My grandparents are superstitious. In the endearing, harmless, vaguely embarrassing way that only whitewashed ethnic kids will understand. When I was nine and visiting them in San Francisco, they decided to try and fix me. They told my mother they knew someone.
He turned out to be an old Chinese guru. Everyone came – my grandparents, my parents, my two sisters, my great aunt. We crowded together on couches in his living room. He questioned me for hours; they all listened avidly. Perhaps someone was hoping for a miracle. I probably thought I was having my fortune told.
Did I ever dream of the ocean? No. Not even a little bit? Well, maybe once or twice. In my dreams, was the ocean ever scary? Not really. I wished my answers were more interesting.
My spirit guide appeared to be confounded. I was proving to be a hard case to crack. He enlisted the help of a mysterious consort from China, who imparted wisdom over the phone.
It turned out that in my past life, I had been a bad, bad person. The guru, in Mandarin and translated by my mother, explained my predicament thus: “One day, you were sitting on the beach, when a fish swam by. You decided you’d take a stick and stab the poor, unsuspecting, innocent creature in the eye, you wicked child. That’s why you’re blind. It’s punishment.”
But didn’t the fish deserve it? Surely it did something bad in ~its~ past life and that’s why God made me do that. If I only stabbed it in one eye, why am I blind in both? That seems unfair- things 9-year-old me thought and never said.
The way to atone, the Chinese guru assured my wide-eyed grandparents and politely mortified parents, was for me to give up meat.
At dinner that night, my great aunt offered me some of her own food, specially brought from home in a little plastic box (the restaurant didn’t offer vegetarian dishes). My mother seemed slightly relieved that I didn’t like it.
I love my grandparents very much. I did not become a vegetarian.