Writing Catalog

Caroline Lu

Grade: 8

Birchwood School

Instructor: Lorraine Tzeng

Atropa Belladonna

Personal Essay & Memoir

Atropa Belladonna

The truck rumbled to a stop across Hefang Street, the old wheels clunking against the gravel road. The vehicle was one that she didn't recognize, the trunk filled to the brim with boxes. Hua Xīn was perched out on her front porch, her siblings climbing over each other, fighting for their older sister's attention. In all twenty-two years of her life, the house at the end of her street had never been occupied.

Curiously, she gazed at the boy climbing out of the front seat, a bit older than herself. His black hair shone against the blazing Taiwanese sun and his teeth gleamed in the light when he looked over and smiled at her. The grin was packed full of mischievous curiosity. That smile meant trouble, the girl thought to herself, shaking her head.


And her prediction was correct. Only eleven months later, the boy, Chang Shi, was climbing up the ivy that clung to Hua Xīn's house. As if arranged by fate, the two fell in love with each other and now spent as much time together as possible. Her own Romeo. The girl loved tragedies such as the ionic play and having her own story excited her. When he appeared at her window, he was greeted with a kiss. In her room, under the light of the moon, they sat together on the bed, and Hua Xīn could feel Chang Shi's hands shaking in her own.

"What's wrong," the girl mused, her mind flashed instantly to the worst possible scenario. My parents found out about us and confronted him. She feared that their relationship had been discovered and was about to end. But when he smiled, his beautiful grin melted into one of sorrow.

"I have to leave," the boy whispered, his voice soft against the sound of her thumping heart. "I got an offer to move to America. My bosses said that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think that I have to take it."

The overwhelming sound of Hua Xīn's heartbeat seemed to slow and stop, the air around them grew heavy, and time slowed to a halt. Her reaction appeared childish; she had only known him for a year, not even! But he was now her best friend and she might never see him again. Her arms wrapped around him, her now dull heart matching the beat of his own.

"I want you to come with me. I want you to marry me," the words were breathed against the wisps of her hair. And suddenly, her heart began to hammer. This was it. This is where our relationship ends or begins. Her mind raced with responses because the murmur was the combination of the sweetest and the most frightening things that she has ever heard.

She was torn. She needed to be there for her family. When they were younger, she took care of her little siblings as their parents worked. Though that was years ago and her siblings were all grown up now, able to take care of themselves and each other. But what about Chang Shi, now easily her best friend and the love of her life? While the girl didn't believe in soulmates, he would be hers if she did believe.

With the final parting words, he left the same way he entered, climbing out of the window and landing with a jump onto the soft grass. Hua Xīn watched him leave, excitedly running across the street to his house, and sighed. She loved him, that was clear. But now she needed to figure out whether or not she adored him enough to leave her family for him.


It took her an interminable three months to decide what she should do, and by this time, Chang Shi was long gone. They corresponded nonstop and chatted on the phone every once in a while. But they could only talk every so often as international phone calls in 1978 were expensive. Hua Xīn was starting to envision her family functioning without her, but then she would look at one of her siblings and change her mind.

Then, one day on one of their rare phone calls, she announced that she would marry him and move to America. Hua Xīn could hear his smile when he answered and practically felt his happiness radiating through the phone when she hung up. The next week in her letter, there was a silver band with a small red stone, her favorite color, a perfect engagement ring.

With everything all ready, she still needed to tell her parents. And after thinking it through, she decided that it would be easiest to pack first and then tell them that she was leaving. So she dragged the two luggage bags out from under the bed and pulled open her drawers. They were full of clothes, and her dressers were piled high with mementos from her life. Sighing, Hua Xīn packed away her entire past and future into two little suitcases.

