January 15th, 2010 - Allison Hong Merrill
The heater blasted on high, fogging up the windshield. The lingering image of the dream I’d just woken up from still played in my head as I shivered in the car, in the dark. The clock on the dashboard glowed 5:21 A.M.
To start my daily training for the Utah Valley Marathon in May, I needed to be on the snowy track in the city park at 5:30 A.M. But as I waited for the car to warm up in front of my house, doubt jabbed at me. Is this worth it? This, my New Year’s resolution. This, being being my eyes burning with fatigue, my nose stinging from the cold, my head throbbing with a migraine, my hips aching from daily long-distance running, and my body screaming NO to the sudden, ambitious change of life.
No one else was on the street. The sun wouldn’t rise until I was well into the second hour of training. I ran to nothing but the rhythmical beats of my stride. The movement would continue for another three hours until my joints hurt, my muscles cramped, my internal organs crashing into one another from the impact, giving me a stomachache. Every morning I dreaded revisiting the brutal solitude and excruciating pain.
The biggest enemy of all was my brain. I had to dissuade the part of me wanting to give up. I convinced myself this was a beautiful morning and that I can do hard things. The stars twinkled above me – a brand new day. If I could convince myself, “Mind over Matter,” then 2010 might just be my year to prove I really had what it took to overcome the impossible, like running a marathon! And if that was possible, maybe it wasn’t too far-reaching to aim for more difficult goals: becoming a professional model and actress or breaking into the competitive American publishing industry, even if it meant writing in English as a foreign language.
The moment I shifted the gear into “Drive,” the lights in my living room lit up, a bright glow against the darkness outside. Behind the huge picture window were my three sons’ little faces in a row. Born within twenty-nine months, they were now nine, eight, and seven years old. My American friends lovingly nicknamed them my Irish Triplets. There wasn’t any equivalent, endearing term to describe my children in my native Chinese. If anything, my own people ridiculed me for having so many kids within such a short time. Instead, they used words like Pig and Dog.
My boys knelt on the couch, waving at me with inaudible giggles, their missing teeth the most prominent feature of their looks in this phase of their lives. They got up before the world awoke to say good-bye, to cheer me on, to sign I love you with their fingers. And for the rest of the day, weeks, months, years, that image of my Irish Triplets watching me drive away to chase my dreams was what motivated and haunted me; what made me want to leave and to stay at the same time.
I didn’t know then, on January 15th, 2010, that within ten years I would be the one watching through our living room window as my sons would drive away to chase their own dreams. My heart would wish for their successes, but ache for their departure and yearn for their return. As they round the corner of the street and disappear from sight, I’ll still be here, still trying to break into the competitive U.S. publishing industry, still telling myself I can do hard things.
But the hardest thing, for me, is to know I can never travel back in time to tell my little boys on the couch that I loved them more than writing, running, modeling. That I would be home as soon as I could and please wait for me right here and don’t wriggle so I could kiss your bedheads and your sleepy faces and smell your milky breaths and say, “Isn’t this a beautiful morning to be together?”
Allison was born and raised in Taiwan and came to the U.S. at age twenty-two as a university student. That’s when she realized her school English wasn’t much help when asking for directions on the street or opening a bank account. By recording each of the classes she took––including physical education––and reviewing them every night, she eventually learned English well enough to earn an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. But please excuse her if she misuses the verb tenses or mixes up the genders in third-person pronouns when she talks. It’s no secret––English is a hard language to learn.
Allison writes in both Chinese and English. She is a committee member of the Storymakers Writer’s Conference and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She’s the Grand Prize winner in the 2019 MAST People of Earth writing contest, the first place winner of the 2019 Segullah Journal writing contest, a finalist in the 2019 Eyelands Book Awards, a finalist for the DL Jordan Prize for Literary Excellence, and a finalist in the Serendipity Memoir Discovery Contest. A featured interviewee in KSL (TV Show) Mormon Times and Roots Tech Conference, Allison’s work can be found in the Life Story Anthology (Taipei, Taiwan), Flying South Literary Magazine, LDS Beta Reader Mind Game Anthology, among others.
Allison is grateful to be able to live a creative life. It’s her dream come true. Aside from writing,
she also models and acts for print and film. But her greatest joy is to share her life with her husband and their three sons. The Merrills live a brick house overlooking Utah Lake.