feature by Linh Dao
People often asked me why I went to America. I said I wanted to fall in love. People then asked me, so did you fall in love with anybody yet? I said I did fall in love with McDonald’s. People told me that I was really special. No, I was not. My grandmother was the one who is special.
Back when I was in Vietnam, I ate a lot of vegetables with rice every single day. People in America would tell me that I ate healthy back then. But the fact was I ate that way just to fill up my stomach, not because of any other reason. Not only me but my entire family ate the same kind of diet everyday. We were just poor.
Because of the healthiness of the diet, when I came to the age of 14, I had low blood sugar. My grandmother was not happy about that. Thus, despite the fact that the entire family called her the unhealthy eater, she started cooking for me.
Two years after that, she was found to have blood cancer at the last stage. The doctor required her to live in the hospital so she moved there to live with a lot of strange people. She could not cook for me anymore. As the new cook, I came back to her house after school and saw my old grandfather sobbing in a dark corner of the house, trying to wash some rice with his quivering hands. I hurried to him, getting him up just to see that the sixteen-year-old me was not much stronger than the ninety-years-old man holding on to me to breathe through the pain.
I could cook, but I was never a great cook. All the schoolwork, and then housework, squeezed all of my energy as if they were squeezing a spoiled lemon. I could cook nothing but vegetables. I could not even cook meat for my grandmother. Sometimes we bough her McDonald’s. It tasted great, and it also had a great deal of energy in it. We were grateful. The only problem was we did not have that much money. Eventually, we could not afford that much McDonald’s, especially when it is so expensive in my country.
The more time passed, the weaker my grandmother got. Then it came to the point that she could only lay in bed all day long. One day, I got a piece of newspaper that talks about the price of McDonald’s in some other countries. Suddenly, something brightened the darkness of my mind. I felt as if I could feel the world outside with my bare feet. I needed to walk out of the hospital, the city, the country that I have been living in my entire little life. I felt as if I was ready to run, to get to somewhere bigger, to do something greater, and to change the lives of poverty and sorrows that my family and I have been living our entire lives. Overwhelmed in the tangible happiness that I myself could not even describe at that moment, I whispered in my grandmother’s ear, when she was sleeping quietly, that I would go abroad and bring her there with me to go get some fast food. I loved her peaceful face when I said that because I assumed that she was listening to me and that she was smiling in her dream. But most of all it was because of the moment that both of us shared- the moment of reaching out to something so simple yet so precious in our common lives.
Learning English was one of the most exciting experiences once I figured out the reasons why I needed to learn it. The boundless ocean of information that I could jump into opened in front of my eyes as soon as I started my very first course of English as the first language, not as a second language. My mind was in a prison at first, since I could not understand anything the instructor was saying, and could not contribute anything back to the class. But the little things that I got, about truth, and life, about the world outside, as well as the future that I myself could build up by my own hands with knowledge, were precious .
The more information I got out of the course, the more I craved for it. I even brought papers with me to read while I was with my grandmother in the hospital. Whenever I had time, such as when she was sleeping, or when she was laying quietly, I would sit by her side, reading one of the English newspapers without understanding half of them. She often looked at me proudly but sometimes she also stared at me in curiosity. Sometimes I forced myself not to look back at her eyes, because she would get tired, and would close her eyes painfully. I would not be able to hold the smile on my face after that, knowing that the intangible deadline was coming up for my study partner to leave while I had not learned anything much.
Being close to her and being further away from her everyday, I began feeling the rush of learning day by day. I started learning every new words that I found in the newspaper as I was craving for words, for the language, and the future that both of us could hold on to. I loved to use my pen and my pretty pink notebook, carefully writing down all of them as well as their meanings and when to use them. I did it all the time, around 2 or 3 in the morning after I finished my homework, in the kitchen every afternoon while I cooked soup for my grandmother, or during the break at school. My friends laughed at me, since my English skills were insufficient to even write a concrete three hundred word essay. I enjoyed learning words so much that I believed that at one point, my mind lost the ability to be embarrassed. There is only one place, the universe that all the words I learned created, that made me dazzled. I was amazed by that place where I was not poor, not tired of cooking, not scare of losing my grandmother but bravely breaking the boundaries that I was born into every single day. That place was almost like an escape, and at the same time as a settlement. Surprisingly, it was just all about learning words and phrases, nothing more than that. But that fact did not discourage me at all. By the end of the course, I was able to read Oprah’s Magazine to my grandmother. Then we heard about an exchange program in America and I did all the paper work in a week. By the beginning of August that year, I went abroad, with the promise to my grandmother that I would be as proficient as the native English speaker and then get a scholarship to complete my education in the States.
Pursuing a degree in America right now, I realized how literate I am in the English language, and bitterly how a part of our dream never came true. That promise I made was in my dream only since my grandmother passed away a month before I left. She could never go to America and eat McDonald’s with me. But the simple dream that she gave me, the dream about something bigger to me than it is supposed to be for other people, is still alive in my heart.