When she was done, it barely made a dent in her belongings. She returned the bags underneath her bed. The black-haired girl didn't need them until her departure a week later. Then, mustering all of her courage, she walked down the wooden stairs, ready to spill the secret that had been locked away these past months. When Hua Xīn ambled her way into the dining room, she could feel her untold truth banging on the walls of her throat, begging to be let out. She settled herself at the table and cleared her throat. Her entire family surrounded her for dinner. "I think that I have to leave," she declared in a shuddering breath.

Her statement, however, received no reaction. It seemed that her parents and siblings thought she meant a trip somewhere around the village. So the girl spoke up again, "I have to leave for America. I have been given an opportunity there. I have everything already set up. Chang Shi is over there now, he has a job, a home. He said that I could stay with him. In fact, he asked me to marry him. And I said yes. "

Suddenly the entire table went quiet. A silent confusion erupted in the family, the siblings looked from Hua Xīn to their parents. Her parents stilled, their chopsticks clinking when they were placed onto the plates. They looked at each other and then to Hua Xīn, copying their children's actions. "Why would you want to go? We thought that you were happy here," her mother questioned.

"I do love it here. But I just happen to love Chang Shi more. I want to go because I love him. I want to go because I have to be with him," her response brought tears to their eyes but they nodded. And with that out of the way, she was now one step closer to the Land of the Free.


And Hua Xīn was right because a week later she was stepping off the plane, her legs wobbly and her body jet lagged. The sounds around the airport bombarded her. The trampling of feet, the wheeling of suitcases, and the mixed voices speaking foreign languages were all frightening.

But among the vast amount of people, she found her love, her Romeo who climbed up her tower to tell her that he was leaving, her soulmate whom she left everything for. Time paused when he spotted her. The clock resumed ticking when he ran toward her. As if to even out the score, Juliet began running as fast as she could, and they met in the middle. And when they reached one another, the result was deafening and inevitable and eternal.

The couple was torn apart at the gate for the girl to go to the Immigration Desk. She arrived and was now suddenly aware that she was no longer home, except she was. America was her new home, whether she liked it or not. Taking a deep breath, she walked into the room that could decide her future, if she could stay in this country with her beloved.

After her time in the small, cramped room, Hua Xīn walked out a new person. She was now Juliette. This name was so very fitting for a girl who, like the other, had betrayed her family all for a boy, the first one in her family to leave their country all because she cared about her beloved. Juliette mourned for the girl that she once was, sweet, kind, quiet, and responsible, but she couldn't be her anymore. She needed to fight for her new life and herself. She was now living in the Land of the Free. But maybe freedom is a little more complicated and confined in reality, something that the goddess would find out soon.

For now, she would enjoy her liberty, dancing down New York's famous Broadway with her love by her side. She felt alive for the very first time in her life, determined never to let the feeling go. The cold wind nipped and bit at all the exposed parts of her, the tan skin flushing under the chill she had never experienced before in warm Taiwan. Without warning, a flash of homesickness zipped through her body and stabbed at her soul, but she ignored it because this was the life that she was sure she wanted. She knew that this was her place and she was never going to give it up.

The next day, the two married, Juliette married Roman, formerly Chang Shi. The girl wore her red dress. It was poetic, Juliette marrying her version of Romeo, her Roman. Shakespeare had predicted their story, it was almost fate. Then they walked home together, the muddy snow on the New York streets staining her white shoes.

After they arrived back home, the couple changed into something warmer to combat the chilly winds. To celebrate their marriage, they were meeting some of Roman's friends who have also immigrated to America. They walked to the house, as the two did not have enough money to afford a bicycle, let alone a car. With shivering bodies and chattering bones, they knocked on the flaky red-painted door which swung open so fast that Juliette could have sworn that she saw paint flecks fly. The thick smell of soy sauce and green onion and spices wafted through the frozen air.

"Welcome, welcome!" The Chinese accent of the woman was as thick as the wafting scent of Asian food, flowing through the doorway where she stood. As Juliette walked through the frame, it reminded her of home, her parents, her siblings and their dinners, and suddenly the sharp stab nicked another wound in her heart. The couple was ushered inside and the sight was nothing like her old home on Hefang Street. While she was used to clean, neat, decorated rooms, the chairs here were splintering and mismatched. It reminded her of their own new home.


