Bilingualism

When my mother gets angry, her English switches into something in between English and Vietnamese, the words are English, but the grammar, the sentence structure, the twists and turns, the intonation is all Vietnamese.

And it is not because my mother is not fluent, oh no, she is the most intelligent woman I have ever known, and learning two languages is nothing more than breathing to her.

It is because Vietnamese is the language of her heart and soul, the language of her bones and her blood, the language that feeds the roots of her brain, and when she is angry, when emotion comes first and passion runs high, then it is this language that comes pouring out in every breath even when it’s English that leaves her lips.

When I am angry, I can barely speak, the words get caught in my throat, they get stuck somewhere and I don’t know why or how, but it’s usually stuttered or mangled English that comes through.

Even when English is the primary language I speak, Vietnamese is still the language of my heart and soul, my bones and blood, the roots of my brain, the language of the mother who brought me into this world, and even if it may not come out as naturally as speaking, somewhere in me it’s trying, and so the English gets caught along the way.


The numbers are too high

1 in 3 women – that’s like if I got together with my two best friends and there’s a chance that one of us is going to be a survivor, that’s like out of my dance group of 60 there’s a chance that 20 of us are going to be survivors.

That number is too high, that damn nameless faceless number, I do not want my friends, I do not want anyone to become another name with a hashtag on social media trying to get justice because the name of the institution is more important than their name their face their body, the name and reputation of their rapist and their institution is more than important than their body their safety their life, the number is too high, even one is too many, yeah I’m calling you out UCLA. Northwestern you too.

I will not let you turn more people into #names and despondent faces and broken hearts and traumatized bodies.


Steel

Darling, I used to say that you were made of stardust, that galaxies and supernovas that have come before you have all collapsed and crumbled and come together to make up what you are, but now I know that all of that is not enough to describe you.

Darling, you are more than stardust, you are reforged iron, your blood is steel, men have waged war with the very strength in your veins for centuries, and it is the men with your blood that win.

Darling, do not be ashamed that our body is the battleground that shows the war waged between you and your mental illness, the scars – the trenches where vicious battles have been fought and the battle wounds they have left behind, the dark under eye circles – the remnants of rumination bombs that affect you longer than anyone can imagine.

Darling, you yourself – the fighter and victim both in this war that has been longer and harder than anyone could have ever imagined, military men and women would salute and stand at attention as you walked by if only they knew what a fighter you have been and what a fighter you still are, Odin and the Valkyries themselves would welcome you into Valhalla for this war you have fought so desperately.

Darling, you are the strongest steel in this war, you are titanium, and you do not have to fight alone.


I knew this was home

When you knocked on my door, shy smile on your face, my heart skipped a beat, and it must have known before I though it even possible.

When we laughed for hours at the coffee shop, my eyes were kissed pink red, and my heart must have told them.

When my fingers rested in between yours, comfortable in the gaps, comforted by the weight, and they tightened on their own, and they must have known.

When my arm slipped around your shoulders, the laugh shaking around them whispered to me, “hey, you know what this is?”

When you pushed me up against the door and kissed my breath away, I realized I had been drowning, and your touch was my air, your hands were my anchor to land, your eyes were my lighthouse through the night, and I never wanted to stop breathing and finding you.

When the words slipped through your lips, I think I finally knew, even though your said “no, not yet,” your eyes said, “yes, yes, maybe I know too,” and I think I knew this was going to be home.

When I told you that I knew, and you said yes, and I said yes, and you spun me around, I knew this was home.


Some months

April

  • Almost mid-quarter, midterm season, stress from studying and exams, and classes were harder than expected, but it should be okay, it’ll be okay
  • Promises, promises. Tears and late nights, close contact and human warmth, it had been too long, I had almost forgotten, I love you’s and things will change and it will be okay and we will make it through this I promise, promise promise promise, I will be there in the end.
  • Betrayal #2 or #3, I don’t know, I lost count, it is too many, more than I expected, more than I had ever wanted, more than I am equipped to handle, because I didn’t handle the first one or the real first one or the second one, and I never learned how to handle betrayal, because as soon as I had gathered the pieces and started gluing them back together, I was shattered again, and I don’t know how to keep going.
  • Promises were empty empty empty, you lied, you lied but you said you wouldn’t, they always say they won’t lie, they always say promises won’t be broken, but promises are always broken, why make them if you won’t keep them, gone gone gone, frantic texts and more frantic phone call, bright cellphone light under thick blanket, trembling hands and shaking legs, tears streaming down face onto pillow
  • No one to stop, no one to say no, nothing can be done, jacket on and shoes on and glasses on even fogged with tears and walking walking walking, cars are loud and fast and they are giant hunks of metal, and freeways have many cars, and brakes are only so good, and human reaction time is only so good, so close so close so close
  • But I don’t do it.

