Letters for Ms. Davis

Mentions of Ms. Davis may conjure up Andy’s mom for some of you, but I think of one of my favorite teachers.

I remember a time in fifth grade after the last bell of the school year, I wait for Ms. Davis to thank her for being a good teacher. She is a hard-ass; many would even call her mean, but I know better and think she deserves to know.

She sternly peers back at me through her librarian-like glasses and smiles. Then, I ask if she would like to be my summer pen pal, something I have never had before, and she is taken aback. Her stare softens while she removes her glasses, letting the pink beads catch around her flushed neck. She loves pink. With a glint in her eyes, she says, “Yes, of course! I would love to be your pen pal!”

I tell her I can’t get enough of her handwriting, and that she said something that stuck with me. She looks puzzled.

I recalled a day with my new friends, Tiffany and Sherri; we were hustling back from a break, late. I was never late, but I was with “the cool kids” and went with their (slower) flow. As expected, Mrs. Davis was waiting outside the classroom, immediately scolding us for running. Someone said, “Well, if we didn’t run, we’d be even later.” Mrs. Davis retorted, “If you weren’t late, we wouldn’t have to run.” The other two girls side glanced back at me and rolled their eyes as they half-halfheartedly said, “Yes, Ms. Davis…”

I mimicked the behavior and she stopped me with, “Excuse me?!” The other girls knew not to stick around when that tone reared its head. She said, “Don’t roll your eyes!” With faux defiance but true remorse, I quickly made the uninspired “other-kids-do-it” argument. She said, “Yes, but you are not them, and this is not you. YOU are not the type to roll your eyes. YOU are better than that!”

I was dumbfounded, panged with guilt, wanting to defend my friends who are good kids, but also knowing she was right. It was a prime example of self-imposed peer pressure, and I was sorry for not being true to myself, and especially for disrespecting her.

I look up, my eyes refocusing on the present Ms. Davis, who, with tears in her eyes and nose now the shade of her nails and shirt, comes over to hug me. She says, “This is you. Thank you. Now go enjoy your summer. Your friends are waiting… and no running!”

I still have the letters somewhere, and the stationary I bought specifically for our summer. It didn’t feel right using it for someone else. It was a floral lavender and pink set that I knew she’d love. I wonder where she is these days. Wherever she is, I hope she knows what she still means to me, and that every time my patience, her influence persists. Thank you, Ms. Davis.


Image credit

  1. Pixar Theory: The TRUTH Behind Andy’s Mom!

Anniversary Update | Hi Dad

Hi Dad,

A lot has happened in the last year, and even if it’s a relief you don’t have to deal with it, if only you were here to deal with it with us.

  • COVID-19 is still rampant in the US because people struggle with caring about themselves versus others, while the rest of the world knows they’re not mutually exclusive. If you were here, you may convince Mom to stay in, but then I’d have to worry about you both.
  • Racial relations have elevated from where not being racist is no longer enough, and being anti-racist is an active choice. It’s too bad I never got to know more about your thoughts on matters like this.
  • I did my first oil change! Took three hours, BUT it’s a step up from when you taught me how to check my oil and coolant levels.
Vietca's First Oil Change
  • I started dating and met a lot of… different types. They weren’t keepers, but the stories sure are. Remember the kid who “proposed” to me from another car at a Houston intersection? I still have the ring.
  • I went camping for the first time in years AND finally saw a bear in the wild! Remember that huge bear you got me when I was four, and someone stole it off the truck on moving day?
  • I built my first computer. I mean, I kinda built the others, but was more hands on this time. The first one you got me had a black and green screen. I just found my diary entries on floppy disks.
  • My friends helped me make a pumpkin Halloween costume, but everyone thought I was a strawberry, hot chili, or tomato. I was a… Viet Cà (cà = tomato in Vietnamese). Now that I think about it, I think you told me my first pun, in Vietnamese no less. Something about a lady with a lemon waiting for a boy with a bottle, haha.
  • I used my bilingual skills to make students feel more comfortable in the classroom! Remember the Vietnamese teacher who said my name wasn’t real, and seven year-old me said if she didn’t know it was, she’s not qualified to teach us? I got to spend the whole summer with you learning to read and write.
  • My friends and I had a fierce debate about how to close takeout boxes. I think I won. Remember that bigger-than-me barrel of fortune cookies from your restaurant? I’m taller now, but still collect fortunes. I have a feeling you had something to do with me getting this one.
  • Mom needed a couple of surgeries, and was stubborn about letting others care for her. Guess it runs in the family. She’s better now because we caught it in time. I still wish you told us sooner.
  • I visited Filoli Gardens for my first time, and it was absolutely beautiful! I still love Christmas as much as I did when you bought us our first Christmas tree in the first house we lived in together.

