I do remember being a bully when I was a little girl growing up in Viet Nam. I would punch and pound the kids in the neighborhood who used to tease me that my eyes were "as big as the bowls" (Mat bu nhu cai to). I specially remembered beating up my cousin, let's call him Harmony who was the 3rd child of my 2nd uncle, a brother of my mother. Harmony was the same age but for some reasons he never fought back. There were two most memorable incidents of how I mistreated Harmony and tried to cover up my crimes.
The first incident was when Harmony cried after I slugged him, I ran to the corner in front of the store. My grandfather (Che Cung) saw me crying and asked what happened. I told Che Cung that my Dad was going on a business trip with his young brother, Uncle Strength who was a gambler and a womanizer. I was terrified that my Dad would follow Uncle Strength and neglected Mother and us kids. "What happened when Dad lost all the money gambling and had to sell the house, we will be hungry and have no place to live", I continued while Che Cung tried to comfort me that such thing would never happen as Dad was a good man. Harmony never had a chance to report my crime and I was off to the market to buy candy with the coins Che Cung just gave me.
The second incident was a favorite story Mother still loves to tell. Che Cung asked me why Harmony was crying as we were playing in the backyard. I told Che Cung that an American helicopter just flew by and threw down some candy specifically just for me. Harmony cried because the Americans did not give him any candy. Che Cung laughed so hard at my unlikely story. That time I did not get away. Later Che Cung told Mother but I don't remember how I was punished for the crime.
Fast forward to the year when I turned 14 years old when I spent the summer in Cai Tau Ha (Ship Bottom). Harmony and his parents live in a nearby village called An Huu (Peaceful Retirement). That summer, for about three weeks, Harmony was sent to Cai Tau Ha to help Che Pho with her planting and farming. In addition to the fruit garden, Che Pho also raised chickens, ducks and a few pigs. Whether it was caused by teenager hormone or the summer heat, I was stung by the love bug the minute I saw Harmony. The little skinny boy that I used to beat up had turned into a tall, muscular handsome young man. Unaware of my thoughts, Harmony would squeeze my shoulder while laughing and commenting that the last time we saw each other we were little kids. Harmony continued to tease me whether I would beat him up again. Harmony did not realize that my red face was not caused by the sun but it was the beginning of my infatuation.
The next three weeks I would follow Harmony wherever he went and spent much of my time bringing drinks, food and doing whatever Harmony asked while pretending that I was just being helpful. No one included Harmony suspected that I had fallen in love with my first cousin, except Che Pho (a woman's instinct). There were a few times when Che Pho would assign different tasks to keep me from being around Harmony. As in most cultures, first cousins were considered brothers and sisters of the same parents. In Vietnamese culture, my infatuation without any physical actions was already considered incestuous. My first love and I had committed incest without even having been kissed!
Before we separated, Harmony and I promised to write letters to keep in touch. We did. The following summer, I begged my parents to let me spend the summer with Che Pho again, hoping that Harmony would be there. Three long weeks after I arrived in Cai Tau Ha, Harmony came but only for a few days. I wrote in my diary how I wished we could be together everyday and how I could find the way to tell Harmony that I loved him. I dreamed of being told that I was adopted so that I could marry Harmony as we had no relations. I did not get a chance to be with Harmony as Che Pho kept him busy with many tasks. Then Mother found my diary. Mother explained while crying that she could not believe that I have committed such terrible act. I still remembered Mother was shaking so badly that Che Pho had to hold her while also crying. She asked how I could even have such thoughts towards Harmony who was like my own brother. Mother ordered me to stop writing or having any contact with Harmony. I cried, apologized to Che Pho and Mother for dishonoring the family and promised to forget about Harmony.
I often wonder what could have taken place if Mother never found my diary. Would Harmony and I commit the terrible crime of incestuous of marrying a closely-consanguinious blood relative? Or would my infatuation for Harmony go away? It did as at the start of the following year, a nice young man offered me a ride to and from school. We went to a few movies with a group of friends and usually played ping-pong after school. I was told later by my cousin, Rose that she was assigned the task to keep an eye on me to make sure that I would not make any attempt to contact Harmony. Rose told me that she also guarded me in case I tried to commit suicide (to redeem myself for dishonored the family) or run away.
Just like Charlie Brown's love for the little red-headed girl, Harmony never knew about my unrequited, unknown and unreturned love for him.
Looking back I am so glad and thankful that Mother found my diary and put a stop to what could have been a shameful situation for the family.
This entry is about that happy summer and the sad ending of my first love.