The problem with me, he says, is that my parallel is too nice, thereby making me too mean. Apparently it’s because I clamshell up even though we live a 10-minute walk from a pho place with the best Bun Bo Hue in Sunnyvale, because even pho can’t drag me out of this house, from under its short ceiling that feels closer to squashing me into the ground every morning, from the rails of the balcony overlooking the street where I can hear gunshots every several nights even though this area is supposed to be super gentrified, full of software engineers and their 4K monitors. You won’t go out for pho with me and Bochen but you’re thinking about going to Antarctica this winter alone, he points out like my hypocrisy is a crime even though it’s not hypocrisy. I know very well what he and Bochen talk about—racking Mac mini’s at the data center and supporting proxy configuration through DHCP and leasing Porsches whose monthly cost is the same as a one-bedroom apartment—which feels like slipping a brick into my brain. We wouldn’t be able to go to Antarctica for another two years at the least because the next time we travel has to be after he gets his permanent visa and after we visit his parents and my grandparents in China minus a grandfather who died before we could make it back, which is fine because travel is travel and I just want to get out of here although it’s unclear to him where here is when I decline another offer to go out for dinner with him and Bochen and their constantly busy stealth startup founding friend, Huan, who bought a house in Palo Alto only made possible by a generous rich parent loan, so I’m told during our nightly discourse on him sizing up people’s property like dicks and me wondering if I should reinstall Zillow so I can point out all the other bad options that make the sources of his fixation seem less fancy. I decline even though I’m intrigued by conveyor belt hotpot and American wagyu, and after he comes home, I bring up Antarctica again, emphasizing that I’m flexible, open to other countries, hostels, street food, though he shakes his head and rubs his temple and says my parallel likes Marriott hotels and suite upgrades and do-nothing-beach-lounging vacations, and also that I should know he doesn’t have enough vacation days with the new job. Which is why I can go alone, I repeat. He claims to be concerned about my safety even though I’ve flown to Spitsbergen alone; in reality, I think it’s the FOMO striking him hot and heavy, the insecurity of his helicopter mom asking why I’m gone while he’s still sitting in front of his screen playing CSGO and ordering UberEats. I once had two small turtles in a bucket in the living room, raised in tap water and old rocks poached from the fish-less fish tank. Dad had me set the turtles “free” because nature was their “proper” home, so that December morning I placed the turtles under the tree in our front yard, and on my way back from school, found their shells hollow. But they weren’t seeking any sort of freedom, I think. They were house turtles that dad misjudged, not like those parakeets who fly out of their cage, out of the house as soon as they’re given the opportunity, even if they can’t survive without a birdseed feeder. I’m looking for the kind of freedom where no one knows who you are and you’re just wandering unattached, I explain when he brings up the safety argument again. My parents like this about him: always the protector of me, the clumsy toe stubber who refuses to drink tea brewed with Yin Qiao because I can’t find any proper clinical trials. It’s around then that I discover the door within the attic and crawl with my back hunched, squeezing my body through to the other side, where I emerge into the same attic, the same house. After crawling down to the main floor, I find parallel me sketching on an iPad and playing Zelda OSTs from the speakers, chest propped up by a pillow and elbows digging into the carpet, practically inaudible above the sudden shouts from below of him yelling into the microphone while pounding the keyboard to fire guns to counter terrorists and defuse bombs. Bochen drops by to get Hunan mifen together and my parallel follows in the backseat of the car. I doubt the authenticity of this version of myself because is it really me if it can tolerate spice? As expected, I think as I watch my parallel gulp down water for every strand of noodle swallowed while the others slurp like they don’t need to breathe. He and Bochen start talking about this friend of a friend who’s leading marketing efforts for Didi in South America and is the same age as us, and suddenly they’ve both whipped out their phones seeking out LinkedIn, scrutinizing this Didi guy’s profile like a Tinder date. Whenever I bring up Antarctica, he likes to remind me that it’s not all about me, so I ask about the time he left for New Jersey by himself to visit his Ph.D. friends at UPenn and he says it’s not the same because I didn’t want to go with him. Like that makes it any different, I reply. My parallel is very quiet, like how I used to be in grade school when everyone formed cliques based on aesthetics while I wore overalls mom thought were still in fashion. Bochen mentions visiting a Michelin star restaurant whose fried chicken went viral in China. My parallel is so quiet I only remember she’s there when the waiter comes to pick up her bowl still full of noodles coated in a crimson sheen of oil.
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