I was 16 and didn’t know what the Hmong word for sex was. It happened when we were in the car, my mom and I, listening to the hmong radio. There was a popular song that had been going around: “Khuv Xim Tsis Tau Deev.” I had asked my mother what the word “deev” meant. The title was saying “I regret not having deev.” My mom answered with a non-answer “Deev is deev. That’s it.”
          Deev is the word for sex: the act of sex, to have sex, to do sex.
          I learned the meaning after a quick google search.
          The song talks about a man who says he regrets not sleeping with the woman he loved. He says he didn’t have sex with her because he loved her and he figured that they would have plenty of time to make love after they were married so it didn’t matter. He would wait. However, the woman he loved went to someone else, because she apparently could not wait. This saddens the man and he now wishes he had just slept with her instead of waiting for marriage, something that never happened anyways. Even if the two of them would never get married, at least then he wouldn’t have these lingering feelings of regrets should they part ways like he does now. There is one specific line where he says “If on that day I had just forced myself upon you, perhaps it would be you who is missing me instead.”
          I was more amazed that there was a song about having sex, so explicitly, that I hadn’t concerned myself with the threat of rape this song made. Then again, perhaps I had always assumed intrinsically that rape was the normal way men had sex with women.
          When I think back to the Hmong movies I saw growing up, I understood the tradition of “bride-napping” as the normal, and even only way, hmong women married hmong men. These movies would start off with, like the song, two young lovers who were in love with each other but then midway, the plot darkens as the woman is kidnapped by another man who loves and lusts after her. The woman’s parents cannot stop this new man from bride-napping her, and the moment the man brings her to his home, he rapes her and she is forced to live with him as his wife for the rest of her life, because now she has been tainted and presumably, no one wants tainted goods, not even the man she loved and who loved her.
          Many women, just days after the song was released, made covers of this song, more so than men, and many of those women were given a second glance and my aunt once commented about one of the woman singer who performed at the Hmong New Year, in Fresno, as being one of those women, those women who slept around, those women who liked sex, as if that was wrong, as if that was what the song was only about. I remember thinking it made more sense for a woman to sing this song than a man. I believed in the story of a woman pining for a past lover because she had to, and was expected to withhold herself until marriage, and wishing she had instead one memorable night, a night that wouldn’t be rape, a night that would be consensual and between her and someone she loves, even if they must part ways, instead of stranger that she had been forced to marry; I believed in this story more so than the story of a man who controlled his sexual urges for the sake of love, only to be upset and saddened, that his female love could not. It scares me to think that being like these women is a possible outcome for me.
          At the end of my middle school years and during the entirety of my high school years, I read romance books with fervor. Outside of required readings for school, and the occasional manga, the romance genre was the only other type of writing I read. I learned to order books through the public library database and checked the romances out in bulk, reading at least one a night.
          It was fascinating, seeing men and women falling in love, fighting for love, and even dying for love while here I was trying to understand what love was. I’m sure my parents were in love at one point in their lives and I’m sure they too, loved me at one point or another. Or if not, I truly hoped they did. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Phrases like “I love you” or “I don’t know what my life would be like without you” are never thrown about. I can understand why in the books, the women always make a big deal out of hearing the verbal “I love you” from their prospective lovers and I don’t understand why men make fun of them for that desire. Yes, actions speak louder than words but when my mom still cooks for me at the same time as she says I’m a horrible daughter or when my dad slams the phone against the wall instead of at my mom when a line was crossed, I am confused if that is love, or if they are just going through the motions, motions they feel are acceptable, motions they feel they must do.
          Their love is nothing like the books. If my parents were to die for each other, I’m not sure it would be because they loved each other, but rather, because they feel it is their responsibility to do so, as if dying for each other is an unwritten rule they signed to upon becoming husband and wife. I suppose that is a type of unconditional love.
          My sister says she never wants kids and she never wants to marry. My initial response to her was “You never know,” but perhaps she knows, perhaps she does know and fears that our lives will end the same way our mother’s life does, in a marriage where her kids can’t tell if she is there for them by choice or by force. I want to resist this because I’d like to hope there can be different endings for a married couple other than the one my parents have, that I can end differently. It’s hard to believe that at times when all I have are fictional characters to look to for advice, fictional characters who can’t respond to me. My sister has decided not take that chance.
          The love life of my relatives aren’t any more hopeful. My grandfather has two wives. On the legal documents it’s just one but cultural practices need no legal documents. My father is the eldest son of the first wife. My mother warns me to never marry a man whose father is married to more than one woman. My step-grandmother and her family is very competitive with ours, and it becomes a competition of whose children is better. You don’t want to end up competing for affection, my mother says. A man can only share so much.
