My Mermaid (Part 5)

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
Part 3
Part 4

miss pupik on Flickr

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.

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 (Intro)

I am Hmong Beauty

I have been inspired and empowered by strong and courageous individuals on I Am Hmong Beauty (IAHB).  This is the first time I have taken to reflect on and write out my story.  Those who know me personally may have witnessed or heard bits and pieces, but do not know my story in its entirety.  And this will be the first time I will be speaking about many things that I have never disclosed to others—even my partner, lover, and best friend, who read the first draft for the first time several months ago.

I truly apologize to those whom I have given misleading stories (you will know who you are).  This chapter of my life has been the most difficult to talk about in detail because I have always been in denial and afraid of ridicule and judgment.  But I have grown mature and wise over the years during my journey to discover myself (with the help of many wonderful people and organizations) and have come to accept me for who I am, for all that I have experienced.  I no longer fear the things that have held me back for so long.

I would like to thank I am Hmong Beauty for giving me this beautiful idea and opportunity.  IAHB’s mission is to provide “a safe and supportive community where Hmong women can share memoirs of their struggles and successes…. to inspire, educate, promote dialogue, raise awareness about Hmong women’s issues, and advocate for change in the community.”  If you want to step into the world of a Hmong person—especially a Hmong woman—I recommend you visit their Facebook page and website and read through the personal stories people have submitted in the notes section.  Some will make you cry tears of joy and others will make you weep in sorrow.  Please read with an open mind and have tissue paper ready to blow your nose.

This chapter of my life is a long one that will consist of a prologue and 5 parts.  I will post them up during June, so if you’re interested, stay tuned.  I will not answer questions or reply back to comments until the very end.

Thank you,
MB

Click for next part in this series.