Sisters, dearest

I had been wanting to write this blog for some time now.  I just never had the motivation until one day, while I was working on the last installment of the “My Mermaid” series, I found a poem in my dusty poetry binder from oh-so-long ago.  It was titled “Fucken Sister.”  I was shocked with disbelief.  Although I slightly remembered the troubled and dysfunctional relationships my sisters and I had, I had forgotten how horrible it was.  Memories flushed back to me as I read the forgotten poem.

Let me share a few lines of “Fucken Sister.”  Please excuse the vulgar language.  I would bleep out the words, but it wouldn’t paint a clear picture of my emotions when I wrote it.

Damn bitch, I hate you too.
It’s not like it’s only you.
So shut the hell and zip it up
Because, you know, I don’t give a fuck.
I won’t care if you die tomorrow.
Actually, I’ll be happy to see you go.

I used to write a lot of poetry—one of the many coping mechanisms I developed while struggling with being a Hmong female adolescent in an abusive household.  It has been a very long time since I wrote something full of anger and hatred.  One of these days, I’ll share some of my poetry from high school.  One would not believe that it came from me.

Sisters01

I (27) am the oldest sister of 5 girls.  My sisters are Dandelion (24), Wind (23), Cloud (22), and Girl (18).

We were not close growing up.  I was the oldest and viewed as the authority figure (besides our parents).  Also, I am 3 years older than Dandelion and much older than the rest of them.  It doesn’t seem to be much of an age difference looking at our ages as adults.  However, when you’re a child or an adolescent, 3 years or more is equivalent to a decade.

Dandelion and Wind were in the same grade; Dandelion was born in December, so as you may know, December babies are automatically held back until the next school year.  Growing up, I saw them as two peas in a pod—dressed alike, liked the same things, and did almost everything together (Now that I think about it, they probably didn’t have much choice).  Although Cloud was a bit younger, I thought she was still close with Dandelion and Wind.  Girl and I were at the opposite ends.  We were almost 10 years apart, so there was no connection whatsoever.  I don’t believe she was close to the other three as well.

When I asked my sisters how they viewed our relationships growing up, they all agreed that we were not close.  It’s funny how although we all agreed that we weren’t close, everyone has a different perception of things.  While I thought Dandelion, Wind, and Cloud were close, Dandelion and Wind didn’t believe so.  Wind said that she was close with Girl because she always felt like a mother to her until Girl reached adolescence.  I always felt left out, but I didn’t realize that we all felt the same.

Not only were my sisters and I not close, but we had a lot of problems with each other.  We grew up in a 3-bedroom duplex.  My mom had one room to herself, my 2 brothers shared a room, and we  girls were squished into a room together.  Just imagine 5 females with raging hormones during adolescence in one tiny room, sharing 2 beds and a tiny closet.  We suffocated each other and sometimes felt like strangling one another.  There was no privacy.  And probably because my mom was on a mission to prevent us from ruining her reputation, we all felt we were alone in our battles with her.  We couldn’t depend on each other for whatever reason.  Our family dynamic made it impossible for us to share a bond.

Sisters02

 

My relationships with my sisters have transformed completely over the years.  We are no longer the immature emotional teens who constantly called each other names and pulled out each other’s hair.  It took us to be apart to realize the importance of sisterhood.  I got married and moved to a different side of town.  Dandelion moved out to live with her boyfriend (now her husband) and since he is in the Air Force, they are very far from us.  And Wind moved away after marriage.  All 5 of us are rarely together because it’s hard to plan a get-together when one is several states away and another is across the ocean.  Pretty soon, one will be a couple hours away and another in a different state.  The picture above is the most recent one we have of all of us and that was 3 years ago.

No one can be there for you like a sister.  It took me a very long time to realize that.  Only with sisters can you look at each other and know what the other one is thinking.  Only with sisters can you talk on forever about things or people who annoy you, vent out your frustrations, and tell your dirty little secrets without being judged.  Only with sisters can you have an endless amount of inside jokes.

I posed questions on my Facebook page, asking “Are you close with your sisters?  Why or why not?  Do you have to be blood-related to be sisters?”  Although I didn’t get a huge response, I received very good ones.  Mary stated:

Family is about loving and supporting one another and being there for each other through all the good and bad times….you don’t have to be blood to do that.

A very dear friend of mine said:

Just because you’re sisters does not mean you have to be close.  Many people are related and are not close.  Just because you’re born from the same womb does not make you obligated to be close.  I know plenty of women who are sisters and are complete opposites, thus, do not hang out or even talk.  There are bonds between friendship that could make your relationship even thicker than blood relation.  As long as two people really love and care for each other like they are family, that’s all that matters.  Blood relation becomes superficial and almost a materialistic way of thinking to me.  I feel it’s overrated.

I have girlfriends who are as much sisters to me as “real” sisters can be.  We are not related by blood, but we share a very intimate bond.  Like sisters, they are there for support and consolation whenever I need it.  And just like sisters, they also put things in perspective when I am being unreasonable.  We make efforts to hang out.  And we’re always chatting through group texts, online, on the phone, anything, anywhere.  We have inside jokes and we get each other.  Just like sisters.

