This column is the second entry in an ongoing experimental diary series exploring the life of a fictional teen Vietnamese girl, Mai.
2 March 2005
I had the strangest dream last night. Linh was back home, and everything was fine. The baby was there too, with her chubby cheeks, and Bố Mẹ were bouncing her up and down, and I could see a joy in their eyes I haven’t seen lately. Even Nick was there, and no one yelled at him, and he sat next to Bà Ngoại in her rocking chair, stroking her hand, rhythmic, connected despite their lack of shared language. The whole house radiated with a lightness. It was like we were a family again. It looked and felt so complete.
The only thing missing from the dream was me.
6 March 2005
Remember how Lauren Edwards wrote that mean note to Nina after it got around that she’d lost her virginity? Turns out she’s been bullying other girls for similar things. She was pulled out of class today by Mrs Carroll and taken straight to the principal’s office. No one’s sure what happened in there, but when Lauren came out her eyes were red. I have a feeling she won’t be throwing notes at anyone for a while.
I always thought that sex would completely change a person. When Linh and Nick started going out, my mum claimed she could tell Linh wasn’t a virgin anymore by the way she walked, the way her body moved. She claimed that she could tell because her boobs were bigger, and her neck stuck out a certain way, and she had a certain air about her that meant she wasn’t innocent anymore. I didn’t think it was true, but I guess I never thought about it like that, and I knew Linh had had sex long before my mum knew anyway.
But now that my best friend has had sex, and I’ve thought about what my mum said in relation to Nina, I know for sure it’s not true. She’s still the same Nina. She knows something now that I don’t, but we still talk about the same things otherwise, and she still laughs with her mouth open, and walks in her funny, lopsided way. Maybe everything is different now, but it feels the same, from the outside anyway.
Bố never says much, but he told me that girls who have sex before marriage are loose. I think he probably had sex before marriage. He was in the army, and when he met Mẹ he was already 30 – I don’t think he would have been a virgin then. But it’s different for boys, he said, and that was the end of the conversation.
Sometimes I think about whether I’ll ever have sex with anyone, or if I’d be able to look someone in the eye afterwards. It makes me so nervous to think about. When I think about it with someone like Daniel, I feel like I stop breathing altogether. If he even touched my hand, or stroked my hair back behind my ear, that would be enough for me. Sex – sex with Daniel Mercer – I feel like I would explode.
10 March 2005
I’m getting pretty stressed about the A.Mus. It’s only a couple of months away, and sometimes I don’t know if I’ll make it. I wonder if I’d like playing violin if it wasn’t something I had to do. Sometimes, when my fingers are moving up and down the fingerboard, I feel like I disassociate entirely. It’s like a dream, almost. Everyone says I’m talented but I don’t know where it comes from. I feel bad for taking credit for something that doesn’t come from me. I’d rather be playing the guitar, or writing poetry, but my parents spent so much on my violin and lessons that I’d feel awful if I were to stop altogether.
It’s funny that I have my music and the others have their sport. I’ve always been excused from Saturday sport because of all the music stuff I have to do. Soph and Brit have done netball for years, and Nina’s pretty much a tennis pro at this stage, but I leave a lot to be desired when it comes to that. I don’t really think that music is my niche, though, at least not playing it – I feel a lot more alive when I’m listening to it, or the one time I’ve watched it live, and those are boys with electric guitars, not girls with violins. I saw an electric violin once, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then, but I doubt my parents would be too thrilled.
But anyway, I had a weird lesson today where it just felt like I couldn’t get any of it right. Usually it feels effortless, but today I just kept stalling, and my staccato wasn’t right, and it sometimes felt like I’d just drop my violin altogether. Mr George was getting frustrated. “Mai, you’re usually so focused!” he said. “What’s wrong with you today?”
I think maybe I just felt distracted, thinking too much about other things, like Daniel, and Lauren Edwards, and my friends, and Linh, and the baby, and that weird dream I had.
