Novel in progress
Diana is 14 when her mother sends her to a boarding school on the other side of the country. Away from the religious community that shaped her, Diana learns who she is. But while she’s keeping a big secret from her mother, her mother’s keeping a big secret from her, too.
This is a story about faith, sexuality, race, and immigration. It’s also about truths and lies and the love that weaves them together. It’s one account – just one – of families that straddle cultures and futures that are beyond them. I hope it captures the universal phenomena of things unsaid yet understood and things lost in translation.
Ch. 1 [excerpt]
The family curse changed to fit the disaster – heartbreak or separation – but the cause remained constant: the faithlessness of our ancestors.
“You don’t think it’s possible,” I asked Mama, “that someone in the family before us was a Christian, and we just don’t know about it?”
“Dian-ah,” Mama said, stretching the end of my name. “They may have been Christian, but were they born again?” To Mama, being born again seemed to do with how we sang, how we prayed, or how we spoke about you. It was as though you were only ever a leash length away.
By those standards, I wasn’t sure that I was born again. I suppose I could try asking you where my name was in your scroll, but you’ve been silent.
Mama said that if I were born again, I wouldn’t have to ask. She was, undoubtedly. She chose it like a tree chose lightning. And because of that, she was born again and for the first time fourteen years ago in the sanctuary of the Chinese Christian Church of Asbury, California – CCA, we called it, though there should’ve been another C. She’d shown up months before that because someone at the supermarket said she wouldn’t feel lonely there, what with me in diapers and her husband still working in China. That woman didn’t know – no one knew – that Mama didn’t have a husband at all.
Mama heard the altar call and traded in her shame. You called her here to a ministry of prayer and presence. And that was before CCA became a two-service church: Chinese on the first floor and English in the basement. Adults on the first floor and young people below.
But just between you and me: did it ever feel like theater to you that they did an altar call like that every few months?
I swear I was there – that I saw her walk up the aisle to receive her blessing from Pastor Kwon at the altar and from you up above. She was a stubborn woman kneeling before the altar, pushing her way to your Holy Spirit. It is so clear to me.
But I wasn’t there. I was a year old, watched in the nursery where they kept us so that the adults could focus on being born again.
If Mama had let me choose you for myself, if she had taught me nothing about this faith, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to be born again. Maybe I wouldn’t have to sift between what was hers and CCA’s and mine. To be born again meant to have a little plot of this faith all to oneself – hard-won, sandy soil in which to plant a flag.
Mama was baptized in your name twelve years later in a pool behind the church, and she wanted to be the only one, but Weizhen was also being baptized that day, and Mama didn’t like her. “Very suspicious,” she told me later when Weizhen said she was moving to Sacramento, “that she just happened to receive the gift of tongues right after her baptism.”
We had gone to pray with the women of the Lion’s Roar, Mama’s prayer group and CCA’s heartbeat, for Weizhen’s safe journey. Weizhen stood in a circle in her empty dining room. She cried when we finished and started out the door, and she pulled Mama in for a long, deep hug. “Zhang Wenling, my baptism sister.” She called Mama by her full name. “We were both so blessed on that day.”
Later on the way home, I said, “You smell like her.”
Mama shushed me and told me not to speak ill of Weizhen. She was moving to be closer to her daughter, who had just had a baby. They named the baby Emmanuel, and Weizhen had complained that it was a girl’s name until she learned that it was from the Bible – that it was another name for Jesus. Then she was embarrassed and didn’t speak of it again.
“She’s lived here for so long,” I said. “I can’t believe she’d leave here just for a grandchild.”
“She’s not leaving for her grandchild,” Mama said. “She’s leaving for her daughter. You’ll understand one day.”
So I asked, while we were talking about curses, what would happen if I didn’t have children – if the curse would end there.
“It would,” she said, “but then, so would you. So would I. We’d all end there.”
My story “Honeysuckle” won the 2020 NYC Midnight Micro-Fiction Contest. My stories were long-listed in the 2020 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest and shortlisted in the 2020 Fractured Literary Flash Fiction Contest.