When I was younger

When I was younger I used to dream about the kind of man I wanted to conquer me, the kind of man that was meant to devour me. When I was younger I used to dream about only having one who knew the taste of me; the feel of me, the scent of me.

When I was younger my mother used to tell me dirty jokes with mirth in her eyes and a smirk on her lips. Her pupils shone and a laugh slid from her throat. When I was younger my mother told me be careful who you kiss because from there it’s only slippery. I was eleven, frightened, confused, stunned.

When I was fifteen I was in lust with a Chinese-Vietnamese boy who smiled my name and begged for the first kiss from my lips. I was fifteen, frightened, with my clothes pressed against a boy and his navy blue sheets and the word No repeating through the air. I was fifteen when I saw his frustration, his hardness, his sadness. I was fifteen when I saw the disregard. The selfishness.

I was fifteen, in the kitchen of his home with his mother who told me she was disgusted by my fatness. That she was surprised how I could be Vietnamese if my mother allowed me to end up this way. I was fifteen, frightened, staring into the eyes of a boy who looked away.

When I was seventeen I met a Mexican man who smirked my name and promised me fairytales in first kisses. I was seventeen on my first date at my childhood wharf, impressionable and cradled under a twinkling Christmas-lighted sky surrounded by laughter, lightness. I was seventeen with a man women swooned for, who cupped my face with his hands and breathed promise into my heart. I was seventeen when I said Yes to someone else’s lips. I was seventeen when I felt special, seen, adored. Charmed.

I was seventeen, in the pink painted bedroom of my own home with New Years Champagne on my lips when I found his girlfriend of five years plastered against the same lips that stole mine. I was seventeen, frightened, understanding my mother’s slipperiness.

When I was eighteen I met a mixed boy running away from home who craved the rest of my firsts. I was eighteen, in my first hotel room without my mother, trembling, shaking, crying. I was eighteen when I held the remaining porcelain childishness of myself and violently smashed it against soiled white hotel sheets. I was eighteen, forlorn, pressed against cool white tile with hot tears puddling into my own chest and nobody else to blame.

I was eighteen, staring at his proud smile, with reddened eyes and ruptured skin he later told me he never noticed.

A Korean man drove me home after while I told him the story. I was only eighteen when he asked if he too could have a taste.

I was eighteen when I sat in his car, poor, broken, alone and one hundred miles from home. I was eighteen when I said No, and I was eighteen when he opened the doors of his car and dropped me at a bus station, leaving with the words Call me when you change your mind, I can change your life.

I was eighteen when a Twitch viewer sent me money to cover my overdraft, my bus ticket and a hot meal. I was eighteen when I sat alone, sobbing, on the first AM bus out of San Francisco with an old Asian bus driver that looked like my father who told me I looked like his daughter. I was eighteen when he told me that life has a way of always turning out alright.

I was eighteen, hardened, learning. Hopeful.

When I was twenty I swiped on an Italian Artist in New York who looked nothing like the men in my life and everything like the men in the magazines. I was twenty when I sat on his couch and was melted by his smile. I was twenty when he asked to kiss me and I was twenty when he was gentle, kind, slow. I was twenty when I learned how tongues could pass through smiles and hands could happily, consensually fumble for jeans. I was twenty when I learned how eagerness could be matched and sensuality could be sprouted from adoration. I was twenty when I learned of desire, of heat, of the kind of chemistry that can trickle from two minds and kindle into fire between four legs.

I felt the muscles under his skin and discovered derivatives of passion, of need, that could be possible without fear, revulsion, obedience. I felt the ripples in his stomach echo into deeper ripples of me; pressed the embers of his body against my lips and drank from the freedom of fire from my own creation.

I was twenty when I discovered the traction in my fingers started to fight the slipperiness of my mother’s warnings.

I was twenty, on my back with a smile, in a city for lovers, with a man I’d never see again and a memory set to repeat.

I was twenty when I discovered that the best kind of slipperiness was found nested, resting inside of me.

On August 17th we say Happy Birthday, Papa 🎈

I was a sobbing, inconsolable mess. I texted my oldest brother.

Do you think Dad can hear me from anywhere?

Yes, I really do.