A sister can be anyone you’ve met along your journey in life.

So, what about you?  Are you close to your sister(s)?  Why or why not?  And do you think you have to be blood-related to be sisters?

My Mermaid (Part 3)

This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to previous posts:
Introduction
Prologue
Part 1
Part 2

I couldn’t tell him face to face what happened.  So I left him a note in our locker.  “My mom hit me last night.  It wasn’t because of you.”  I lied about the latter.

When I went to the locker at the end of school, he wasn’t waiting for me as he usually did.  Instead he left a note addressed to “Innocent Barbie (He called me Barbie back then).”  “Nobody touches my girl,” the note was written in furious handwriting.  We didn’t see each other that evening.  The next morning at school, I found another note from him.  This one was a lot calmer.  “When did your mother start abusing you?  If you don’t want to answer, it’s okay.”  I never told him.

Life at home started to become unbearable.  In addition to the arguments about my boyfriend and the beatings I went through, because I was becoming of age, my mom was trying to groom me into the ideal Hmong daughter: submissive, cook, and keep the house clean.  My high school had the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) and I was enrolled in it part time, taking IB English and science classes.  The IB program had a strong and challenging curriculum, so it was a struggle to juggle school with the domestic demands at home.  My mom and I were constantly arguing over me being lazy and not behaving like other “good” Hmong daughters.

I wished to participate in extracurricular activities, but my mom wouldn’t allow me.  She stated that a girl’s role is in the home, not out running around like the boys.  So, I did what I needed to do; I lied to her when I joined the dance production team my sophomore year.  Instead of taking conventional PE classes for graduation requirement, I chose dance because it would be easier, I told her.  (It was partly true.  Dance was a PE option, but that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to join).  And that was how I got into Company MHS—my only active extracurricular activity throughout high school.

MB’s dance headshot 2003

I knew my mom was being very strict on me because she feared I was walking down the same path as her when she was my age.  My mom was also afraid I would shame her.  The Hmong community was already expecting me and my siblings to fail.  I am the oldest of 7.  If I fell down a destructive path, my siblings would follow suit.  My mom didn’t want people to talk any more than they were.  So, she thought that by restricting our freedom, we would be “good” children and not ruin the tiny shreds of reputation she was clinging on to.

However, I didn’t care about gossip, reputation, or saving face.  I only wished that my mom would just trust me and my judgment.  So, the more restrictive she became, the more I rebelled against her traditional ways and stood up for myself.  Our frequent arguments and fights pushed me further and further away from my mom and my culture.

I wasn’t the only one affected by my mom’s urgency to control her children.  My younger brother ended up moving to live with our father for a couple of years because of the disagreements between them.  My younger sister attempted suicide and spent 72 hours in a behavioral center years later.

My boyfriend became my pillar of support.  He was there for me when I needed someone.  I hardly spoke about what went on at home because I was embarrassed and ashamed.  He probably knew what was going on behind closed doors, but never mentioned anything to me.  We had a nonverbal understanding that it was not something we both felt comfortable talking about.  I’m not sure if he ever blamed himself for the things I was going through with my mom, but I never blamed him one bit.  I was actually grateful to have him in my life.  Spending time with him kept my mind off of the turmoil I was feeling inside.  He made me laugh and smile every single moment we were together; he brought sunshine into the darkness I was in.  He made me feel really good about myself.  By the end of my sophomore year, I was madly, head-over-heels, in love with him.  Nothing my mom said or did was going to tear us apart.

The Hmong adults started saying that he—the delinquent—badly influenced me.  I used to be such a “good” girl, but after I met him, I started being “bad.”  I didn’t understand why they were saying these things because I wasn’t a “bad” girl.  I stayed in school.  I got good grades and almost-perfect attendance.  I wasn’t doing drugs or drinking (I actually didn’t have my first alcoholic beverage until I was 19).  I didn’t stay out late.  I wasn’t involved in gangs.  I didn’t get into fights.  I didn’t sneak out at night.  I was a homebody.  The only reasons that I could conceive as to why they believe it was so was because I stopped conforming to the traditional norms, was being more verbal about my opinions, and seeing a boy who didn’t have the best reputation in the world.

You would think that if I had just ended my relationship with my boyfriend, my mom would stop beating me.  To me, it was more than just this boy.  I had finally discovered that I can be myself, have my own beliefs, and build my life on my principles—and I wasn’t going to back down.  My mom was pushing her beliefs on to me.  She wanted to mold me into the “perfect” Hmong woman: domesticated, silent, submissive, and obedient.  If I had given into my mom, that meant that I had given up on myself because I didn’t believe in what she believed in.  So, no matter how much my mom verbally, emotionally, or physically abused me, I stayed stubborn and fought.

