Poor guy, for three years we were together but I was never really in love with him. I was in love with being in love with him. I loved the idea of loving someone who could speak Vietnamese, sing Vietnamese, and who, when they make love, could grunt and moan in Vietnamese. I loved equally the idea of loving someone who could play a Vietnamese song on his guitar, or any other song for that matter. I chose him because I wanted to stand by my Vietnamese men, their fresh-off-the-boat tongue and ideas, ideas about love and life, about men and women, about chivalry and gender roles and male responsibilities. I hated them and fought them but loved them at the same time.
Of course, it being what it was, it couldn't, and didn't, last. I cried and cried and cried the day we broke up. I don't know why; I was the one who wanted it. I guess I cried because all good break ups require a good cry, whether you are the one that wanted it or not. It must also have been because he cried. He cried a lot. Cried out loud. It was sad, pathetic even. It was that side of him, that soft, vulnerable, bendable, breakable side of him that I disdained and despised. I wanted to be the one who cries, who doubts her intelligence, feels insecure about her self, not him. He was supposed to be the strength onto which I can lean, but I couldn't lean because wherever I leaned, he leaned with me. We were like two young bamboo stalks twisted this way and that by the tumultuous winds of our emotions and inexperience. Instead of strength and shelter, I found a fellow crier also fumbling in the dark. So I had to break off. Had to. Had to leave and go learn something new from somebody else. Another man of another race of another language of another age.
Poor guy, he was really a good guy. He was (maybe still is, I don't know) the kind of guy that would pay for everything, made sure you got your drinks and the food on your plate was warm (or cold, depending on how you like it). He'd sing you to sleep with your head craddled in the crest of his armpit. He'd do all the hard work--carry your books, hold your jacket, open the door for you. He'd write songs for you, and whenever he reads something beautiful, a poem for example, he'd think of you and remember to email it to you. He'd also cry when you tell him you want to break up and damn it, seeing him cry makes you feel so bad you tell him you were just kidding but you're really thinking to yourself this really has got to be the beginning of the end, stop crying already.
But it wasn't even really him that I was in love with being in love with. It was him. Yes, I believe it was him that I wanted to be in love with. Him. He was and is still. He was, and is, the love that never was but continues to NOT be.
This is the impetus from which my ego-saving blogging adventures began:
Người xa mấy rừng xa mấy ngàn vực sâu
Người xa mấy mùa không thấy nhau buồn rầu
Người xa cách người khi cất lời hẹn sai
Người chưa biết khóc mộng bay
Người chưa biết tình đang hát gọi mùa đông
Tình đang hát dài như chút hơi cầm lòng
Là ta nhớ tình ta dấu đi hàm oan
Tình yên ấp nhé đừng tan
Tình yên ấm rồi em sẽ nghe
Tự nhiên khóc oà khi có nhau
Lệ rơi sáng loà không dấu nữa tình đau
Tình đau miễn là em sẽ về
Về ta nối lại tơ tóc xưa
Để khi có tình ta đón đưa
Và em sẽ gần ta chút nữa tình ơi
Vì ta sẽ cần em suốt đời
Gần nhau vẫn là xa cách ngàn lần đau
Một manh áo nhầu ta cố lau giận hờn
Một câu hát buồn sao thấu được lòng sông
Mà ta vẫn hát tàn hơi
Mà em vẫn chờ vẫn chờ mùa đông
Mà ta vẫn còn thao thức trông đèn ngồi
Vì em sẽ về cho ngỡ ngàng rồi đi
Mùa theo gót ấy mùa ơi.
I listened to this endlessly at Berkeley. Just me, my one room apartment hidden behind a thick bush of crimson bottlebrush. Perhaps it was the temperature in the car. Or the way the sun shined too brightly I could not see the road. Or the song being a memory marker. There was a pressure in my chest, and I was brought back to a time and space full of crimson bottlebrush, stems sticking out every which way like the thistles of their flowers. Wet, chilly evenings, ducking under dripping branches to get to the front door. Emtpy, quiet nights, so empty no other sounds bounced off the walls except this song, and out in the sparsely lit street someone kicked an aluminum can, it hit the sidewalk and tumbled back out to the middle of the road, and everything was quiet again. I have written about this before. I have marked this memory already. I have recorded it, but it comes back to me again, and I can't breathe. Quang Dung sings it over and over and over. I sit immobilized. Catatonic. Memory too heavy. The coffee plant I bought from Home Depot is dying. All the leaves have turned brittle and brown; even the stems are dried.
Him. Since I begun missing him, I dreamed of him twice. Both dreams hard and full of love still. Perhaps I have never really known him and he me, so that when we came across that dropping gap, it turned our bodies into parallel lines, constantly stretching, extending ourselves up and down but never towards each other, never manage to meet each other anywhere. Perhaps we'll be running alongside each other forever, never meeting.
He was my friend. My mentor, my soundboard, my confessor, my ideal, my quest, my adventure, my boredom, my curiosity, my humility, my blessing, my entrance into a text, into many texts, my safe space, my drive to be better, my better,. And now he is not any more. Like a poem written on a rainy afternoon driving through the northbay's marshlands. I told you, I could not drive on that slim road wiggling between the mountain and the sea. I get nervous. I think I would swerve and send us straight down to the sea. An elegy for a disseminated friendship.
Music is so powerful. It can make you travel to memories you don't want to remember. It can take you to friendships that are gone and make you nostalgic for ones that you haven't got. Music can hurt you.