Sleeping in the Rain
In the rain?
The blanket dries damp,
And the rain pours
from cumulonimbus eyes….?
Sleeping in the Rain
With nighttime comes loneliness. As darkness blankets the sky, streetlamps flicker up like fireflies, and my energy wavers like the last candlelight, loneliness consumes me. It’s there and I can’t deny it. I shield my heart by alcohol, by friends, by guys that I message randomly, but the moment my body hits the bed and my eyes close, my heart connects with my mind and it registers that I can’t be saved from this loneliness. Not yet.
You hurt me. It ruined me. But still…
I hope your chest becomes someone else’s pillow, that your hands become his gloves, and that your smile for him is enough to fill the place of a dozen roses. I know that the carpet won’t stop being my resting place for a while, that the salt of tears will continue to dry the back of my hand, and no amount of whiskey or wine will fill the hole in my heart. But this is just the loneliness. This is just nighttime. I know my own strength.
You hurt me. It ruined me. But
Still I rise.
I’ll take the Keurig machine, the sofa bed from downstairs, and the new microwave. You’ll keep the mattress, the old rice cooker, and the nuwave oven. The glassware with our names printed on we will toss while the canvas of the tree that guests stamped leaves on during our hand tying ceremony, keep it for memory sake.
Yours. Mine. Yours. Mine.
Wb sib fai sib fai.
Sib fai. Sib fai.
Household items, I can easily sib fai them all day.
As for family members and friends….
writing is an invitation for my true feeling to visit, an open door for my mind to connect with my heart….
clutching this pen in my righthand, unmoved, for a year, I’ve been afraid of the conversation that will happen when mind meets heart….
as seasons pass, I slowly accept that I can’t stop writing. I need to continue with my story even if I don’t want to. Even if I am afraid, I must write on….
when fate knocks on the door, you have to answer it
I hold her hands in my sweaty palms. “I’m happy,” I hear myself choke out to her.
She’s taken aback and studies me for a second before the tears well up in her eyes. She leans in for a hug, scans me, then draws me in again. Without a word, her silence tells me she is happy for me too. Around us, everyone is filing out of the pews, but we, mother and daughter – two sisters, are frozen in a long, tearful silence, frozen in a moment we both understand to be the start of a goodbye.
I am so thankful for the love I have experienced. I am so thankful for the life He has given me and for the people I have met along the way. I am thankful for the hardships that He has given me. He knew I had the strength for this job even before I did, and only I am strong enough to go through this.
And I am. I am strong. I will live on. I will be happy.
I have no other choice.
“For as long as I could remember, a long table lived in the middle of my parent’s dinning room and stretched out to the living room. Black metal folding chairs were crammed around to fit as many people as possible. People sat around this long table during all events: New Years, spiritual callings, healing ceremonies, and funerals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served at this long table. And yes, drinks!
Hmong liquor, herbal soaked liquor, homemade rice wine, all types of liquor, poured into a pair of green shot glasses served on a white plate and passed around. Each round full of speeches and people stalling. This was my world, my practice. A way of life I grew into and carried from Laos to America.
I’m now an eighty something year old diabetic with high blood pressure. My long overdue dentures are ready for pick up any day now at my dentist’s office. I can no longer drink the same. I’m forgetting certain dates and names. It’s becoming difficult to summon clear memories and past events. I’m someone who watches the house all day long while everyone who is left living in the house has gone to work or school. I spend most of my day in a slumber, occasionally taking small walks at the YMCA alone. I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who I don’t see at all.
But tonight, finally, tonight, I have a house full of my children and their children, sitting around my long table, eating, drinking, making plans to visit me more, and recalling memories of my drinking legacy.
One of my oldest daughters recounts an event where she met men of my generation, and upon learning that she was my daughter, they asked her to show them my shot. When she brought out regular sized shot glass, they refused it and said that was not MY shot. How quickly she learned the repercussion of not knowing about me that day.
My son-in-law’s reveal that before marrying my daughters, their families warned them about me, telling them to be careful at their weddings because they will be stepping into my home. “That guy loves to drink!” Oh, if only I was younger, then they would have truly seen love.
