November 9: “Cold” by Noelle Q. de Jesus

Today is a day, Story366. A week ago, the Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years, making me extremely happy, happiness that has only been matched on three other occasions: exchanging vows with Karen and the births of our two boys. For my wedding, I beamed, while for the births and the World Series win, I wept openly and uncontrollably from joy.

Then came last night, folks, and only one time before has a feeling of absolute dread, disappointment, and fear in the future fallen upon me. That first time was finding out my father had died, back in 1997, the world suddenly not making sense, nothing seeming fair, a suffocation falling over me, like claustrophobia, the feeling of not being able to escape. As horrible as I feel after the Trump victory last night, I won’t say that I felt the same way I felt in 1997, as this whole nomination, even before it begins, is one day reversible; nothing, however, is going to bring my father back to life. A day after this debacle has begun, I’m at least rational enough to see that. Still, to a slightly less degree, I feel trapped, as if I’m powerless, as if things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

Last week, both Aimee Phan and Roy Kesey shared their Story366 spotlight with the Cubs’ World Series victories, Roy especially, me basically trailing off on his evaluation as the Cubs both lost and regained the lead, then won the title. Aimee and Roy both joked with me about it on FB when I posted the link, and I believe both felt as if they had shared a special day with me as I read their work. Today, however, poor Noelle Q. de Jesus has to share her day with this complete nightmare. I actually thought about not doing a post today, of leaving a black mark on this project in protest, and at the same time, saving someone the association. But then I thought about it and decided to go ahead, as normal, and post: Why should I change my life because of this? Why should art, my pursuit of it, suffer because of this reprobate? The answer is it shouldn’t. And it won’t.

Today, in defiance of ignorance, I had the great pleasure of reading from de Jesus’ collection Blood: Collected Stories, out from Ethos Books, a publishing house based in Singapore. I’ve never met de Jesus before—she graduated from BG a couple of years before I got there then returned to her native Philippines. I’d never read any of her stories before opening her book today, either, so I dove into three stories without knowing what to expect. Most of the stories in the book, it seems, are set in the Philippines, though the story I’m focusing on today, “Cold,” is set in the U.S.

In fact, “Cold” is set in a town a lot like Bowling Green, a frigid Midwestern burg where the weather is very, very different from where the protagonist, Katrina, comes from. In “Cold,” Katrina is a new graduate student, studying literature (as perhaps, having her study creative writing, as de Jesus herself, did would have been too obvious), and most of all, trying to adjust. She not only has to make these adjustments, but she’s thrown into the fire, having to teach English composition—as in, be the expert in her second language in a room full of native speakers.The people around her aren’t the American stereotypes she was expecting, but they’re still Americans, unaware of her culture, often mistaking her for other Asian heritages. More than that, they’re wrapped up in themselves and don’t recognize a person alone, someone who needs a confidant.

As the semester progresses, Katrina misses home, misses speaking and hearing Tagalog, and starts making friends. She’s invited to her office mate’s house for Thanksgiving, where they try to set him up with a guy, most likely because he’s Korean. The end of the semester brings the climax of the story, where Katrina has a showdown with a student in her class, one who doesn’t make her experience away from home any better. I won’t reveal anything further, but will say that de Jesus brings a lot to the table, rendering a satisfying conclusion and denouement.

The stories in Noelle Q. de Jesus’ Cold exhibit a culture with which I’m not overly familiar. The stories in this book are subtle, too, at least in terms of plot, but stringing a few of them together reveals a voice, a thesis, a consistent sense of characters trying to find their place. I liked reading these pieces an hope to read more by de Jesus in the future.

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