I had a summer ahead with my friends. I looked forward to throwing the summer away with going to the movies, jumping between houses with pools and getting to know them better without that pesky school getting in the way.
It came crashing down when my mother told me I’m going to Vietnam.
It was my freshman year of high school, and I had made friends with kids from the local public school. I met one of them through confirmation, and she introduced me to her friends which included FancyPants. FancyPants was the first boy I started seeing after Satch, who was my first ever relationship. FancyPants and I talked together almost every night through AOL Instant Messenger, sometimes even putting the away message on to keep others at bay. We texted each other a lot too, but back in 2004-2005, texting wasn’t as much of a craze as it is now.
With the end of the school year approaching, I thought, “Finally, I get to hangout with these friends. Maybe FancyPants and I will get together, officially.” We’ve talked sexually to each other before — he even mentioned on his Xanga Journal and told me later about how he had a wet dream about me, commenting that “You deep throat like a giraffe!” I was excited to get the chance to hang with him.
However, fate had other things in mind for me.
After 24 hours of flight and 4 hours in the middle seat of the front of a van, dad, Joey, Rose and I got to my father’s hometown in the jungles of Vietnam. It was hot, humid, full of bugs with barely any electricity, no running water and dirt everywhere. All these things I wouldn’t mind, if there was an ounce of me that even wanted to me there. I tried in vain to keep texting to FancyPants and my other friends with my RAZR cellphone, but my mother had told me not to text too often because it’ll cost too much so I limited it to an attempt a week. I seldom got messages back, but when I did, it was like Christmas.
I couldn’t find my enjoyment there. I sat around, playing UNO with relatives I never knew I had and continuously getting bit my mosquitoes. A form of entertainment there for the kids there were breaking the exterior hardbacks of a horned beetle’s wings, tying it to a string connected to a stick, and seeing the beetle fly round and round the stick. Or when there is heavy rainfall, thousands and thousands of moths would swarm to the fluorescent lights so fast and quick that they bounce off it, sometimes meeting with the tub of water laid on the floor, where they are unable to fly and ultimately die. I hated this Godforsaken place.
Every night, after I’ve showered out of a bucket with a mix of rain water and boiled water, I would crawl onto my bamboo mat on cold tiles of the front porch into my sanctuary of a pink mosquito net. Within the net, I would string in a power cord from inside the living room and through the barbed window to plug in my ghetto fan and my brother’s iPod. Back then, I didn’t have an iPod of my own and so the music wasn’t all my taste, but one group that I could fall asleep to was Switchfoot. There were only 4 songs by Switchfoot in his iPod, which were Meant To Live, I Dare You To Move, Only Hope, and Let That Be Enough. I listened to these four songs on repeat, sometimes humming or singing along to it as I laid there, more likely than not crying.
Eventually, I found some form of comfort in this hellhole. The next door neighbors were a family of 9, with 3 sons and 4 daughters. They all had similar names, so eventually I started calling them by number. The order of numbers had no real rhyme or reasons. but the order from oldest to youngest would be: 6f, 5f, 1m, 2m, 3f, 4f with the oldest male not having a number, but simply called “oldest brother.” They’re a very distant relation to me, having the family connection lost in generation but still able to be said that I’m within the generation of the parents and not the children.
But honestly, the entirety of the family did not matter to me. I had a focus to my newfound homosexuality, being the two middle boys, #1 and #2. The two of them owned a motorcycle repair shop (in Vietnam, they drive ‘mopeds‘ more than cars). #2 would diagnose and fix the cars and #1 would do everything else, like washing them, sewing new seats for them or anything else. I tried to hangout with these two guys, aged about 23 and 25 years old to my 15 years old.
I was actually really attracted to #2. He was the younger one, with more of a loud, playful personality and the better looking one, with a fitter body. #1 was alright too, but he was quiet, shyer one that was a bit tubbier. One thing that #1 had above #2 was that #1 almost shamelessly had a crush on me, whilst #2 almost was in denial of it. #1 would watch out for me, make sure that I’m not dirty or injured and would drive me home whenever I had to head home, or if it was raining.
That first summer, I got attached to them. The last night in the village, I went over to their house and said my goodbyes to the whole family. I said I’d miss them, that I’ll write to them and try to call when I can. They replied that I’d soon forget them — that I’d only miss them to start with, but it will soon die. I didn’t believe them.
