This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
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I was 19 years old, going to be a sophomore in college. I thought about how a child would affect my life and that of my boyfriend’s. What am I going to do? How am I going to tell him? But my biggest fear was not knowing how my mom would react to the news.
I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Every waking hour, I thought about my pregnancy. After thinking long and hard about my options, I finally made my decision. I was ready to tell him.
“I’m late,” I said.
“You mean your period?”
“Yes. And I took a pregnancy test. It came back positive.”
“Are you sure?”
“The nurse at the junior college confirmed it.”
We didn’t say anything. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was not going to keep it. I didn’t know what he thought of the pregnancy or of abortion. I didn’t know if he’ll accept and respect the decision that I had made without him.
After a few minutes, he said, “If it’s a boy, I’ll call him Junior.”
“Junior? Eww, no,” I replied. Although I was happy to hear him take responsibility, my heart also felt very heavy. How was I going to tell him now?
The next week came and he didn’t visit me as he usually did. I called him, but he didn’t pick up. And when he did pick up, he didn’t want to talk. He was fishing—fishing all the time. I tried to talk with him about what we were going to do now that I was pregnant. “I don’t know” was his answer each and every time.
I was angry, frustrated, and heartbroken. How dare he ignore me when I was most vulnerable? How dare he say he doesn’t know what to do now? He said he cared, but his actions contradicted his words. I didn’t have the patience to wait this out; this was an urgent matter. I was pregnant, scared, and lost. Who knows what my mom would do if she were to find out. If he didn’t want to be around during the time when I needed him the most, so be it.
So, I called to tell him it was over between us. He came over within 30 minutes. He wanted to talk. I didn’t even look at him. It was too late. We were over. He stayed for 15 minutes, silent in the living room while I ignored him in the family room. Then he left.
And that was the last time I saw him. It has been 20 years and although I am married with children now, I still think about him from time to time.
Just kidding! And here you thought the story ended. We’re almost done though.
The next day, I received an email from him.
“I went driving Thursday night to wherever and almost got into an accident. It made me think that you and my little junior are important. It’s just that I have a lot of stressful things on my mind right now. That’s why I go fishing a lot. It helps take the stress away. Hopefully you are understanding what I’m trying to say. If not, then I guess I can understand. But please just give me a call. I know we can work this out. We have been through many harder situations. Love you…”
I thought that if he was as stressed out as I was about this, then why didn’t he come to me? We’re in this together, weren’t we? And even if he was worried about other things, I’m his partner, so why not share his struggles with me?
His last two lines echoed in my mind. I know we can work this out. We have been through many harder situations… I thought about how much we had endured ever since our first meeting. We finally conquered the prejudice that my mom exhibited toward our relationship. Was I really going to throw it all away? I cried my heart out that night.
The next day, I called the abortion clinic and made an appointment.
My boyfriend kept emailing me, asking me to call him, to give him another chance. He didn’t ignore me on purpose. He was having family problems at home. It wasn’t the pregnancy that’s keeping him away. He wanted to work things out. He had a plan. He was going to quit school and work two jobs to support us if he needed to. He wasn’t ready to let me go.
I drove to his house. I wanted to talk about our relationship and about the pregnancy. But every time I opened my mouth to speak, the words clung to my uvula. All I could do was let out a sigh each and every time. We sat in separate couches in his living room like strangers. We couldn’t say anything to each other. After 30 minutes, I went home.
He emailed me that night and told me that if it’s easier, we could talk through email. I replied by telling him how hurt I was. This was when I needed him the most and he wasn’t around. He apologized. Then I told him, I had decided to get an abortion without letting anyone else know. I also told him that I still loved him.
He was happy that I still wanted to be with him. However, he was sad to hear that I was going to get an abortion.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be like with a baby or how hard it will be, but I really want to keep it. However, if you feel you need to get rid of it, then go for it. I support your decision.”
I was really sad to hear that, but I didn’t change my mind for many reasons. Fear of my mom was one of them. She must not know about this or I’ll receive something so much worse than what I’ve experienced so far. I was at the edge of breaking. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep myself together if my mom were to confront me about anything at this point. And another reason was that I wasn’t emotionally or financially ready to take care of a child. I wanted to be secured enough so that my children will grow up in a stable home. I have received tremendous criticisms about my decision from the Hmong community, especially from anti-abortion people, but it has never bother me. I do not regret this choice I’ve made.
