"So where are you from?" The boy leans toward me, questions swimming in his eyes. I smile.
"Oh, I'm from Boston."
"No, I mean, where are you from?" My smile falters as I realize where this is going. It's an all-too familiar conversation, one I've been having since I was old enough to reply.
"Do you mean where was I born?"
"I was born in China."
"Do you speak Chinese?"
"Does your family speak Chinese?"
He looks befuddled. I sigh.
"Oh!" I see the light bulb over his head go off in a shower of sparks. "Do you know who your real parents are? Like, your real parents?" My temper flares. I stifle the urge to throw something.
"You mean my biological parents?"
"Oh." There's an awkward pause. I have learned to wait it out, to prepare my next automated response.
"When were you adopted?"
"When I was a year old."
"Did you live in an orphanage?"
"Like in Annie?"
Rolling my eyes seems appropriate.
"No, not like in Annie."
A woman hobbles past me, a plastic trash bag of aluminum soda cans slung over her back. She looks ancient, but probably isn't older than mid-fifties. She's wearing a thin floral blouse, buttons slightly skewed; pastel pants at an unfashionable cut and length; a white bucket hat with an elastic snapped snugly under her chin; her bangs cut bluntly across her forehead. Is this how people think I'll look in thirty years?
"You know," my dad says, casually forking his chicken at dinner, "if you were biologically related to me, you and your brother wouldn't be half as smart, and half as good looking." I laugh, but secretly wish my dad would give himself more credit.
My brother puts on his best Asian accent "Fri' ri' one dollah" and asks if I can do it too. I say I can't, when what I really mean is I won't.
"You're really different," he says to me. I'm doodling in the margins of my homework and glance up, surprised and flattered.
"Yeah. You're not like the other Asian kids I know."
"Oh." This again.
It's something in my speech: the cadence, the lack of an accent. Something in the way I walk with my heels, the way I move my hands like the conductor of some mad orchestra, something no one can ever quite put their finger on.
But it's enough to make me "really different".
My friends like to tease me by calling me things like "Banana," "Twinkie," and "Whasian," things that mean "yellow on the outside, white on the inside." It's easier to laugh and accept it than to explain why I don't meet their eyes when I do.
"You look beautiful today," my dad tells me, looking up from his book as I'm about to head out the door. I strike a melodramatic pose.
"It's in my genes," I joke.