Thank you love you.

I found a Bhuddist temple in Vegas. A golden, red-draped oasis in the middle of a bright summer heat.

My girlfriend took me, her steps echoing behind me on the rough gravel.

It was a plot in someone’s backyard; the red banner still shone with a display of luck and well-wishes for the New Year in Vietnamese.

It was simple, calming, littered with incense sticks and persimmons holding dreams, wishes, despair; fruitfulness and rot. Desperation paralleled by profound hope.

I touched the incense packet sitting at Bhudda’s feet.

This is so cool. How do you do this? My girlfriend looked at me and smiled.

I don’t really know. I smiled back, remembering my father’s instructions from my first funeral, my first altar. You light it, think of a prayer, and bow in respect.

The white lighter gleamed with sunlight near the incense tray. I picked it up, hasty, rushing. My fingertips burned on the scorching metal.

My girlfriend smiled again, reaching for the lighter in her purse.

I had come to temple on Father’s Day: desolate, filled with regret and despair at the choices of my mid-twenties. Lost, forlorn, angry at unknown gods and vengeful towards my own faith.

I lit my incense stick, the embers flared orange-golden. If this was a telephone to my father, what would I possibly want to say?

In the drive over I thought of all the things I wished for. All the things I wanted, and kept wanting. In the drive over I remembered the due diligence my father had for my wishes. The seriousness of completion for the most mundane list of ten-year-old things. A Sanrio notebook, stationary, pens. A day off, a trip to Costco; Cháo Gà at the place in San Jose one-and-half hours away, equal computer time to my brothers, a Hershey’s white chocolate and Oreo bar. The newest demin jacket from Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat, a matching Eckō Red tee. A forehead kiss, a goodnight story. For Superbowl Sundays to not be done on my birthday weekend and my father’s special nước-mắm-five-minute Prego spaghetti with a side of his Costco steaks.

I thought about him in his last year of life: the rapidly multiplying grays, the prolonged sighs, the slower shuffle of his feet and the violent snores in his sleep. I think about his tired, cold, stiff hands and valleys of forehead wrinkles, crows’ feet and smile lines.

I thought about the bliss he extended, the happiness he proudly shone to simple child-like eyes. His exuding gratefulness to the world for my existence. I thought about the joints that creaked in his back and his uneven legs when he picked me up. The way he smiled so widely walking me down the stairs, the excitement in the way he asked me about my sleep, my dreams, my thoughts. The absence of complaint.

I am twenty-seven now and exhausted. Burnt out, checked out, sobbing from 10-, 12-, 15 hour days. The tiredness sinks into my own skin, threatening forehead wrinkles, crows’ feet and smile lines. It will be 9 years of this for me. I remember my father when he died; 53 years of multiplied exhaustion for him. A duitiful first born son in a family of 8. A fascinated teenage scholar using textbooks as shrapnel and debris helmets. An emaciated almost-highschool graduate, a refugee-turned-Hong-Kong-prisoner. A fresh immigrant in America, alone and starving and charming; burdened and determined. A newly minted husband in the projects, bruised, bleeding, sore, strawberry-farming hands.

A newly minted father with an expectant, extravagant, wanting housewife and mounting debt. A forty-year old girl dad obsessed with her mother’s whims and selfish whines.

I sat in the drive there, thinking about him now: fifteen-years free, painless, happy. Light.

I held the incense clapped against my fingers. I bowed in prayer. The anxiety lifted, the incense flashed a montage of my father’s mirthful, teasing face. What if the bow isn’t from respect? But a natural, wishful hope for an incense-stick-shaped microphone to the ethereal.

My mind cleared. The warmth of the sun cradled my back, my neck, my arms. The warmth of my tears cradled my cheek, my lips, my chin. The words were easy.

Hi Papa. Happy Father’s Day. I love you so so so much. I miss you today.

I just wanted to say thank you so much. Thank you for the boys. Thank you for your love. Thank you for my Mom. Thank you for always watching us. I wish I could take you to the Steakhouse in the woods, but I still miss your instant-noodle-tom-yum-lettuce-and-flank-steak.

I’m going to be okay this year, I promise. Your little girl will be okay today.

I love you always.