Not only was I fighting for my beliefs, but I was also fighting for something that my parents never showed me was possible.  Despite his looks and reputation, my boyfriend treated me with so much love and utmost respect—so differently from how I saw my father treat my mom.  My boyfriend never hit me.  He never put me down.  He supported me.  Even though my mom was a total bitch to him, he never said anything bad about her.  He respected my decision to wait on sex until I was ready.  Of course, I gave my virginity to him later on, but he never pressured me.  We made out so many times, but whenever I stopped him from going further, he would without questioning me.  No pressuring, begging, whining, or guilt trips.  And I stuck with him despite all the abuse I endured with my mom because of his show of love and respect.

Baby MB

I never thought I was pretty enough because throughout my childhood, my family called me various nicknames to imply that I was ugly.  My skin tone was darker than what the Hmong would consider beautiful, thus I was called “Pog Qhab Meem (Miss Cambodian)” or “Poj Nplog (Miss Laotian).”  My family used to make fun of my full lips and very big round eyes—asking why I have sausage lips like Black people from Africa and saying that my eyes are eerily round like an owl’s.  Standing at 5’3”, I was taller than the average Hmong girls in town.  My family called me Olive Oil and Daddy Long Legs and commented that I would never find a tall Hmong husband.  I hated all these attributes of myself.  But to my boyfriend, I was the most beautiful girl in the world.  He loved everything about me, despite what negative reputation I carried in the Hmong community.

He was my first—first real boyfriend, first kiss, first sexual experience, first love.

We both moved away to different parts of town during the latter years of high school.  My partner and I saw less and less of each other.  I thought that by not seeing him that often, my mom would stop her bickering and yelling at me.  It didn’t stop.  Our arguments became more frequent.  And we argued about the same things.  If we were not arguing about my boyfriend, then we argued about my role as a Hmong daughter and saving my mother’s face.  It was driving me crazy!  I felt as if I was on probation and house arrest all the time.  I didn’t even have an opportunity to go out and ruin my mom’s reputation if I wanted to.

The things that were important to me were nothing to her.  I also didn’t see the importance in her Hmong values.  We lived in two very different worlds and there was nothing that could bridge this gap between us.

At the end of my junior year, I felt so lost, confused, and out of place that I no longer knew what to do.  We rarely argued about my boyfriend; it was constantly about me now.  Always how I was not good enough.  The arguments between my mom and me escalated to the point of my mom almost strangling me death.  Even though I don’t think much about that day, I still remember it very vividly.

Click for the next part in this series.

My Mermaid (Part 2)

This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to the previous posts:
Introduction
Prologue
Part 1

Fortunately, he didn’t kill himself. Someone hand delivered a letter from him the next day. The letter basically said that he wasn’t going to see me anymore. To this day, I do not know what he and his brother argued over. For so many years, I assumed it was over me. Whether or not it was, I no longer care.

For almost a month, we didn’t seek each other out. I saw him around, but went along my way as if we had never met and he did the same. A part of me felt like I had lost a friend, but life goes on.

Close to the end of the month, a Hmong kid from the neighborhood delivered a note, “He still likes you.” It made me smile. A friend was playing cupid.

The note has been scribbled and drawn on (by little sis) while it hung on my wall for years.

A couple of days later, my neighbor, Sandy, called me outside. She said, “Someone’s looking for you.”

“Who?” I asked.

She didn’t respond. I followed her to the side of her duplex and saw him standing there, smiling at me. Sandy walked back to her house.

“Hi,” he said. I smiled back. For the first time, butterflies fluttered in my stomach.

We spent each moment we could with one another as the summer months flew by. As our relationship developed, he opened up and let me take a peak into his world. I saw the part of him that no one knew of. Behind the baggy clothes and notorious reputation was just another helpless kid, lost and struggling to find his identity and acceptance in this wretched world.

Everyone has a story to tell. Mine, at that time, consisted of domestic violence, child abuse, and condemnation from the Hmong community. His story? His mother died when he was a little kid. His father was hardly around. He grew up living with a step-mother who did not love him or his siblings. The lack of family cohesion probably led him to adolescent delinquency. The good boy on the honor roll had flipped a complete 180. His father couldn’t deal with it, so he sent him out of town.

August marked the turning point in our friendship. As usual, we were talking outside our kitchen window. The joker that he was, all of a sudden, became very solemn.

“Would you like to go out with me?” he asked.

I knew we had been getting close, but never in my mind did it occur to me that we would be a “couple” this soon. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt weird, giddy, and happy. The butterflies fluttered in my stomach for the second time since I met him. Just then, my sister squirted him with a water gun. The seriousness broke out into laughter. What a save because I was so embarrassed! Without looking at him and still laughing, I said yes.

September came along and school started. We both went to the same high school. There weren’’t enough lockers to go around, so the administrators had students share lockers. He and I chose each other as locker partners. We didn’t see much of each other at school and we visited the locker at different times during the day, so we started to leave each other notes. Hi. See you later. How was your day/class? You’re beautiful. Let’s meet today after school. And I looked forward to them each and every time.

One of the many notes I received.

At the beginning, my mom and grams were fine with us being together. There were times when they even encouraged it. Prior to meeting him, whenever I met a boy who was interested in me, with my stuck up personality, I brushed them off after some time. I guess my mom and grams thought it would be the same with this one. When they realized that this boy was going nowhere soon, they panicked.

