This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
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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.
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.
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.