Finally, the Chargers didn’t do very well, but at least the AFC West won it. I still remember that Chargers-Steelers game we watched together that led to the Super Bowl. They’ll get there… soon, I hope.

Sorry, that was a lot, but it was all to say that however much you missed doesn’t amount to how much I miss you this year, today. It was nice catching up.

Love, Việt Ca

Actual Hindsight for 2020

I am really excited about this next year for a multitude of reasons, but I’ll give you 20, naturally:

20. I will continue to shamelessly execute good (or “bad”) wordplay, particularly this joke since the next chance won’t be until 2120. Fun.

19. Some of the goals I set are oldies, but still goodies. Persistence.

18. Some of the goals I set are oldies, but defunct. Follow-through.

17. Some of the goals I set are newbies, but necessary. Growth.

16. I am involved in far too few activities… Variety.

15. … far too much. Balance.

14. I will make sustainable changes to better care for my body… Health.

13. … mind… Knowledge.

12. … and soul. Inspiration.

11. I will renew interests that (used to) make me me. Invest in.

10. I will take a deeper dive into my finances. Invest out.

9. I will cut back on aimlessness… Intention.

8. … idleness… Action.

7. … and self-doubt. Confidence.

6. I know more of what I do and don’t want. Clarity.

5. I want to put myself out there more. Creativity.

4. I want to put myself out there more. Vulnerability.

3. I want to put myself out there more. Love.

2. I want to get the most out of each moment. Life.

1. I will continue to shamelessly be happy being me, and put myself first more often. Vietca. (Already getting a head start on #20!) #seewhatididthere

If you have a goal, let’s succeed, or try again, together! This century is no longer a teenager, so make room for our Roaring 20s! Good luck, everyone, and Merry New Year! Going out with a boom… er… many booms!

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Apples and Oranges: Her Story

Apples and Oranges

His version of our fight, though pained and insightful, lacked significant moments and my emotions, so, with great difficulty, my replay of October 18, 2017:

My on-and-off again boyfriend, of two years, and I have a misunderstanding about attending a friend’s wedding. I come over the next day, using the key he gave me for Valentine’s Day, but decide to drop the matter, afraid of his reaction. Funny I should have that fear at all, right?

Well, he brings it up himself. “Do you know why I’m not going? To teach you a lesson. To not get your way. So you know what ‘no’ feels like.” I tell him he doesn’t have to go, explain how I misunderstood, that this isn’t how to treat a partner, that…

He gets up and says, “Okay, stop talking and get the fuck out of my house.

Why is he so quick to anger? Is something else bothering him?

Now, our “resolution styles” differ: I want to nip things in the bud while he wants to drop them for another time. We’ve developed a good balance over the years, but tonight is different; I can feel it.

“Please, just sit…” He raises his voice, “Do you think I’m kidding? Get the fuck out!

“But, baby, you got so mad so fast. Calm d…” He jumps onto the bed to cover my mouth with his hand, pushing me against the headboard. Staring hard into my eyes, he says, “Shut up! Stop talking! Get out!

Deep breaths. He wasn’t trying to hurt you. Just wanted you to stop talking…

He breaks my train of thought by tossing my belongings outside. He comes back in yelling, “Why are you still here?! That’s it, I’m calling the police. You’re an unwelcome guest in this home.” I protest, “Hey! I’m your girlfriend, not some stranger!” He yells, “Stupid BITCH! Are you a dumb bitch who doesn’t understand the words coming out of my mouth? LEAVE!

He’s never called me a bitch before…

And then he did something next that I didn’t think he was capable of doing.

With one swift motion, he pushes me off the bed. I fall painfully onto my side, and before I could get up, he drags me by my ankles across the floor as I scream, “What are you doing?!” I kick free, brace myself against the doorway, and run away from him. He comes toward me and does another unthinkable.