My boyfriend and I didn’t tell anyone about what we did. We knew the repercussions. If we weren’t forced to get married, he would be “fined” and have to “fix” me. Then we’d probably never be allowed to see each other again. These were the Hmong traditional ways of handling a pregnancy and abortion. It was either marriage or you cut ties all-together. We were not ready for marriage. We were stuck in a lose-lose situation and secrecy was the key to preventing these traditions from taking over. However, my efforts to keep my abortion from my mom was all in vain. And when she did find out, the marriage my boyfriend and I tried to avoid was inevitable in our eyes.
My sisters and I were not really close growing up for many reasons. I was 3 years older than the oldest of them. Three of my younger sisters were only 1 year or less apart in age, so they shared many interests and had a sisterly bond. Additionally, because of the things I was going through with my mom during adolescence, I had distanced myself from them.
My sisters found out about my abortion by reading my diary and going through my discharge paper work from the clinic (Yes, very stupid of me to have not thrown them away immediately). And because I wouldn’t take them with me that fateful day to my boyfriend’s house, they ratted me out.
As I expected, my mom was angry. I had ruined her reputation by getting pregnant. And not only that, but I had gotten an abortion and came back into her house. This was the ultimate shame any unmarried Hmong daughter could bring to her family and ancestors.
My grams was over and she jumped in as well. With two people telling me how wrong I was and reminding me of every single mistake I’ve made until then—in addition to realizing that my sisters didn’t have my back—I went berserk. I screamed and shouted and my mom did the same. I took off running because I couldn’t stand my mom berating me for ruining her reputation. I didn’t even stop to put my shoes on. I ran barefooted across the busy street a block from our house. A car whizzed passed me, nearly missing me by inches. My boyfriend caught up to me and with tears in his eyes, he yelled at me, “Did you know that car almost ran you over? Don’t you do anything stupid!”
He pulled me into his arms and it was then that I calmed down. I always felt the safest and most secure in his arms and so I just closed my eyes and let myself cry.
My boyfriend wanted to take me home, but I told him I did not want to go. I was afraid of my mom and angry at my sisters and myself. I needed time. After a few hours of driving around aimlessly in town, he received a phone call from his brother. My mom had contacted his older brother and let him know what we did. The voice message on his phone said, “You either marry your girlfriend or ‘fix’ her (ua neeb kho).”
That night, we talked about our relationship and our future. Do we love each other? If so, how much? What were our options? No, we didn’t have any choice because we are Hmong.
I had always tried to run away from the cultural traditions that I despised so much, but in all my effort, I never got far. In the end, I was very much tied to these traditions. No matter how much I ran, I couldn’t escape that I am Hmong. I was a helpless young Hmong woman whose fate was already sealed the minute she got pregnant and had an abortion. There was nothing we could do at this point, we both thought. And so, I went home with my boyfriend that night.
Of course, we were pressured to get married. But that didn’t matter. We never talked about marriage, but we knew in our hearts that we were going to marry each other some time in the future. And even though this was not how or when we wanted to get married, we felt we had no choice. My mom set our wedding date for June 26th.
There were a lot of tears during my wedding. I realized that day how strong my mother’s love was for me and how hurt she was that I was getting married. Despite her pain and anger, she cared so much about me that she didn’t make the wedding negotiations hard for my husband’s family. I was thankful. I cried tears of regret for putting her through so much. It was the words she said to me during my wedding that made me realize she was more disappointed than angry. She was disappointed at the fact that our relationship had deteriorated so much that I couldn’t go to her when I was in trouble. “Why didn’t you come to me for help when you were pregnant?” Why didn’t I? Because, Mom, we had such a dysfunctional relationship that I didn’t see that as an option.
Today marks my husband and my 8th wedding anniversary. It has been 13 years since I met this boy in baggy clothing. I may never know why he decided to retire his gangster ways. He won’t tell me. I like to think that I had something to do with it (yes, he didn’t see a good future with me if he continued his bad ways), but I would be giving myself too much credit. Ironically, he is now a juvenile probation officer, working with teens like his adolescent self. My mom is a proud mother-in-law.
