I spent ten years of my childhood coming up in the Greater Detroit area–suburbs, neighboring cities, and Detroit itself. I don’t have too many stand-out-amazing memories of the area, so I was eager to head straight to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, where my research fellowship on young adult cancer with Dr. Brad Zebrack was going to be (more on that later). I planned to stay in A2 for the entire eleven weeks, away from my old haunts.
After deplaning into a smack of ‘What’s up, Midwest humidity!’ that was the jet bridge, I walked as quickly as I could to get my bags, which wasn’t fast at all. I always need to immediately find an exit to relieve Malcolm Dog’s bladder, water him, and handle my own light-headed and nauseated/fatigued-from-flying mess. After completing my mini detours and a couple puffs on my inhaler, I rallied myself back to business. I claimed my bags; then, pushed my two suitcases full of Summer 2014 must-haves towards the first set of elevators leading to the parking garage.
In that moment, I was very proud of my balancing act, refusing to throw down four bucks on a luggage cart. I kicked along two large suitcases–one balanced on top of the other–while pulling my rolling backpack in one hand and towing my vested-up service dog with the other. The elevator was packed full. I tetrised in with a dozen other people.
“HAY NAHM TAY NOW BAAM CHING CHONG?!!” yelled a guy from the corner of the elevator, followed by a lady’s laughter. The funny noises were coming from a white couple around my age. They were both staring at me hard. The guy was six-foot big.
“What did you say to her?” giggled the lady.
“I SAID, ‘HI, HOW ARE YOU?’ in Vietnamese,” he explained loudly, making sure the entire elevator could hear. “SHE’S JUST NOT USED TO A WHITE GUY SAYING THAT TO HER!” he shouted, answering his female companion and throwing his words at me. His head was turning red.
All eyes in the elevator turned down. Everyone was witness to this, and wished they weren’t.
“Uhh, NO!” I said and looked directly at him. “That was HELLA random. Why would ANYONE say that to me?!” I know, I know … a little embarrassing that my strident moment featured “hella.” It was a reflex. I’ve revisited that moment many times in my head and wished that I had said something way less third-grade-comeback and way more quick-witted-superheroic.
The elevator doors opened. Everyone poured out and rushed past me. I wiggled out, tipping over my bags and fumbling all over the place.
And then I realized that there was a second set of elevators to get into before hitting ground level. Dammit.
I pushed all my stuff in that direction, but then saw the guy shoving through the crowd of people towards me, shouting his old school ching-chong hate. I turned sharp behind a nondescript wall, and hoped that he didn’t see me.
Welcome back to the D.
Humor aside, I’m not saying that this is representative of Detroit. I support the city’s recovery from automotive divestment, and I had fun visiting Detroit over the course of my summer in Michigan – Go Tigers!
All I’m saying is that this happened.
Surviving cancer doesn’t mean living a transcendent life thereafter–nor being able to play the cancer card to ease up my existence. I’m still a medium-brown-hyphenated-Asian-American woman in this mixed up world. I wish I could speak my mind whenever I want, but better to keep smart and keep safe.
I didn’t survive cancer twice to go down like that.