Empire of the Sun

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

I hadn’t seen Empire of the Sun in years.

It was the last film I ever watched with my father–him, sick, lying on a hospital bed; me, 11, completely unaware that this would be the final thing we’d ever share.

Before, I’d often complain: “Dad, you’re ruining it; you’re talking too much.” But now he couldn’t talk at all, and the silence left something rotten in the pit of my stomach.

In his passing, the rot only grew, and I took it with me all the way from the Philippines to the United States. “Things aren’t normal anymore,” my mother told me. “It’s just you and me now, kiddo.”

I wanted more than anything to pretend as things were normal, however. That my new school would be just like the last–that I would fit in–that my father was merely on a business trip, and that this was all temporary. But upon entering my first ever public school here in the US, I knew that pretending that nothing had changed would be no easy feat. I was a sore thumb sticking out in a sea of kids who’d grown up together, who’d seen each other every day for every year of their lives–who lived down the street from one another like characters out of a 90s coming-of-age movie. The thought was impossible (it still boggles me now, in all honesty)–the longest I’d ever stayed one place was six years, and even then my friends would come and go–such is the life of an expatriate. Out of fear of imposing on the already-formed relationships of my peers, I kept my distance–my father once told me I was bold, and suddenly I was not–it was as if his absence in my life completely voided anything he once said.

Even school itself seemed vastly different from what I had been accustomed to, and as a result of my frustration, I became a procrastinator. I put off my work, I paid less attention in class. I didn’t want to deal with anything–I simply didn’t have the motivation to. If everyone else seemed to scrape along, why couldn’t I?

It was ultimately home life with my mother that made me realize that brushing everything and everyone aside would do me no good in school or (on a much larger scale) life. She sacrificed everything to move us out to the US, and all for my sake, too; she had to leave behind family, leave behind her country, pursue a new career. I realized the selfishness of my apathy and the delusion of my ignorance. I would not do my father proud by spending the rest of my days mourning him or the life we had when he talked of making the best of things; I would not do him proud by being lazy when he worked hard to give me and my siblings a better life.

And so I strove to succeed, like my parents and siblings before me. I took honors and AP courses, I did my work in advance, I joined water polo in order to get more involved at school; it soon became more than merely working to impress the memory of my father–it was for myself, too. Nowadays, I consider myself to be a staunch perfectionist at heart; I can hardly sleep if I feel as if things aren’t up to par with my standards.

I’ve matured a lot in these past couple years that I’ve been living in the US, though perhaps faster than need be for a teenager. And while I will never truly get over the loss of my father, I’ve at least begun to come to terms with it.

I hadn’t seen Empire of the Sun in years–until just a few months ago.

Me, inexplicably nervous, lying alone on my bed; Christian Bale, 12, an expatriate completely unaware that his life was about to change forever. Though his story seemed so impossible to me as a child, it suddenly seemed the most familiar thing in the world.

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