This column is an ongoing experimental diary series exploring the life of a fictional teen Vietnamese girl, Mai.
1 November 2005
My head’s still spinning about the other night. It’s made even worse by the fact that Brit is gone for real, now. The party was the last time I’ll see her for a while, and though I know she’ll be back to visit sometimes, it’s just going to be really different without her.
The morning after the party, I wondered if everything had been a weird dream, except there I was with Daniel, and he kept saying “it’s okay, baby, everything’s going to be okay”. I asked Brit a bit about it, but she was really hungover, crying about Ben and their breakup, which neither of them even wants to happen but they don’t have a choice. So I didn’t get much out of her, but mostly she told me that it’s between Soph and me to sort out, and that she’d rather stay out of it.
I went home and spent the rest of the day asleep, which I don’t think my parents were too impressed with, but Bà Ngoại just laughed and said in Vietnamese, “let her be young while she’s young!” I wonder what kind of things she got up to when she was a teenager. She was really beautiful, I’ve seen all the photos.
Yesterday at school, everyone was talking about the party, and Soph wouldn’t meet my eye – not that she has for a long time, anyway. Nina reckons maybe this all has something to do with why Soph’s been acting weird towards me since I started going out with Daniel, but I wonder why she won’t just tell me. She’s gone from being icy towards me to now just being really awkward. I want to talk to her about it but I’m not sure how I can. I don’t know if it’s because she misses it when it was just us girls, but she was never so pissed at Nina for going out with Duncan. I don’t think she LIKES me, because that would be so weird, since we’ve known each other for so long and nothing like that has ever come up before. I talked to Linh about it and she said not to rule that out as a possibility. “Teenage girls are full of weird feelings, Mai,” she said to me, and I don’t think I’d ever heard something so simple but wise in my whole life.
I was so angry and upset at Soph for so many months, but now I just feel really sad and confused.
7 November 2005
Nina talked to Soph last night – I had told her not to, but she said she was going to try and at least dig into it a little bit, so I thought why not, because it’s better than I’ve managed to do so far. She said that Soph said Daniel’s not good enough for me and that I can do better, and also that I’ve changed since I started going out with him. I thought that was weird, because at the start of the year she was the one passing things along to him for me, but I guess he is my first boyfriend and I am working out how it all goes, so maybe I have been acting weird. Also, apparently Soph said that the whole thing was right under my nose this entire time, and I have no idea what that means but I’m too scared to talk to her about it.
Every time we walk past each other at school now, it’s not nasty like it used to be, just weird and quiet and a bit sad. I took her off my Top 8 on MySpace ages ago, but I haven’t deleted her and sometimes she’ll post bulletins with lyrics from songs we used to sing together. Today after school she posted one with the lyrics from Helena by My Chemical Romance:
“Can you hear me? Are you near me? Can we pretend to leave and then we’ll meet again, when both our cars collide”
14 November 2005
Tonight on the phone, Daniel asked me why he hasn’t met my family yet, when I’ve met all of his. He said he feels like I’m ashamed of him, or that maybe I would be more comfortable letting him meet my family if he was Vietnamese. That really hurt to hear. He knows all about Nick and Linh, too, and how much that tore my family apart, and kind of still does. Sometimes I think he doesn’t really get it, or is stuck in a dream world.
Because of how stressed I’ve been with everything, we haven’t had much of a chance to hang out. A part of me feels relieved about that, and then I feel so guilty, because I love him and I want to spend time with him. But whenever we hang out in his room and start kissing and his hand moves down towards my thighs, I get really nervous because I know that it will hurt. Even though I’ve done heaps of reading about vaginismus and explained it to him, and he’s been pretty nice about it, I can tell that he’s getting frustrated that we’ve been together for six months now and not gotten past second base. Since I am not able to tell my parents and can’t take myself to a doctor, I don’t know how long it’s going to take, and I don’t know if he’s going to be so patient the whole time. So it’s kind of been a relief that we haven’t had that alone time, because every time we do, I feel like I’m failing him.
So I told him I don’t know when he’ll meet my family – well, my parents anyway. I said he can probably come meet Nick and Linh and the baby one day, and he seemed satisfied enough with that. No one told me relationships were so confusing.
18 November 2005
Soph unblocked me on MSN. She appeared online today for the first time in months, and I know how often she’s usually on, so it wasn’t a coincidence. She has changed her display name to a lyric from one of my favourite Senses Fail songs: “Why did I ever let you inside my heart?”
I smiled when I saw her display picture, which is a photo we took on a mufti day when she wore her I Killed the Prom Queen shirt and tight black jeans with studs and sat in her locker and held a wilted rose, looking to the ground dramatically. I’d forgotten all about it.
