This column is an ongoing experimental diary series exploring the life of a fictional teen Vietnamese girl, Mai.
3 October 2005
Duncan’s been trying really hard to get Nina back. I guess he realised how massively he screwed up at the formal. He’s been calling her at all hours, and he even turned up at her house at 3am the other night holding a boom box playing Peter Gabriel over his head like a fucking idiot because he knows, just like everyone knows, about her weird crush on John Cusack (she keeps telling me that he’s “dad hot”, but I totally don’t get it). Anyway, Nina’s mum was not having a bar of it and ended up calling the cops on him because the boom box was so loud that it pissed off all the neighbours, so I think we won’t be hearing too much from him again. Apparently his mum was furious and has grounded him for the rest of the holidays and then some.
I think Nina’s doing alright. She said when she was in Bali she met some cute guys, but nothing happened – she just liked having attention from someone new. Lauren Edwards has tried contacting her too, but not to apologise, just to gloat about it, and how Duncan apparently told her that she’s a way better lay than Nina. It made my blood boil when I saw those messages, but I told Nina to just ignore it, and not to reply. We only have a year left of having to see her every day, I said, though in my head I knew that a year is a long time, and if the same thing happened with Daniel and some other girl in my grade I don’t think I’d be able to handle it.
I’m just trying to be there for her at the moment. The whole thing’s made me pretty cynical, though – we always thought Duncan and Nina would be together forever, but if they’re not, then what hope do we have?
7 October 2005
Nina, Brit and I had a sleepover the other night. We’re going back to school on Monday, and we’ll officially be in Year 12 then, so we figured we should have one last big hurrah before then, especially seeing as Nina’s been away for most of these holidays and I’ve been spending most of my time with my sister, so we haven’t seen each other much.
We went over to Brit’s house, and it was the first time any of us had seen her since she got the news about moving to Queensland. Her dad was there so we said congrats to him, but as soon as we were in Brit’s room without any adults in sight, we just cried. It’s going to be so strange without her. She said she’s been chatting to Ben about it all, and they’ve decided they’ll have to break up before she goes, because it’s not fair to either of them, and he’s at uni and going to heaps of cool parties and meeting people, and next year she’ll be at uni and meet new people then too. I was so sad for her when she told me – Ben’s the first proper boyfriend she’s had and it’s been going so well.
Nina finally opened up more about the Duncan stuff, I guess because all the emotions were openly flowing. She said she’s been surprised at how much she’s fine about it all, and she told us some stuff that I didn’t even know about, and it made me hate him. Like when he found a text message in her phone from Lachlan Wong, who we’ve known for years and none of us have even ever thought about in that way, and threatened to smash her phone because he thought she was cheating on him. And that once he refused to put on a condom when they were having sex, even though she said she didn’t want to do it without one, and he said if she really loved him she would do it, so in the end she agreed and just cried the whole time. It made me so angry to hear these things, and she cried while she told us, but I guess at least now she doesn’t have to deal with it anymore, which is good. Boys can be such pigs.
Brit said she’s going to have a farewell party closer to when she leaves. It’s going to be a Halloween theme, since it’s October and all. We were excitedly chattering away about it, but then Brit looked at her shoes and whispered, “Mai, I hope it’s ok if I invite Soph. Even though, you know, all that weird stuff is happening with you, she’s still my best friend, and I want her to be a part of this before I leave.”
I told her of course it’s fine – if I could survive all those chem lessons with Soph as my lab partner, I can survive a party. She said Daniel could come too, and he’s already decided that we’ll go as the White Stripes, who are one of his favourite bands – it just means we have to wear all red, black and white. I have the perfect dress for it, and I can’t wait to see him in a suit – I bet he’ll look so good.
I saw Daniel tonight. We just went for pizza at the shopping centre near his house, and then walked around for a while, and then I hung out at his house for a couple of hours before I caught the bus home. We made out for a bit and then just lay in bed and read books together, and it was really peaceful, and for a moment I imagined us doing that very same thing but in my daydream we were 60 or 70 or 80, and it felt just as nice, just as perfect. It felt indulgent to think about, but it left something warm in the pit of my stomach.
11 October 2005
Yesterday was the first day back at school, and there was a nervous energy in all of our classes. All the teachers reminded us that this is the year that counts the most. The day seemed to drag on forever, and though it was normal in some ways, in other ways it was the strangest day of my life.
To be honest, I’m scared about the HSC. I know it’s just one thing in my life, that there will be many more chances to prove myself if I don’t do well, but it scares me so much. I want my parents to be proud of me… I want me to be proud of me. I know what I can do, and I know that the HSC shouldn’t be so difficult. But I know that the day I get my results, over a year away now but it’s closer than I can feel, will either make or break my life, and I hate that I am so dependent on a number to let me feel more or less alive.
