Early on a bright July morning, I awoke with a smile. I was determined to make
this day as good as possible. I always felt out of place in my family, so
waking with a smile was sometimes a test of strength.
I am a Vietnamese-American. My parents traveled to San Francisco, California
when they were newlyweds. There was nothing to keep them in Vietnam, after both
sets of my grandparents had died.
Once my father, Bishamon, had settled himself and his young bride in this new
country, my mother became pregnant with their first child. That child turned out
to be a strong, beautiful boy they named Takeo. He was to be his father's heir,
as was customary. Their next child came a couple of years later, me Hanako. And
their final addition to the family was my little sister, Tora.
I have been sheltered from a normal, American childhood until I turned
thirteen, when my parents decided I was old enough to make my own decisions, except on
whom I will marry.
On this particular day, I stopped at my record player and started the B-side of
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. After all, what better way to celebrate
Ringo Starr's birthday than to play the Beatles new record? I continued my
normal routine, getting dressed and ready to hang around with my best friend,
"What is that awful sound?" Tora asked nose scrunched up in a tiny ball on her
"It so happens that it is "A Day In The Life", by the Beatles. Get with it,
Tora." I sunk to Tora's level and stuck my tongue out at her.
If a simple confrontation wasn't bad enough, I now had to deal with my parents
at the breakfast table. I sat down quietly, taking my normal spot across from
my mother. "He's a very nice boy," I heard my mother say.
"He hangs around a little too much. I do not believe he's sincere. I think he
may want to only marry off well. Akihiko is strong, but he does not know what he
wants." Bishamon, the typical strong, leader of the family, was by all means
the exact physical opposite of his personality. Being short and small, many were
not intimidated by him. Only we, obeyed his every command, because we knew how
his temper could get the best of him at times.
Ruchi, my mother, on the other hand, was nearly the same physically as her
husband, but her stature matched her personality: small, quiet. "Akihiko is a good
boy. What is wrong with not knowing what you want so young? You did not seem to
know what you wanted when we were married." Ruchi mumbled something in her
native tongue and finished her breakfast. I only wished my parents had taught me a
little more Vietnamese than what I knew. I would like to know exactly what they
said when they argued, or when they whispered in public about other people.
"Mother, why are you talking about Akihiko so much?"
"Well, if he is to be your husband-"
"He will not! I refuse to take his hand marriage, Mother." My manufactured
smile turned into a frown.
"If this is the boy your father is to choose, you are to honor him and respsect
his decision." Ruchi sat, waiting for me, her eldest daughter, to acknowledge
I sat there for a moment, taking in the tension. Bishamon hadn't spoken yet,
but I knew it would be coming if I said anymore. "Why should I marry someone
because Father chooses him? Shouldn't I be in love with the man I am to marry?"
"Akihiko is a strong, determined boy. He will be a good husband." Bishamon
glared at me, and I backed away from the conversation. That's when Tora came
downstairs, only to make matters worse.
"You know, if I had my choice, I would be with Akihiko. He's really nice."
I shot Tora a nasty look. Tora may have looked exactly like a younger version
of me, but we are not at all alike. Tora, no matter what it meant, obeyed my
mother and father. I sincerely believed if Bishamon had asked her to kill, she
would do it with a "Yes, Father."
But I thought sisters were to stick together, through good and bad. Tora must
have never heard of that. I had had enough of this. "That's an interesting
viewpoint, Tora. If you like him so much, why don't you marry him!!" With that, I
stormed out of the house.
I took comfort in driving my brand new 67' cherry red Mustang which my parents
viewed as a good American car. It was the only thing to get me away from the
confines of Bishamon, Ruchi, and their traditional values. I headed down Syracuse
Avenue, to pick up Maeko. They would probably drive around for an awhile, and
then end up at Joe's Hamburger Palace, our usual hangout.
"Hey, Hanako. You're a little early. Get into it with your folks already?"
"Yeah. It's a long story, let's just go."
We drove around San Francisco for about an hour, and then stopped at our
hangout. "They think once he proposes to me, I'm set in life. They just don't get
that I want to be in love, not loved by someone who wants my family's
inheritance," she said as the waitress dropped my plate of food in front of me, "thanks."
"I think you need to try and tell them that." Maeko, the tall, skinny, athletic
friend of mine that didn't get how determined my parents really were.
"You don't think I haven't? Maeko, you should be just one time to see how
adamant they are. They just won't let it go!" I was frustrated, so much that I
pushed my plate of fries until in made a clinking noise against my soda glass.
"Didn't they like Naoko?"
"No. Naoko was not some they would approve of. His parents weren't rich enough
for my father." I frowned once again. Naoko was not just an ex-boyfriend. He
was also a very painful memory to me, a wound better left unopened. The scar
unfortunately rests against the skin, easily visible to the male species eager to
tear it with their undermining looks. Whatever possessed me to think that boys
were interested in my mind must have been caused by hours of brainwashing. They
liked me for two reasons, body, and dowry. Which was better always ended up
being a tie in my book but more often than not, it was both. A depressed sigh
escaped my lips and the subject was dropped into the dark recesses of my lonely,
broken, bitter, heart. I twirled my fry in little figure eights throughout my
warm ketchup on my nearly full plate. Somehow, the events of this mourning made me
feel more like vomiting than eating.
"Hey did you hear about that place where all the teens are hanging out?" Maeko
asked trying to cheer me up.
"Are you talking about that street where all those druggies hang out. All they
do is have orgies and listen to rock n' roll music while we have to pay taxes
for their sort to end up in prison cells," I replied mockingly like my parents.
"So I guess they saw that article about it in the paper yesterday?"
"An educated guess indeed."
"I don't know it could be interesting. After all these are the type of people
who will most likely be visiting me in my mental health clinic after I go to
"No, more like the people who's parents will visit you regularly two or three
times a week."
"I can't wait to go to college. Did you know I'm in the top quarter of our
"Yes, but you know the only reason your parents are letting you go is so you
can meet an even richer man to marry than John, right?"
"I know and I do plan on finding someone who's richer and that I love."
"You have some far out dreams. Hell, I'd settle for someone I knew loved me for
me, assuming they exist but it might be a while and if I don't get my parents
out of the dinosaur age than I might get stuck with some creep like Akihiko."
"Anyone's better than him, including a criminal."
"Tell me about it. Or on second thought tell my parents about it. Ugh, Tora
made me so mad the way she was defending him. I wanted to punch her teeth out but
that wouldn't be 'ladylike,' and you know how my parents are about anything
remotely resembling feminism."
"Well, you know how parents are. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." I simply laughed at my friend's semi-ignorant comment. Her parents were so easy on her. She didn't know what tortures I went through on a daily basis.
After visting Maeko's house all afternoon, I returned home. It was after dark and I was late. I was so late that I had missed dinner. Bishamon would not be happy.
"Where have you been?"
"At Maeko's house, I told you!!" One thing about Bishamon was his strict rules. Follow them, or else.
"Why must you follow her around so? Do you not have a life of your own?"
"I do Father!" I yelled. It's not like he would hear what I said. He only heard what he wanted. "If you can't respect me, my friends, or my decisions, then you don't respect me at all!" I slammed my bedroom door in his face. That was the one thing I regretted. I knew exactly what Bishamon would do next. I heard his heavy, tired footsteps disappearing down the hall, to his own bedroom. Then the yelling started. It was in Vietnamese, so I didn't understand everything. A word here, a word there. It still didn't make much sense to me.
Then, I heard it. It was a terrifying sound, and I started to cry. Bishamon had just smacked Ruchi against the wall. Then he said, in English, "Teach Hanako to behave, or I will!"