“Stories Yun Told Me” is a series created by Tenement Museum Educators Jason Eisner and Ya Yun Teng exploring themes of language, interpretation, memory, and community through the adventurous eyes of Yun, a fictitious Chinese American immigrant born in the year of the Pig. At twenty-two, Yun immigrates to New York City from her native Taiwan. She loves to share stories about her experiences—stay tuned for further installments!
I was enjoying a nice late April day in the Lower East Side strolling through Sara Roosevelt Park. Many people after shopping at the Grand Street grocery stores paused in the park on their way home, to talk and rest on the benches. I saw the storefront fruit stand through the trees and watched as the man working took off his heavy down coat that he’d been wearing for the whole winter.
The park and the people were coming to life again. Some trees were still in full bloom, while from others the petals started to fall giving way to bright spring greens. The budding new greens were waking up and becoming leafy. Birds tweeted and chirped, and chased one another from branch to branch.
The children filled the playground like wild little monsters that had been imprisoned in their tenements for the whole winter. Four children shared one tire swing while above them many others ran across the bridge to the slide. These unbound little spring animals enthusiastically rushed around the play gear. In time these children would become the teenagers who were playing sports in the athletic field next to the playground. Or maybe they would be like the ones who were forming little circles, yelling, giggling, or trying to pay attention to the conversations- all the while their eyes quietly searching for their loved ones in the crowd.
I sat down next to a little girl, about six years old, wearing a typical American short sleeve t-shirt with big English words on it and sweat pants. Her untied long black hair scattered in front of her face and on her shoulder. She was alone on the bench with a red tulip in her hand. She picked one pedal, threw it on the ground. Then she picked another one, threw it on the ground- like performing a divination ritual to determine whether her prince charming would show up for the date.
“Maybe she was lamenting over her little lover who didn’t keep his word to meet her?” I thought. She looked at the flower intensely. The freshly dead pedals soon formed a little mountain at her feet. When a flower completely fell apart, she abandoned the remnants, strode across the fence, and searched for the next victim. When the next one was claimed dead, she held it triumphantly, returned to the little mountain, and dissected the flower almost without mercy.
She told me that her name was Jenny, and she lived two blocks away from the park. Her brother was playing somewhere in the playground, but she preferred to play here by herself.
“Let the flowers grow,” I told her, “you are killing them before they grow up.” Jenny didn’t look at me or listen to me. She wouldn’t give up picking the flowers and dismembering them. Now there were pedals of tulips, daffodils, and scilla in the pile. She came back to me from a venture beyond the fence with a handful of little blue flowers. Her eyes glittered with some excitement. “How do you call this?” She asked. “They were called muscari before you removed them from the stalk,” I replied.
She looked down on her palm at the flowers, and started to count them with her finger. Some of them matted onto to her sticky finger. She couldn’t count well. She had to start over again and again.
“My mom only has two dollars. She doesn’t even have five dollars.” It seemed like she was talking to someone else in the middle of counting, but no one was there except me. The more her finger played with those little balls of dead flowers, the wearier they became. “Some people has a lot of money,” she continued, “some people steal other people’s money.”
She grew tired of the flowers once they were no longer bouncy. She rubbed her palms carelessly, and the tortured bodies dropped to the ground.
When she ran away, her shirt flapped in the air. It was a little bit too big for her. I watched her disappear in the midst of spring greens and children playing chase on the pavement.
The pile of fresh petal corpses seemed to grow before me. As the mountain grew, its meaning changed. No longer were the petals a part of those cheesy romantic dramas replayed over and over on TV. A sudden gust of wind stirred them. The petals reanimated and began to dance. The mountain was scattered by the strong wind and the petals danced upon it in a celebration to their untimely death.