In Northern Virginia, for the ladies of wealth, Sunday mornings begin with a hangover, a Virginia Slim, and a Xanax. The day transitions to brunch at Liberty Tavern: one mimosa and one ****** Mary; an omelet with green and red peppers; and another round of mimosas and another ****** Mary, because: why in the world not?
For Thu—a Vietnamese American—Sunday mornings always begin with a different routine.
She comes downstairs to the dining room, steps around the bundle of adult diapers, and pulls back the curtain that leads to her parents.
There, on the far right corner, her Dad lays on an electric bed, his eyes sleepy as if he had drunk too much whiskey from the night before. His mouth agape, he has a face of a man who has lived for many years. In fact he has, 80 something years in fact. His arm hangs over the railing, blue veins protruding from the skin.
Thu pulls the blinds and light comes seeping through the window.
Her Dad smiles as the sunlight warms up his face.
Thu lifts him out of bed and into his wheelchair and travels with him, looping around the house in a circle: starting with the dining room, then the foyer, through the hallway, out the kitchen, and then back to the dining room. She tries to make him walk at least three rounds. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t.
He grunts and curses in Vietnamese, his walker scraping against the marble and hardwood floors. He moves the walker, using the little strength he has in his biceps and the muscles in his right leg.
Two years ago, her Dad had a stroke, leaving the right side of his body impaired and aching. Ever since then, he’s been trying to recover. He spends his time watching soccer and UFC on a television with a line running across the screen. He has caretakers who assist him with going to the bathroom and showering.
His wife is the only thing that keeps him going. She has Alzheimer’s and at random times in the night she’ll open up the refrigerator and search for food, because during the day she hardly eats a bite. She walks around in a cardigan and cotton pants, a toothpick jutting out from her mouth. She enjoys lying on the sofa and making phone-calls to her friends.
But she often misdials the numbers, startled when she hears a voice of a stranger on the other end of the line. She tells the stranger she doesn’t know English, shutting her eyes before trying to dial another number.
Thu has lived in Northern VA for many years, 18 years to be exact. She’s a Hokie. She’s an avid watcher of Criminal Minds. And she enjoys apple cider with a side of kettle-corn. Despite having to cook and look after her parents, she never complains. Never gets upset. Never says that life is unfair.
Later on in the day, she’s wearing a blouse dotted with blue flowers, a pair of gray sweatpants, and open-toed sandals.
When her daughter Vicki walks into the kitchen, she makes a remark about her posture. Vicki scoffs, no longer trying to seek her approval, but when Thu’s back’s turned, she straightens out her posture. Thu never makes a comment about her boyfriend. That’s a lost cause in her eyes. Once Thu doesn’t approve on a relationship that’s the end of it. She wants the best for her daughter, pushes her to be the best at what she does.
Thu used to live in Saigon. When the war ended, she had fallen in love with a boy who lived next door to her. He was her first love. He would write love poems to her. Sometimes they would hold hands. Once they had shared a kiss.
They were young and deeply in love. But as the war finished up, they moved on from each other. The boy went to live with his family in Australia, while she moved to America. After they broke up, Thu would still think about him. He was the one who dumped her.
The breakup crushed her heart. But she didn’t let it mar her dignity. Time passed by, Thu moved to Virginia and she went to high school in Fairfax County. The letters started pouring in from the boy. But she had too much pride and she didn’t respond until one day.
That was the day that John Lennon was murdered in cold blood.
She was heartbroken like every other person in the world. Yet, she also thought of the boy and how much he loved John Lennon.
Thu remembers reading the newspaper, seeing John Lennon’s face on the front page of the paper. She took a pair of scissors and cut a square around John’s face. Then she wrote a letter to the boy. And then she sealed the newspaper clipping and the letter in an envelope and begged her mom over the phone to send the letter to the boy. Her mom was still in Saigon and somehow she made contact with the boy and gave the letter to him.
A month later, she opened the mail and there was a letter from the boy.
She read the letter, stifled a cry, and then proceeded to write. The next day she sent the letter. Thu was happy to read his words. It was as though she could hear his voice through his sentences. Like he was there next to her, looking at her, speaking to her spirit.
Days passed. Weeks passed. And then after a month she realized he wasn’t going to respond back to her letter. She couldn’t believe that he didn’t give her a response.
“And that’s the end of the story,” Thu said to her son.
“What do you mean that’s the end of the story? That can’t be the end!”
“Well you’re the writer, right? Think of an ending.”
Okay. So here it goes.
Thu smiles, her eyes grow sleepy, and her head slumps over. She starts to snore, very loudly in fact. But it’s cute and you’re hoping that she’s dreaming, dreaming about something relentlessly lovely.