I kneel here before the gods and the though of what I am about to do stings my eyes like incense.
I can already hear the protest from Pearl's ballet teachers -- "you can’t do this, she is an extraordinary talent." The gods give with one hand and take with the other, I think, and then, ashamed, immediately touch my forehead to the ground before the triple Buddha's. The gods must forgive my lack of insight. But how could those teachers understand that we had originally allowed Pearl to dance only because we had no place else to put her? Her father and I spent our waking hours at the factory in Chinatown. Pearl was too young, or so I argued, to breathe in that clogged air, thick with fabric dust that clung to our skin like a veil, turning even our sweat the color of the garments we worked on. And somehow the consequences of that initial instinct to protect her have branched out through the years, sprouting and twisting, to arrive at this moment.
I suppose I spoiled her but she is my only girl. And she seemed so tiny when we first came to America, bundled into her red sweater and sent off to second grade alone. "Teacher doesn't like me, Mama," she would say, "teacher likes the boy with hair so white he looks like an egg. Why does teacher like egg- boy better than me?" There were never papers from school for me to see as there had been in China, where she'd brought me tests and homework filled with 100's. "Where are they?" I asked her here and the answer was always, "We didn't get any today" or "I lost them." One day, I found the pile stacked under her underwear, sheet after sheet slashed with red X's. "I didn't know we had to circle the green things," she said, pointing to one page. "Teacher took it from me and marked it all wrong before I understood what she said." This was my Pearl who had already learned to multiply and could read a Chinese newspaper.
In the beginning, we tried to leave her alone at home after school. I had no one in this country, relative or neighbour, to look after her and we could not spare a moment from the work at the factory. It's only for a few hours, I told myself, and she knows not to play with the stove and such, but I could not stand coming home to see her little face in the window of the dark apartment. "I count the headlights passing until you come home," she said. "Today there were twenty-eight. And when you don't come fast, I beat on Fat Boy until you come." Fat Boy was the stuffed dog her father had given her, one of the few toys we'd brought for her from China.