A Stuffed Animal

When I was in third grade, I wanted to go see Kung Fu Panda. All my friends were excited about it, but, when my mom broke the news to me that we couldn’t afford to go, I was heartbroken.

For weeks and months, I was upset about it. Until one day after school, when my mom made enough money, she showed up with the DVD and a stuffed panda bear in hand.

I’ve kept that panda bear ever since. Its name is Bob, and it’s a she. I don’t remember why I decided to give a girl panda one of the most boy names I knew at that time, but I do remember the countless questions I was asked, and the countless times I didn’t care to give an exact answer I didn’t even know myself.

What I did know was that I loved that panda. I brought it everywhere. I brought it to my dad’s home on the weekends, to the occasional family dinners, and to the sunset Malibu car rides.

It was around me when I was happy and when I was sad. I held onto it during the silent nights. I held onto it with the grip of my small, but tight hand while trying desperately not to feel alone with my family in the other room.

In a time of darkness, that stuffed animal was the last dwindling light source. It held every bit of my fighting innocence that diminished within me as I grew up, but, as I carried it with me through my life’s adventures, I carried bits of my childhood along with it.

When I moved in with my dad, I brought that stuffed animal with me.

When I went to Argentina for the first time, I brought that animal with me to the hotel, on the plane, and in my backpack on tourist trips.

Every trip I took to Mexico, I’d bring it with me.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

When I went to boarding school for the first time, it stayed on my bed. When I went home for weekends, it came with me in my suitcase. When I went to OVS for the first time, it came with me.

After I got back surgery before sophomore year, with all of my emotions ridiculously heightened from the the extreme pain meds that put me under, I had a mental breakdown for hours because I thought I had left this panda at OVS. It didn’t stop until my uncle lifted up my blankets and handed it to me.

I was fifteen then.

Then the Thomas Fire came. In a panic, I only had thirty minutes to pack anything valuable to me. Without hesitation, I grabbed my panda and threw it into the bottom of my bag. The dorm parents told us we would only be gone for the night, but I couldn’t risk it. I cried when I thought I left it at school, I couldn’t imagine what would happen if it burned. I had to bring it with me.

It seems ridiculous how emotionally attached I am to an inanimate object now that I’ve grown up, but it’s still important to me. It stays on my bed and it no longer goes on trips with me; I no longer rely on it. I don’t hold it when I fall asleep. In fact, it sometimes slips onto the floor guiltily in the middle of the night. But, whenever I’m distraught or alone, I grab onto it and hold it as tight as I can.

It may still be a stuffed animal, but it’s so much more.

It’s the last thing I have from my mother. I no longer have photos in my possession or objects from her and, despite all the tragic, dark times, this bear represents one of the few good memories I have of her. It symbolizes the goodness in her which faded away over time, but is still kept as a stored memory I hold onto – literally.

It holds my innocence. My ruined, diminished childhood innocence still stays safe inside that stuffed animal I look at every time I make my bed and I still smile about it.

The panda symbolizes my childhood. Without it, the last remnants of it would vanish.

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Things We Lost In The Fire

I never realized how easy it is to take the things you have for granted, until they disappear into the wind like ashes from a fire. I remember playing those awkward ice breakers with people you’ll never really know, and one question that always seems to show up is: “If you could only take three things from your house in a fire, what would they be?”

I never had a definite answer. Obviously there were the essentials: passport, laptop, cellphone, and valuables, but I never imagined that one day I’d actually have to make that decision. That one day, in a panicked hurry, I’d have to scurry across my dorm room worrying about what I should bring, and being filled with regret over the things I left behind.

On December 4th, 2017, a wildfire ignited its flames outside the place I’ve called my home for the past three years, and on December 5th, it had reached the beloved campus and destroyed multiple classrooms, the dorms, and everything in its wake. On December 4th, we were told to evacuate, and we were asked to grab a backpack for one night. We were told to pack anything we absolutely couldn’t live without, but we were also told not to worry about our other stuff, the fire would pass, and everything would be okay. So, I packed what I held closest to me. I packed my polaroid pictures recalling the memories from my sophomore year. I packed a single stuffed animal: a panda I was given in second grade. I packed my All Time Low pillow, my signed posters, a UCLA shirt, my favorite leggings, and two t-shirts.

Photo Credit: Foster Huntington

But still, there were so many belongings surrendered to the flames. I lost years of memories put up on a small cork board above my wall. There held all my concert tickets, plane tickets, medals, and setlists from concerts I had caught in the crowd. I had lost all my riding ribbons I had won in the last couple of years. I’ve lost tour t shirts, my guitar, articles of clothing which held little bits of my personality in each thread, and class notes I’ve worked on hours into the night just so I could have a good grade the next day. They weren’t the most expensive items in my life, but they were the ones that were tokens of moments in my life that I cherished, or the moments that defined me. They were the things lost in the fire that I regret leaving behind the most. I guess if I could go back in time and grab a few more things, I’d make sure they reached my bag first.

