Beyond the Pane II (James and Ta)

Time passes quickly. Memories lay stacked on the bedroom floor in chronological order. I had spent the past two days separating my things from his. 10 years was a long time to involve myself with someone. The rest will just have to wait. It was super time as the boys asked what I was going to fix. “Meat strips and rice” one of their favorites and the first meal I was taught to cook.

I used to spend weekends during the summer with my grandmother in the larger City close to us. Although I would watch the older women in my family cook, I was always the youngest girl in the kitchen and the most I was allowed to do was stay out of their way and maybe I would get to butter and pan or wash dishes. I used to spend most of the visits sitting on the front porch watching the neighborhood.

A new family moved across the street from my grandmother, a Vietnamese family. It was a big house but I was sure that every room must have been full. I never saw so many people living in one house before. I watched as the children played in the cherry tree and I wished that I could find a way to introduce myself without looking nosey. I was 13 and at 5foot nine inches I was often mistaken for an adult, I was awkward and shy. My sisters had been showing me how to on put makeup and this was one of the days that I was trying on my “all grown up look”.

I noticed one of the older guys raising up a very small child over his head to pick a branch of cherry blossoms and then said something in her ear as he lowered her to the ground. She skipped across the street towards me and said “my Uncle wanted you to have these” I smiled and thanked her: I asked her name and what her uncle’s name was. “Why don’t you come over and I will tell you everyone’s names?”

Twee was so cute. How could I resist such a sweet, bubbly little china doll? She pulled me across the street and I was introduced to the whole family, the uncle and most of the children knew English very well. But the older members had some difficulty talking with me so the Uncle made sure he was always close by just in case I needed a translator.

I would go and visit my grandmother’s house more often. I spent most of my summer helping them with chores, becoming fast friends with the women, learning how to cook their foods and teaching the older ones English. In the process I also was taught quite a bit of Vietnamese. One of the first phrases I learnt “An Eyo Am” I love you.

The Uncle, James was my first boyfriend and my first kiss; the friendship was very innocent and short lived. My sister had found out that James had lied about his age. He was 27 and although my parents disapproved of me spending even chaperoned time with a man his age, they didn’t have much problem with Mary who was just a few years older going out on dates with him. I still do not know how it happened, he called crying that he missed me and please at least talk with him, I handed the phone to my sister so she could console him and the next thing I knew they were dating and then engaged.

My only real revenge was the fact that she was to never be alone with him, so it was decided that if they wanted to go on dates I had to accompany them. I was a cruel and vindictive chaperone. In order to have their privacy away from my evil glares, they introduced me to Ta a much younger and cuter version of his Uncle, Ta was quiet, artistic and liked me but thought I was not Vietnamese enough, his thoughts on having a respectful, obedient wife caused a few arguments.

I was in love with idea of falling in love, I don’t think it was so much that I loved everything about him, I know I didn’t. I did what I was told so I would be loved, I was rewarded with kisses and a sense of belonging. My family loved them all. They would all take turns coming out to the country and groups would spend the night. The children felt like little brothers and sisters. One summer Ta was supposed to go to Texas to help another family on their fishing boat. I was devastated.

“What am I supposed to do while you are gone?” He told me whatever it is, it had better be with him in mind. He chose to not take a chance and had one of his cousins keep an eye on me. I had known Lee as long as I knew Ta. He was a very little man, cute but tiny. Grandmother used to say he was so cute she could hang him on her wall and that the wall would probably hold him.

I hadn’t really noticed him. I was too busy being the good little housewife in training to notice any other man in the family. Lee did keep a good eye on me, a good hand on me to. Those little hands moved fast and I fended him off regularly. I spent many a day trying to explain to him that he was attractive and that if I were not in love with Ta, he would be a good choice for a boyfriend. The mistake I made was innocent. In the process of trying to keep from hurting the guy’s feelings I must have given him hope.

When Ta came back, Lee told him that I had been the one chasing him and that I had made plains to be with Lee. Ta was unforgiving in his punishment of me. He wouldn’t accept any explanations. He refused to hear a word I said or when I tried to get the women to relay messages. Lee was ever so willing to console me though, putting thoughts in my head that if Ta really loved me he would have listened and not been jealous “Go away you evil little man!”

I tried to be friends with a few of the others after that and it just didn’t feel the same. I always felt like the men were trying to see who would get my attention next. I was a toy being handed around from friend to friend, played with and then disregarded when they were bored “Next!”

I enjoyed spending time with the family and it was a shame that all I received from my time with the Vietnamese family was a few useless words that only reminded me of heartbreak, and some cool recipes. “Dinner is ready”
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