I came back home to needing to head off again. I was heading to Italy for a 10-day tour with a couple of other high schoolers, my art teacher and a couple of parents. I came back home to find my friends waiting to hangout, both from my private school and the local public school. I did, unintentionally, stopped missing my Vietnam friends.
Two years later, my whole family went to Vietnam except for my oldest sister. By this time, I have had a few sexual encounters under my belt and I was more open to them. Going back to the jungle village was a bit more comforting, knowing that I had friends back here but it was still nauseating to still be there. Nevertheless, I was excited to see these old friends again.
We were a little hands-on during the first summer together, but this summer, all bets were off. We would have tickle fights, water fights and play-slap each other. Again, I played with #1’s emotions and played cute with him while being real flirty and seductive with #2. While in a bus coming back to the village from a wedding in the city, I laid my head on #2’s shoulder and slept while #1 was on my other side, holding on to me. At one point, I woke up and I turned my head and started kissing #2’s neck, and #2 started to patting and petting my head and laid my head back on his shoulder, telling me to go back to sleep. So I did.
In Vietnam, you never left any place alone. There aren’t security systems, or sturdy locks on doors, or flood lights to prevent thieves and burglars. If the family was expected somewhere, one family member had to stay home to ‘keep the house.’ With owning a car shop, the two brothers never could leave the shop unattended, whether it’s one of them that stay there or their family members. Every night, they would come home to eat dinner, shower and head back out to the shop to sleep for the night. I had wanted to sleep with them one night, and I finally was able to towards the end of this second summer.
#1 drove me out from the house to the shop after he had finished his nightly routine at home. He and I laid down the mats on the concrete floors that the sheet metal shack shop laid on. Then, we heard a knock at the door. Thinking it’s #2, we opened the door only to find my distant cousin there. He was friends with the two brothers, being about the same age, and he had a wife and kid. He was also very good-looking, perhaps more than #2 with a taller, equally fit frame. He asked for a place to sleep, having been pissed drunk and not wanting to get an earful from his wife. I’m pretty sure it’s a common occurrence, because both brothers weren’t surprised of the intrusion.
Having being the person I am, I positioned myself to lay between my distant cousin to my right and #2 to my left. In my mind, I saw that one thing will lead to another and a sexual conquest would’ve taken place, but that was all my 17-year-old horniness getting to me. We steadily started to fall asleep, with me almost regretting to be in this situation without my music.
In the middle of the night, I woke up on my stomach. It was pitch black, but I could feel the two bodies beside me. In my half-sleep, I had my arms under my head to give more cushion to the flat pillow. I could feel that the person to my right had draped themselves on top of me, with their arm across my shoulder blades and their leg across my ass to my other side. However, what must’ve awoken me was the battle that was happening. The person to my left started to kick the right person’s leg off me and wrapped his arm around my waist and his leg around my left leg. I fell back to sleep in #2’s embrace.
I was one of the last to wake up the next morning. Nothing was said about the night afterwards. During the last night there, I went over to their house again to say my goodbyes. Their father went to sleep at the shop so that I could spend some time with the brothers. We laid in the two hammocks tied to poles on their porch in shape of an L, me and #1 in one face-to-face and #2 in his own with his head next to mine. #2 was tired after a long day of work, but I kept flirting with him, getting his fingers and putting them in my mouth to show him how far I could take it. #1 watched with interest. Soon, #2 had fallen asleep and #1 and I continued to talk, but with few words to share, it went to physical touching and tickling. Soon, I was getting hard in my basketball shorts and there wasn’t any way to hide it. #1 could feel it, and I could see he was getting hard too. We felt each other up, and joked about how big and hard we each were. Almost too soon, I was called to come back home. I left them heading to bed with my final goodbyes.
My third trip to Vietnam was for my brother’s wedding. I didn’t have much time in the village, and even less time to hang out with them. I don’t remember much of them that trip, and only remember receiving photographs from them from the wedding previous.
Almost every other month, I get a text from #2, telling me that he misses me. He sometimes changes it up, asking how school, work or the family is, but he always includes that he misses me and that he loves me. Sometimes, he would call me and just wanting to talk before he heads to bed, and I’ll talk to their parents and #1 sometimes, but mostly just #2 communicates with me.