While mourning this fire, my family constantly tried reassuring me that everything was replaceable, but then they’d ask me what I missed most, and what I missed most wasn’t what was replaceable. However, despite the hard process, I come to realize that those small items I’ve lost are still there, but in the form of memories that will stay in my head forever, for the rest of my life. Someday, after all the debris descends into the ground, and the years pass, I will have new tokens from new memories to hang up above my bed, and the tragedies from this fire will soon become a distant memory, only serving reminders through the objects I saved from it.

What Hill?

“Ready, set, GO!”

I’ve never even thought about running 3 miles before. And I am not kidding.
But once I reached that goal, I fell in love with running. And I am not kidding either.

I was not born to be a runner, so I did not treat running seriously in the beginning.

Last year I joined the cross-country team, because we did not have tennis.
“It’s just running, not a big deal,” I told myself. But I was totally wrong.

Everyday we ran different things. At the beginning, I could not even finish one whole mile without walking and the worst part of my day was always  sports time.
The sun never rested during the practice. We did harder workouts at least once a week. I could not walk the day after tough practice. I was hurting everywhere on my body.

But I was getting better.

Then I had to face the very first cross-country meet in my life – at Thatcher.
I was extremely nervous. I could feel my legs shaking and my heart was beating like a drum.
I did not expect to run the whole three miles, that seemed impossible to me. But I decided to try anyways.

Everyone was exhausted and I just kept running in slow pace. I thought about the days we ran together; I thought about how Mr. Alvarez encouraged us and pushed our backs; I thought about home and wondered if my parents were having fun this holiday; I thought… I thought about everything, i thought about nothing.
I just ran and ran.

Everyone was encouraging me as well. “Let’s go, Shelly!”

“Almost there!”

“Way to run girl!”
And yes, I finished it without stopping or walking. I guess that would be the time I felt the most proud of myself.

After the very first race, I changed my opinion of running. I did not hate it or fear it anymore. I started to accept it because I knew I was capable of defeating it.
Three month’s of training, the season ended strongly with all the incredible improvements i gained everyday.

This year, I was glad to see our cross-country team grow much bigger, with more than 20 people.
The weather was fervent as well, of course. We ran pretty much the same courses but it did not feel as painful as it did before.

As for me, running is not only the thing I do to fulfill my sports time. It changes me, slowly but thoroughly. I became faster and stronger.

Our team got new shirts this year, and they says “What Hill?” on the back. They are the best shirts ever, I think, because no one else but we runners know the special meanings of those two words.

Finally it comes – my last cross-country meet at Thatcher, the place where everything begins.

It is probably my last time running a whole 3-miles course with my friends, wearing the green uniforms which we would never stop complaining about.

We don’t run for the certain miles or the destination, we don’t run for fame or glory.
But we do run to conquer all kinds of hills, we do run to challenge and prove ourselves.

We line up as usual. Everyone is encouraging each other and smiling.

Suddenly my heart is filled with joy.
Suddenly I realize that running does not only bring me power and strength to defeat all the distance and hills; running brings me courage, friendships, love, and valuable memories.

Yes, we are Cross-Country Team.
And WE RUN.

Blank Page.

I wrote a poem
and left a blank page for thee

I started from the very beginning
that portrays the excitement of me
holding you carefully
you were tiny and clean

With the cycle of seasons
I watch thee
from walking to running
from talking to learning
from failure to success

Then I wrote about us
I sat down
recalling all the moments

when the curiosity emerged from your eyes
when the impatience began to expand

But I still felt content
to see your growth

I wrote a poem
consisted of all the details
you ignored easily

Therefore
I left this blank page
it also said something

UP.

“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one.”

– Ellie

I watched this movie three years ago, and I was moved by the exciting adventure of a flying house.

Then I watched the movie last year, and I was moved by the interactions between two generations.

Last night, I watched it again. And I discovered a part that I’ve ignored for a long time – the memory between Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie.

The film “centers on an elderly widower named Carl Fredricksen and an earnest young Wilderness Explorer named Russell. By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America and to complete a promise made to his lifelong love.”

I did not realize that the memory was really playing a big role throughout Carl’s entire life.

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Purple Touch.

“I know you love purple. So I call this song Purple Touch.”

I have never had a chance again to think about you since the day you left. But just right now, when I was asked about the memories I treasure, I saw your face. I suddenly realized that you never left from my life.

How can I define you, a friend? a lover? or part of my family?

You know me, I could never remember the details of any weathers. But I do remember, the day was bright and quite, and the air was fresh with the particular smell of snow. It was not really cold even though people all dressed like moles that desired to dig into the deepest and warmest center of the Earth. Everywhere was filled with red and green. Everyone seemed so content and pleasant.

Because it was Christmas.
Because it was December 25th, 2010, the last day we spent together.

You told me before that we would never celebrate Christmas because we are Chinese. I laughed and that was the moment I fell in love with you my friend.
But you chose Christmas because you said, “It’s a happy holiday so we will not have any unhappiness memories left before you leave.”

We went to the piano store – “Golden Piano” as usual.
“I have a present for you before you leave.” You smiled with expectation and I smiled, too.

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