I didn’t have a lot of guy friends growing up. I was an early bloomer, and most guys teased me for my boobs, saying behind my back that I must have had plastic surgery because Asian girls don’t have boobs. I didn’t mind—even without all the teasing, at that age, I was content with the friends I had. (And my parents probably wouldn’t have liked it if I had a male friend.)
My first guy friend . . . I met him in middle school. I call him Oppa now, the Korean word for older brother, but our friendship didn’t start out so well. I met him in Problem Solving class in the seventh grade. He was a real jerk back then and always had a glare on his face, like most guys I remembered. He was really mean to me, and he probably hated me because I had a crush on his so much nicer best friend (my current boyfriend, a story for another time) and was always annoying them—in his eyes, I was probably a brat.
He was almost a bully to me, and I antagonized him. No one really knows how we went from wanting to murder each other to becoming almost siblings. The only thing they know was that he made me cry once. Everyone assumes that I cried because he had been meaner than he normally had, but actually, I cried because I saw him almost die.
Near the town we live in, there are a set of abandoned factories. The roads to and around those factories are wide and smooth, perfect for racing. That’s where our town’s freshly minted drivers go to show off their skills, mostly the juvenile testosterones. Needless to say, being two years older, Oppa was one of them. He was always boasting about winning these races, only losing once or twice, and, of course, I told him to his face that I didn’t believe him. So, to prove me wrong, he invited me to spectate. One problem, the race would be around nine at night. He wouldn’t let me back out, and so that day, he came to the house and, for the first time ever, I saw him be a gentleman. Because Korean and Chinese cultures were similar, he knew how to act around my parents and knew what to say to them. He got them to believe I was playing volleyball with him and a bunch of our friends at the park and, to this day, my parents still have no inkling of where I actually went.
It was pretty cool, actually. It was the first time I went out past curfew and the first time I lied to my parents about where I was actually going—it was kind of liberating. I felt free, that’s the closest I can come to describing it. And then, watching as the drivers raced made my adrenaline rush. I was having such a great time that I ignored all the other girls’ jabs at me—they were saying something along the lines of “the goody-two-shoes Asian ran away from home” or something like that. I didn’t care. I sat with my crush (obviously) and cheered for Oppa. He really was good, he was really good. If the other guy was going 80, he was going 100. It was so scary watching, but it was so much fun to watch his car overtake the other and to see him maneuver even the curves with a grace that he never had at school.
It was the fourth or fifth race of his that night when it happened. The other guy must have been a sore loser because he challenged Oppa again to another race and, this time, when Oppa was about to overtake him, the other guy shoved Oppa’s car to the side. Oppa missed the curve in the road, and his car flew off the road. His best friend and I were the only ones to run to the wreckage, everyone else too stunned to move. I didn’t even know I was crying until Oppa made his way out of the wreck with only a few scratches and he laughed at me for being a crybaby. At that point, I didn’t care if he had been mean to me for the whole school year. I was just so relieved he was alive—after I had hit him a few times for his insensitive joke, I hugged him. That’s really when the friendship began, I think.
When I look back, my friendship with Oppa is probably one of the most important ones I have ever made. He’s taught me so many things, and the most important thing: I can be a wild American teen and still be the good girl Asian culture dictates me to be.