Admitted: Princeton, Stanford, UChicago
My eyes must have looked defeated because the moment the barber lifted the split-ended curtain of battered black-brown hair, he asked me what I had lost.
By the end of the first 3 month-period, I was exhausted. The dreadful Letters from JLS middle school arrived at the foreign house in 3353 Alma Street, CA, and I left that place, ready to relish the winter, the warm snow that cold California lacked, and the familiar home. Studying, studying. I tried so hard. But those Letters, C’s and D’s, mocked me.
This new world, the land of freedom and opportunity, was supposed to celebrate everyone, and I struggled to convince myself that I was a part of the ‘everyone’. But how futile was my resistance against the deeply rooted thought that I was obligated to succeed as John and as Sangwon; all it did was to create an illusory cocoon that I could hide from the tangible failure. Right then, I was just another one of those outlanders who breathed in America and left a faint trace of foreignness, mostly unnoticed but noticed only by those akin. That trace of mine seemed to be repulsive to even my fellow outlanders. My English was slowly improving, but did that matter?
I replied back that I had lost nothing and I was fine. So when I said I did not mind how my hair looked, he asked, “Are you sure”, and I could not reply.
He just started cutting.
He cut away everything: the back, the front, chopping the sides. I wanted to keep most of my hair because it seemed to fit me, but he was ruthless. The gentle spray of water and his deft hands were able to separate the strands from the oppressed confidence, and he cut them away. As strands of the black, battered hair fell, so did the memories, the obsession, and the disappointment. Some strands of hair just wanted to stay, and he combed them, tamed them, and rejuvenated them.
When I opened my eyes, I saw that the black curtain that dragged me down was really, physically and figuratively, gone. I stared closely into the black eyes and brought back the spark that they once had. I touched the big nose I so wanted to reduce, and the protruding mouth. Only then could I start listening to the voice of my heart; there, I rediscovered the appreciation of the gifted life that I was allowed to enjoy. John and Sangwon were not goals I had to fulfill, but who I was to carve out of me. I started reclaiming everything about myself, and loved it. So by the time I returned back to my other home in 3353 Alma Street, without seeing the snow and back to the rainy winter, doubt was transformed into a newfound pride, love, and embracement.
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. –Oscar Wilde