We didn’t speak, but just seeing her name in my online list made me feel a little better – like maybe everything is going to be alright again eventually.
22 November 2005
Soph messaged me last night on MSN. She said she was sorry for everything, and that once she was able to gather her thoughts about it all, she’d message me again and we could talk about it, but for now she just wanted to say that she was sorry. I’m really happy that things seem to be progressing, but still confused, but I guess I’ll find out soon.
27 November 2005
I think Friday was the worst day of my life.
It was third period English when my phone started to vibrate in my pocket. I slipped my hand in and pressed ‘decline’. But it rang three more times, so I looked at it under the desk, and I had three missed calls from Mẹ’s mobile, and I knew something had to be wrong.
I put my hand up and excused myself to the bathroom, where I saw that there were four more missed calls. When my mum answered, I could barely hear what she was saying for all the loud sobbing she was doing.
Between gulping breaths, she managed to get out my name, and the words “Bà Ngoại”, and the way she said both sounded foreign, like a language I didn’t know. It felt like I was being burned from the inside out.
I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew I had to go to her. It all felt like a blur, and I ran back to the classroom and told Ms Albert what had happened, and then went to the front office, where I called my dad.
He picked up immediately.
“Mai, I’ve been trying to get through to you for ages. I’m on my way to pick you up at school. Bà Ngoại has gone into cardiac arrest, and we don’t know if she’ll make it.”
I hated how calm he sounded when everything was falling apart.
Half an hour later, Bố’s Lexus pulled up at the pickup bay. He floored the accelerator as he drove us to the hospital. We didn’t speak the whole way there; the only sounds were the road noise, and my rough sobs, and Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits.
I’m empty and aching, and I don’t know why, Paul Simon sang.
Bố kept his eyes on the road, looking blankly ahead.
I texted Linh: Bà in cardiac arrest. On my way to the hospital. Thought you should know xx
When we arrived at the hospital, Mẹ was sitting there with her head in her hands. She looked up and saw us, and ran straight to me, wrapping me in her arms.
“Con ơi,” she cried, cradling my head like a new born baby.
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.
Bà lay in the hospital bed, barely recognisable in a light blue gown. Her eyes were closed, as though she was in a distant dreamland, and tubes sprawled over her body like roots.
My phone buzzed. It was Linh.
Fuck! Are you alright? Is she alright?
I didn’t know how to respond, so I put my phone back in my pocket.
I felt guilty, but at the same time, I couldn’t really feel anything.
We stayed at the hospital overnight. Mẹ softly chanted “Nam mô a di đà Phật” over and over and over again, praying that Bà Ngoại would be okay.
In the morning I woke with tired eyes, and the day seemed like a stranger. For a moment, I forgot where we were, and I looked down at my hands, gripped tightly, and my school uniform from the day before.
The first sound I registered was hysterical sobbing.
I jerked up, suddenly hyper-aware of my surroundings. “Mai,” my mother was saying, over and over again. “Mai.”
“Mai,” Bố said, his voice steady, eyes low.
Neither of them needed to say anything else. I knew she was gone.
I got up, and I ran to call Linh. She picked up straight away.
“Mai! What the fuck, dude? I’ve been trying to get onto you for ages.”
“Sorry, Linh, it’s been a big night. Listen… Bà Ngoại has died.”
I heard her breath catch in her throat. “What? Fuck! Are you okay? Is everyone okay?”
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice shaking. “But I need you. I really, really need you. I need you to come back.”
“Oh, Mai,” she said, and she started to sob. “I don’t know if they’d want me there.”
“I need you!” I cried. I was shouting, and I knew it. A pigeon cocked its head at me, then took flight. I wanted it to come back. I didn’t want to be alone.
“I need you. I feel like I’m fucking drowning and I don’t know what to do. The house has felt so different since you went away, and Bố and Mẹ are a mess and I can’t deal with them alone. I really need you.”
We were both crying. I felt like I was on a different planet.
“I just don’t want to make a hard time harder for everyone,” Linh said. “I’ll figure it out and let you know. I love you, okay? I love you.”
The phone clicked, and I was alone again.
The rest of the day was a blur of crying and crying and more crying. I’d never seen my mum’s face look like that. I texted Nina and Daniel to let them know what had happened, and they both tried to call me heaps of times, but I didn’t feel like I could talk. I wanted to be alone, but the last thing I wanted to be was alone. I didn’t understand it.
My parents have begun to make funeral arrangements. They’ve already spoken to the teachers at school, and made sure that I don’t have to go in for the next week or so.
The house feels so weird and empty already. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.
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.