Sailing to Change

The year was 1980, he had been dead for four years now, and it was finally over. I might not have had a lot with me right here, just my clothing and my five-year-old little girl, Wei-wei, who was a priceless gift. But ahead of me, I had the whole world, America, and all-expenses paid college education at Stamford. The government had recruited me and twenty others out of so many to go to America, immerse in a new culture, and finally open my country’s doors. Why me of all people? I didn’t have that answer but I just knew to be thankful as I heard the horn blow, and the ship move beneath my feet as it began to slip the water and move forward.

“Wei-wei, look over there, we’re moving. Wave to the people on the shore, look at all of them and wave.” She waved her tiny hand, not knowing what she was leaving and what the future would bring to her.

“Miss, can I please check your ticket?”

I handed the two tickets to him.

“Meilin, right? What a beautiful name.”

I smiled at the polite man as he said thank you and left to check the others.

“Mama? What does your name mean?”

“My name? Beautiful and bright.”

“It fits you, mama. What about my name?”

“Your name, my dear, means the future, and there couldn’t be a better suited name.”

As the boat began to speed up, and pull further away from the docks, I took Wei-wei to our sleeping quarters to get settled in for a month long trip on the Atlantic Ocean. When I started unpacking the only small bag I had, the first thing I took out was the only picture I had of my parents. The rest were all burned in the fire.

“Mama, they’re coming.”

“Who’s coming, Meilin?”


“Why us again? Why, why, why?” My mother started crying as she kept repeating the same word over again. The knocking on the door meant the beginning of more torture for us. We could do without knowing what was coming to us this time. They’ve already barged in before I had reached the door to open it.

“Can I help you?”

“The only way you can help us is to support Mao, and apparently your family has shown otherwise.”

“No that’s not true. Look over there, the red book, and look, there’s Mao’s painting on the wall. We’ve changed, we really have. Please don’t kill us, please spare us.”

“Your father didn’t believe in Mao.”

“YOU KILLED MY FATHER!” I spit out in outrage and anguish.

“Well, now it’s your turn, and even better, you can be with him now.” At that, he takes out a match, lights it, and throws it at the curtains hanging on the far side of the wall.

“Mama,” I screamed as I ran back into the house to grab her. We managed to escape from the back, but they didn’t care. They just wanted to hurt us like they always have. Later that night, we got to my older brother’s house. I asked her the inevitable question. I asked my mother why we had that picture of Mao hanging on our wall, especially when we hated him.

“We can’t let them see our hatred. Your father gave up his life because he didn’t believe in Mao, and he made me promise him that I would do whatever was in my power to keep you safe, even if I had to pretend to befriend the enemy. I had always hoped pretending would save us.”

“Maybe one day it will, mama. Thank you, mama.”

“Mama? Are you okay?” I heard Wei-wei ask me, when I realized I was just sitting on the small bed, holding the picture as a tear rolled down my cheek.

“I’m fine, thanks, honey. Don’t worry about me.” Everything had been burned in that fire. All the photos we had as a family, with my father, my mother, my brother, and me. Wei-wei wasn’t in my life yet at that time. She had come later. Everything from ash was burned in that fire. The only thing that was left was the foundation of love my parents had worked so hard to build for me. This I guess was my way of paying them back. Neither of them is here anymore, but their memory lives on, and I know they will always be here with me. I’m going to make them proud. They’ll see.

“Right now we have to worry about getting us some dinner. Come on, Wei-wei.” I called out to her. I looked around the room we were to occupy for the next month. It wasn’t bad, we would survive, and we would have to, because there was something waiting at the other end of this trip.

After dinner, I immediately put Wei-wei to bed; she had had a very long day, that was for sure. I had the dream again that night. “Help! Please don’t touch me. Please!” All I could hear was my pleading. I don’t think they heard a word I said, because if they had, they wouldn’t have done this to me, right? They wouldn’t do it, if I screamed louder, right? It was helpless and I knew it. There was nothing I could do; there was nothing to stop it. I knew what was coming. He pulled me up to him, and he said, “You will do as I say, and you will not resist.” Then he kissed me. I didn’t want that; he was absolutely repulsive. He had bad breath, he had bad manners, and above all, he was one of them. He was a soldier of Mao’s. He didn’t deserve anything, especially not the right to torture me or rape me. I knew it was coming.

Then I remember him saying, “Take off your clothes,” with a hideous, sadistic laughter. I refused, but then I remembered I wasn’t allowed to. I still tried to. I told him no. He didn’t listen; he ended up doing it for me. I felt dirty, and abused, and used. I felt humiliated. Was this my fault? Maybe it was, maybe I brought it upon myself. That must be it, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and this was my punishment. It must be my fault, how could anybody have the heart to do this? I knew it was coming, I could feel it coming now. He was ready.

