attempting to outdo their neighbors. One house had five speakers playing “Jingle Bells” twenty-four seven. Noise in my neighborhood is constant: I often hear the plunk of basketballs, the banging of piano keys, or the screaming of angry babies.
In this town, strange things happen. People drive by my house with twenty cameras on the tops of their cars, each camera pointed in a different direction. What are they doing? Who knows. Google cars drive themselves while their passengers nap. Down the sidewalk, people ride homemade personal transportation systems, the likes of which have never been seen before—half-bicycle-half-motorcycle or half-Segway-half-motorcycle. People stroll by wearing virtual reality glasses, but how do they see where they are going?
This is, after all, Silicon Valley. All of these attributes of my neighborhood are readily observable to anyone.
What people don't observe in my neighborhood is that all the children are miserable.
They wake up at four in the morning and stay awake every night after midnight. From my room on the second floor of my house, I can always see the little desk lamps in their rooms and the other children bent over their desks. Like me, they are always scribbling on pieces of paper or typing away on their computers. How do I know they are not texting their friends? Because we all get As. We don’t want to disappoint our parents. We don’t want to make them mad. From the minute we kids get home from school, we have maybe twenty minutes to look at our phones, grab a bowl of instant noodles, and then the drudgery begins.
For instance, just the other day I studied for a test on the surface area and volume of a twenty-dimensional composite figure. Let me preface that by saying I am only ten years old. This figure is essentially an object with boxes shooting out of it and tunnels running through it. My job was to figure out the surface area of this nonsense. It was killing my brain cells. I kept telling my teacher that we needed to work on inventing solar-powered clothing or tiny wires that can go in our ears to create music and block out other people’s voices. But she didn’t listen and instead rewarded me with twenty-pages of additional math worksheets. She called me “milk gone bad,” whatever that means.
One day, my history teacher Mr. Miller said, “Create three hundred index cards on famous explorers.” I raised my hand and asked, “What if I can’t find three hundred explorers to
write about?” Mr. Miller looked at me with a harsh, icy stare, rolled his eyes, and said, “Get your act together, Beatrice.”
“My name’s Allison,” I replied.
On the way home I thought about getting my act together. I thought about all the ways I could get my act together, like breaking my arm so I wouldn’t have to write. Or breaking my leg so I wouldn’t have to run two miles, do 30 burpees, 40 pushups, and 40 sit-ups everyday in boot camp in school. Even when it’s raining. I thought about packing my bags, emptying my older sister’s piggy bank, and escaping to Hawaii, where I would spend my days training in hula dancing and drinking beverages from a pineapple with an umbrella.
But I keep telling myself that this will all be worth it in the end. That someday I will find purpose in translating Latin passages even though Latin is a dead language. That someday I may find a person on a street corner who is lost and speaks only Latin. That someday I will be forced to recite the states and their capitals or face death. That someday I will know why I had to dissect a baby pig, why I had to learn the Dewey decimal system, the periodic table, and why I should never start a sentence with “Because.” For now, all I know is that the children are miserable.
Evelyn Hsu is 12 years old. She lives in San Jose, California.