This column is the fifth entry in an ongoing experimental diary series exploring the life of a fictional teen Vietnamese girl, Mai.
2 June 2005
The last few days have been so shitty. Just straight home from school every day, and I don’t have a phone or computer, so I can’t even talk to any of my friends outside of class time. I’ve had to used the shared computer in the lounge room to do my assignments, and with Bố watching me like a hawk over my shoulder the whole time, there’s no way I can sneak onto MySpace or MSN without him noticing.
I couldn’t tell my friends about what had happened until I went back to school on Monday, and they had so many questions for me about why I’d missed all the group texts from the weekend. Nina texted Daniel letting him know what had happened, and has been giving notes to Duncan to pass on, and getting them for me as well, or sometimes I’ll give it to Brit to give to him on the bus. Why is boys’ handwriting so hard to read??
Mostly Daniel has been supportive, as much as he can be through letters, anyway, and he says he misses me, but I got a bit angry the other day because he wrote in one of his notes that my parents were being stupid, and that they had to realise that Australian kids can do what they want, because “they’re not in Vietnam anymore”. I have said things like that myself before, but for some reason I get so uncomfortable when other people criticise my family or culture like that. It’s not fair. He also keeps asking me if I’ll still be able to make it to Matt’s 21st, and I just don’t know the answer. He’s stressing me out a bit.
Mẹ has barely looked at me since I failed the exam, and I can’t look much at her either. Every time I do, all I see is disappointment. When will she be proud of me?
4 June 2005
Weekends are so boring when you’re grounded. At school yesterday, Nina, Brit and Soph were talking about going to get sushi and see a movie today, and how Duncan was going to drop Nina off after their cute date night sleepover tonight, and they were all so excited – and then Brit looked up at me and her face fell and she said “oh sorry, Mai” and the rest of them apologised too, but it just feels so shit.
And so here I am, while my friends are out doing fun stuff, sitting here in my room by myself. I asked my mum if I could at least hang out with Linh while I’m grounded and she said no, but I guess since their relationship is really suffering (if it even exists anymore) that makes some sense. I miss her and I miss the baby, and the only way I have been able to tell her what’s happening is one phone call I made off Nina’s phone the other day at lunch.
All I’ve been doing is sitting in my room reading, listening to music, writing in this diary – but I don’t want to remember this feeling. Thinking about Daniel, wondering if he’s thinking about me. Sometimes I’ll watch Home and Away with Bà in her room, and it’s nice, just being there with her quietly, but it’s not what I want.
I feel really isolated.
9 June 2005
In the afternoons, I wait by the bus stop to see Daniel’s bus going by. Sometimes I see him and I wave; other times I don’t, but it’s comforting to know he’s there. Brit has been making the effort to talk to him a little on the bus for me, since I can’t do it myself at the moment. Today she said she’d never noticed the way his eyes light up when he smiles. I noticed that the first time I ever saw him.
The note he wrote for me today was really weird, though. He wrote about how things seem really dark without me right now, and that sometimes he lies in bed and thinks about what it would be like to not be alive. He said he doesn’t want to freak me out too much, and that he doesn’t want to die, but that being alive isn’t appealing. He wrote that I’m the only person who understands him, and that he thinks we were made for each other, which made my heart flip when I read it, because I think that too. I am so glad that he chose me, and that he trusts me, but I’m a little bit scared as well. I haven’t written a note back yet because I’m not really sure what to say.
14 June 2005
Nina gave me another note from Daniel today that Duncan gave to her. He asked me in it why I hadn’t responded yet, and if it was because of my “totalitarian” parents, and then wrote about how we should run away together when we’re 18, to live somewhere where we don’t have to deal with any of that. I feel like he’s being so dramatic, but I guess I wouldn’t really understand – his parents are divorced and mine aren’t, so maybe I’m just being judgmental.
He also mentioned that Matt’s 21st is next Friday, and said he would love it if I could come. By then I won’t be grounded anymore, but I wonder what excuse I could come up with to be able to go.
It’s been one month and one day since Daniel and I properly hung out last. I miss him and I just want to see and talk to him and hold his hand.
18 June 2005
Me came into my room tonight and wanted to talk to me. Since I failed the exam, and since I’ve been grounded, we haven’t been talking much – not ignoring each other, but she’ll just come in of a morning and tell me to get up, say goodbye when I go to catch the bus, say hello when I get back, call me down for dinner. We haven’t talked a lot beyond that, and mostly I have tried to keep to myself, just staying in my room cuddling Jackie and reading and writing. It’s nice how dogs just get it when you’re sad.
But tonight she came in and she wanted to chat, and as soon as she sat down on my bed and put her hand on my knee she started to cry. She said she was heartbroken that I had failed the exam, but also that she knew she had been really hard on me, and that it was all only because she wanted me to do all the things she couldn’t do when she was in Vietnam. She told me about how when she was a little girl, she had desperately wanted to learn music and become a famous pianist, but her family was too poor and she never had the chance, and how she felt like I had all these opportunities and was throwing them away. I barely said anything, just sat there and squeezed her hand, and then I said I was sorry for letting her down, and we hugged, and she told me she loves me and is proud of me anyway.
And then – miracle! – she gave me my phone and computer back, and told me I was a good girl. So I guess my grounding didn’t last the whole time it was supposed to.
Mums are so weird.
Of course, I called Daniel straight away as soon as she left my room, and the moment I heard his voice everything seemed like it was going to be alright again. We said we’d meet in the paddock tomorrow afternoon after school, just for a little bit, and I can’t wait to see him.