          When I look at the marriages of my aunts and uncles, either on my grandmother’s side or my step-grandmother’s side, I don’t see anything romantic or even appealing to it. Sometimes I wonder why some of them are even married but then I remember how many of my aunts got pregnant outside of marriage and so marriage was forced upon them. If they had a choice, it was a very limited one. I don’t know if they are happy. They are all housewives with at least three children each. Many of them only finished high school. My mother herself didn’t even get an education. I’d like to think they are happy in some ways but then I would hear how they complain about their husbands when they gather around at family events. They would share stories about how they wished their man was different, how they wished their life was different, and they would joke about each other’s sufferings, all the while trying to control their kids who rampaged around.
          Once, when my mom told me about all the things my dad was doing that upset and hurt her, I made the careless comment of “Just divorce him, then.” It was an inner desire of mine, for my parents to just divorce. I hated seeing them argue and I hated seeing my mom cry and I hated seeing my dad respond with silence and I hated it most when I felt the brunt of their anger and unhappiness projected onto me or my siblings through words about how they wished we were better or different, like we were the ones who held sole responsibility for everything negative. I had imagined divorce would solve all that somehow, that through divorce, maybe we could all heal, that through divorce we could somehow glue back whatever was breaking or at least we wouldn’t break any more than we had.
          It was a naïve and selfish comment. I knew my mother would bear the brunt of the backlash. She had no family near to defend her and there was no possibility that her name, as a woman, would be seen as anything but the divorced woman, the tainted woman, the woman who was so faulty and so selfish and so damaged in some way because she dared to divorce her husband. If she wasn’t so fault and so selfish and so damaged, then the divorce would not have happened.
          My mother laughed at my comment and said having my father was better than not having him. Sometimes you are glad he is there, she would say and I can never tell if she is being genuine and that deep down she does have love for my father or if this is what she tells herself to believe so it makes her life more bearable and that, scares me because I’m afraid if I would ever find myself repeating her words one day.
          I used to be a daddy’s girl. I loved my father, so much so that I believed he gave birth to me instead of my mother and I refused to believe otherwise. I wanted to go everywhere with my father and I would listen to only him. I wonder now, if I just craved his attention since he was rarely home then, and even now.
          I don’t remember when I stopped loving him. It started with a bike probably, the summer before first grade. I had a bike with training wheels on it. I don’t know how I got it. We probably found it thrown away in a dumpster. We certainly couldn’t have bought it. I was excited and rode it once or twice before it was given away.
          I had an uncle the same age as me, my father’s youngest brother. We went to the same preschool and kindergarten and we all lived together, my father’s family, my mom, and I. I watched my dad take off the training wheels of the bike and give it to my uncle and it was no longer mine from then on. I didn’t yell at my dad and I don’t remember crying. I wondered if I had, if he would’ve given away my bike. When I think about it now, I sometimes find it funny that that was what first created a divide between my father and I, that that was when I saw him as no longer a father I loved, but a man I couldn’t trust to not give away the things that belonged to me, things that I cared about.
          My mother often says how my father loves his family more than he loves us. She would say, with conviction, that given the choice to rescue my grandmother or her, my father would choose to save my grandmother, his mother. I used to think it unfair of my mother to create such an ultimatum for my father. I used to think it was a good trait of my father to love his family in such a way, but the more I see how happy he is with his own family instead of with us, I become envious. Why are we not on the receiving end of his happiness? Why wasn’t I?
          I thought perhaps it was just a gender thing. My father’s family is mainly males. He has two sisters but they lived with their husbands outside of Fresno. My father certainly has more laughs with my brothers and they actually talk to each other. I thought maybe it made sense to not be on the receiving end of his happiness since he and I rarely talked to each other, since we rarely even know anything about each other. Perhaps I didn’t deserve it.
          My boyfriend is much older than me and when we made the steps from online friends to long distance dating I feared I was merely projecting my desire for a fatherly influence onto him. Google would agree with my fears and makes me feel guilty every time I try to consult it. When I tell friends I’m comfortable telling about him and how we’ve been together for 5, nearing 6, years, they are always amazed. Amazed, I’m assuming and because they say, it’s all been long distance and amazed that it’s lasted long distance for 5 years.
          Sometimes I’m amazed myself at how long he’s been with me but I keep wondering when we would eventually end or how we would end; if it would be a happy ending or not, if he would tell me one day he’s fed up with me or if he would tell me one day he found someone else or if he would tell me one day he just doesn’t love me anymore and I’d imagine I would just let him go because letting go may offer me a different ending than the repetition of my mother’s, because letting go may be what he wants too, because letting go then would hurt less than holding on and hoping for a different ending when the end may have already passed.