[Family drama] In search of a happy ending
by Guest Beanie
Search Query: WWW / What’s Wrong With My Mother-in-law
Like a page out of the K-drama Writers’ Handbook, my family story is riddled with tropes like attempted kidnapping, Moped of Doom, machete-wielding dad, and scary grandparents. But all things considered, I was a happy child.
I was born in Saigon, Vietnam. My parents, loyal to the South Vietnamese government and upbringing, would never refer to the city by any other name. For the majority of my childhood, my dad worked as a bouncer at various brothels in different red light districts. We weren’t rich by any means, and the only beacon of hope was the fact that my paternal grandparents were helping us migrate to the US — the land of educational and economic opportunities, things I was told were critical components of a happy life.
The prostitutes and loan sharks who were my dad’s “work friends” were very kind to me and my sister. The heroin addicts mostly kept to themselves, tucked away in street corners, except the one time when one of them attempted to snatch my sister and me when we were on our way home from the store. My dad chased after and gave the guy a good beating and himself a broken hand. We were familiar with my dad’s insane temper, so that didn’t surprise us.
You see, his hot-headedness had gotten us in trouble years before. He had a disagreement with someone who thought it was only right to drive a moped straight at me and my sister to get back at my dad. Needless to say, my dad pushed us out of the way in time. In retaliation, he grabbed his machete to chase down the Moped Man. Thankfully, other people stopped him before things could get messier. No one was arrested, and I honestly have no idea how that happened. I should be happy that it wasn’t the Truck of Doom!
Live Up to Your Name
And then, there was the Stolen Passports Fiasco. That year, my parents were certain that we would be called to the U.S. Embassy for our final immigration interview, so they had passports made; ready to go. Late one night when we came back home, our house was ransacked and the passports were missing along with other valuables. It would be costly and time-consuming to get new passports. So my dad quickly got the word out to his “work friends”, i.e gangsters and loan sharks, hoping to find the stolen items. The Passport Thief quickly realized their mistake. With a hastily put together and poorly written apology letter, the thief returned our passports, much to my parents’ relief. In my memory, that letter looked just like a stereotypical ransom note written in a clunky handwriting mixed with letters from magazine cutouts. The whole thing was held together by tape and hopes for forgiveness.
It was on Thanksgiving quite a few years later that we landed at Dulles Airport, ready to start our new lives. Leading up to our arrival, my grandparents had bragged on and on about the huge house they’d just bought, the spacious basement they had set up for us to stay, and their wildly successful restaurant that my parents could take part in. Everything was going to be perfect.
Here is where the treacherous melodrama comes in. Got your tissues out? Or maybe a pillow to muffle your frustrated screams?
Because This Life Is Our First
The house that my grandparents lovingly boasted about belonged to one of my aunts, who out of filial obligations, let my grandparents live with her and her son. Instead of the spacious, furnished basement we were promised, my family and I spent the first month cramped into the empty study. The basement wasn’t done in time we were told, so until then, the study was the only option. The busy family restaurant my grandparents talked so much about actually belonged to my other aunt, who graciously let my parents work there for below minimum wage.
My sister and I were “encouraged” to help out for no pay, everyday. One morning, we went to the restaurant much later than usual because my aunt had taken us to the school nearby to fill out enrollment paperwork. My grandparents were livid because we weren’t there to help them open. Out of anger, they loudly declared that my sister and I were too stupid to even learn English and probably wouldn’t be able to catch up so why bother enrolling in school? Ouch.
These half-truths, coupled with the stresses of adjusting to a new culture and a new language, caused countless arguments between my parents and my grandparents. Old family wounds got dredged up and tossed around like rag dolls. On a memorable occasion, my grandmother, in a screaming fit, threw a bag of tangerines at my dad, one of which fell out and hit my sister squarely in the face.
Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food
Not two months later, my family and I were banished to the aforementioned spacious but unfinished basement, never to set foot upstairs again. My grandparents told everyone they had disowned us. We moved to another basement apartment soon after, and many more apartments after that. It has been over a decade and we have not been in contact with my grandparents and have barely had any interaction with my aunts.
Despite all the years and distance between us, I’m still trying to understand why things went wrong with our extended family. I know that there are misunderstandings going back to when my dad was a youthful rebel, and traumatic events most of which I’m not privy to that culminated in the falling out. It’s messy and complicated, and unlike a (good) drama, there isn’t a satisfying resolution.
Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food
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Tags: Theme of the Month