“This would be the perfect emoji for today.” (Kate Steinheimer)

Dimas Arellan strangers_Charcoal
Strangers by Dimas Arellan, charcoal
Dimas Arellan is a surrealist creature artist from Los Angeles who loves City College and all it’s colorful people and things.

Sardonic Face

by Kate Steinheimer

I’d like to invent a new emoji. One that says, “I can’t believe you just said that.” Or something like that. I could use it a lot, although I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. Maybe eyebrows slightly raised. Mouth pulled slightly to the side to look a little bit disappointed and maybe a little bit mocking. This would be the perfect emoji for today.

I use emojis in all of my texts and Instagram posts. A bunch of emoji key chains clink around on my backpack. I have an emoji rug, emoji pillows, and 20 pairs of emoji earrings, each with a different expression. Although they make my ears hurt if I wear them for more than one day, all of my friends are jealous of them. The main problem with emoji earrings, though, is that my emotions change so quickly that the pair I picked in the morning is never the right one by lunchtime, and sometimes not even by my first period advisory class. I have emoji leggings, too, but I haven’t worn them since Chloe told me they looked like pajamas.

I was surprised when Chloe approached me this morning. She doesn’t talk to me much, and when she does, I usually wish she hadn’t. She was smiling at me as I walked into advisory class.  “Hey, Emma. I saw you and Sam on the bus together yesterday after school,” she said.

I didn’t know quite how to respond to that, so I just looked at her. She went on, “Are you guys dating?” A series of emojis flashed through my head. Laughing With Tears Face. That’s Disgusting Face. Angry Face. Embarrassed Face. Then, as I gained control of my feelings, my new, as yet uninvented emoji would be perfect. Maybe I’ll call it Sardonic Face. Sardonic was one of our vocabulary words last week. It means, “grimly mocking or cynical.”

I glanced at Chloe again to see if she was serious. She seemed more curious than joking. “I’m definitely not dating Sam,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “He’s my brother.”

Chloe looked at me in astonishment. “But you’re Chinese! How could he be your brother?”

“I’m adopted,” I explained. “I was born in China, and my parents adopted me when I was a baby.”

Luckily Ms. Carlson came in at that moment and said, “Eighth graders, let’s make a circle for our morning greeting. Today, we will all share something we are going to do this weekend.”  I was off the hook with Chloe, but my mind couldn’t quite get past her question.

Our family often gets funny looks from people who don’t know us. Part of the reason is that my parents have four kids, which isn’t that common in San Francisco, or anywhere, really. Whenever we go somewhere, we’re this whole herd of people. The other reason is that my younger brother and I are Chinese. My parents wanted a big family so after they had two kids the regular way, they adopted me and then, 18 months later, my brother Archie.  They liked the idea of helping kids who needed homes, but I don’t know if they thought a lot about what it would feel like to be Asian in a white family. My mom probably read a book about it, but that’s not the same as understanding.

But Chloe’s question created a whole new problem for me. It was mortifying that she thought I was dating my brother!! That’s so gross! And I realized, other people probably thought that, too. Whenever we are on the bus, people must think we are “together.” They would never think we’re brother and sister, with Sam’s blond hair and peachy skin and my, well, Chinese hair and skin.

When I got home this afternoon, I told my mom that I didn’t want to ride the bus with Sam anymore. “But, Emma,” she said, “you know your dad doesn’t want you to ride public transportation by yourself yet.”

I explained the problem to her, and I could tell she was a little bit amused, although she tried to be sympathetic. “Some people might think that, but most people aren’t thinking about you at all,” she said. “Besides, who cares what they think? Most of the people on the bus don’t even know you.”

“Easy for you to say,” I grumbled. “No one thinks you’re dating your brother.” My mom’s brother looks exactly like her, just a little younger, thinner, and balder. “I’m going to go upstairs.” I wanted to watch an episode of “Teen Wolf.”  I like that the people in my favorite show have much bigger problems than I do.  At least I don’t have to fight rival gangs of werewolves.

As the show ended, my mom knocked on my door. “I’ve been thinking about what you told me earlier,” she said. “I know it is hard looking different from your parents and siblings, but everyone has things that set them apart from others. Yours are just easier to see on the outside, so they will get noticed more.”

“I know.” My mom put her arms around me.

“You know families don’t have to be related by blood,” she continued as I nestled into her hug. “We get to define who our family is, and you are definitely my family.” Blushing Beaming Happy Face.

After dinner, my parents decided to go see a movie. I wasn’t asleep yet when they got home, so I went downstairs to make my pitch for riding the bus alone. I know Sam is my brother, but I still don’t want people thinking we’re dating!

My mom and dad were laughing, and discussing the movie. “It was very clever,” said my dad. “I can’t believe they outsmarted those cops!”

“And it was funny how the one family of con men outsmarted the other one,” said my mom. “Daniel Craig is so good. You know what, though? I think the casting was a little off. In both families, the brothers didn’t really seem like brothers. They didn’t look anything alike.”  

I stood at the bottom of the stairs and gazed at my parents. I again felt a series of emojis wrestling for my feelings. Incredulous Face. Angry Face. Dejected Face. After all of my mom’s kind words, I knew now that she truly did not understand. Just then, my mom looked up and saw me listening. Her face could have been an emoji as well. Surprised Face, then as she realized what I had heard, OH NO! Face with its shocked round eyes and mouth. As I gained control of my feelings, my face became my new emoji. Sardonic Face. Sure, Mom. Sure you understand.

As my mom gathered me in her arms for the second time today, I felt her love and apology. But I also felt a little piece of separation as I recognized that this was my problem. Mine alone. And though I’ll find a way to live with it, it will never go away.

Kate Steinheimer is a fifth grade teacher taking classes at City College this year while I am on sabbatical. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their four children. “We love to travel, entertain friends, and explore our amazing city.”

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