He lunges at me, grabs both of my arms, and shoves my body against the wall, pinning me with a strength I have never known. His nails dig into my skin, drawing blood, his face centimeters from mine, his body shaking as hard as my knees. With dark, hollow eyes, he grunts, “Don’t. You. Get. It? I. Want. You. To. LEEEAVE!!!” With tears in my eyes, I whimper, “Baby, this isn’t you. You’re scaring me.”

His grip, eyes, and voice soften. “Please leave. We will talk some other time. For tonight, stop talking. Get out.” My mouth opens, to talk or take a breath, I don’t know, but before anything, he chants, “Get ouuut! Get ouuut! Get ouuut! Get…

“I hear what you are saying but you are not listening to what I am saying.” He says, “Yes, that’s true. Now get the fuck out.” He begins to pick at my insecurities–life, family, friends, career, us–ruthless. I think he finishes, but, “Oh, I can keep going.” He does, even threatens to break up, an old tactic, but tonight is different; I can feel it.

Between sobs from the pain of his words and my now throbbing arms, I hear him say, “I’m going to grab something from the kitchen, and if you’re not gone by the time I get back, I will be forced to use it.

Grab what? A knife, a bottle? He loves me. He would never hurt me… but he already has. Would he really hit me? He loves me. He would never… but he already has. Is this how I die? He loves me. He would nev… but he already has.

As his footsteps near, I throw my hands over my head, eyes shut tight, not wanting the image of what stands before me to be burned into my memory. Through my weeping, I plead, “Baby, this isn’t you. You’re a good man. I know you won’t hurt me. This isn’t you. Please put it down whatever you’re holding. You’re a good man. This isn’t you.”

His heavy footsteps retreat. I gather the nerve to step outside, and find him on the couch with a frying pan, defeated. I sit across from him on the coffee table. He picks up his phone, but I gently push it away. “Enough. I’ll leave. Just tell me we will talk about it, that everything will be okay.” He agrees.

I spend the next 20 minutes in my car wiping away blood and tears, wondering if that last hour was even real.


We talk two days later, but everything is not okay. We break up, spend hours talking about our flaws, which he agrees were fixable, but he no longer wants to put in the work. That he is at the lowest point of his life and blames me 100%.

What?!

I admit I’m no innocent, but that we are ultimately responsible for ourselves. “Maybe, but I don’t care. I am fine walking away from this believing it is all your fault.

“I’m sorry for not leaving, so why can’t you be sorry for your role in this?” He sees my bruises. “Are those from that night?” I nod yes. “Well, I hope they heal soon.

“These aren’t the scars I’m worried about.” I stare at him staring into his hands, and that’s when I see it. He’s not going to apologize. Does he not see how he betrayed someone who entrusted her life and heart to him? That I stayed, not to “resolve,” but rather out of fear and confusion? Or maybe he’s just afraid.

From this, I know he was right to break up–we’re not in the right place for each other, or anyone, for now. I’m too naive and pompous in thinking I always know what is best, that love is enough, even if I mean well. I gave too much of myself to another and lost myself along the way. I’m not ready for a he or an us until I come back to me.

He’s too stubborn and selfish to compromise, thinking that being alone is enough, even if he means well. He gave too little of himself to another and lost the other person along the way. He’s not yet ready, willing, and able to receive, and earn, the love of someone in return. He’s not ready for an us or a she until he can let go of being “just me.”

The two people that broke up that day are gone. I neither expect nor hope for them to make it work. I only hope their future selves will be better, wiser people, and that maybe then, will they become the people they each deserve.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this: to this day, I have never judged him, that a part of me, scared as I was, still love and believe in him. I just hope he believes enough in himself to change, to stop fighting against it. We have reasons for what we do and who we are. Let them not be excuses, crutches, or hindrances to self-reflection and accountability.

I also know this: I was fighting so hard for the relationship, but realize I was also fighting for  myself, someone who stands up for her beliefs. He may be a good person who made a mistake, but he’s an emotional and mental abuser to keep people at arm’s length.  Hopefully, he sees there’s always work to be done, and realizes one can be independent and in love, and give wholly to another without losing any part of oneself.

