Monday, August 30, 2010


I shortened the leash and said “heel” before crossing the intersection. Coco tightened the leash right on cue as if I just gave her the command to run.

I’ve been walking and training her to heel for about a year and half now. I don’t know what her problem is. She knows to “wait” when I say so, just not “heel.” I can’t say she’s not smart, since she never misunderstands “breakfast” or “dinner.” Or the Chinese version of “come brush your teeth.”

I’m convinced a bilingual dog can’t be a dumb dog.

Yet she acted in complete surprise every time I yanked her back after the command “heel” and her subsequent running. I would tell her she was a little stinker for trying to flee from me. Maybe that’s where I did wrong. Maybe "little stinker" sounds like "good job" in Yorkie lingo.

I saw the couple on the other side before crossing the street. At first glance they looked like strangers who happened to be walking on the same side of the street. He walked a good forty feet ahead of her and seemed not at all concerned that she was about to cross the street by herself. He didn’t stop or look back, just kept on walking.

Coco and I kept our distance behind them. She had dark hair fashioned into a simple bun. It was the only part of her that didn’t say “old.” She was short and walked with a little lopsided stride in her chubby physique. He, on the other hand, was tall and agile. The distance between them made me somehow want to yell at him.

They were from the same mysterious country from the far away land of which I knew very little. Must be arranged marriage--I mused to myself. Suddenly he made a blunt one-eighty and I yelled silently--yay, he did care!

He passed her without a word or even a glance, and turned back a few feet afterward. In the meanwhile she didn’t miss a beat--just kept on walking behind him.

I was getting annoyed, despite the fact that I knew I shouldn’t. I was from the same kind of society where men walked around as if they were sent down here in golden sedan carried by God himself. I had enough of that that I didn’t want to see it here. I sometimes would get stuck in the doorway with another man from my hometown, who clearly was not familiar with the concept of “ladies first,” and I would go out of my way to ignore him and resist the urge to apologize.

They had to learn and I was accelerating their assimilation process by giving them their first lesson.

It was also annoying that “love” did not exist to us. If we were awkward adults with no clue how to show affection, it’s because we were raised where love was a hushed word, a taboo. It’s a shameful emotion that should be ignored at all costs.

Parents showed their love by scolding and putting their children down in front of others. Criticism equates adoration in their minds. They get away with it because parents command complete filial piety, one of the first words I looked up in the dictionary soon after I came here, upon their children; and because there’s no such thing as “therapy.” We had nobody to blame for our problems.

Love is to be assumed, and not expressed, between husband and wife, or lovers. My friend once told me she loved her husband, and her mother said she talked like an idiot. Did she have no shame, she wondered about her daughter.

Having a full stomach, on the other hand, is of utmost concern of ours. We greet each other not with “how are you” but “have you eaten yet,” or the latter follows the prior immediately after. Regardless your answer, we will proceed to force-feed you until your mid section is about to explode. It took me years to forgo the habit of taking food with me when going on car rides with my friend. She shared the peculiar behavior with her other friends, and they had a good laugh. I didn’t understand why it was funny just as they didn’t understand my need to feed her.

Had she known where I was coming from, she would’ve asked “Where are the chicken wings?” instead.

The couple made a turn and parted way with us. He stopped and looked back until she almost caught up before making the turn. They didn’t share a word throughout the walk, and yet there was an air they silently exuded that was so comforting. They stuck together through so many decades, and in all likelihood will be fulfilling “’til death do us part” part of the union. I watched their backs, lanky and nimble versus short and wobbly, trotting away from me for a few seconds. I wasn’t so annoyed anymore.

Coco looked at them and realized that wasn't the path we were taking. Not anytime soon anyway. We continued on our usual route home. It must've started drizzling, as my cheeks were getting misty.

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Monday, August 16, 2010


Collin’s touch jolts me back from the murky abyss. I look into his blue eyes and I could tell he’s a little worried.

“Are you all right, darling?”

“Yes. It’s nice to be relaxed at last.” I put on a smile behind the sun glasses. I have loved this man for so long, and deceived him for so long, that I must keep the act going.

Until I find a way, if the possibility is not as bleak as it seems right now, to show him the truth without hurting him or the family.

“I know what you mean. I should thank you for planning this family vacation. The cruise is perfect so far.” He sits down next to me and looks out the horizon with a satisfied sigh, holding my hand in his. It’s not hard to make him happy, but he said “so far” as if he had some foretelling inkling.

Is he also gentle and loving like Collin? It’s been thirty years and my memory is a bit fuzzy of his face.

I remember kissing Collin good-bye and watching him drive away as if it were yesterday. I ran upstairs and cried behind closed door all night. He was going to college and it was our last day together for a long while.

We will see each other soon, he promised. Christmas will be here before you realize it. You know I love you, Alina. I am doing this for us, for our future. We will get married as soon as I’m done with the school. Wait for me, Alina.

