Don’t tell me about strict parents
Dinner was late, as was expected. Mother looked a different word than tired. The woman was past fatigued. Remaining quiet, which was not unusual to my character, I lay in wait, as the tiger that brought my parents together when they were children.
“My angel, you look so sad.” Mother, using the strength remaining from a twelve- hour workday, tried to clear the table.
“Mother, I will do it. Please rest.” Her eyebrows stretched at my new name for her. Since our entrance into this country, mommy would be the lone description from my lips. Mrs. M, whom my mother kept house for, and I owed much, told me, you can neverhide anything from your mother. Our English lessons were filled with such observations.
She was correct. What could a teenage girl that sobbed if forced to sleep alone waiting for her mother to finish a late-shift, hide from the woman?
“Is there a problem at the school? Is someone bothering you? I will go to school.” She seemed revitalized with a threat upon her cub.
“Oh no, mommy.” I was sure to use the correct term. “Maria introduced me to so many nice people.” A deep breath, “respectful girls…and boys.” The last two words whispered.
I felt the conversation was progressing along as planned. Mother wanted us to use English as much as possible. She only reverted to Viet or our language…Quàngtri Vân Kiêu when speaking of the memories of Father or brother. Though extreme anger would also resurrect our dialect.
“That is nice. Are the boys here as respectful as in Fayetteville?” Our hometown in NC.
“Oh yes. There is a very polite boy…he is very mature and wants to succeed in life.” The moment of truth was approaching.
“Oh wonderful. That is so good to hear.” Mother continued to the bedroom, adjacent to the kitchen.
“There is a very important dance. And many of the students are going.” My voice raised an octave, or so I thought.
“Well, you can not attend. It would be too dangerous. Unescorted young ladies are always in danger. This is a bad City.”
There was the opening. I draw my sword and charged full speed ahead.
“This nice, respectful boy wants to take me as in a respectful escort way,” there was no time to breathe, “and he is very nice and he is polite,” out of breath fear took over. I stood silent looking at the bewildered face to my front.
“What?” She still spoke in English. Things were ok, so far.
“His name is Mario, he is very popular and all the teachers like him cause he is so polite and respect…” I was cutoff in Vietnamese.
“A boy wants to take you. Who is this boy? Where is he taking you?” Again a surge of energy spread through my mother. Her questions showed my previous preparation was wasted.
“It is the school prom. Maria’s sister is my size, I can use her prom dress from a couple of years…” I was cut off in my Bru Dialect. The shaking in my hands increased.
“What?” Her voice split me in half. “What has been going on? All this planning behind my back.” Her face tensed and deep snorts escaped from her spreading nose.
“Mommy…” My eyes remained downcast. Mother used physical violence as punishment only once in my life, and that time violent was the only description. It seemed after the event, I spent a month cuddled in her arms.
“No mommy this.” Our dialect filled the house.
“Tomorrow you will go to school and not speak to this boy.” A slim finger met my eyes as they gained the strength to look at her. “Tell this Maria,” my mother’s stressed face smoothed the wrinkles that dotted her expression. It was tightened from anger. “You tell her that she tell this boy,” her words were becoming clogged as they left her mouth, “you are not going. I forbid it.” She was not finished. I stood with the meekest stance possible. I could taste the salt from my tears as they ran onto quivering lips. “And after that, you do not talk to her anymore. You do not need any friends here.” She ripped her top off, her anger still seething.
“Mommy,” my stomach spasm did not interrupt the attempt to speak.
“Please, I just want to …” That was al I could say. I dropped to our bed, shaking the mattress with my coughing and crying.
“Baby,” the gentle hand was welcomed. But she was still speaking in our dialect. “I understand. I know you are growing so much. Mommy understands.” A kiss to my cheek halted the streams of liquid flowing over my face. Now, sobbing replaced the deluge.
“It is natural for you to feel these things. You are eighteen…at home you would be married.” Her fingers ran through the length of my hair. “I had my first child already.” Mother lost two children before I was born.
“But mommy?” At last I spoke. My breathing was retuning to normal.
“My precious child,” still in our language. “When the time comes, I will select a good husband for you. I will find a good family and we will discuss our children’s future.” Another kiss on the cheek, “please, this is how it must be done. The parents will decide…that is the best.” A short giggle from the woman, “fate…no…no…fate never works.”
I felt my own surge of energy. “But mommy? Father and you…remember how you met…the tiger…fate was the tiger.” The recollection of the incredible first meeting of my parents shook her confidence.
Stuttering for a moment, “well…that was wartime…things…ahh.” Then she stood up and pulled my chin upward. “Water Flower,” my name in Vietnamese. Maybe she was beginning to understand? Could it be? She understands that my heart is breaking? That I felt love for Mario, though it was still my secret?
“I have told you what to do tomorrow. I have told you how your marriage will be arranged.” It seems I was wrong.
The shock on my face froze any tears collecting in my lids.
“If you love me, you will obey. I have told you. I will not tell you again.” She slid under the sheet. It signaled the ending of the day. For me, it signaled the ending of so much more.