I stay up late with my children tonight, breaking my sleep routine, teaching them how to pour a shot because they are imbeciles. Drinking was different back then. The intimacy and rules of drinking have changed for the worse. It’s only right they learn the proper way now before they ruin my image in the future.
And lastly, before I never get the chance to again, before the night ends and they return to their normal lives and I to mine, I show them what my shot looks like so that those fools don’t embarrass my name the next time someone asks them to show Ntsuab Zeb’s shot.”
Lost in a sea of green, I waited.
Though Mom told me to go on ahead, I didn’t see a path so I waited. Surrounding me was a field of leafy greens, all growing in every direction, all wild and free.
Where is the path? Where are the mustard greens?
When I told mom last week that I wanted to learn how to make zaub pos, pickled mustard greens, I didn’t expect that she would take me out to her plot of rented land to pick the mustard greens in her garden. For some dumb reason (myself to blame), I thought she would have the ingredients ready and I would just come over to her house to make the zaub pos. I was not discouraged by the new task though.
Since I had free time and needed a break from writing in the library, I met up with her on a Wednesday afternoon at her plot of land to handle this task.
“Why haven’t you started picking yet?” Mom demanded when she found me unmoved and searching for some direction in this crazy garden. Empty was the bucket by my side.
Unlike the library, there was no “call number” to search up where an item was in this garden.
“All these are zaub ntsuab,” she informed. Mom marched ahead of me to the tree stump next to the patches of zaub ntsuab, and in one quick motion, she struck her knife into the stump like a great Amazonian fighter. The blade sunk deep enough to keep the knife upright. I noted multiple knife marks on the stump as Mom immediately bent right on top of a patch of greens, snapping a head of mustard green off its root. Swiftly peeling off the bug bitten leaves and flicking them to the ground, she tossed the remaining good leaves into the bucket and grabbed for a new head. After plowing through a few, she stood up. “Here you continue.”
She walked back to the stump, plucked her knife out like King Arthur, and commanded, “Make sure to pick the young ones. They make for better zaub pos.” She jabbed her knife in the air towards an unspecified area up the hill. “I have some tauj dub I need to get.” With that, Mom marched deeper into her garden, occasionally slashing her knife at any leaves or twigs that stood in her way. In a few seconds, the kawm that was swinging on her back disappeared into the thick vines of string beans, and silence surrounded me.
What the heck are tauj dub(s) again?
Disoriented in Mom’s garden, I turned to the patches of mustard green. It had been years since I was in a garden or farmed with Mom. The leaves were all green in color, but there were not the same shapes, so I knew they were all not mustard green. Tentatively turning over leaves, I realized some were smooth and round, some trimmed with jagged edges making them look like they were prickly, and some had yellow flowers growing out of them.
Referencing the ones Mom had already picked and mindlessly blaming Mom’s disorganized way of planting to make me feel better about myself, I hesitantly picked the ones with jagged edges. My bucket wasn’t even half way when I saw a thick worm gliding along the roots of the greens making me wished I had chosen a pair of rubber boots instead of flip flops. I definitely was more comfortable at a library than at Mom’s garden.
But at the garden, I was in Mom’s world, and the bucket on my side was not the only thing being filled with contents as questions began filling my mind too.
I imagined gardening in her plot of land was like leisure reading to her. Before eating organic became a health trend, Mom had already been eating organic. Long before I learned about GMOs and health regulations through reading, Mom already knew the differences through taste and experience in the garden.
A place to let her mind wander, a place to escape the harsh realities of life, I wondered about all the knowledge she had stored in her garden. Motherless at a young age and the oldest daughter, Mom took care of her younger siblings until she married as my dad’s second wife when she was “already into womanhood or “tiav hluas nkaj lawm,” (18- to 21-years-old according to what she previously told me).
How did she learn to navigate the garden like how I navigate words on a page? How did she come to be the person she is today? Did her mother ever get a chance to teach her what she’s teaching me? And who taught her how to make zaub pos?
Soon my first bucket brimmed with what I hoped were mustard greens, and Mom returned caressing a bundle of some other leafy vegetables I could not identify. She helped me pick enough mustard greens for zaub pos until we filled all three buckets.
“Come help me with the tauj dub,” she commanded, which my memory of the word came back then. Lemongrass! Duh!!
