The Love of My Life
Khê Kinh Kha
It’s very late at night. Every thing is quiet around here except for the sound of the rain falling outside on the roof, on the branches, and on the ground. I feel loneliness taking over my thoughts. I long for the warmth of the tenderness you’ve given me since we fell in love more than five years ago. The kind of love I’ve never had before in my life, the kind of love I can’t put into words. It’s just a feeling; a deep feeling in my soul, in my mind, and in every moment of my life. You are part of everything I am. Whenever I think of you, I always thank God for sending his angel into this world and being a part of my life. I’ll never forget how lucky I’ve been since the day we fell in love with each other.
I wish I were a poet and could express my feelings for you in a love poem.
Has it really been that long, my darling? Though I know it has, it’s amazing to me how my life has changed since the day I met you at the book signing section at the Barnes & Noble book store. From a distance, I admired that long, black shiny hair running down your shoulders and ending somewhere behind your back. Your big eyes, kind of black mixed with gray, are very different from those of oriental women. When you looked up at me from the signing table, I could feel the magic in them. They really took my breath away. I remember you had asked me a few times to whom you should sign the book. I replied, “ To Joe, no… , I meant “To Nam with love…”. You smiled, wrote and signed… Then you said, “ I like your name. My brother’s name is Nam too, meaning Viet Nam…” “Mine too. My dad gave me that Vietnamese name. He loves Viet Nam. He was there in the late 60s”.
Five years have passed full of memories and challenges for me. Our relationship has changed my life from dull and boring to fun and exciting. But things did not go entirely well for me. At first I got so many strike outs. I was very focused on winning your heart but was getting nowhere. Even though I felt you kind of liked me, I could not get any response from you. I sent you flowers, gifts, letters, books and more flowers. I was so frustrated and depressed. Even worse, one day I found out that some young lawyer had stolen your heart. I almost gave up until one day I told my Vietnamese college buddy all about you and my problems. He said that I was focusing on the wrong people, and that my problems could be fixed but needed planning and time. I told him I have a lot of time but planning? I didn’t have a clue. So he jotted down a few things I needed to do to “tấn công” you. He also promised to help me but with a price tag – a few six packs of Heineken and “đồ nhậu” each weekend while I was in training. I think it was worth it. Besides he is my college buddy and I will also do some “nhậu rai rai” with him while we are working on the “chiến lược” any way. My buddy kept on asking why in the world I want to “hành hạ” my “cuộc đời”. Chasing a Vietnamese girl who has brains and looks is just like committing suicide or “đời tàn trong ngõ hẹp” or something like that. He said this kind of girl is so “làm tang va` khó chịu” and “õng a õng ẹo”. According to him, dating a Vietnamese girl from a large family is just like dating everyone in the family – from grandma, grandpa to parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts and pets… The whole nine yards. That is why he said I focused on the wrong people, and that I needed to win the hearts of those around you first.
The next few days, we set out to do some serious shopping. We purchased all kinds of books from “Tập Nói Tiếng Việt Trong 7 Ngày”, “Đọc & Viết Tiếng Việt Thông Thạo” to magazines such as Văn, Văn Học, Hợp Lưu, and Gia Đình Phụ Nữ. We also picked up free newspapers, magazines in the restaurants and/or in the oriental food markets. We bought Anh-Việt Việt Anh tự Điển, Tự Điển Chính Tả Tiếng Việt… then some CDs “Học Tiếng Việt”, “Tân Nhạc”, “Ngâm Thơ”, “Kịch”, and “cải lương”… As a matter of fact we bought anything that beared the word Vietnam on it… These items filled up half of my living room.