My mom came up with so many reasons as to why I should stop seeing him. He is a delinquent. He smokes. He hangs around bad people. His father has many wives, so he would end up marrying more than one wife as well. And the main factor is that he is Hmoob Lees (Green Hmong/Hmong Leng) and I am Hmoob Dawb (White Hmong). I would not be able to understand the slight variations in culture, language, and traditions. My mom was afraid I would be mistreated by his family. It didn’t help that there were many horror stories of Hmoob Lees in-laws mistreating their Hmoob Dawb daughters-in-law and vice versa.

I was young and naive, but I felt that my mom didn’t have any right to say anything bad about him. She didn’t know the person that I knew. He was a straight A student who excelled in whatever he did. His father did marry many wives, but that was his father’s business, not his. And knowing my mom’s disapproval of interracial relationships, I told her that regardless of his dialect, he is still Hmong. I asked why she encouraged me to talk to him if this was how she felt about him all along? It wasn’t right that she didn’t speak up until I had already started to like this boy. I didn’t appreciate her passive aggressiveness—being nice about our relationship in public, but castigating me in private about her disapproval. And when I didn’t heed her words, her passive aggressiveness manifested into plain aggression.

My mom had never hit me before. When my father was still around, it was him who always did the beating. I was surprised when she beat me for the first time.

My mom hid the phone in her room whenever she left to do something. That was one way for her to prevent me from talking to him. I used to pick the lock in her bedroom just so I could use the phone to call him. She came home one day to see that I was on the phone. She yelled at me to hang up. When I did, she asked why I was still seeing him.

Koj tsis paub hais tias nws yog Hmoob Ntsuab no lod? Koj pheej yuav tham niag ntsej muag Hmoob Ntsuab ntawv ua dab tsi (Don’t you know he is Green Hmong? Why do you keep on talking to that damned Green Hmong)?”

Es tsuav nws yog Hmoob xwb mas. Koj xav kom kuv mus tham dub thiab mev lod (At least he’s Hmong. Would you rather let me date Blacks and Hispanics)?”

Koj tseem cam kuv thiab lod (You dare argue with me)?”

Kuv tsis cam koj. Kuv tsuas hais qhov tseeb xwb (I’m not arguing. I’m only speaking the truth).”

Koj puas paub hais tias kuv yog koj niam no? Kuv hais li cas ces koj ua li ntawv xwb (Don’t you know that I’m your mother? Whatever I say, you do)!”

And with that, my mom grabbed a plastic hanger from her closet and hit me on my thighs. I cried out because I had not expected it. How embarrassing, I thought. I am 14 years old, too old for my mom to be beating me like this. It hurt so much, and all I could do was cry.

During the beating, my mom yelled, “Koj puas yuav tsum tsis txhob tham niag ntsej muag Hmoob Ntsuab ntawv lawm (Are you going to stop talking to that damned Green Hmong)?”

And in between my cries, I screamed, “No!” over and over again. No, I’m not going to stop seeing him no matter what you do—even if you were to beat me to death, I thought to myself.

For 14 years of my life, I had followed the norms, obeyed my elders without questioning, and kept my opinions silent. I decided that night that I wasn’t going to do that any longer. So, by standing up for my boyfriend, I also stood up for myself and what I believed in for the very first time in my life. My mom was wrong to prevent me from seeing him just because he is Hmoob Lees. She was wrong to have initially encouraged me to talk with him being fully aware of his reputation and now telling me that I can’t see him. She was wrong to judge without knowing him. She was so wrong in so many ways.

When the first hanger broke, my mom grabbed me by the hair, dragged me toward her closet, and beat me with another one. By the time my mom was done hitting me, she had broken 4 plastic hangers and bent 2 wire ones. It was a pain to take my jeans off that night, and when I did, I saw all the ugly marks on my thighs. My flesh was raw and tender. I ran my fingers gently across my thighs, feeling the bumps of the bruises. They stung to the touch. I had never felt physical pain like this. I had never been beaten like this before.

During lunch the next day at school, my boyfriend slapped my thigh playfully as he threw out a joke. I couldn’t contain myself and screamed out in pain. This was the first time I saw his “death” look. His happy smile—the smile that I so adore—turned into something I wished I had never seen. He was pissed off and ready to kill.

“Did your mom do that to you?” he asked.

I didn’t answer him. For the rest of lunch, we just sat there in silence.

Click for the next part in this series.

My Mermaid (Part 1)

This blog post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to the previous posts:
Introduction
Prologue 

Cinderella - Prince Charming & Cinderella
Prince Charming & Cinderella (via Wikipedia)

Many girls grow up dreaming of falling in love with Prince Charming and living happily ever after.  I never had such a dream.  While my friends day dreamed of fairy tale romances, I was the skeptic and made fun of hopeless romantics.  I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  I didn’t believe in a soul mate.  I didn’t believe in happily ever after.