On the pathless way to the tauj dub, I noticed Mom wore flip flops like me too but waltzed through the garden like she was gliding on carpet. She lead me deep into a hip-high, grass-like field of lemongrass where we uprooted a dozen stalks. Within a quick five minutes, our kawm was completely stuffed.
Before retiring home, she grabbed an armful of zaub paj, Chinese mustard greens, for me. I even got inspired by the fruitful garden that I plucked a plastic bag full of string beans and broke off two qe taub from the vines for myself.
My mom may not know how to write or read, but in this garden, she wrote the garden like literature.
We often eat meals while our eyes are glued to a screen or with our left thumbs scrolling through Facebook. My trip to Dallas allowed me to tuck away my smartphone and to engage in conversations during meals. Here is my series of Unplugged Conversations – Travel edition.
Place: McDonalds at MPS Airport
Food: Grilled Chicken Burger, fries, and coffee
Topic: White Castle as Hmong Funeral Food
Fast, affordable, and easy when on the go, I’m usually stuffing a McDonalds burger down my throat while sitting in my car with the windows rolled down. At the airport, it was a nice change to sit on a table with my food spread out in front of me, friends, and an ample of time to burn before the flight to Dallas, TX.
Most my girlfriends and I are newly married folks and we are slowly navigating our complex roles as the Nyab. At the airport that day, upon realizing that most of my friends had married the oldest son, making them Nyab Hlob, we discussed the role of the Nyab Hlob. My mom emphasized to me about my younger sister being a Nyab Hlob, so based on that interaction, I just knew it was an important job but never really understood what made it so important.
In this conversation, I learned that one of the jobs if you’re a Nyab Hlob (according to a friend (I’ve done no fact checking here)) will eventually be to coordinate a special meal at your in-law’s funeral. Our idea started with catering through Lemon Grass because one of our friend recently catered her wedding with them and also because they make bomb-ass food.. However, we finalized that the best way was to get White Castle’s Crave Case because they all come in individually packaged boxes – easy to serve. We will put the burgers – still in box – on a plate with forks placed around the plate. The centerpiece of the table will be a pyramid created by stacking the case or small burger boxes together.
On some more serious notes, I don’t know how our mothers do it where they can cook a meal to feed hundreds of people at an event! It’s quite amazing!
I realize I am privileged to even be joking about the matters of being a Nyab or Nyab Hlob without feeling stressed. I feel thankful that I married into a family that is so understanding and respectful of me. I don’t feel pressured to become someone different or judged. It’s a much different narrative from the one that I was so afraid of and used to hearing about when I was growing up.
I was wearing my sage color shoulder-cut dress when my cute ass pranced into the Bruegger’s to order my normal smoked salmon sandwich on plain bagels and a house blend coffee. My hair was pinned up into a messy bun; I was feeling good. After about an hour sitting at Bruegger’s, I got up to use the bathroom, and when I looked at the mirror, I almost dropped dead!
I forgot to wear my breast gel petals!
Two beads perking clearly from underneath the thin cotton dress, the sight caused me to search the bathroom for anything to help me cover up, my mind retracing all the human interactions I had at Bruegger’s bagel that morning: The elderly woman in line, the man behind the counter, the people who looked at me when I moved across the room, the high school girls who sat next to me, the mom and son sat who sat across from me and ate their bagels and slurped their pink colored iced teas. The man behind the counter!! And he looked at me twice, asking if I wanted cream with my coffee!
Mortified, I had a scarf in my car and used it to cover up myself as I continued to do my work at Bruegger’s bagel, lamenting that women are subjected to buy and put on so many different pieces of clothing items! “We can’t just buy basic bras and wear it, we gotta buy stick on bras, strapless bras, bras for halter tops – even accessories for bras like that piece of plastic thing that cinches the bra straps together – all these different types of bras we gotta wear just so that it can look like we are not wearing them.” I wished I could have channeled an inner bra-burning attitude or even SAY aloud the word “nipple,” but I’m not gonna lie, I had to cover myself up my scarf to continue sitting at Bruegger’s bagel. My sister thought that I should have left when I later told her the story, and frankly, I don’t know how I was able to continue, but I guess I was not about to leave just because of that since I was finally sitting at my favorite spot by the window.