Then, I had to learn to say all kinds of hello such as “chào ông, chào bà, chào bác, chào cô, chào em, chào anh…” and all kinds of “dạ” like “dạ, dạ vâng, dạ đúng, dạ thưa đúng, dạ có, dạ không, dạ thưa không”. All of these are just for Yes or No. I always got a kick out of using “Dạ không” because “Dạ không” is equivalent to “Yes No”, but it really means “No” in your culture. Then I learned to “vòng tay” and “cuối đầu” each time I “chào” someone. I felt very awkward to “vòng tay” because I have kind of long arms. It makes me feel like I was trapped by the cops. There are some words that I have to either completely avoid or be very careful saying them, such as “Phúc” or “Ca’c”. I had so much fun with learning and trying to pronounce these correctly. Usually, I was beaten after each training section. My mouth, my tongue, and even my face were tired from trying to “uốn lưởi” to speak Vietnamese. After a number of these “lớp học”, my buddy started taking me around to his Vietnamese friends’ families, oriental markets, music shops, and Vietnamese restaurants so I could practice what I’ve learned so far. These practice trips were very helpful, making me feel more confident.
Eating Vietnamese food is a subject by itself. According to my buddy, I not only need to eat and get used to the taste and smell of the Vietnamese food, but also have to eat them with “ớt hiểm”. He said those who “ăn cay” are the jealous (or ghen) type of men, and “ghen” means “yêu”, because if you don’t “yêu” you don’t “ghen”. I had no problem with the food or the smell. It was actually very good and I loved it. It had very low calories, so I can eat all day without worrying about gaining weight. But the “ớt hiểm”, oh my gosh, it’s not just “cay” it’s burning “cay”. I don’t know if he was pulling my leg about eating “ớt hiểm” or not, but every time I bite on the “ớt hiểm”, my tears ran down. My mouth and my throat were on fire. Then I have to chuck down bottle after bottle of cold Heineken just to cool off, so eventually I was drunk like a dog. I “cho chó ăn chè” or sometimes passed out on the floor. Each time my friend just shook his head and said, “Đúng là mày bị bùa yêu của con nhỏ luật sư cà chớn rồi”.
I was just like a “trẻ thơ” learning how to walk. I took one step at a time, slowly but surely. I “đi từng bước một” to win your family respect, from grandma, to parents to your siblings. I even made friends with your dog.
After that it was an easy road to your heart, and the rest is history.
Five years, my darling. Five precious years full of sweet and fun memories. Often, I just simply close my eyes and think of you. I would see you completely. If I think of summer, I see you lying on the beach, soaking up the sun. I would see your hair spread out on the sand and fluttering softly in the ocean breeze. I would see us walking hand in hand beneath the stars in the summer nights. And I would see us making love for the first time in my mini van, during the fireworks of the 4th of July, five years ago. When I think of Fall, I see you wandering through the woods, admiring leaves turning colors and I see you reading to me the new Autumn poem you wrote the night before:
Autumn leaves, autumn leaves
where will you be
in this world when you leave
will you go by my homeland
will you say hello to my Vietnam
will you kiss my mom and my sisters
will you hug my friends and my lover
will you embrace my poor people
Autumn leaves, Autumn leaves
will you wander the dried rice fields
will you walk the dirt shell-pocked roads
will you stroll the burnt forests
will you climb the scarred mountains
will you swim the sorrowful rivers
Or when I think of Winter, I feel the warmth of your body against my own as we sit next to each other, in front of the fireplace, looking out into a yard full of snow, and you fall sleep in my arms. I also see you sitting at the table wrapping all those Christmas gifts and writing Christmas cards.
Even when I am far away from you, lonely in a hotel room at night, I often find myself wondering what you’re doing. I might imagine simple things that you do; combing your hair, washing your face, brushing your teeth, or writing at your desk. I also imagine you winked your eyes to send me a message, pouted your lips to show your “hờn giận”, or curled up on the couch when you want to be pampered. These little things you do always make my heart warm.
My darling, what I really want to say is that you are my everything and my dream. You always mean so much to me. You are the love of my life and I couldn’t imagine a life without you.
With all my sincere love,
Khê Kinh Kha