This is the final column in an experimental diary series exploring the life of a fictional teen Vietnamese girl, Mai.
1 December 2005
The days have been really long since Bà Ngoại died. It’s been a blur, mostly, of my parents trying to make funeral arrangements, of people coming to our house all the time, asking if we’re okay, if I’m okay, if I need to talk about anything.
The funeral is going to be this Sunday, though Vietnamese customs mean that we have to mourn every day for 49 days. It feels like I’ll be mourning for longer than that, though – I never really thought she could go anywhere, because she’s always been here. When I go into her room and the armchair is still there with that ugly cushion she loved, and everything smells like tiger balm, and her beads of jade are still on the bedside table, I think, well, maybe she’s just gone away for a bit. A holiday. She’ll be back, won’t she?
Since Bà Ngoại died, my mum has been acting differently, and she keeps crying at random times. She’s asked me a few times how Linh is doing with the news, is Linh okay, is the baby okay? And I told her that Linh would really like to come to the funeral, and she looked stricken with grief for a moment but then she said, I think that would be nice.
And so this weekend, not only will I say goodbye to Bà Ngoại, but Linh and my parents will see each other for the first time in years. I’m really nervous.
It’s been difficult to concentrate on anything else, so I’m thankful that I don’t have to go to school at the moment, though I’ll be back on Monday. I’ve barely spoken to anybody – Daniel keeps trying to call, but I just want to be alone, just me and Pippin, sitting in the armchair in Bà Ngoại’s room, waiting for her to come home.
3 December 2005
The funeral is tomorrow. I’ve been pacing back and forth around my room for days thinking about it, thinking about how I’ll feel when I see her body there, lying in the open casket, looking like she’s asleep, the way she always is. I’m scared to see her, but I need to see her.
We decided it’s best if it’s just Linh who comes at this stage – it’s all so complicated as it is, and I feel like having Nick and Ella there will make things weirder, since my parents haven’t seen Nick since that horrible night at home, and they never even met Ella.
Linh’s pretty nervous about it, and so is my mum. My dad hasn’t said anything, of course, just done the thing he always does where he clears his throat and looks at his lap.
I haven’t really spoken to Daniel in days, and I feel kind of bad, but at the same time I don’t. He’s messaged me to ask how I’m doing, but keeps also telling me about really trivial things going on with him and I just don’t have the capacity for it at the moment, but I also don’t have the energy to talk to him about it. Maybe I’m a coward.
My friends have been great – I haven’t seen them, but they have checked in on me every so often, and today a bunch of flowers arrived at home from Brit, Nina and Soph. It made my heart smile to see their names all together again, like it used to be. I haven’t talked to Soph much since she unblocked me, but she did text me saying she was sorry to hear about my grandma, and that she was there if I ever needed her. It’s nice to feel like things might be heading back to normal again, at least in that regard.
6 December 2005
The last few days have been a whirlwind, I’ve barely had time to think let alone sit down and write, but finally I have some time to myself, so I can write now.
The funeral was strange and sad, starting with when Linh got there and as soon as my mum saw her, they both burst into tears and hugged each other, and it almost seemed like nothing had ever happened between them. It’s weird how grief changes people, but amongst all the sadness, I also felt a speck of hope for my family, which is more than I have felt in years.
The worst part of the day was when I looked down into the casket and saw Bà Ngoại there, and I was standing there murmuring to her and I think Linh’s leg bumped the table the casket was on because suddenly it looked like Bà was moving, and I started to cry so hard because I thought maybe there had been a mistake and she was still alive after all. But when I looked again, I realised it had been a trick, and of course she was really gone, and that was really tough.
Everything feels kind of like a blur now, but I’m back at school, and I think Linh and my mum have been talking a bit – not really about what happened back then, just about what’s been happening in the time since. My mum has been looking at old photos of Linh and me with Bà Ngoại, and it makes my heart hurt in the best and worst ways, to know that this part of our lives is over now, to know that we were so lucky to have someone like her.