My parent’s marriage framed and influenced my perspective on love.  My mom met my father when she was 14, maybe 15 years old.  He, being the “bad boy,” swept her off her feet and she married him soon after.  My mom bitterly ended the marriage after 13 years of heartache, being cheated on, and abused.  I only knew love in the form of neglect, extramarital affairs, control, emotional and physical abuse, and heartache.  I saw how much pain my mom was in all those years—all because of love—that I told myself I was going to make sure I didn’t waste away the years of my youth and repeat her miserable life.

It was spring of 1999 when I met him.  I was 14 years old, still very much a child, almost ready to graduate from junior high school.  He was a year older than me, a freshman in high school.  He moved into town and brought along his baggy pants, over-sized jackets, and notorious reputation.  Gangs, misdemeanor crimes, school truancy—the whole works.

Gossip traveled fast and by the end of the week, I heard all that I needed to hear about him.  I wasn’t impressed.  He is the younger brother of the Hmong couple who owned the laundromat down the street from where I lived.  His acting out and getting into trouble at home forced his father to send him out of town in hopes that it would stop him from walking further down the destructive path he was on.

He initiated contact with me.  A week later, my little sister came in from outside and told me that Yawg Phwj Txwv Nkhaus (Mr. Curvy Mustache—her nickname for him back then) wanted to talk with me.

“Who is Yawg Phwj Txwv Nkhaus?” I asked.

My sister, only 9 years old, replied, “Koj tsis paub nws yog leej twg lod?  Nws nyuam qhuav khiav los.  Nws muaj ib tug phwj txwv nkhaus nkhaus heev li.  Nws hais tias nws nyiam koj na (You don’t know him?  He just moved into town and he has a very curvy mustache!  He says he likes you).”

Uninterested, I told her to tell him I was sleeping.

My sister opened the door, and yelled out, “Kuv tus sister pw lawv os (My sister is sleeping)!”  As she closed the door behind her on her way out, I heard a male voice say, “Who sleeps this early?”  I looked at the clock; it was 9 pm.

Two evenings later, my mom called to let me know she had not received the electricity bill.  She asked me to check the mail.

“Right now?” I asked because even though it wasn’t late, it was already dark outside.

“Yes, right now.”

I heard the usual commotion when I stepped outside.  The parking lot was filled with Hmong kids running about.  I saw my neighbor, Bill (the new boy’s sister-in-law’s brother), and his friend, Bee, standing in the parking lot with the boy.

Bee approached me, “Ej, kuv tus friend xav nrog koj hais lus (Eh, my friend wants to talk to you).”

I didn’t like Bee because he threatened to kill me and my friend a year before, so I ignored him and continued on my way to the mailboxes at the other end of the complex.  Bee had ruined my mood just by talking to me.  And because I was not in a happy state, when my friend’s sister walked up to me to tell me that the new boy liked me, I snapped at her.  “I don’t give a shit.  Can you people just stop talking about him already?!”

I opened the mail, and sure enough, the electricity bill was there.  I dreaded the walk back home.  I didn’t want anyone to approach me because I was annoyed.  I could’ve avoided all those Hmong kids if I had just walked behind the apartments.  However, it was already dark and since that side of the apartments were only lit in certain areas, I did not dare walk in the dark.  You’d think growing up on the impoverished part of town, I would be afraid of gangsters and criminals, but no—I was afraid of ghosts.

The new boy walked toward me.  Shit, I thought to myself.  Maybe he won’t talk to me if I pretend I’m busy reading the letter from the electric company.

“Is your name MaiBao?” he asked.

What did he expect me to say because he and I both know that MaiBao is my name, I thought to myself.

“Yes.  And?” I replied.  I will admit it: I was stuck up.  Because he associated with Bee (or so I thought), I didn’t have any intentions of being friendly.

“Oh, I was checking to make sure.  Well, I just wanted to say hi.”  He didn’t seem fazed at all by my attitude.

“Um… Hi?” It was a question because I wasn’t sure if he had expected me to reply.  Then without waiting for him to say anything else, I turned and quickly walked home.

Rumors were that many girls liked him.  I didn’t understand why.  He had the typical Asian boy hair cut of the 90’s—the mushroom haircut either parted in the middle or slicked back with hair gel.  You could see puberty had already hit him because he sported a baby mustache—although it’s not curvy as how my sister described.  The way he dressed in baggy clothing didn’t bother me.  It was how he walked—oh, that gangster limp walk.  Not very attractive in my mind.  And his notorious reputation did him no good because I didn’t care for bad boys.

Regardless of what I thought of him, we saw more and more of each other.  I attended a Baha’i youth group each week.  He began to attend those weekly meetings too.  Many people told me he went only to see me.  I like to think that our small town did not have a lot for him to do, so following the Hmong teens to these meetings kept him busy.  I also saw him each week when my mom dropped me and my sisters off at the laundromat to wash the family’s clothes.

