Picture Day

Nonfiction by Noriko Nakada

NakadaIt’s starting to feel like winter. The fall leaves have been raked from lawns leaving behind tree skeletons stretching bare branches toward an icy blue sky. It’s too cold for what I’m wearing: a thin silk blouse I ironed this morning, and grey slacks with black flats. I usually don’t dress up like this, but it’s picture day, the one day in each school year that is documented forever. To keep any creases from forming, I don’t wear a jacket, and I’m careful to carry my bag away from my body.

“Shot gun!” I call as Mitch, Dad, and I make our way to the Datsun.

“Shot gun,” Mitch mocks me in a whiny voice.

I roll my eyes and wait for him to crawl into the back seat. I slam the seat into place, climb in, and shut the door behind me. I smooth the cold silk and think through how I will keep my white silk blouse clean and unwrinkled for the next couple of hours.

“Buckle up, Nori,” Dad says as he puts the car in reverse and backs up the steep driveway. The seatbelt will definitely leave wrinkles. Maybe I should have sat in back. Dad wouldn’t have noticed my seatbelt if I sat back there. I fake through the motions of fastening my seatbelt, sit back and hope. Dad is a safe driver. There’s no way he’s getting in an accident. We drive toward the rising sun in silence like usual. The heater blasts cold air and I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten away with the seat belt act until Dad looks over.

“Noriko, seatbelt.” His voice is sharp and firm.

“Dad, my shirt,” I whine, and I hate the way my voice sounds. “It’s picture day.”

“I don’t care,” he says. “I told you to put on your seatbelt.”

I turn in my seat again. We’re only about a mile from school. I move in slow motion.

“Nori,” Dad says again.

And then the words come out and as soon as the words make their way into the cold air I wish I could take them back. “Fuck off!”

The car screeches to a stop.

“Out,” Dad says.

I’m about to cry. I already wish I could snatch the words from the cold morning and suck them back into my hot mouth. I fling the door open and step out. I slam the door and Dad speeds off with Mitch in the back seat.

I walk toward school, squinting into the bright sunlight, red cinders on the sidewalk crunching beneath my thin-soled shoes. Cars speed past, but I don’t look at any of them. I place one foot in front of the other. One car slows. “You want a ride, Nori?” I shake my head. This is my penance. I am an awful person. I deserve this long, cold walk to school.

As soon as Dad gets home from work that evening, I apologize, but things are never the same. I’m no longer Daddy’s little girl. I’ve broken something words can’t repair. I’m the headstrong daughter, the one who is so different and Mom talks to me about it later. She says in Asian culture children never question their parents. Asian kids do what their parents tell them to do.

“Well, obviously,” I respond, “I’m not very Asian.”

When they pass out IDs, I get my first look at my school picture. It’s terrible. My hair is not perfectly coifed. My bangs are too short and the curl of my bob too tight. I’m tan but my smile is all wrong. You can barely even see my shirt, and in those few inches, you can’t see any wrinkles at all.


Photo credit

About Noriko Nakada

Noriko Nakada writes, blogs, tweets, parents, and teaches middle school in Los Angeles. She is committed to writing thought-provoking works of creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Publications include two book-length memoirs: Through Eyes Like Mine and Overdue Apologies, and excerpts, essays, and poetry in Meridian, Specter, Hippocampus, and The Rising Phoenix Review.

Noriko Nakada

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