19 June 2005
It was soooo good to see Daniel again today! We only got to hang out for about an hour, but he gave me a CD he had made for me and we just lay there holding hands for a little while, and I rested my head on his chest. He didn’t say any of that weird depressing stuff today – I guess he’s been feeling alright.
He said “I missed you so much I thought I was going crazy”, and “you’re lucky I love you because I don’t think I could’ve handled that ethnic parent shit with anyone else” and I wondered if I had misheard, but he squeezed my hand and he said it again.
I love you.
I can’t believe he said that to me, and I said it back to him, and it felt really right, and he kissed me so hard, and we moved behind the trees and he stroked my legs, and he kept breathing those words into my lips, but then his hand moved up my skirt a little more and I remembered where we were, so I pushed him away, straightened up my blazer and said we should go home.
I love you.
He loves me.
Things at home seem normal again. I’m really glad for that, and I think my parents have noticed that I seem a lot more spirited. Thank god they haven’t asked why.
22 June 2005
Daniel and I have said “I love you” every day since the other day, and it feels more exciting every time. I always wondered what it would feel like, and now I know. I really really think I’m in love with him. Whenever someone says his name, my heart seems to almost jump out of my mouth and it feels like I’m falling off a cliff… That’s how fast my heart races. Sometimes I just sit there in a complete daze thinking about him. All my friends think I’m crazy, and people say you can’t be in love when you’re only 16. I don’t think they’ve ever experienced it themselves. It’s not like any other feeling I’ve ever had before. I need to tell him that he has bad breath, but other than that he is really amazing. I think it’s real this time.
I asked him if I could bring a friend to Matt’s party, just so my parents wouldn’t be too suss, and he said yes. Soph immediately said no when I asked her – I don’t know why she’s being so weird – and Nina has plans already, so Brit is going to come with me. Maybe we can find a cute guy for her too, heaps of Matt’s uni friends will be there and everyone knows how cool older guys are. I’m nervous but so excited.
25 June 2005
OMG, I have so much to tell you.
Matt’s party last night was so great! Brit’s mum dropped us off at the house at about 8pm, and Daniel had Cruisers for us – my favourite is guava. Even though my parents always tell me drinking is bad, I think it’s ok to do sometimes. I got to meet Daniel’s mum, Melanie, who was so friendly, and told me he talks about me all the time. Some of his cousins were there as well, and one of them said, “I didn’t know your girlfriend was Chinese” which was really rude and not even true, and Daniel just laughed and I don’t know if he understands how shit that feels for me, but I thought I’d better not cause trouble so I didn’t say anything.
Matt looks like an older version of Daniel, and he hugged me too and I gave him the gift card I’d bought him. His friends were playing heaps of drinking games, and one of them, Ben, was flirting with Brit the whole night – he was pretty cute too, in that really dorky Seth Cohen way. They ended up kissing, which is so exciting because Brit hasn’t kissed that many people before, and he’s a uni guy!
Eventually we went inside to Daniel’s room and he showed me all the concert posters he has up, as well as his guitar, which is a Stratocaster, like John Mayer plays, which is so cool. He played me a bit of a song he’s been writing, and it felt so special to have my name sung in a song like that. He leaned in to kiss me, like he always does, but it felt different this time. Maybe because we were finally alone, and we had all the time in the world.
We kissed so hard my mouth started to hurt, and his hand went up my shirt, and behind. He kissed my neck, unhooked my bra, and suddenly our shirts were off and his mouth was on parts of me where I didn’t know mouths were allowed to be, and I could feel something hard pushing against me. He reached down to my bits and started rubbing them, faster and faster, while he kissed all over my body. It felt so different to any feeling I’ve ever had before, but suddenly it hurt so much, and I cried out. I looked down and he had put a finger inside me, and I pushed him off and told him it hurt, and he said “what’s the big deal, Mai?” but it felt so bad, like something stinging me. I don’t know how else to describe it. I told him I didn’t want to do anything anymore, and he seemed kind of flustered, and I just felt so embarrassed.
I got Brit to call her dad to come and pick us up and take me home. When I got back, there was a text on my phone from Daniel:
“I don’t know what happened tonight, but I love you and I’m sorry. I’m such a fucking piece of shit and I don’t deserve you at all, I’d rather kill myself than hurt you…”
I just texted back and told him it was fine, that I’m fine. I just didn’t expect this to happen so quickly, or weirdly, I guess.
Nina said it’s not abnormal for things to hurt a bit if you haven’t done them before. I called Linh and told her right away, and she said not to do anything sexual if I don’t feel like I’m ready.
But if I’m in love, then why wouldn’t I be?
29 June 2005
I’ve been feeling weird the last few days about everything. Things seem normal between Daniel and me – even after all that, we are still chatting and saying I love you and I feel really close to him – but every time my parents speak to me, I feel like I’m lying to them.
And then I had the most fucked up dream last night.
The dream was a replay of everything that happened that night – kissing, him touching me, his erection pushing up against me. It makes me feel really weird, but good weird, to think about, and in the dream, leading up to the part where he fingered me and it hurt, it felt good weird too.
But then all of a sudden, in the dream, the door flew open and Bo Me were there, looking right at me, from me to him and back to me, and they were screaming that good Vietnamese girls don’t lie to their parents or have sex before marriage, and Daniel’s hands were still all over me, in me, and my parents wouldn’t stop yelling or looking at me, and my mother was crying, saying that she didn’t want her second daughter to turn out the same way as the first.
Then I woke up.
And even though it was a dream, I can’t look my parents in the eye today.
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.