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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Beyond the Pane (beginning of my true story)

My African friend called my cell just as I walked through the door, and feeling little freer than usual, I decided to talk and not let the fact that Melvin was in the other room stop me. She got me laughing as usual and I was glad to hear the things she was telling me. One of her friends was interested in me. It was fun and a boost to my ego. I loved flirting with idea of being with someone again, being wanted, even loving again.

“You are kidding me! Really? And you know this because…?” The phone flew across the room and what was a giddy smile now caused pain as I spit blood.

I hadn’t seen him coming at me. I definitely couldn’t have stopped him. I stared wide-eyed as I held my bleeding mouth. Pure and utter shock is the only way that I can describe the emotion I felt. All the 10 years that Melvin and I had been together he knew never to put his hands on me. He knew that was the one thing that I would never let happen to me again, at least not without a fight. I assume that he had always wanted to hit me during arguments in the past, but seemed to always get up enough control to take a walk or punch a wall.

Perhaps he knew that was something that I would never forgive and he just didn’t want to test that fact. Now that there is nothing to lose, why would he try to stop himself? I was never going to take him back, and it’s possible he did not really want to be back in my good graces. He knew as long as I needed him to babysit he would always see his kids, even my tolerance of all his mood swings, all the painful words and heartless behaviors could not add up to the act of crossing that one unforgivable barrier of touching me. Maybe he thought I was bluffing when I told him I would kill the next man that hit me, maybe he thought his presence was more valuable than my self esteem.

Whatever the reason it was too late now. With my son holding me back I tried my hardest to get a hold of that Bastard and God save us all if I did. “I know you didn’t just put your hands on me!” Frustrated that my sixteen year old would not let me beat the man that he himself would have loved the chance to pummel, I sat down to hear Melvin’s never ending line of shit. “Don’t even act like I hit you, I didn’t touch you, I grabbed the phone and you hit yourself.” I was getting ready to be held back again, but I turned around and picked up an antique wood box off my coffee table and chucked it across the living room and hit “stupid” right in his head. Jewelry tossed around the room as the box broke into pieces on the floor, I yelled back at him “And it was the wind that blew that at your head”

I picked up the phone to see if it still worked, about the same time as it began ringing. It was my friend. “Sorry about that, Dumb ass just got more stupid.” She was very concerned about my situation, even more so than myself. I have been through it before, many times before. She had lived a kind of sheltered life.

“I am going to keep you on the phone and if we get disconnected again, you know my address. Call the police!” I made sure that Melvin heard me. It has been my experience that Abusers don’t like witnesses.

I hadn’t cried this whole year. Never once did I feel sorry for myself or wonder in the darkness why I wasn’t able to be loved. In the past those thoughts would have kept me up at night crying and haunt my every thought, but I am much older and wiser than that lovesick teenager set on being the next Juliet. No, I had let my emotions guild me up to this point and look where it has gotten me. There was no way I was going to let my emotion have tonight.

When I did let those tears fall, they came with more than the embarrassment of being weak, but with a strength that I had not felt in what seemed forever. As I stared at him through tears “I think you just started something that I will have to get someone else to finish” I called the police and got that lazy, good for nothing, unfaithful, trifling controlling bastard escorted out of my house and out of my life. I had tried for over a year to get him to save up enough money to get his own place and he always had some kind of excuse as to what bill took his money or that his children needed him.

It all came down to the fact that he blew his money on women, chat lines and cell phones.

I had tried to keep him off the streets and out of the shelters. He tried his hardest to not only keep that free ride we were giving him but to make it as painful as possible for me in the process. He threatened me, my job, getting me kicked off of welfare and put me out on the streets. So I got off of welfare and housing assistance, got a different job and bucked up for what was sure to be a good fight for freedom.

Remember the saying do not throw stones if you live in a glass house? I made sure my house was made of reinforced steel. I was so busy getting my affaires together that I couldn’t see “D-days” fast approach. I had thought the only way I was going to get rid of my unwanted houseguest was to get him evicted. I was saving for those court costs when he decided to blow past those legalities this night.

Now that he is gone, I sit in the darkness and have time to think, “Damn, I couldn’t have planned it any better” I touch at my busted lip and decide “Minimal amount of damage, maximum amount results. Cool. Melvin less”

I didn’t sleep well that night or many nights after. I cannot say it was from loneliness, the act of trying to rationalize my behavior was important to me, almost like poking a wound, yes it hurts and there is nothing about that behavior that is beneficial but you just can’t stop yourself from it. The pain is almost enjoyable, I know it sounds insane but when I looked back on those things that really were painful, really depressing I learned to not fear them, it makes me numb to the pain, and in an odd way I build a callas over that part on my emotions. I review my past like the review at the end of a history chapter, making sure I learned well my lesson never to repeat.
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