Just Go Back Where You Came From “Just go back where you came from!” Jane hollered as she slammed closed her bedroom door. Throwing herself on her bed, she hugged Teddy to her tightly. “Everything was perfect before she showed up,” Jane whispered to Teddy, but the stuffed bear only gazed at her blankly. She could see herself reflected in the bear’s glassy eyes, her blonde bangs spilling across her forehead, her freckled nose sniffling back a tear. “It’s just not fair.” And it wasn’t fair. Two years ago Jane had been the center of the universe. As an only child, she had basked in the undivided attention and love of her parents. But shortly after she turned nine, Jane’s world had turned upside down. “Jane, come meet your new baby sister—Belle,” her mom had said. Peering around her father’s leg, Jane recalled seeing a strange sight. Not a bouncing newborn baby but a little girl of about four years of age. A little girl with straight blue-black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and tiny mushroom nose. A little girl who promptly reached over and grabbed Jane’s Malibu Barbie and began whacking the doll’s head on the coffee table. “Isn’t that sweet?” cooed Jane’s mom. “She’s making herself right at home!” Jane’s mouth had dropped open. This couldn’t be happening. I mean, okay, this wasn’t a total surprise—Mom and Dad had hinted that a new addition to the family was on the way. As in “Jane, as soon as the paperwork comes through, you’re going to be a big sister!” But up till then, Jane had always gotten what she wanted. And what she had wanted was to remain an only child, not like Ruthanne and Jeremy and Nicky, the three siblings from down the street who scrabbled like junkyard dogs for a scrap of their parents’ love and attention. 1
For the first time in Jane’s memory, her wishes had been thwarted. And it was not a good feeling. In the blink of an eye, her world had turned upside down. She had gone from starring attraction to stand-in, seemingly relegated to the back stage of her own family play. Since that fateful day, Jane’s life had become one of contrasts. There were, of course, the obvious contrasts—where Jane was blonde and blue-eyed, Belle had dark hair and brown eyes. Whereas Jane had been born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, in the good old US of A, Belle was from China, which according to Grandpa Jake was on the whole other side of the world. And whereas Jane spoke English, Belle spoke…well, for the first few weeks, Jane didn’t know what Belle spoke because she was silent as a mouse. But that golden silence hadn’t lasted long. One morning, while Jane sat at the kitchen table wondering which was worse, being stared at across the kitchen table by Belle or going to school, Belle suddenly opened her mouth and, calm as a cucumber, said “Jane.” Jane’s spoon clattered back into her cereal bowl, spraying milk across her pajama top. Belle seemed to find this hilarious. Laughing, she smacked her spoon into her own cereal bowl over and over, spurting milk everywhere. And each time the spoon went splat in the milk, she shouted “Jane! Jane! Jane!” Much like the voice now on the other side of the door. “Jane. Janey? Jay-hayney!” “Oh no,” muttered Jane, knowing from experience that Belle’s hiccupping was a sure sign that Niagara Falls was about to begin. Jane stomped to the door and threw it open. Squelching the overwhelming urge to yell “LEAVE ME ALONE!” in Belle’s face, she pushed past the pesky six-year-old.