None of my friends seem to care as much as I do. For everyone else, it seems like just another year – a stepping stone to whatever is in the future. For me, it feels like the ultimate test. I can’t fail again, not after the A.Mus thing this year. Every time I think about that, I feel hot with shame. I can’t see that look of disappointment on Mẹ’s face again.
20 October 2005
My parents have been trying to crack down on my internet usage now that I’m in Year 12. It’s annoying because I do need to go on the computer to write my essays and things, but they always know that I’m chatting on there too – usually to Daniel, of course. Sometimes I’m jealous of him because his mum is heaps more relaxed than my parents are. I guess he doesn’t need a high score anyway, since he’s hellbent that he’s going to be a famous musician and all. Maybe I can be like Courtney Love or something, well, the bit where she was married to a rockstar anyway – I don’t think I could start my own band.
There’s still texts, of course, but it’s 25 cents to send one so I don’t want to rack up too much of a bill, and my parents are pretty strict on me being on the phone for fun, if they hear it. It’s like we’re having a secret romance now, more than before, sneaking around and stuff. It’s kind of romantic.
I want to introduce Daniel to my parents one day because I love him and I want him to meet the family I love. I want him to meet Bà Ngoại and Pippin. I want him to meet Nick and Linh and Ella, though that one’s more likely – maybe I’ll organise a dinner or something for soon. But mostly I want them all to be together in the same place, like we used to be. I want him to see my family how I still see them in my mind.
I can count on one hand now how many days we have left before Brit moves to Queensland. It’s been weird and sad at school, knowing that things are about to change. The other day in chem, Soph softly mumbled, “I’m really sad Brit’s leaving,” and I was so shocked she was speaking to me that for a moment I couldn’t even say anything back. But eventually I managed “me too,” and we looked at each other and smiled for a brief second. It’s the most I’ve gotten out of her in months.
30 October 2005
Brit had her party last night. Daniel and I turned up in our cool White Stripes costumes – and I was right, he does look amazing in a suit – as well as the beer his brother had bought for us, and some Cruisers too because Brit loves them. Brit was dressed as a sexy cat, and Nina – classic Nina – went for the devil costume. “If only Duncan could see me now,” she laughed as we walked in. “What a fucking loser.”
The night felt like it stretched on forever, and maybe that’s because I so badly wanted it to. Every time I looked at Brit and saw her smiling, I felt my stomach sink – how is it fair that my friend has to leave when she belongs here with us? But I was so happy to see her so happy, to see her around everyone she loves here in Sydney one last time before she leaves. She was drunk and beautiful, and she told me so many times that she loves me, and I told her that I love her too. Ben was there too, and it broke my heart to see them dancing together, the way he looked at her, the way she looked at him, knowing that soon they wouldn’t be together anymore.
Soph was there – obviously Lauren and her other shitty friends weren’t invited, so it was just Soph on her own, though she was chatting to some of the other girls too. Soph was dressed as Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance, and she was holding one bottle of beer in each hand and kept intermittently screaming “I’M NOT OKAY!”, which I wasn’t sure if she meant as a cry for help or just, you know, singing that song. At one point, she stumbled up to me and her breath smelled like beer, and she said “hey Mai,” but it came out like a slur, and I felt kind of scared. And she said “there’s so much I want to tell you,” and she grabbed my face and tried to kiss me on the mouth. I was so shocked that I pushed her off me, not hard but firmly, and then she started crying, and she cried so hard it felt like it would never stop, and then she started coughing and a bit of vomit dribbled out, and Daniel ran over and helped her into the bathroom, and they were in there for a long time. I guess that much beer doesn’t agree with her.
When they came out, Soph was passed out in Daniel’s arms, limp like a sack, and he called a cab for her to take her home. “She’s really drunk, Mai,” he said, squeezing my hand. “She kept telling me that she loves you, and that she hates me, but she loves you so much that she doesn’t know what to do about it.”
My head felt like it was on fire. I don’t know if it was from the beer, or from the fact that Soph tried to kiss me. She’s kissed girls before for dares, but for some reason this doesn’t feel like that, and who would have dared her to anyway? I thought she hated me, but now she’s telling my boyfriend that she loves me and hates him? It kind of felt like I was going to throw up, too, just from all the thoughts in my head spinning around like a washing machine on the highest setting, trying to make sense of all of it, making sense of nothing.
I don’t remember much after that, except that I woke up in Brit’s little sister’s bed with Daniel spooning me, his hands in my hair, and I felt safe, and I wanted to bottle the feeling.
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.