I woke up with a startled jolt. It was the same dream again. Except that one time, it wasn’t a dream, that one time was real. I felt cold blood run through my body, and a cold sweat broke out. I got up to look over at the other bed. Wei-wei was all right. She was sleeping like a baby. She was a baby, oh how I wish she would stay this age forever. I don’t want her to grow up and learn about all the horrors this world will bring upon her. I really love her, even if it was that man’s fault. How could a devil bring an angle to me? When my mother first found out I was impregnated this way, she was in utter outrage. She wanted me to have an abortion, but I knew I couldn’t. That was not a possible choice for me. Did the devil really bring me an angle? My mother said my baby would be tainted, but I knew that wasn’t true. The experience was tainted, and I was tainted, but not my baby. I would take all that away from her. She would have no impurities in her, and I would make sure of that.

The month on the ship passed quickly, and the dream recurred only four times, a lot better than before. Maybe one day, I’ll never have those images in my head again. Change will help me deal, change for the good. On the last day on the ship, Wei-wei and I packed up our belongings, ready to face our new world.

“We’re here, we’re finally here.” I was absolutely speechless and stood there in awe. This is America! Can you believe this? This is the place where people dream about coming; this is the place where movies are filmed. I felt like I was in the center of the world. Men came over and secured the ship to the docks, while I looked at them puzzled. They all had yellow hair. Every single one of them had yellow hair, and it was nothing like I’d ever seen before. They were all tall with big packs of meat on their arms, too!

Through the huge mass of people on the ship getting off, and the people on the docks waiting for a loved one, I felt lost. Where was this world going to take me?

“Miss Meilin?”

“Yes,” I replied as another man interrupted my thoughts.

“Hello, I’m a student at Stamford University, and I’ve volunteered to help you get aquatinted to all this new stuff. Welcome to America,” he said rather quickly.

“Oh yes. I’m really sorry, but my English isn’t too good. Would you mind helping me later?”

“Sure, and who’s this you have with you?” Leaning toward Wei-wei, he said, “Hello there, my name is Seam. What’s yours?”

She looked up at me with a confused and puzzled expression.

“I’m sorry, she doesn’t understand English at all, not yet at least. She’ll learn through time, I’m sure of it. Maybe you can teach her some too, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Of course not, I’d love to. But in the meantime come with me.” As he said that, he grabbed my bag and headed toward the exit. Wei-wei and I followed him, I guess we just assumed we could trust him. I was a little hesitant about getting in the car; I wasn’t sure what to expect. The ride wasn’t pleasant. I got a little carsick, maybe I should have sat in the front, but then I couldn’t be with Wei-wei. She was perfectly fine. I don’t know how she did it!

“So tell me about yourself, Meilin.”

“Oh, I’d rather not.”

“Come on, I’m sure there are a lot of interesting things you can tell me about yourself. Come onÖ”

“Dad, come on, don’t take so long. We need to get out of here, and fast. They’re coming again. Dad, speed it up!” I was getting urgent; I didn’t want them to see we were here again. We had supposedly fled to Taiwan, but we decided to stay because my parents didn’t want to leave their homeland.

“Meilin, don’t worry about me. I’m coming.” I wasn’t satisfied, I really knew we needed to get out of there fast. Who knew what they were going to do next?

My mom also kept urging, “We need to go. Don’t you see they’re coming for us?” Why was my dad taking so much time? We could leave our possessions here. I don’t care if they take that. Maybe my dad couldn’t part.

“You guys leave first, I’ll be there in a sec, I’ll catch up to you,” my dad said.

“NO, we’re waiting for you!” This time I was getting worried. What if he was taking so long because he didn’t want to leave? Did he feel he needed to stay in what was rightfully his? He better get out of there before it’s too late. As I turned around to see if he was coming, a strange man, one of them, grabbed him.

“NO! FATHER! PLEASE DON’T TAKE HIM!” It was too late and it was no use anyway. Three seconds later, which felt like an eternity, the gun went off. I ran inside, and lying there was my father, my only father, in a puddle of his own blood. All I remember was me screaming when I felt down on top of him. When I came back, my mother was there, holding him close to her. He uttered one last word to her, something the Chinese never say.

“Meilin? Are you all right?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, IÖ I was just thinking aboutÖ something.”

“You sure you’re ok?”

“Yes, thank you. I’m fine.” I was fine, I was great, and I truly was. I was here in America, fulfilling my dreams, and paying off a debt to my mother and father. Nothing could have a better ending, only a better beginning.