One time, #2 called my phone continuously. I don’t usually pick up his calls because I either don’t want to have my mom yelling at me for the charges, or because it would ring once and I don’t get the chance. After not answering the call 3 or 4 times, he sent me a text saying: My brother has died. I am very sad.
At this, I called them right back. In the village, they’re overly superstitious and believe nothing is just occurrences. #2 tells me in his sobs the story, as I attempted to compose myself. Late at night, the two brothers had a friend over in the shop and they all were hungry. They decided that the friend and #1 would go and get something to eat, but they had to drive a distance because late at night in a village, places are few and far between for late night grub. After getting some noodles from the main road, the friend and #1 was driving home on their moped when a dog came walking across the road. The friend, who was driving, swerved to miss the dog and they both fell off the moped. Before having a time to gather what’d happened, the two were killed by a subsequent truck speeding along, resulting in a hit-and-run.
The superstition sets in when it’s all pieced together. A dog was the reason why the pair swerved and fell off the moped. It so happens that both the friend and #1 are born in the year of the dog in the Asian zodiac. Furthermore, the accident occurred during the Hour of the Dog (Wolf). To them, it’s the working of evil spirits.
It took me a while to absorb #1’s death. #2 was crying to me over the phone, saying he missed me, that he’s so sad and that he wants me to come to Vietnam. Only a week after hearing the news and telling my family did it actually got through to me, and I cried over the memories I had of #1. #1 actually fancied me, actually showed me that he was interested, was terribly nice to me and cared for me. He gave me one of his seat covers that I left hanging in my room, but I’ve since taken it down. I had asked for it the day I was snooping around his sewing machine and found his inhaler, realizing that he had asthma and remembering not to get him too worked up. Thinking about him now almost makes me cry.
The fates weren’t done with their family yet. Later that year, the mother had complications with her heart and, having live in the village, they had to travel to the city for diagnosis and healing. It came too late and she passed away as well.
There has been some light in these couple of years of despair. Daughters #6 and #5 have gotten married before the death and have bore children since. #2 updates me with his usual texts, sometimes with English phrases he’s learned in passing. He’s learned the word “love”, which he uses sparingly with me. Last November, he sent me a message inviting me to his wedding on the ’12th month,” which I thought meant December but meant February in Vietnam’s calendar. Since marriage, the texts have been sparse.
In missing out on the summer holidays with my hometown friends, I made new friends from my hometown. #1 and #2 brought me some happiness in an otherwise hellish place and I’m very grateful for it. In those first two summers, there were little changes in the family, in them both that I couldn’t imagine them changing in years to come. I had almost expected them to be there whenever I decide to return, just as they were in 2005. I had a naive mindset, like the four siblings in Narnia thinking it’ll all be the same when they pass through the wardrobe again, but come to realize it’s all different.
I hold a grudge to Vietnam, because I left my high school friends — wasted my high school summers — to be there with people I don’t really care for in a place I rather not be. When my mother told me I had to go to Vietnam again for my brother’s second marriage, I said I would go for a week but not for 2 months. Since then, my Vietnamese have declined at a rapid rate and my best charm is done in English, not Vietnamese. The only weapon I have in Vietnam are my looks and laugh, both having an appeal that most Vietnamese can’t deny.
In going to Vietnam as I am today, I don’t think I could handle it. It’s not just the heat, the language, the people or the way they do things, but I’ve built my own life now. I have Perseus to care for and I don’t think he would like me being MIA for 2 months in Vietnam because there’s no signal, or it’d be a waste to attempt it. Also, I’m not sure if I could handle the tangible evidence of the loss of #1 and his mother, whom always treated me nice. I’ve never physically have to deal with a personal loss, and I want that to remain a part of life I’ll deal with much later.
I learned a lot about myself in Vietnam, whether about my sexuality or about myself as a person, without technology, without English-speaking people, without my friends and overall being out of my comfort zone in means of food, routine and #FirstWorldProblems. #1 and #2 counted me amongst them as a brother, if not just a good-looking being that comes from across the world. They thought I’d forgotten them, that I’d stop missing them eventually.
I’d never forget.