This column is an ongoing experimental diary series exploring the life of a fictional teen Vietnamese girl, Mai.
3 July 2005
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the night Linh told our parents she was pregnant. I can’t believe it was almost two years ago already.
Linh had already told me, and we had talked for a while about what the best way would be for her to tell them. She’d told me she definitely didn’t want to have an abortion – that she believed people should be able to choose, but that she was excited to start a family with Nick, even though it was unexpected. Our parents had always told us that they’d love us no matter what, and Nick was a good guy who was always really respectful when he was at our house, so even though I knew they’d be disappointed and sad, I thought it would be alright eventually.
It really wasn’t, though, and every time I remember that day, I feel my eyes sting. It was a Friday night, and Nick had come over for dinner, and my mum had made bún riêu, which is both me and Linh’s favourite. We were sitting there eating, talking about something I don’t remember anymore, and I could see Linh gripping Nick’s leg under the table, and then she said “Bố Mẹ, I have something to tell you.” I felt my own heartbeat quicken.
“Cai gi, con?” Mẹ said – she’d often speak Vietnamese even with Nick there.
I saw Linh’s fingers tighten around Nick’s leg.
“Um, well… I didn’t expect this to happen, and I don’t know how to tell you and I’ve been trying to tell you for the last week, but it’s hard, but I promise we know what we’re doing, but…”
She didn’t even finish her sentence and our mother was already on her feet, her face contorted like I’d never seen it.
“Có bầu, ha?” she spat. “Con đỉ!”
I had no idea how she knew what it was without Linh even having to say anything, but I didn’t have much time to think before I heard a huge crash. I looked up, and Mẹ had thrown her entire bowl of bún riêu onto the floor. The noodles slipped around in a puddle, the crab meat a blob right on top. I nearly laughed because it was so absurd.
“Mẹ, please,” Linh begged. “This is hard for me, but I want you to understand. We’re going to have it. We’re going to take care of it.”
“Mrs Huynh,” Nick started, before my mum turned on him, eyes like daggers.
“Get out of my house,” she said to him quietly, evenly. “I don’t want you here.”
Linh was bawling by then, and Nick got up and left. My dad had been sitting at the table the whole time, watching, silent.
Thank god my grandma was at Cậu Minh’s house that night.
I snuck away upstairs after a while, but everything was so loud that night. I could hear all of it, all the names they called each other, that word, đỉ, over and over and over. Slut. It was so ugly.
I just hugged Pippin tight and tried to sleep.
A couple of long days after that, Linh packed her bags and went to stay with Nick’s family all the way out in Pendle Hill. I thought things would sort themselves out, but it’s been nearly two years and she’s still there, and my parents haven’t seen her, not even once. They didn’t meet Ella when she was born, and we never speak about Linh in the house, because my mum always cries. I know she misses her, but she’s too proud to say sorry, and Linh is stubborn too.
I’ve been thinking about it heaps because I feel guilty for what Daniel and I did, especially after I had that dream. I don’t think Linh did anything bad, and I don’t think I did anything bad, but I saw the way they looked at her that night, the way she was so small. I don’t want that to happen to me, too.
6 July 2005
That guy Brit kissed at Matt’s 21st, Ben, has been texting her and asking her to hang out. They’re going to the movies this weekend. He’s 20 and has a car, which is so cool. I’m excited for her!
Daniel and I hung out after school today, just for an hour or so down the back paddock. We lay there and kissed and talked about things, and he told me that next month is a year since his best friend, Chloe, died. He’d never told me about her before. They went to school together in Adelaide, before he moved to Sydney in Year 8, and she had very bad depression and ended up swallowing a bunch of pills last year. I didn’t really know what to say, so I just held his hand, and when we both went home he kissed me on the head and said “thanks Mai, you’re a good listener,” and that made me feel good.
I don’t know if I’m ready to have sex with Daniel, and I feel so nervous every time I talk about it. Nina said that since she and Duncan started having sex, he wants to all the time. I think it would be fun, but what if I’m really bad at it, and what if it hurts as much as, or even more than, it did when he fingered me? I’m scared because I love him so much and I don’t want to let him down. I want to be all the things he wants me to be.
11 July 2005
Today at lunch Soph went and sat with another group, which is weird because that’s never happened before in the years that her, Brit, Nina and I have been friends. She went and sat with Lauren Edwards and her friends, who she used to hang out with sometimes in primary school, but as far as I know they haven’t been friends since then. Brit’s the closest with Soph out of all of us, and she said that Soph’s been going through some weird shit and that it wasn’t her place to tell us, but even she was a bit surprised.
I messaged Soph on MSN when I got home, just asking her if anything was up and saying that I’d noticed she’d been acting a bit weird around me in particular over the last few months, and as soon as I sent it, she went offline. It is Monday night which is when she has soccer training, but that still seemed really odd to me. Nina said to just leave it for now, but I can’t help but think I’ve done something wrong.
Brit and Ben’s date went well, apparently. She’s really excited about him which is super cute, because she hasn’t really had a crush on anyone other than our maths teacher, Mr Davidson (don’t even get her started, omg) for ages. He sounds like a really nice guy, and Daniel has known him for years and said he’s super funny. It’s nice to see Brit so happy.
