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  • Lijing Cobb

Time flies by

It’s a scientific fact that when we get older, time goes by faster for us. Ok, I mean not necessarily scientific in the sense you normal people understand it, but in my humble opinion.


On Super Bowl night I saw a snippet of LeBron James and the number 2003. There’s no way he burst onto the scene in that year! That’s like a thousand years away and it feels like it was maybe 5 years at the most! But sure enough, the TV people didn’t make a mistake this time. 19 years?!


Yesterday my high school classmates sent 2 photos to our group. Two buildings that I have no recognition of. “Our school?” I asked the group. “Yes!” Came the answer. Wow, things have changed completely without my permission. I’ve not seen my high school since graduation in 1995. 27 years?!


I pull up the graduation photo from my high school and examine it. Out of the 53 classmates I shared a classroom with for 3 years, I can only remember about 1/3 of the names with difficulty. Some of the faces have been wiped almost completely clean from my memory. I look at the teachers who taught me Chinese, math, English, physics, history, geography, politics, biology, and chemistry, 9 subjects that made up the College Entrance Exam we took from July 7 to July 9, 1995. I’m certain that I received instruction on a certain subject from 4 of them, the rest I’m fuzzy. I guess it has been a long time! What I once thought I’d never forget, has been forgotten, like once familiar items buried in the deepest corners of my closet.


Despite the dark recesses of my memory, proudly I recall the euphoric day after we took 3 days of grueling tests. I had chosen liberal arts over science, so my test subjects included the three universal subjects, Chinese, math, and English, plus 2 subjects designated for liberal arts applicants only: history and politics. Oh how we memorized dates, names, and events endlessly, tediously, all to prove that we were worth being admitted to our dream colleges whose education will open doors to gold and silver, a bright future where happiness awaits!


Each subject was worth 150 points. Altogether there were 750 points to be had. A couple of days after we took the exams, we went back to our high school to see our scores posted on the wall. Everyone was jostling each other, eager and afraid to find their names, where a sentence has been posted along with their grades. There were 3 baseline scores for students to aspire to. Hit the highest number and you are qualified for the most prestigious universities. Hit the second number and you get allocated to the good but not great places. Hit the bottom one and you get into a college no one knows about except for the people who go there. Missing all three numbers means the end of your formal education and joining the workforce at the tender age of 18. Reality was dictated by numbers, clear and unmistakable.


Being the tallest girl in my class (not by much, but still. At 5’4” and a half, I would have never known that I was going to be considered average height, or even short by some tall people, when I came to the US), it was relatively easy for me to spot my name. I see my name. I try to keep my gaze level and move slight over to the right. I see my grade. I register that in my consciousness and compare it against the 3 numbers that had been published and learned by heart by all of us aspirants. After a few times reconfirming the accuracy of my vision and simple math capacities, I reach the conclusion that I had cleared the highest number by a comfortable margin.


We were then issued an application form for college and a list of all the colleges that our scores had entitled us to. One of my aunts volunteered to help me in my decision process, so the next afternoon we got together and excitedly discussed possibilities. We were allowed to declare 3 wishes in hierarchical orders. By the time we finished, I had selected as my first wish a college that, if admitted, would surely change the rest of my life for the better, rainbows and all.


In August, a letter came. I had been deemed worthy. They want me. I’d been admitted to what we would call Princeton, Stanford, or Harvard here in the US, and the rest was history.


Except it wasn’t, of course. My score got me into my dream college, but it didn’t take away the baggages I was carrying at the same time. The apparent elevation in my status did not change who I was.


Yesterday my husband and I met for lunch. The fluid nature of his work necessitates that I do not insist on a timeline to save myself from frustration and disappointment. While I was working with a client and had my phone silenced, he’d called me once and texted me three times, desperately trying to get me for some mysterious reason I’m still unclear about. Poor man, he has been conditioned to expect my unreasonableness for such a long time. When I call him back finally, he says, “you didn’t get back to me earlier. Now everything’s screwed up.”


“What’s going on?” I ask, my tone even.


“Well,” he launches into a string of explanations that I do not fully understand. But I hear his frustration, something I would have overridden with my own before.


“Ok,” I say after he finishes, “don’t worry about it. We don’t have to go if it’s not going to work. We’ll go another time. It’s no big deal! Just relax.” There’s no sarcasm in my voice. I meant every word I said. I didn’t think I was capable of that.


He figures out what to do on his side, and our lunch is still on. So I drive to the restaurant. I’m seated immediately, so I look at the menu, order two appetizers and a drink I know he will like, and wait for him. Every time the door opens I look over to see if it is him. When he finally walks in about 15 minutes later, I raise my hand and wave him over. He gives me a kiss, sits down, and we start our lunch. Food and drinks are delicious. He tells me lots of things about what’s going on in his neck of the woods, his business, and I learn with interest. We plan a few things for the family, talk about the kids.


All of this I would have missed, had I had blown up upon hearing “everything’s screwed up” and agreed with it.


We decide that I will join him for a walk after lunch. Since we drove separately, we agree on a meeting point to park his car and drive the rest of the way in my car. On our way to the meeting point, I start crying.


All these years, we could have been this happy together. Just a little bit of understanding and support, that’s all it would have taken from me to make this man, who seems to need so little to laugh and be happy, laugh and be happy. Yet all those more youthful years trudged on ironically, plagued by my fears, doubts, and sense of superiority.


Ah, that sense of superiority that was engendered by my admission to one of the top universities in China, a country of 1.4 billion people. I was told by statistics that I was superior to so many others in grades. Tragically I had equated that superiority to my person, my humanity. Look at me: there was no trace of smile on my face in May of 1995 in my graduation photo. In less than 3 months I was about to be admitted to one of the best colleges in China, and yet I had no mirth in me. I did not enjoy the ride at all.


So many lessons learned over these years that are passing by with alarming speed now. No longer do I give myself permission to ruin a perfectly good lunch by allowing extenuating circumstances to dictate my response to a man whose unconditional love has sheltered me through thick and thin. No longer shall I hold my needs and desires over his, or anyone else’s for that matter, because I think and pity the world of me, and everyone else has got it easy. With trepidation I think back to all the times that I was selfish and inconsiderate, and wonder what kind of trust my husband must have had to hold on to in order to not give up on me and seek happiness elsewhere. Did he always know that I would one day wake up and have the courage to face the truth?


The truth that I still embellish the truth to my advantage. The truth that I still threaten my kids by withholding my affection when they don’t exactly behave how I envision for them out of the goodness of my heart. The truth that I will continuously suffer the inflation of my ego and let it come to the brink of ruining happiness unnecessarily because, woe is me.


In the blink of an eye LeBron James has been on the forefront of the basketball court for 19 years. In the blink of an eye I have graduated from high school for nearly 27 years. Time flies by, whether we are kind or cruel, young or old, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong, good or bad. Time flies by whether we pay attention to it or not. Time flies by even if we don’t forgive and forget. Time flies by in bloodshed and drunken fights. Time flies by at a warm hearth, by candlelight. Time flies by uttering cutting words and nursing bitter anger. Time flies by offering sincere compliments and settling misunderstandings.


Time flies by in war. Time flies by in peace.


Stay a bit, time, and let me take in this moment of clarity.


My high school graduation class, May 1995


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