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  • Writer's pictureJoy Chi

Self Portrait on (Childlike) Wonder/The Things I Miss... (2022)

Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about milestones and defining moments in my life. I mean, I am seventeen now, and only getting older. And soon enough I will be an adult, which is crazy to me. There are many things I miss about my childhood— mainly, the ability and time I had to suspend disbelief, and sheltering from the harsh tragedies in life. This piece is a reflection on the major themes of my childhood, and serves as a reminder to myself to continue to try to find wonder in the day to day.

In earlier drafts of this piece, I wrote about being a former dancer, my heritage and how that informed who I was, and as the original main idea, a close snapshot of my seventeenth birthday. At one point, I also wrote a poem titled self-portrait through my mind, focusing on the (perhaps) bias of how I remembered things, and how different this self portrait could look for someone who no longer remembered their past (inspired by my grandmother). Since I wrote most of this piece this May, much of this piece is an internal reflection of what it means to be a POC living in America.

Stylistically, I was inspired by The Things I’ve Lost by Brian Arundel to use the colons, but used a completely different subject matter, direction, pace, and organization. For example, by not initially labeling each ‘item’ on my ‘lists’ as “things,” I was able to keep things pretty open ended from the start and to have more liberty with wordplay. The colon-sentence structure also served as a useful vessel in conveying something so intangible.


The Floor Is Lava: every time we stepped foot out the door; the entire world— or at least what I could see of it— was my playground. Forts made out of lawn chairs, rectangular cushions, and white cotton sheets: at a birthday party in 2014; we stayed inside for hours, the bleach white sheets stretched out like canvas above us; we fell asleep after deciding, at 11 p.m., to play “whoever talks next, loses.” Peeling glue from my hands: fifth grade, while crafting a masquerade mask in art class; I learned that year that humans shed skin just like snakes do, just in a more gradual way— I thought that if I peeled back enough layers, maybe I would find out who I truly was. AMC wrist tags: laser tag in fourth grade, for another friend’s birthday. Riding a bike: the summer of fifth grade, right after I learned how to; my brother and cousin laughed at how I winded down the straight cycling paths.

The suspension of disbelief: in a kindergarten class, I painted a quarter-circle of a sun into the top left corner of the paper, long rays extending along its shape. What if I colored the grass pink and the sky red, today? My mom laminated my sheet to use as a placemat. Honesty: in second grade, after I was reprimanded by my teacher for chewing bubblegum and lying about it (I insisted it was chewing gum and not bubblegum (she said there was no difference (there is))). Innocence: the day I caught my parents sneaking money under my pillow. Living at home, the comfort of knowing that my parents were next door if I ever needed reassurance that there wasn’t a monster lurking in the bottom of our toilet. Dede, my brother’s stuffed panda that I left at the health center last year— I used to tell him all of my secrets.

McDonalds Happy Meals: whenever I had the chance. The car that sixteen year olds get for their birthday, I got from a Happy Meal. A combination of Coke, 7-up, and Dr. Pepper and the soda machine: halfway through a science museum perusing in 2017; only god knows how many calories there were in that drink alone. Making ointments out of Pantene shampoo and Johnsons & Johnsons body wash: every day in the showers; I washed my wounds and played doctor on myself with these mixtures. Innocence, pt. II: career day in kindergarten— I said I wanted to become a nurse because I thought they were the “girl version” of doctors, only to find out the next day that women could be doctors, too.

Snapchat filters and butterflies: a swimming competition in Bangkok and the boy who smiled at me. Ivan, the boy with the messenger bag: the summer of 2017; it was the year of Pokémon GO and firing rubber bands and fun, except, one week later, he was gone. I only found out that he liked me back after he left. Peter, the boy who called me pretty: the summer of 2018. Making bad decisions: when he left the week after I told him I would go to the camp/party “with my friends.” Decisions scare me, these days.

My confidence: the summer of sixth grade. I had had it with the I’m not weird, I’m just unique and rainbow sequined shirts. Two years later, I finally asked my mom to go shopping for clothes with me. It took another two years for me to pucker up the courage to ask my mom to take me bra shopping. My white jean shorts, before I gained 15 pounds and grew out of them. Ballet: between the ages of 4 to 10. Sometimes I wonder if dancing was what kept me skinny throughout my childhood. Life before social media: back when my life was still my own.

The wanting to grow up: I cut ‘credit’ cards from leftover cardboard paper, mimicking swiping them through slots in the table at every meal we ate out. The basket of used toilet paper rolls: I crafted mugs using extra cardboard and decorated them using Sharpies, one for each member of our family. Playing house: summer nights when my brother and I still shared a bed; I named my children Violetta and Manan, and he named his children Thomas and James; we gave them everything in life that we wanted for ourselves— dance classes, being basketball players, and a life free from unnecessary burden. Trust: August 24, 2020. A former math teacher’s arrest. Innocence, pt. III: March 16, 2021. Atlanta. A candlelit vigil. 8 minutes of silence.

“The world is your oyster;” in my dreams, the world is on fire.

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