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Golden Moments

Memories of Shanghai, manga, and plushies.

By Featured, Literature

Illustration by Bei Lin.

In my parents’ house, a large fluffy toy nestles deep in my closet. 

I carefully unearth it.

A mini tie, a round tail, a gentle smile, two button eyes.

It’s my middle school graduation gift — a 9-foot teddy bear — from Jimmy.

A whirlwind envelopes me. Ten thousand osmanthus flowers burn. Memories flood back. 

Jimmy walks me home.

We play basketball on a secret playground. To get there, we go through the back door of a bun shop, sneak around the doorman, and hide ourselves among the trees.

Shanghai’s afternoon is bathed in honeyed warmth. The temperature refuses to yield to encroaching autumn. Amidst the heatwave, osmanthus trees are in full bloom, the sweet scent hanging in the air. A silken veil. As we stroll, the scent reaches me. I look up. Sunlight flickers behind brown branches and yellow blossoms and falls on Jimmy’s soft blue shirt. I am sure that there is a moment when his tall figure melts into a golden sheen.

When I was in middle school, I loved Shoujo manga. My naive heart got lost in the pinky sakura spreading over the paper. In those comics, teddy bears usually appear in heartfelt moments, and ever since I have been dreaming about giant teddy bears. Then one day a page out of my favorite manga came to life. Jimmy wheeled that colossal teddy bear into my parent’s garage. Its white fur was so voluminous that it nearly obscured his face.

The same golden sheen came to me then.

After Jimmy moved away, I spent my crazy high school years in our hometown alone. I grasped at anything that felt like love within my reach, like a starving beggar looking for discounted groceries. I started reading and writing romance novels. One went like this: a girl embarked on an adventure, looking for a man whose heart could be transformed by her true love, but she fell into a sea of wounds and tears. 

Sometimes, in the early morning, around 4 or 5 a.m., the sky was still shrouded in darkness.  The rest of the world was lost in slumber. While they slept, the girl got drunk, laid on the floor, gazed upon the blank ceiling. Once a snow-white sketch of paint, now a canvas of chaos. In those fragile moments, memories of a boy resurfaced in her mind. She believed that she could keep the people she missed with her by meticulously preserving these memories. However, in practice, the memories served a different purpose — mirrors reflecting past mistakes, highlighting how inadequately she had appreciated the moments when they unfolded. She sifted through a box of shattered glass, digesting the tangled web of her suffering.

But she never forgot the day she saw the golden sheen. A child grabbed a hard candy, swallowed it with the package, bloody sweetness in her throat.

A subtle touch of raindrops on my coat. The transition from summer to fall happens almost overnight. One day, the cheerful melodies of robins fill the air. The next, a gusty wind sweeps through, carrying the scent of fireplaces. When I was a child, I never liked the taste of chicken soup, but now it is my favorite dinner choice.

My plane touches down in Los Angeles. I walk across the bustling terminal, scan the sea of strange faces. 

Jimmy is there, standing amidst the throngs of travelers. 

The person who has seen me take wrong turns at so many crosswalks yet continues to turn off his engine and wait for me. The person who stood beside me at twelve stands beside me again at twenty-one.  In that instant, an overwhelming sense of familiarity washes over me, pales all the pain I have endured.

Jimmy is driving me home.

Jay Zhou pours from the car radio on an endless loop, soft ethereal whispers of guitar echo and disperse, familiar lyrics repeat and blur into the background. Red lights turn yellow, then green. I watch, trancelike, two rows of light, bright red and shining white, taillights and headlights moving together. A long-lost sense of security comes back to me.

Before the sun dips below the horizon, nature whispers the secret of still time. The sky becomes crimson and amber, casting a warm glow over the earth. The river catches fire, sparkling beneath the fading sun’s embrace. 

A cascade of molten gold descends, creating the illusion of permanence despite the impending darkness. This is the golden moment. In my life, similar moments arise. These are the moments that speak directly to my heart, stirring up a complex mix of pleasure and heartache. They are forever stored in the closet of my being, reminding me of golden threads woven into a tapestry.

I look at Jimmy. I see my golden sheen.

“Let’s have chicken soup for dinner tonight.”

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