Excerpts from ‘It Wasn’t Love,’ Literary Nonfiction by Jessica Sun Lee

I petted Maggie downstairs in the playroom today for what must’ve been hours. The light from the windows shone down onto us in the dark room. He looked up to me as if to squint, thank you for loving me, as I’d stroke him from the top of his head down to the end of his fluffy tail. It feels almost ritualistic petting the cats this way. We get into a rhythm of petting and purring and it slowly fills the empty space.

Maybe it’s the movement, our ritual, that reveals that I feel more like them than my brothers and sisters. The dogs and the cats and me, we were all brought in from the outside, one at a time to fill a void we couldn’t quite fill. And then another arrived. No wonder we all need so much reassurance that we’re worth something to someone. It’s so easy for my parents to neglect us, the quiet ones not born from them who are lucky to have a home and basic needs met. The ones who need nothing from the quick glance at us. Not when the baby’s crying or my sister’s dying, anyway.

Truth is, if I knew how to act like a normal person, how to say what I need the way everyone else does, I’d have made things a lot easier for everyone. Even the way the incident happened… It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t need just one person to recognize me for something I want to be seen as; something other than the Chinese-looking girl…

Excerpt 2

Freddie gets too excited and gives me love bites on the chin. I always have to stop to give him a Time Out. I’ve never seen a cat so happy to be patted. Honestly, it’s a little bizarre.

Petting him on the stairs by the foyer I lean back and gaze up at the big chandelier. I don’t know if the crystals are real or not but I like how the sun hits them and makes little rainbows on the walls. When I drift off too far, Freddie always reaches up to me with his white gloved paws.

Freddie’s an interesting cat. He’s not like the others. He has a favorite teddy bear that was meant for my baby brother but is now only his because of what he’s done to it. The boys make jokes and the girls turn away when he kneads on top of the thing a little too precariously. It’s hard to think of him as a sexual being but I can’t deny him love just because of what he likes to do.

I wonder if my parents would disown me if they knew what I did. They’d probably be disgusted and outraged. They’d take the door off my room again, for all the good that it does. That’s if they didn’t kick me out of the house.

People talk about this thing called Unconditional Love but I can’t imagine a love that’s not conditional. How far might one be able to go while you still hold onto love for them?

I hate to say it but I don’t have unconditional love for anyone. Well, except maybe the cats and the dogs, but I can’t imagine them doing anything to make me stop loving them. I don’t really understand love and how it works. My parents say they love each other but they never stop fighting. They say they love us kids but we’re always doing something wrong. I don’t know why they love us–that is, if they do. I’m not sure I’d still love me.

Sometimes for just a second I wonder about my birth parents. I’m sure that they’re dead but if not, I don’t think that I could love them. I don’t even know them. Am I supposed to love them automatically just because I come from them? Maybe it’s different if your family is your blood but I guess that’s something I’ll never know.

My anorexic sister comes up the stairs where Freddie and I are sitting. She’s pouting and wearing too much makeup. I can hardly see her actual face. The sister in between us in age is so popular and the two of them are always battling. I guess my oldest sister is always being made fun of. I don’t know why. She was beautiful and talented until she got sick. I don’t get how it happens that one day she just decided to be a whole different person and it destroyed everything good that she had.

“Hi,” she says, in a mopey tone.

“Hi,” I say, cautiously, as she walks up past us.

I’m turning into someone else, too, but she doesn’t know it. Nobody does. So I wonder if someday they’ll look at me the way we looked at her and realize that I’m a whole different person. How much do they have to know about this new me? Privacy is something I don’t get, either, for obvious reasons.

I don’t think I even know who I am. I was always trying to be the perfect daughter and like everyone else–white and good. I tried to blend. Maybe this is better the way things turned out. I don’t have to pretend anymore because they know.

I’m not one of them.