Surprisingly, Soph has been amazing to talk through all this with. I haven’t been talking to Daniel much because I still feel a bit pressured, and because I haven’t seen him for ages or replied much to anything for a while I don’t want to have a big conversation or confrontation – I just don’t have the energy. Nina is great too, of course, but Soph’s grandpa died a few years ago and she was really close with him, so she really understands what I’m going through. After all the drama this year, I didn’t expect she’d be the person to comfort me the most, but I guess heaps of things have been unexpected lately. We haven’t really talked too much about the fight, but at the moment her presence is so calming that I don’t even really mind.
9 December 2005
Last night I dreamed that I was someone else. I was white, for one, and I had long brown hair and big, pouty lips, and I was married, and I had children, and we lived in a house with a big garden and two fluffy little dogs. In my dream, my husband and I were having sex, and it didn’t hurt. He said he loved me, and it didn’t hurt. I couldn’t see his face for the whole dream, but I knew it wasn’t Daniel, and at one point, he turned into Soph, and she said she loved me, and that Bà Ngoại was watching over me. It was the weirdest, calmest dream, and for some reason when I woke up, I knew I wanted to break up with Daniel.
I thought about it all day today. I talked to Nina about it for ages on the phone, and she asked if I’m not just sad about Bà’s death, but it feels like so much more than that – I suddenly feel like I have clarity, and I don’t know where it’s come from. I love Daniel, but I hate how he makes things about himself, and I hate how he keeps making me feel bad or weird about the sex stuff, and I hate how jealous I got about the Chloe thing, and, before Bà died, how paranoid I used to feel that maybe he doesn’t like me anymore when I wouldn’t hear from him for a while, and how he made me feel bad about my family.
It hurts, because I really wanted this to work, but the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe I’m just not ready at all, and I’ve just been pushing myself.
I don’t know what that bit about Soph meant, but I think maybe it’s because we’ve been talking again so much lately, or some strange side-effect of grief, or something else entirely. I don’t plan on telling her about it, because it’s so weird.
15 December 2005
Linh, Nick and Ella came over for dinner last night, and it was surprisingly so nice and not all that weird. Nick even made a fruit platter for dessert, and though I could sense a little bit of discomfort between him and my mum, everything went out the window as soon as she saw Ella. I’ve never seen my mum look that happy before, dancing around with her tiny granddaughter, exclaiming that she has Nick’s eyes and Linh’s slightly squashed nose.
Linh said in the last week, she’s been able to have more frank conversations with our mum than she has in years. I wonder how long it will take for the fractures to fully heal, or if they ever will, but when I looked at them together, at Nick and Ella too, it was just like I’d dreamed about, and I just wish Bà was around to see it. Even if things aren’t ever exactly the way they were again, I’m so happy that they’re changing, bit by bit.
I’m not sure how often this will happen, and I’m not sure if things will ever be exactly the way they were before, but this is huge progress, and I just wish Bà was around to see it. It was like I’d dreamed about – all my family together in one room again, eating together and smiling and even laughing sometimes.
18 December 2005
So I guess I didn’t have to break up with Daniel, because today he broke up with me. By MySpace bulletin.
I’d been avoiding his calls for days, just while I sorted out what the hell was going on in my head, and he was starting to get aggravated. He left a couple of voicemails asking me to explain what the fuck I thought I was doing, sent a couple of texts that kind of alternated between “I love you, why won’t you talk to me?” and “what the fuck do you think you’re doing, I thought you loved me”, and I just felt so overwhelmed I didn’t reply, and then Brit called me this afternoon and told me to look at MySpace, and he had posted a bulletin. The subject line was “Goodbye to love” and it said:
I fell in love with a girl this year. It was wild and scary and beautiful, from the moment I kissed her at a party all the way through to now. She was beautiful and smart and everything I don’t deserve. But lately I feel her slip away from me, and I don’t know why, but I bet it’s because she’s in love with someone else, or because I’m a piece of shit and I don’t deserve her. She won’t talk to me lately and I can’t handle it anymore, so if you’re reading this, Mai, I’m done with this pain and misery, I’m done with the sorrow of loving you when you can’t or won’t love me back. Good luck for your future, and remember, I caught fire in your eyes
I didn’t even feel anything really when I saw it, except maybe a bit of relief, because at least I didn’t have to be the one to do it. I cried a little, just remembering how things were, the bus trips, The Killers, the shows and the stolen afternoons, but I also felt like someone had lifted a huge weight off the top of me, and I could finally breathe.