The Baha'i House of Worship, Wilmette, IL. Bah...
The Baha’i House of Worship, Wilmette, IL. (via Wikipedia)

Stuck up was my personality when it came to talking with boys—and boy, was I stuck up with this one.  With boys who were looking for more than friendship, I instinctively went into stuck up mode.  Maybe it is to protect myself or maybe because I didn’t know how to act when approached by someone who liked me.  Nonetheless, I was stuck up.

However, he was very persistent and got my attention.  We started talking.  To me, it was nothing serious.  I was still young and knew nothing about relationships or love.  What I knew about love was what I witnessed in my parents’ marriage: abuse, lies, heartache, and sorrow.  At 13, 14, and 15 years old, my friends were already dating and seriously committed.  Even though I’ve had crushes and boys have liked me, I had never seriously dated anyone nor had I thought about dating anyone.

To my surprise, he told me he “loved” me after a mere two months of getting to know each other.  Some friends told me that “bad boys” know how to “play” you, so of course, they’re going to use and abuse the word “love” until they get into your pants.  One friend said, “If you want to have butterflies in your stomach, don’t date good boys because they don’t know how to talk to you. Good boys will use those corny and sappy lines like ‘Koj niam thiab koj txiv noj dab tsi cas yuav yug tau koj zoo nkauj ua luaj li (What did your parents eat to make you so beautiful)?’  You have to date bad boys.  Bad boys know how to say the right things at the right time.”

I didn’t believe that he loved me.  How could you after 2 months of knowing a person?  And even if he really did loved me, there was nothing I could do.  Those were his feelings and he was entitled to them.  In no way was I responsible.  One day, he asked me if I loved him.  I didn’t know what to tell him.  I’ve always been a compassionate person, so I grew to care about him, but to love?  No, love was not something I felt for him.  I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I also didn’t want to lie, so I sat in silence, avoiding eye contact with him.  “It’s okay,” he confidently said to me.  “You’ll love me.”

If you’re in love, this is how your cardiogram would look like.

A month later, he got into an argument with his older brother.  My friend found out from her boyfriend that he was upset and was contemplating suicide.  We both hurried over to Bill’s house, where we saw him sitting outside.

He wouldn’t talk about the argument, but he did speak of dying.  I can still remember those chilling words: “It’s as easy as putting a gun to my head and—boom—I die.”

For the first time, instead of seeing the tough gangster persona that he put on, I saw this fragile boy who had problems beyond my apprehension.  Were these problems the root of his rebellious behavior at home?  I wondered if his family realized that he was struggling internally.  He was clearly reaching out for help.  I sympathized and pitied him.

I tried to reason with him.  He said there would be only one thing that would solve his problems and that was if he got married.  “Will you go with me?” he asked.

“What?” was all I could say, bewildered.

“I’m asking if you’ll go with me to see my dad.”

My eyes widened with disbelief.  I had just graduated from junior high.  I was looking forward to high school, college, and whatever was waiting for me beyond that.  This boy, whom I hardly knew and didn’t love, was asking me to marry him.

Marriage at this age was common during the 80’s and 90’s in the Hmong community.  I heard numerous stories of young girls getting married at the tender ages of 13 and 14 only to be disappointed in the life they had envisioned for themselves.  This was not something I wanted for myself.

“Do you really think that marriage will solve your problems?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he responded without looking at me.

“You’re 15 years old.  Yog wb sib yuav no wb yuav noj dab tsi (If we get married, what are we going to eat)?”

“I can work.”

“What about school?”

“I don’t have to go to school.”

“You’re ruining your future.”

I stood there, looking down at him on the grass.  I was sad for him, yet angry at the same time that he was just going to throw away his future over an argument he had with his older brother.

My friend asked, “Koj tsev neeg yuav xav li cas mas? Koj yuav tsum xav kom zoo zoo tso nawb. Kev sib yuav tsis yog kev ua si (What will your family think?  You need to think about this.  Marriage is not child’s play).”

He didn’t answer her.  A minute later, he looked up at me and asked, “So, what’s your answer?”

From the moment he asked me to marry him, my heart thumped so hard I thought it was going to jump out of my chest.  Thoughts were racing through my head, most of them repeatedly.  Would he really kill himself if I reject him?  Would I be responsible for his death?  Would others consider me a heartless bitch who killed their son, brother, and friend?  What would happen to me—my future, my dreams—if I were to marry him out of pity to prevent him from killing himself?  What argument did he and his brother have to have pushed him to the edge?  Why did he think that marriage would solve his problems?  Was the argument about me—is that why he said everything would be solved if he just married me?  It must’ve been about me.  Fuck, it’s about about my parents—particularly my mom—again, isn’t it?

So, when he asked me for the last time if I was going to marry him, I looked straight at him and said without hesitation, “No, I’m not going to marry you.”

Kill him if I may, but I had so many things going for me and I wasn’t going to let my parents’ divorce or the Hmong community’s opinions of me or my mother get the better of me.  I will prove to people that I am worth a Hmong son’s time—that I wasn’t any of those hurtful words the Hmong adults were whispering behind my back.

Click for the next part in this series.