14 July 2005
We had a careers counselor come into school today and talk about career paths and how we should be thinking about our futures. We each got an individual session, and mine was in fifth period. The lady, Mrs Ryan, was really nice and asked me lots of questions about the things I like and what I want to do. I told her I want to go to Sydney Uni and study psychology, and we talked about the grades I’m getting and what my strengths are, and she said maybe I’d also like to consider journalism or law. I know my parents would be stoked if I chose to do law, lol. Journalism could be good because I like reading and writing and hearing other people’s stories, but I’d never really thought about it.
I guess those things could be good too, but right now it’s so hard for me to even think about any of this stuff when it feels like it’s so far in the future.
Linh never went to uni because of everything that happened, but she tells me she still wants to have a career one day, when Ella is a bit older and she can go to uni and study something. Maybe teaching, she said – she was always really good with our little cousins, and especially now that she’s a mum herself, I can see her being a great teacher. Nick is an electrician, and my parents always said that we should aim higher than that, but he’s doing great and making enough money for them and he’s really good at what he does. I’ve realised lately that a lot of the things they say aren’t really true to the world as I see it.
Daniel wants to be a famous rock star, but I asked him if there’s anything else he wants to do, and he said he doesn’t know. He’s not a very good student, mostly because he spends all his time playing music, but his parents don’t care as much as mine do, so I guess there’s not so much pressure on him.
I can’t believe Year 12 is only a few months away, and that by this time next year I’ll be close to finishing school forever.
19 July 2005
Soph hasn’t sat with us for over a week now. She’s been hanging with Lauren’s group every day, which is so fucked especially considering that note Lauren gave to Nina at the start of the year calling her a slut. Nina doesn’t care anymore, but I think it’s pretty shitty of Soph to hang out with someone who did that to her friend.
She’s been ignoring me whenever I see her in the hallways, and yesterday she whispered to Lauren while staring at me, so I can only assume she was saying something mean. She also never did end up replying to that message I sent, and hasn’t been online since then, so I guess she blocked me. Brit has still been hanging out with her sometimes after school, but even she says that the way Soph is acting isn’t okay.
Daniel and I were hanging out after school today and I told him about it and started to get pretty upset. He had this weird far-off look in his eyes and suddenly seemed to snap out of whatever trance he was in, and turned around and said “sorry babe, what did you say?” and that made me feel really shit, because I always listen to the things he tells me, and then when I open up to him he’s too busy thinking about other things. He’s hard to read, sometimes.
Things have felt complicated and weird lately, with everyone.
23 July 2005
Last night I told my mum that Nina was having a sleepover, but instead I went out with Daniel and his best friend Chris, and Chris’s girlfriend Anna, who’s in the year below me at Rosewood and is friends with Brit’s little sister Olivia. I don’t know Anna very well, but she’s always been really nice to me and it was cool hanging out with her outside of school.
We went and played laser tag at a place near Daniel’s house, and it was so much fun! I was surprised that I was pretty good at it. Afterwards, we went to one of the late night cafes and had milkshakes and fries. It felt nice to be able to see Daniel while I was wearing something other than my school uniform, and for longer than an hour after school. I felt so grown up on a double date with him and Chris and Anna, and for a second I wondered if this is what our life will be like when we finish school and can go out late any night we want to. It was a lovely thing to think about.
Afterwards, Chris dropped us back at Daniel’s house. His mum is away at the moment, and Matt was out late with his friends, so we had the place to ourselves. We listened to some music and he showed me new songs he’s been working on, and then we lay on his bed and we kissed so much that I thought I was going to explode. Daniel moved my hand to his crotch, but I pulled it away – I don’t really know much about that yet, and I’m scared I’ll be bad at it – but then he touched my boobs and rubbed over my undies, again, and all the things I’d been scared about flew out the window. It’s powerful, the way he makes me feel.
But then again, he touched me inside with his fingers – two instead of one, this time – and it hurt so much I screamed and told him to stop. He did, but his face was so confused, and he said, “this has never happened before,” which was weird to me because I assumed I was his first, too. So I asked him about it, scared to hear the answer, and he told me that the summer before Chloe died, when he went back to Adelaide for Christmas, they had gotten drunk on some whisky they’d stolen from her dad’s cabinet and they were sitting in the basement and one thing led to another, and they lost their virginity to each other then. Over the summer they did it a few more times before he went back to Sydney.
I didn’t really know how to feel when he told me this, but I guess I felt jealous and sad and strange all at once, and then I felt so guilty, because she’s dead and I shouldn’t feel any of those things. I said I was sleepy and he turned out the light and spooned me, and he started snoring after a while but I was awake all night, and in the morning Matt drove me back to Nina’s house before 10am, so that when my dad showed up to pick me up at that time he wouldn’t suspect I’d been anywhere else at all.
I haven’t told Daniel that it made me feel like that. Maybe I won’t.
This journal is the only place I can say whatever I want without being condemned.
28 July 2005
Today in chem, Soph and I got paired up together for lab. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s hard to get out of it when the teacher puts you with someone, so I couldn’t do anything about it. She rolled her eyes when I walked over to her and smiled and said hi, and when I asked her how things had been lately, she snapped, “don’t even act like you suddenly care”. The lesson felt really long and awkward, and at the end of it she just picked up her books, walked right over to Lauren and left. I heard her mutter the words “stupid bitch” as she walked out, and I felt my heart sank. It’s really shit that she’s so angry at me, but I don’t even know what for. I’m so tired of trying.
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.