He showed me I could be happy again, and I was really happy. He taught me I could love again, and I was really in love. He reminded me that heartbreak can hurt, and I bottomed out. But I don’t regret it. Any of it.

Do I regret not leaving or listening to my partner’s need for space? Yes. Is it my fault that I didn’t have more control to remove myself from a precarious situation? Yes. Is it my fault that he chose to put his hands on me? No.

Could he have compromised or listened to his partner’s needs? Yes. Is it his fault for not having more control to calm himself down from escalating to a precarious situation? Yes. Is it his fault for choosing to put his hands on me? Yes.

Will we ever let that happen again? Never. But the question is how.

Is my “resolution style” the best way to grow from this? Well, I’ve been staring it in the face, and it’s extremely difficult to take in all at once. Or his? Well, seems like he’s been more avoidant, which isn’t healthy either. Maybe we should put that developed balance to good use, huh? This is different; I can feel it.

Maybe we’re neither apples nor oranges.


Photo credit: The DI

Goodbye, Skinny Love

skin·ny love
/ˈskinē ləv/

n.

a relationship that is malnourished and, therefore, unsustainable

Today, I bid farewell to skinny love, a relationship that wasn’t loveless but rather starved and nonviable. All that is beautiful will wither without proper nurturing, and you must be both willing and able before you can be ready to give yourself to another.

He was constantly hesitating to contribute the missing ingredients while I was hopeful that love and time could overcome all. Eventually, he reached an apex of apathy while I settled with disappointment.

Only by being achingly honest with ourselves can we grow into better people. While I believe he’s a good person, that he’s capable of becoming the man I had hoped for, that anything is possible, the first step must be acceptance.

To skinny love, I hope you set aside pride long enough to realize, and learn from, your shortfalls, and earn any love you receive. Although I will never forget our peaks of happiness, I can no longer ignore the valleys of pain you caused. Today, I let you go because I deserve someone who is ready, willing, and able.

Thank you, Birdy… and Bon Iver.

Don’t Stop Believing

That mantra isn’t just for karaoke.

It’s been a few days since the anniversary of my dad’s passing (7/22), and this year, I consciously held off on a post, until today when a friend told me I had too much faith in people.

I, refusing to believe it to be a negative quality, responded, “Faith is what we possess and accountability is what people should have whether or not we believe.”

Story of my life, and invariably, my feelings toward my dad.

He was not a full-time father, but I was a full-time believer. Countless times he’d make well-intended promises that were not-so-well-executed, but my faith never wavered.

My memories are not riddled with fights of the number of Father’s Days, phone calls, birthdays, and graduations he missed. They’re filled laughter, joy, and love for when he came through.

It’s not my job to hold anyone accountable, to make them feel bad for their choices. I’ve made it my job to not take anything for granted, nor turn people away.

I know my belief in him gave him a home to come back to each time, even if it was for one last time.

So today, I know that although he passed alone, my dad knew I loved him, always.

❤ Việt Ca

PS. The Chargers are no longer playing for San Diego, but I’m still excited for us to catch some games when the season begins. 🤣

 

Selfish, but Honest

Today marks an atypical anniversary, a day to reflect about acts of honesty born of selfishness. Let’s rewind a bit, though.

Nine years ago, at my college graduation, my dad asked if I’d move to Houston to take care of my old man. I laughed, whined about humidity, and promised to visit often after landing a great job in San Diego.

We then, unknowingly, took the last photo we would ever take together, just the two of us. After that, he went on radio silence for six years.

Three years ago, today, he broke that silence and called to tell me he was sick, Stage 4 lung cancer. It was then I realized he knew, that day, nine years ago. This man, who had given me everything and asked for nothing, reached out for help for once, and I turned him away.

He passed five months later.

Growing up, my father lived alone and away from the family, so naturally, I thought he preferred it. My selfish moment of honesty seemed harmless at the time, but I still feel pangs of guilt and regret, fruitlessly playing through the what-if scenarios. However, I have come to accept that he too made a choice, a selfish, but honest one. Did our choices forever haunt one another? Perhaps, but were we wrong? No.

Humans, as good as they can be, have selfish needs and sometimes, to prevent resentment, the most selfless act is to be honest about those needs. The consequences may hurt, but I’m finding again and again that, not only is it human to be selfish, but, sometimes, it is the best policy.

My dad and I at my graduation