Fishing is what the older girls called it when I started out. To fish meant to don an auburn apron, to wrap one’s ombré’d hair into a casual low bun. To call it a chignon, playing at class, meaning we were ready for High Milk Tea. Then to blink twice, slowly, letting the gold dust settle across one’s smoky lids—sauntering out in front of the store, bamboo tray of crispy chicken dumplings in hand. Surveying, glancing around with saucer-wide eyes outfitted in long lash lines, low-cut silken top disappearing into the neck of the bad girl gold-studded uniform. To balance, on tight form, a pitcher of mango green tea and a retinue of little sample cups, all for harvesting the pool of freshmen and professors slinking over the skybridge from the university.

Boba needed a model.

Vegetarian at 5’4 and 104 pounds, I was teased by the manager for eating what he called grass, rabbit food, at the steakhouse company dinner. He was the kind of beefy man who named his pug Meatball and bowled after work with his personal bag, and used corporate-speak to attract unsuspecting naïfs into the loving, long-reaching arms of the tea, dumplings, and egg noodles cohort. He collected movie posters and liked cards. I’ve seen you around. You come here after school. Years later. We know you by now. Family here. Come here. Come home now. Where are you. Home. Sweet. Half-sweet, seven Splendas. Boba, no boba. Mother, I wanted so badly to belong.

I ran six miles every morning to fit the image in my head. Staying on my feet for the five hours once I clocked in, logging my calories on a secret Tumblr as I ran cold nectarines across my skin in the dark. Rosebud teas with soymilk, no honey, please. Honey, honey; all I wanted was a taste of honey to lean on, a golden bear stood upside down on its head. Squeeze the plastic people. Tanned and toned, sunkissed in my Daisy Dukes. Off-duty, lingering by the sun umbrellas by the fountain. Marcus Aurelius’ reminders about serenity and peacemaking in tow. I’d left high school embittered, delayed a semester from college by a failing grade in mathematics. I needed the solace. I was going places, if only in my mind.

The languor of the risen sun, watercolor acrylic blending into the speed at which I took my life, wrapping it around my work routine as though the classes didn’t matter. Nothing did. Tea, tea. Strawberry seeds between my teeth, I addressed my distant audience with my body, a description that exuded belonging to the ingroup. Fetching packs for the painted babes, a pet. House noob. All it took was sacrifice. For my free lunch I took the brick toast and cut off the crust, spitting it into a napkin and folding it like patterned paper. Biting into the soft white bread to achieve equanimity of the soul. Jasmine fragrance, permanent perfume, the aroma of sugarsweet air as it rained, kisses, kisses, and I looked out from behind the counter, warmth in numbers. My mouth eating flowers, a bareness of diet. Image. Skinny. You’re so skinny. I wish I were as skinny as you. Beaming. Tea. How many calories are in one pearl? Mother of pearl.

You don’t eat very much, do you. He unlocked his Japanese car that smelled of gas station gum, popping open the side door. Visible to him. My supervisor. I had skipped Classics to lick taro ice cream cones with him outside the local parlor. I was once a mainstay there, before they left. They left. Everybody leaves. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave, if I’m skinny will you stay and grip my wrists in yours and remember my name when you call out to me from so far away? Crossing the distance. Do that again. I will.

By the time the licensed clinical social worker saw me, by the time I stopped logging four-calorie strawberries on my diet app, by the time I halved my gym time and my jawline softened and I bought a bigger plate to use for dinner, I had become Calendar Girl, obsessed with control, color-coded blocks and no temporal elisions allowed. No boba, I set as my computer password. Perfectionism eroding into figure rivalry, into easing into eating the lives of animals. The day I bought a leather skirt I let it fan out across my legs. It fanned out like a sheaf of paper, spilling across my knees. I dye my hair Cool Girl New York Ash now. There’s more to it than just the hair, but it fades to a honey brown.


Danielle Shi (史丹妮) is a writer and photographer based in San Francisco, California. Her latest foray into imaging navigates forms of ordinariness in personal media, namely thematized around disability and kinship within the context of Asian America and larger conceptions of nationhood and transcultural diasporic identity. Her writing can be found at The Rumpus (forthcoming), California Magazine, ZYZZYVA Magazine Blog, Sine Theta Magazine, The Frida Cinema Blog, The Drift, Hyphen Magazine, UChicago Arts, UChicago News, The Daily Californian, and the Orange County Register. “Rosemary Folk” was nominated for the 2023 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. [danielleshi.com]