“BULLY”

My two girlfriends and I have girls night every other Friday.  This week, we decided to move girls night to Thursday because there was a showing of the documentary “Bully” at the State Theatre.  While my friends were in the lobby buying mimosa to sip on during the film, I was wondering what kind of movie my dear friend Rosabel had picked out for us.  You see, she is a person who doesn’t have the patience to take crap from anyone and has this sarcastic sense of humor.  Never serious.  If you didn’t know her well, you’d think she lacks compassion.  So, I thought “Bully” would be a comedy.

The film starts out with David Long, talking about his 17-yr-old son, Tyler, who hanged himself after enduring years of bullying from schoolmates.  This is going to be a tear-jerker, I thought to myself.

BULLY is a beautifully cinematic, character-driven documentary.  At its heart are those with huge stakes in this issue whose stories each represent a different facet of America’s bullying crisis.  Filmed over the course of the 2009/2010 school year, BULLY opens a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders.   It documents the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors that defy “kids will be kids” clichés, and it captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, in communities and in society as a whole.

“Bully” takes its viewers through the struggles of 5 families dealing with bullying.  Throughout the film, I kept having flashbacks of junior high school.  I was fortunate enough to have not been bullied in middle school (although someone did try to bully me in high school).  Everette, Kevin, Oscar, Maggie, and Elaina.  These are the names of my fellow classmates who were bullied in junior high.

BULLY

I was in the GATE/Honors program at MT Junior High School.  I distinctively remember a group of boys in my cohort bullying Everette, Kevin, Oscar, Maggie, and Elaina.  The leader of the group was Tommy.  For a while there, I felt as if he maybe thought he could get away with bullying because his father was a well-respected orchestra teacher at MTJH.

Like the all-star football players you see in movies, Tommy was popular.  He was liked by every teacher.  Probably idolized by the boys at school.  All the girls swooned head-over-heels for him (Girls even cried of broken hearts because his father didn’t allow him to have girlfriends).  I thought he looked like a lanky, big-eared dork, but of course, being the silent person that I was back then, I kept the opinion to myself.

Everette didn’t have good hygiene and came to school stinky.  He also never turned in his homework.  Kevin was awkward and a loner.  Maggie was quiet and wore braces.  Elaina was fat.  Oscar—what can I say about him?  He was part of Tommy’s bullying crew and yet they bullied him as well.  I think it was more as the I-want-to-fit-in-so-I’ll-bully-with-you-guys-even-though-you-guys-bully-me syndrome.

I never saw or heard Tommy and his friends resort to physical bullying, but the mental, verbal, and emotional bullying was very evident.  Everyday, I heard the incessant laughter from these boys whom I silently judged from the back of the classroom.  How mean and horrible can they be to these kids, I thought.  And one of them is Hmong!  Did his parents not teach him well?

Thursday night, Rosabel told me that Tommy regrets bullying his classmates.  As an adult, he realized how horrible he had been and is sincerely apologetic.

Bullying was such a foreign concept to me.  Being as sheltered as I was, I didn’t know this kind of behavior was called “bullying.”  Of course, DARE officers taught bullying in elementary school, but it didn’t ring any bells until later.  Bully is not in the Hmong vocabulary.  How could a Hmong student describe the act of bullying to their parents?  Neeg ua phem rau kuv (People are mean to me).  This translation does not even cover the depth of bullying; it simply does the victims no justice.

According to stopbullying.gov, the definition of bullying is:

… unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.  The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.  Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

I don’t believe that bullying is exclusive to school kids.  Adults can be bullied as well, but I shall leave that for another blog entry.

During the film, [I believe it was] the sheriff [who] stated that if there is no physical harm done to a child, then he does not consider it bully.  I was raging because I could not believe the ignorance of some people.  Bullying takes many forms, although physical bullying is the most apparent.

Physical:
This involves pushing, kicking, punching, and taking and/or throwing a student’s personal items.  It basically is aggressive physical contact with another student.

Emotional/Verbal/Psychological:
This includes name-calling, derogatory remarks, putting someone down, insults, and teasing.  Intimidation through stalking and threats would fall into this category as well.

Social/Indirect bullying:
This is when someone is deliberately left out of games and/or ignored.  This also includes spreading rumors about someone that is not true or telling others a secret they promised not to tell.

Cyber-bullying:
With the invention of the wonderful Internet and World Wide Web, cyber-bullying is born.   Harassing someone through text, chat, emails, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking sites is considered cyber-bullying.

English: this is my own version of what bullyi...

Many adults—this includes school officials as well—believe that bullying is just a phase a child may be going through.  “Boys will be boys.”  “They are just horsing around.”  “They didn’t mean it.”  These are their responses until someone commits suicide or kills someone due to the anguish after years of harassment and ridicule.

The most heartbreaking scene from “Bully” was when the assistant principal from one of the stories insisted that two boys shake hands after what one can only speculate was a fight during recess.  At first, I was confused as who was the bully and who was the victim.  However, as the scene progressed, it became evident that the victim was the one being berated for his unwillingness to shake hands with the boy who had just bullied him.  The school administrator wanted to be fair, but her actions just enabled the bully and validated the victim’s feelings of helplessness and being alone.