I think this year I need to learn how to focus.
15 March 2005
Tonight on MSN Daniel told me he burned me a CD of his favourite punk songs by bands like The Descendents and the Bouncing Souls and NOFX, and said he’d give it to me if I meet him tomorrow after school by the back paddock that connects Rosewood and Joey’s. I am so nervous!!!!!!
16 March 2005
Oh my god I can’t believe today happened!
So obviously I woke up early and made sure my hair looked alright, and I was SO distracted all day, because duh. At one point in Modern, Mr Scott asked me a question, but I guess I was daydreaming, because I didn’t notice anything until Nina poked me hard in the ribs and I jolted awake and Mr Scott said “Miss Tran, any time this century, if you will!” It was so embarrassing.
We had a free period and Soph took it upon herself to make me do a role play, with her as Daniel and me as me, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the stupid impressions she was doing of his voice, and the librarian loudly shooshed us when Soph came smacking her lips straight at my face, saying “I looooove you, my punk rock princess!”
More of the same at lunchtime. Bloody Soph.
So anyway, the day felt like it went for about 40 years, and by the end I practically skipped down to the oval because I knew he’d be there, waiting. But then I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
Was I being stood up?
Finally, after 20 minutes, there he was, backpack slung low, shaggy brown hair swooped over his face. Swooooooooon!!!!!
“Sorry I’m late, Mai,” he grinned, thrusting a CD at me. “I can’t stay for long – Pete and I are hitting the skate park this afternoon – but I hope you like the CD, it’s got some of the best shit on it.”
“Th-thanks,” I stuttered.
And then he was gone.
It was all of three minutes, but I floated on a cloud all the way home.
I listened to the CD on repeat today. I think my favourite song is My Girlfriend by Guttermouth. Maybe he put it on there as a way to tell me something he didn’t feel like he could say out loud.
18 March 2005
I had a long chat to Daniel on MSN tonight. We talked a lot about the songs on the CD, but also about how both of us are finding Year 11 so far. I like talking to him because it’s easy, and because it feels like he gets me. We talked about how we both want to travel after we finish school, before we go to uni. He wants to be in a band as a full-time job, but I don’t know how realistic that is. I want to be a psychologist. Maybe he can write songs and then I can analyse them and tell him what they say about him?
Of course, Nina, Soph and Brit have analysed the shit out of the CD he gave me. They agree the Guttermouth song was a pretty obvious hint, but Brit said that punk songs aren’t very romantic, generally, and maybe that’s true.
I called Linh after school and told her all about it, and she said he was kind of a jerk for showing up so late the other day, but I don’t think he’s a jerk at all. I don’t want anyone to say anything bad about him. He’s so perfect.
27 March 2005
We went to Chú Vinh’s house today for Lily’s birthday dinner. I can’t believe she’s six now! Time has gone really fast. I was so annoyed at Cô Nhi – as soon as I walked in, she pinched my stomach and told me I was getting a bit tròn, which is basically just a nice way of saying fat. I would never say that to someone else – why do people feel like they can say it to me? I don’t care if we’re related, it’s none of your business!
It was nice to see everyone, especially Shelly and Ken, since we don’t see each other much anymore since they moved a bit further away. They asked a lot about Linh and the baby, which made me feel sad – we all used to have such a good time together at family things, playing N64 or card games. Linh was always so good at spoons – we’d always end up crying laughing at the end of the game. I miss her so much.
I have been working on a mix to give back to Daniel – I thought maybe the Valentine’s Day one was too cheesy. It’s actually so hard to figure out what songs to put on there!
Soph’s parents are going back to China for a few weeks next month, and it’s her birthday while they’re away, so obviously she’s having a party while she’s got the house to herself. We’ve already figured out that the excuse I’ll use for my parents is that we’re having a study session for the French exam coming up, and Soph said I can invite Daniel, and I’m kind of just psyching myself up to do it next time we chat.
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.