After seven months in the new country, the days lasted forever, and the wound in her heart refused to heal over, ripping wider. She frequently visited Roman's friends, while he was at work. Juliette and the girl grew quite close over time. She sat at their table with the odd chairs, drinking tea from chipped china cups. But one day all of that changed, and out of nowhere, she felt that everything had changed.

She was trapped, imprisoned in the Land of the Free, how ironic. The wobbly chair clattered when Juliette stood, scurrying out of the room that took up most of the house. Just like it had all those months ago when Chang Shi asked her to leave, the air around her got heavy, but somehow it was nothing like that. Because this time, the air weighed so much around her, that she struggled to breathe, the necessary oxygen clumping her throat before it even reached her lungs. It took a couple of minutes for her to regain her breath.

When she arrived home to her own little, rickety house, she cried. The sobs racked through her body, shook her soul, and crushed Roman's heart when he spotted her like that. He sported the saddest smile.. He knew that she needed to leave. America was his place, the place of a boy who had nothing, no one waiting on him back in his homeland. This girl in front of him had given up everything for him, so that they could be together, so that he could be happy. She was his everything. But he knew that it was necessary for him to sacrifice everything, so that she could be happy. He was taking the poison, Deadly Nightshade, his own Atropa Belladonna. And what a surprise that it happened to be the thing he loved most.

"I think that you need to return back home. Of course, I would love it if you stayed. But I know that you aren't happy here. You need your family. If you want to stay, if you think that you can be happy here, you have a home. But I am giving you an out, a chance to leave. I need you to know how much I love you. I need you to know that you are my life, my heart, my soul, my love," he whispered into her blotchy cheeks, in between kisses that felt like poison against her tear-stained skin. When she looked at him, her black eyes coated in pools of unshed sadness, he knew her answer.

Only one week later she stepped onto a plane that resembled the one she had stepped off only months ago. She was going back home, to her family. She returned to being Hua Xīn, responsible, kind, quiet, and almost home. She couldn't be strong like Juliette. She surrendered. She couldn't survive in America. Shakespeare had the right idea, Romeo and Juliet will forever stay apart. Hua Xīn could never be with Chang Shi because her own family was more important.


Ten years passed, and now Hua Xīn's brother followed her lead to move to America. She desperately wanted to visit her sibling, after not seeing him for three long years, so she took a trip back to her old home. But she still hadn't forgotten about her Romeo, her Roman. Almost everything reminded her of him for the first few years, but over time her love faded into childhood adoration. She knew that she was taking a chance going to America, where her whole experience revolved around Roman, but she needed to see her little brother. Even if it meant she was digging her own grave, even if it meant she might fall in love again.

Upon arriving in New York where she was planning on staying for a couple of days, she walked over to her old friend's little home with the flaking red entrance. The door swung open seconds after she knocked. Hua Xīn was greeted with a shocked face but was beckoned to enter. Inside the room, sitting in one of the now matching chairs, was her Chang Shi. All of a sudden, America seemed so much more appealing. She had everything she needed, her family, her beloved, and her future.

Roman and Juliette, Romeo and Juliet, locked eyes, and, as if in a trance, drifted over to each other. They met in the middle. And as they say, the rest is history.

Epilogue: My nai-nai's (grandmother) story told of love and loss of what she called fate. She told the story of her life in little snippets at the dinner table every Saturday night when we visited. Nai-Nai shared that she spent a long time trying to please everyone around her, her family, her parents, even her husband. She immigrated because she loved him and would do anything for him to be happy. But she revealed that she also learned that she can be happy with people around who loved her. Now two of her five brothers and three of her four sisters lived in America, all close to her. And because of the choice to knock on the flaking door, she has two grandchildren, my sister and me to bother her. This was her story..