Word Count 492
By Mike Cecconi
His future mother-in-law called him “Jimmy”, even though his given name was James Sheng and nearly everyone since junior high just called him “Jim”. Qingzhao’s mother was a tiny tanned tin tyrant but she doled out the terror in her sometimes-subtle ways, she was letting “Jimmy” know how much she really thought of him.
Jim was fourth-generation San Franciscan, Qingzhao the first of her family born in The States, Jim had little connection with his roots except for that one high school summer he worked at a P.F. Chang’s in the mall and to her mother, it probably made him even less Chinese. At first, she was happy her daughter was at least dating within her ethnicity but she was deeply disappointed when she heard he’s given her a ring on one knee.
The only thing Qing’s mother respected about him was that he was working on his doctorate. Not in medicine or law as she would have preferred, but a PhD in 19th Century history from a school one tier below the Ivy League, it was something. It wasn’t much but it was the closest to a thing that counted. She’d even call him “Doctor Jimmy” if she was drunk and temporarily almost a nice person.
He’d spent years, long before they were engaged, trying to impress her mother even though he was far more connected with the first American Civil War than he would ever be with anything traditionally Chinese.
And then he stumbled onto information he thought would fix all his problems at once, accounts that the airplane had been invented in the then-Chinese region of Taipei, now Taiwan, thirty years before it had been invented in America. Despite this not being his focus in 19th century history, he changed his thesis to that topic and barreled forward in trying to prove it, to make his doctorate and name on it, to secure his place in his new family with it, everything. As much as an academic can be a man possessed in his fervency, so he was.
He should have seen the warnings, of course. The way it was all too good to be true, as those things are almost always false to some degree. His future mother-in-law had devoted years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to this hoax, specifically to ruin him. A few months before he was to defend his thesis, it all came out and the best he got from the school was getting to start over, years of work again, with his earlier idea.
The first airplane had flown in America, not Taiwan, his mother-in-law was jailed for fraud and he’d have to start over again. But to her last, his wife stood by him to the end. The day that her mother went to jail, in the courtroom Qingzhao just whispered to her now-husband:
“You know that I love you, James, Wright or Wong.”
And she did. And she always would, which counts for something. Wright or Wong.