Just Go Back Where You Came From
“Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look,” Jane muttered to herself as she bulldozed past, but the words were like a magnet drawing her eyes to Belle’s upturned face. “Oh, no,” she groaned, as she saw Belle’s grief-stricken face instantly transform into one of unfeigned delight. “Oh, Janey!” cried Belle happily, grabbing her big sister’s hand. “Come see what I did at school today!” “Do I have to?” Jane growled. Belle laughed as she tugged Jane down the hallway. “You’re so funny, Janey!” she said. “Yeah. Ha, ha,” Jane replied sourly, but allowed herself to be steered into Belle’s bedroom. “Look! There’s Mommy and Daddy. And there’s our house. And that’s you and me!” Jane found herself looking at a surprisingly detailed illustration. Mom and Dad stood holding hands and smiling. Behind them stood their house, complete with green shutters, brick exterior, and wrap-around porch. Off to the side stood Jane and Belle, also holding hands. Even in the picture, Belle seemed to gaze adoringly at Jane. Jane had to grudgingly admit that it was a great drawing, far better than what Jane could have done at the same age, or even now for that matter—and Jane was practically twelve. Which served as yet another painful example of the colossal contrasts between the two girls. Everything came easily to Belle. She was a naturally gifted artist. She was smart. She was neat. In short, she was everything Jane wasn’t. Belle absorbed knowledge like a sponge. Within days of uttering Jane’s name for the first time, she was chattering up a storm in English. In fact, once she started, you couldn’t shut her up. She kept pointing at everything and yelling out its name—“TABLE! LAMP! CHAIR! BOOGER!” 3
Jane, on the other hand, was like a drenched mop—knowledge wasn’t absorbed so much as pushed around in a soppy mess. Two years into Chinese language lessons—a weekly family affair designed “to help Belle maintain her roots”— Jane still couldn’t string a coherent sentence together. But then, why should she have to learn Chinese anyway? This was America, not China! It was like taking a fish, throwing it in a tree, then expecting all the birds to go from “tweet, tweet” to “glub, glub.” It didn’t make any sense. Nor did the transformation Jane saw in her parents. The Chinese language lessons were just the tip of the iceberg. Next had come some enthusiastic experimentation with Chinese cuisine that almost burned down the kitchen. Then strange figurines started appearing all over the house—creepy old men with flowing white beards and enormous heads; fat, laughing men with elongated ear lobes; a multicolored dragon with bulging eyes and leering tongue. And then there was her mom’s dubious change of wardrobe—a too-tight silk dress and hair pinned up by chopsticks—that on first glance had Jane wondering why the hostess of the Panda Inn restaurant was standing in her living room. It was as if Jane’s parents were shrugging off their perfectly fine bird feathers in order to grow fish scales and gills. The worst part about it all was that her parents didn’t even seem to know that they were changing. “Remember when we used to wake up late on Saturdays and go to IHOP for breakfast?” Jane had once asked. “Hmmm?” her mom had responded distractedly. “IHOP? When did we ever go there? How disgusting—all that grease. No. For brunch, we’ll have some nice sharks fin dumplings and turnip cakes.” Yep, things definitely were not the way they used to be. “Janey, what do you think of my picture?” asked Belle, bringing Jane back to the present. 4
Just Go Back Where You Came From
“Why’re we holding hands?” “’Cause we’re sisters,” Belle answered matter-of-factly, looking up at Jane with liquid, puppy-dog eyes. More than anything else, Jane hated that look—the look that said “I’d give anything to be like you;” “I absolutely idolize you;” “You’re the best.” Because, as quick as Belle was to catch on to everything else, the one thing she seemed perfectly oblivious to was that Jane simply could not stand Belle. The girls were like polarized magnets—the closer Belle tried to get to Jane, the more Jane pulled away. Which is exactly what Jane did now. “We are NOT sisters!” she yelled, throwing Belle’s picture spitefully to the floor. The drawing, however, failed to cooperate, performing an acrobatic loop-di-loop before settling like a hat on top of Belle’s panda-shaped backpack. The panda seemed to frown at Jane. Knowing she was acting childishly, which only enraged her more, Jane lashed out at the panda-pack, hauling back and kicking it as hard as she could with her foot. “OWWWW!!!” she screamed as her foot connected with what felt like a concrete block. “WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN THERE, ROCKS????” “What in heaven’s name is going on in here?” asked the girls’ mom. Breathless from dashing up the stairs, Melissa Gordan, a tiny bird-like woman, stood in the doorway and tried to take in the situation. By now both girls were crying. One was hopping mad; the other sat in the corner rocking back and forth. “I think I broke my foot!” howled Jane. “And it’s all Belle’s fault!” “How could it be Belle’s fault?” her mom asked as she entered the room and knelt down in front of the two girls. “Jane, stop jumping around so I can see your foot.” 5