I texted him, just three words: I’m really sorry.
He texted back, I don’t really know what to say.
I don’t either.
24 December 2005
Daniel called me last night. We both cried a bit and said sorry, and he said he hoped things were okay at home. He told me he had really wanted to make love to me, and I said I didn’t think I was ready for that yet, that I didn’t know when I would be. He said he had wanted to meet my family, that he thought there was so much left for us to do. I kinda felt bad, but I told him that maybe one day we could be friends and he would meet my family at my 18th or my 21st or something, and he got angry at that because he said he was in love with me and didn’t want to just be my friend and he couldn’t believe that I didn’t get it. The call pretty much ended then and there, and I don’t think we’ll be talking again for a while.
I thought my first big heartbreak was going to be a lot more dramatic than this for me, but I guess my mind has been all used up with the death and the funeral and everything else, so maybe I’ve been waiting for this for a while. Mostly I don’t feel much at all.
Brit is back in town for Christmas to spend time with her nan, and I’m so excited to see her again. Nina’s throwing a combined Christmas, New Year’s and welcome back Brit party next Friday night, which should be heaps of fun – a good distraction from all the things going on.
31 December 2005
Oh. My. God.
The party last night was so weird and so wild and so much fun. There were about 25 people all up, and Nina made an awesome playlist and we all had heaps of fun dancing to it. She managed to get her brother to buy us beers, so it was a bit sloppier than I expected it would be, but it was so nice to see Brit again and have everyone in the same place for the first time in ages. She’s doing great – she’s got heaps of new friends, and even invited Ben to the party and they danced together and she didn’t seem too sad about it at all. I’m so happy for her.
At one point, Duncan showed up, and I was worried Nina might get a bit upset because we haven’t seen him for ages, but she just laughed and said “you’re dreaming, dickhead” and closed the door in his face. I was so proud of her in that moment.
But the strangest thing that happened was just after midnight, when Soph and I were dancing together to MCR, and she was holding my hands and laughing, and she said “you’re so much better than that jerk Daniel,” and I said “I know!” and we were smiling, and I said “I really missed you when we were fighting,” and she suddenly got really serious and asked if we could go sit down for a second. So of course I followed her, and we sat down with our beers, and she said, “do you remember when someone put that secret admirer note in your locker on April Fool’s Day and you hoped it was Daniel?” and I was like “oh yeah, I forgot! Did you find out who it was from?” and she blushed for a moment, took a big swig of her beer, and she said, “I knew who it was all along.” And I was like, “what the fuck, why didn’t you tell me! Did you put it in there for one of the boys? Which one was it? How did you even open my locker?”
And she said “I didn’t put it in there for one of the boys, Mai. I put it in there for me, and I was sad, or maybe angry, but definitely jealous, because you chose him.”
And the next thing I knew, we were kissing. With tongue.
Soph, one of my best friends since forever ago, and I. Kissing. With tongue.
And I knew it wasn’t one of those stunts she does to impress boys at parties, and I knew from the thumping in my chest that it wasn’t that for me, either.
2006 is going to be a big year.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen is a Vietnamese-Australian writer based in Melbourne. She writes a regular column for Daily Life and has had her writing featured in publications including Rookie, frankie, The Lifted Brow and i-D.