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.