I became very irritated with this administrator after Alex’s parents (one of the characters in this film) seeked counsel after finding out the level of bullying Alex had experienced.  Alex’s mom requested Alex switch buses.  The assistant principal’s reply was that she has ridden on that route many times and the children are as “good as gold,” and then redirected their attention to her grandchildren.

Is it because bullying, like many of forms of violence (sexual assault, domestic violence, intimate partner violence), is simply a subject too hard to resolve and no one has a clue about where to start or what to do?  Many schools have anti-bullying policies, but do they follow the protocols when they’re aware of a student being bullied?

My sister was a victim of bullying.  Every day, she would tell me stories of how girls at school would spread rumors about her, harass her on Facebook or Twitter.  They even went as far as to create a burn page on Facebook and attributed my sister as the creator.  This happened when she was away for the weekend with her friends, without internet access.  This had been going on since the start of high school.  The reasons for bullying?  She was dating someone they liked.  And when she did break up with her boyfriend, it was because she was the ex of someone else’s boyfriend.  She was also nominated for Homecoming and a student body position.

A couple of months ago, I answered the phone at my mom’s house.  It was the principal of my sister’s high school.  He informed me that my sister had bullied a couple of girls at school through Twitter.  She was calling them names and making derogatory remarks.  He stated that CHS takes bullying—especially cyber-bullying—very seriously, so if she does it again, she’ll not graduate from high school this year.

I asked my sister what happened when she came home from school.  She informed me that the girls who were bullying her had attacked her on Twitter (as they always did) the night before.  She got tired of their constants harassment that she finally counter-attacked by calling them names.  They made copies of my sister’s tweets, deleted their Twitter account, and showed the copies to the school administrators.  When my sister argued with the principal that they started harassing her first, he basically told her that he wasn’t going to believe her if she didn’t have any concrete proof and warned her that if it happens again, she wasn’t going to graduate.

Of course, CHS takes bullying very seriously, however, they failed to investigate who was the primary bully in my sister’s case.  I believe this is the problem school officials have when it comes to bullying.  Who is the bully and who is the victim?  Growing up, my friends and I have always joked that if your sibling hits you, never hit them back because mothers will almost always witness the person hitting back, but never the person who hit first.  And it’s quite true.  When the bully victim takes matters into his/her own hands by retaliating in some form, the bully gets away and the victim gets punished.

Bullying can lead to severe consequences: suicide and school shootings.  And it is after these tragic events that people will ask “Why?”

MB & Sam, March 2012

I was bullied in high school.  During my first week of freshman year in high school, my boyfriend asked me what did I do to a certain group of senior girls because he heard they wanted to jump me.  I couldn’t believe it.  Here I was, barely starting high school and trouble was already brewing.  The next day, a girl I was friendly with told me that her friends wanted to jump me for no apparent reason.  Well, needless to say, more and more people started asking what did I do to these girls because they were enraged with me.

I took piano class 2nd period.  It was a laid back class where you could either sit around and chit-chat or practice on the keyboard.  One morning, as I was chatting with a classmate, a group of girls walked into the room and aggressively looked around the room.  Somewhere in my gut, I knew they were looking for me.  I confirmed later on that they came in to see how I looked like.  I could not understand what was going on.  They wanted to jump me but didn’t know me and have never seen me before.  I also didn’t know them and have never seen them either.

I finally confronted them.  Meek and trembling, I asked them what I had done to them to want to physically hurt me.  The leader of the pack was actually very nice.  She said that someone had told them I was talking shit about them.  I told her know that I don’t know them and have no idea what they were talking about.  And then she dropped the name: it was the same girl who told me that her friends wanted to jump me.

I thought this girl (let’s call her C) was my friend, but it was clear that she wasn’t.  So I steered clear of her from then on.  C was a two-face.  Whenever she was alone, she’d be nice to me.  However, when she was with her friends, she would try to intimidate me through glares and stares and spread rumors about me.  I had my wonderful friend, Sam, to stand up for me.  Every time I was around Sam, this girl didn’t dare bully me.  And this was because Sam had told her off.  You see, Sam and C lived in the same neighborhood.  While walking home one day, C started up a conversation with Sam.  After a while, C turned the topic to me.  She remarked that I was this [blank] and that [blank].  Sam responded that C was talking about her friend and she didn’t appreciate it, throwing a threat or two in there as well.  And from then on, C never bothered me when Sam was around.

Having a friend to validate you and stand up for you is the greatest thing that could happen to a bully victim.  I am very grateful to have Sam during high school.  Where would I have been without my friends?

So, what can you do if you witness or know someone who is being bullied.  Stand up for that person.  Tell the bully that his/her behavior is not acceptable.  Let the victim know that it’s never their fault.  No one deserves to be treated this way.  Talk to the victim.  Be their friend.  Then let school officials, or a trusted adult, know.

If you want more information, you can go on these websites:

http://www.stopbullying.gov

http://www.bullyingstatistics.org

http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bullying.html