I held Collin close to me that day while silently fighting a war inside me. He was gifted and disciplined. The future for him was bright and the college was the right thing to do. He said he wouldn’t look at other girls, and I trusted him. He never did the entire senior year we were together. I would wait for him for as long as it took. Other boys didn’t exist in my eyes.

He was also leaving early to start working at the college. It would be selfish if I told him I was pregnant. I knew he would’ve stopped his life to be with me. The thought of whether or not to tell him had tormented me for months. I lost weight instead of gaining it. Now it was too late to either tell him or to terminate it. There was only one option left. I had to beg my parents to keep it a secret. They finally caved in to my tears.

They tore my heart apart when they took my baby away. I was not allowed to hold him. They said it was for my own good. I glared at his face through tears for five seconds and tried hard to sear his image in my mind. They said it was better to give him up for adoption than otherwise. They said this as if they had no hearts and could feel no pain. The physical pain was minute comparing to the heartaches, which took years to heal. I learned to harden my heart each time I saw a baby, or heard a lullaby. I even drew up a sketch of a lovely woman holding my baby with a smile on her face in my mind, then pushed the sketch deep into the back and told myself he would be fine.

Collin held my face and said I had changed, but wasn’t sure how, the first time he came back for the holiday break. I hid my face in his collar and just said I missed him so much. He believed the tears were over his absence, and he loved me more. I learned to live with that lie, too.

The only thing I could remember now is he had Collin’s dark hair. Time has buried the little wrinkled face and the nine-month dark period in a place I seldom visited. Just when I started to think my life was perfect, that the darkness had finally left me, I got a letter from the agency.

Your son wanted to contact you, it said; he's waiting for your decision.

His first letter was enclosed. It was short and polite. He’s in the States half a globe away from me and somehow he found me. He talked about his life and work there, but very little about his childhood. The omission spoke louder than words. My heart sank. The promise that he would be with a good family was not kept. The sketch I made up for him was another lie burned up in smoke.

I’d love to meet you, he said. Is he punishing me by not saying he grew up in a loving family, or that he didn’t blame me? How could I tell him I did marry his father and have a great family, only he’s not included? Will he understand I didn't try to find him because I didn't think I had the right to disturb him? How could I tell Collin he had another son he never knew, because I gave him to strangers?

Me, the person he thanked many times for making his life complete, had carried this cancerous secret with me for thirty years. Our lives are built not on rocks, it seems, but in the sands, and now the tides are coming in. How, in trying to do the unselfish thing, did I manage to fail my family and my first born?

The shimmering ocean stays silent, but stares me back with an enticing promise. The promise of peace, at last.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Point Siege

The river shines a million diamonds under the September sun. Donald doesn’t stop like he used to, but walks with his eyes looking straight ahead.

He used to think the river as a big, beautiful woman loving and nurturing her children with her ample bosom and comforting arms. With her soft throaty voice she sings them to sleep at night.

The hurricane changed it into a savage sea monster. It unleashed its claws and swept away houses with people in them. His roof was blown away and his possessions were stewed in muddy water. In one day he lost everything. He can't bear the sight of the river now.

He heard the police had set up an evacuation center at “The Point”--a small town spared by the hurricane and flood. He hopes they have food there. He's getting hungry after walking several hours on foot.

This town makes him uncomfortable. He saw a few glances behind the curtain along the way. Plantation style houses with summer blossoms and wrought iron fences can make a postcard ashamed, yet he feels he is being watched with unwelcoming eyes.

Some trees are lying on the street blocking his way. They are arranged not by wind, but by human hands. He looks around. Going back to bypass it will take too long. He's losing energy under the inferno heat. He bends down to remove the trees.

* * *

Robbie sees him passing his house and gets his shotgun out. He calls the boys and tells them where the guy is heading. The boys say they will be there soon. They are going to get him this time.

We set up the barricades to give you warnings, he says to himself, not my fault if you’re too dumb to get it. This town is special. We take good care of our properties, and we are not going to let some looters ruin it. Hurricane or not, you people are not welcome here. The sheriff told me they didn’t have enough people to maintain order. Do what you have to and leave them by the side walk, he said.

Robbie pats his shotgun proudly. He's grateful he had the smarts to get it at the first sight of the drones of those people flooding in to the center. No low lives like them are going to destroy our town by stealing or looting. We'll show them who’s in charge here.

* * *

The sound of the blast bounces off the water and ripples away slowly. Donald feels the pain in his neck, arms and back before falling to the ground. Two or three guys with guns pointing at him looking from above, their silhouettes big against the blue sky blocking the sunshine. He doesn't feel the heat anymore.

“We got you, nigger. We got you!” Robbie says. Donald sees anger in his eyes, but more than that, he sees fear glittering behind it. I know that fear, he wants to say. He had felt it many times before--every time he passed a man like him.

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