Hi. My name is Ruby, and I am writing this diary from study hall. I’m an eighth-grader in Rhode Island—which is both my hometown, where I lived till I was nine, and entirely new to me. Because of my dad’s job, I’ve spent the past five years living in China.
In some ways I like the change: the pollution here is nonexistent compared with China’s, and I’m in love with the clear blue sky. But in some ways it’s hard: I sometimes feel like I can’t connect with anyone here. Most of the girls at my new school wear Abercrombie and Fitch (my Chinese schools had kids from every country, so there wasn’t a prevalent “style”), talk about Jersey Shore (the only American show the kids in China watched was How I Met Your Mother), and generally don’t get any of my interests. These include writing (no, I’m just writing for Rookie because I hate it so much and I’m really a masochist), sewing terribly, playing ukulele and double bass, blogging, and theater.
Last year, at my old school in Shekou, I somehow got the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a play with lots of hidden themes and messages (aside from the spooky Pink Floyd business), but one line stuck with me: There’s no place like home. I said it three times. Where is this place called home?
I’ve lived in more houses and apartments and attended more schools than I care to count. In China we lived in three cities—Hong Kong, Suzhou, and Shekou—as my restless parents moved us around the country to try to ease my father’s traveling schedule and put me and my siblings in decent schools. Occasionally, while I was on a plane going from one “home” to the next, I envied regular American kids, with their lifelong best friends and cozy houses on tree-lined streets. Learning to navigate Chinese traffic, Frogger-like, on the walk home from school; shopping in crowded, wet markets; and having only my immediate family to rely on—I knew my life was different from those of my friends I’d left behind in the U.S. I never noticed when someone wasn’t speaking my language, because for so many years I was the foreigner. I always expected to be the stranger, the outsider. I was in someone else’s home, feeling even more out of place when people would ask me, “Can I take a picture of you?”
On the plane to the USA this past summer, it suddenly struck me that this time it wasn’t just for a visit. Where am I supposed to fit in? I’m a stranger here, too. I realize how little I know about tree-lined streets and moderate traffic. And I don’t know how to act. Am I supposed to ask for photos of foreign people in slow English? And will someone please explain who Kim Kardashian is?
Days and nights are upside down and I grope for my place in the dark. I have secrets, stories, and news to tell, but nobody wants to listen. Where’s your best friend, Rodney, when you need him? Oh, yeah. On the other side of the planet.
Maybe I don’t have a home quite yet. Maybe a home is lots of things combined, like shelves crammed with trinkets and enough time to have memories. Maybe I don’t need this concluding paragraph because there’s no conclusion yet. ♦