May

  • Mid-quarter, midterms, didn’t study enough but somehow pulled through, always pull through, thank you great memory, it’ll be okay
  • Let’s catch up, lunch is good, hanging out with friends is good, hi how are you how have you been, how are classes how are midterms how is the boyfriend, i miss you i missed you so much, are you still talking to them? OH you are, I hope they are doing well, not that I would know, and no, I never found out, why – did you want to tell me?
  • No no no, they don’t get to decide. Betrayal #1 or #2, I don’t know, I’m not sure how to count, they don’t get to decide what is good for me, that is not fair, I am old enough to make my own decisions, you do not get to take away my self efficacy and my self worth and my self confidence and my ability and my strength months after you broke all of those down in the first place, you do not get to break me down again and again, it is not fair, and now I will never know what I can do
  • You do not get to walk out of my life and stay in it because everyone else but everyone else went with you anyway, you do not get to do this, this is not fair, I was over it, I was done, how dare you break me again
  • Crying crying crying in restaurant in public, crying under stairwell as friend holds and shakes and begs and pleads, please do not go down that road again, but how can I not? I never left it in the first place, I was steered off, why cannot I go back down, why must I stay away from points and edges when I did it out of spite in the first place, why do I have to do anything, let life liquid run free, I don’t want it anyway because not even promises promises promises meant they wanted me, I did it yesterday because I couldn’t hold it, but friend says no more no more no more, but I want no need need need
  • But I don’t do it

June

  • School ends
  • What will summer be?
  • I cannot wait to be home

July

  • Birthday, twenty now
  • Summer still going
  • Crazy crazy crazy, stuck in this house but moving to another house
  • At least I have my dog

August

  • Just starting. Why do I remember so much and so little?
  • Summer has come and gone and is going going going gone, what have I done with time, nothing, there is so much to be done and so much time to do it, but so little is accomplished.
  • But moving and staying still and not moving at all
  • And most nights mind does not rush and race, and mind does not go deep and dark and there
  • I don’t do April or May again.

Darling, do not wish to be small

Darling, when you told me of your desire to be small and skinny and petite and beautiful, my heart skipped a beat and my lungs missed a breath and every alarm went off in my head and a chill filled my veins, and I clenched my hands into fists so that you couldn’t see them tremble. When you told me how you ate so little and moved so much, my mouth went dry and all the words I wanted to say to you got caught in my throat and I was choking on my fear and love for you. When you told me how much you weighed and how much you had lost and how much you wanted to lose still and how little you wanted to be, my gut reaction was to take you into my arms and hold you and never let you go and make all of those thoughts disappear forever.

Darling, you are beautiful and gorgeous and pretty and stunning and radiant inside and out, and I pray to every god and goddess I don’t believe in that you will one day believe that and see what I see in the mirror, because your beauty should first and foremost be for you to see. I could describe to you your physical appearance, but I don’t think any description of soft wavy brown hair and big hazel eyes and high cheekbones and thin nose and shapely lips and symmetrical collarbones and strong arms and chiseled core and long legs would get through to you right now, and god I wish they would. Because the physical appearance that you see in the mirror is not what the world sees.

But darling, beyond your physical appearance, there is the inside that is radiant and shines out from within your being, and I don’t understand how you can’t see it because it’s blindingly bright. You are not the small flame that you think you are, trembling in the wind and flickering and dimming and chilling. You are kind and caring and gentle and sweet, all of these things that mean soft touch and gentle voice and little smile and bright eyes. But you are also strong and unbending and no storm can knock you over, and you are mother and family and you take all of your loved ones into your arms and you protect them and keep them safe and happy, and you are fighter and sharp wit and clever words and you take no shit from anyone because you know you are on a plane above them, and you are the raging inferno that burns through the wind and blazes bright and hot, reds and blues, too fiery to look at directly, even as you break down all that is old and dying to bring new life from the ashen ground.

Darling, do not wish to be small. You are already petite (and no matter what size, you are always pretty inside and out), and I worry that if you try to be any smaller, your outside would become too fragile to hold your inside, and I worry that I cannot keep you as you are, a healthy weight and size, because you still wish to be small. You are petite and pretty, but I worry that if I say those things you will wish to be more petite so that you can be prettier, but that’s not how that works, and all I want for you is to be healthy and happy. So please do not wish to be small. Be as big as you want to be. Let the inferno that is your soul burn out that wish and fill you up and spill over, and take all the space that you want. Because you are deserving of space and happiness and everything else that will keep your outside even a fraction as strong as your inside.

Darling, let your soul burn away the wish to be small, and break out from the cage within which you have placed yourself. Own all of the space around you and light up the world with all that you are. Break every mirror that says you are small because you are bigger than life, and your brain chemistry cannot contain you.


Poolside

Coconut tanning lotion filled my nose

As I laid on towel on hot lounge chair

Sun rays came down hot (too hot) on my skin

And I flipped over and over

Too bright to read Lolita on my back

Too uncomfortable to read on my stomach

But all to even out burning touch

From poolside to pool instead

Hot cement burning the soles of my feet

Dancer callouses do nothing to prevent burns

Cool water was savior

So I sat and floated and swam

And I stared at gentle waves and refracted light

Dead fly and dead leaves floating on its surface

Look down to clear blurry images of hands and feet

I held my breath and dipped under

Chlorine hurts the eyes less than salt

I breathed out precious oxygen bubbles

I sank further and further

Until I could look up and see burning sun

Rays could not touch me here

But escape from burn could not last forever

I surfaced

Dripping wet pulling self up onto hot cement

Cool water barely a shield

Wet towel on hot lounge chair

Damp hands holding Lolita

Burning rays drying back and hair

It’s too dark to read the French