Even though my mom and I still have our differences in opinions and beliefs, our relationship is a lot better. We are still mending it and we have some ways to go. Living apart from each other has improved our relationship immensely. I doubt we will ever truly get to a place of complete mutual understanding because culture is the biggest barrier. I truly love, respect, and appreciate her—more-so now that I have children of my own. Additionally, I know my children and I have a long hard road ahead of us. I don’t want to treat them the way my mom treated me. I am already establishing open communication with them so that we will always have dialogue. I appreciate everything that my mom has done for me, and I hold no grudge to what we went through during my teen years (I don’t condone child abuse no matter what the circumstances and my mom had no right to treat me the way she did, but I have forgiven her).
Class of 2009, Cum Laude
In fact, my mom is the person who planted that feminist seed in my mind with her refusal to remarry and her fight for respect from the Hmong community. Despite her traditional values, she has influenced me indirectly with her actions. She taught me how to be a strong Hmong woman and stand up for my rights. Hmong females are taught from an early age to listen and honor our parents, and one way of doing so is staying silent. I have broken down that barrier with my mom and now I’m not afraid to voice my opinions.
My partner stood by me through so much. He had the choice to leave and not go through the verbal abuse that my mom put him through year after year. He could’ve said, “Fuck this shit. I’m out of here.” But he stayed with me. And I’m really grateful for him.
Even though my Mermaid and I have been together since we were very young, I believe our relationship was mature beyond our years. We had to endure so much from my mom that we didn’t have time to put ourselves through other stuff. We built our relationship on a foundation of trust, honesty, respect, communication, and compromise. But most importantly, we were real with each other. We never made silly promises like we’ll love each other forever. I truly believe that promises only create unrealistic expectations in any relationship, and we never had any of that. We just lived in the moment and took everything as it came because we didn’t know what tomorrow will bring us.
My Mermaid dropped out of college to support me through college. We both value higher education, but since it wasn’t feasible for the two of us to be working and going to school, he decided it would be best for me to finish college. Why would you want your wife to be more educated than you, others have asked. Aren’t you afraid she’ll run off with a more educated man? Well, I’m still here, aren’t I? No other man can ever take the place of this mermaid.
My Mermaid and I share parental and household responsibilities. We are not bound by traditional gender roles. He helps cook, clean, and takes care of the children. Heck, he encourages me to have time to myself. It doesn’t affect him when other men criticize him for “allowing” me to be an equal. And ever since I started volunteering and working with victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, I have come to appreciate him even more. He may not be a perfect person, but he is perfect for me in every way.
Some would only speculate that after this many years, the fire must’ve died down. Sorry to disappoint my readers, but the fire is very much alive and the butterflies are still fluttering. Of course the dynamics of our relationship has changed with the addition of two gargantuan balls of energy, but the essence of the relationship we have built is still there. He still looks at me the same way as he did 13 years ago. He still makes me feel tingly and warm inside with either just a look, a kiss, or a touch. I am still very much in love with him and I know that he loves me even more. We also haven’t stopped communicating through notes, although nowadays, it’s more in the form of emails and text messages.
My views on love and marriage has changed over the years, but some things stayed the same. I am still not a hopeless romantic: still don’t believe in love at first sight, a soul mate, or happily ever after. Love is not destined or fated. To me, love is something one must put effort into if one wishes to see it last. It’s not an easy task and there will be times when you feel as if you just want to give up. In order to live “happily ever after,” one must do the work.
I have always been fascinated with mermaids. To me, they are mystical creatures that represent something beautiful, rare, and uneasily attainable. Is it possible for a creature to have the body of a human and tail of a fish, breathe underwater and sing on land? Is it possible to find love at such a young age? Is it possible to fight for something only you see the value in? My husband is the mermaid I caught from the sea. He is my impossible turned possible and I’m truly blessed to have him in my life.
They say there are many fishes in the sea.
I don’t want a fish.
I want to catch a mermaid, and when I do, I’m never letting go.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MERMAID.