Saturday, April 13, 2013

Chapter 1 continues...Lillian

Now where is it?  I dig to the bottom of my wish jar, pushing years of knick-knacks aside to retrieve my lucky fortune.  It came with my Panda Express two entrée meal.  I wishfully hold it against my pounding chest and recite it by memory with my eyes tightly shut.  ‘Good fortune will float your way.’  I've superstitiously held onto this tiny piece of paper for six months, hoping it will guarantee me good news.
I've dedicated eighteen selfless, academic years of my life for this very day.  The promising path to my future is sealed in an envelope from the prestigious Medical School of Saint Croix.  This school is not only ideally located on a beautiful Caribbean island but is also renowned for many talented, postgraduate surgeons and medical specialists around the world.  Each year, thousands of hopeful medical students apply for the limited fifty-five coveted positions and now, I am among the list of hopefuls, holding onto a wishful fortune for luck.
  It’s now 12:30 pm and the highly anticipated letter should already be in my mailbox.  My mailman is punctually reliable.  I alternate long and then short, quick and then slow strides all the way to the mailbox.  I can’t make up my mind if I am capable of handling the news or not.  I’m a nervous walking wreck.  My hands are tightly balled up in sweaty fists.  My heart is beating so rapidly, it intensifies the pounding pressure against my eardrums.  I cross my hands over my chest to stifle my laborious breathing.  Will I make it there before I pass out from anxiety?

I've been religiously praying every night for months, trusting the benevolent Lord will listen to me, just this once.  My chances would be more favorable if I wasn't a Holiday Christian, only attending special services throughout the year.  My mother has always been torn between two religions, making me a confused, superstitious Christian.  And as if that wasn't enough, I threw in the Laughing Buddha as an added measure.  I've rubbed every single statue in every Asian restaurant in town for additional luck. 

I struggle to open the mailbox with the key in my trembling hands but at last, the little metal door swings open and there it is… an ivory colored envelope with embossed gold lettering staring back at me.  I hold it like a possible winning lottery ticket and run back to my house as swiftly as my feet could take me there. 

          My mother calmly sits at our antique, oak dining table with her chin resting on both her palms.  She has her usual afternoon cup of fresh brewed jasmine tea in front of her.  I inhale the calming and fragrant smell as I breathlessly hand her the envelope.  The scent faintly soothes my anxiety.  She cautiously tears it open and pulls the letter out.  I didn't need to see the content in it to know that I've been accepted!  I understand the proud elated tears forming underneath her prematurely aged eyes.  The letter, with the word “CONGRATULATIONS” in bold gold writing, inaudibly glides onto the ceramic floor as I reach for my shaking, sobbing mother and embrace her with all my love.  She tenderly strokes the back of my head, the same way I used to comfort her.  It brings forth more tears for me.  Emotions are difficult for my mother.  Her unkind past experiences have hardened her.  She's not a touchy-feely person.  She doesn't accept or offer embraces well.  I've learned to be okay with this.  In some ways, I think it might have already adversely rubbed off on me.

Our tears of joy ceased only to be followed with tears of sadness.  We've been an inseparable pair since my biological father abandoned us.  I was merely an unplanned fetus in her womb.  My mother recently confided in me the details of his callous desertion.  He has been the relentless source of her torment for many long agonizing years.  I knew it well, and I hated him for it.  Her desolation contributed to my acceleration in maturity.  At a very tender age, I already understood how important it was to make her happy and proud.  I couldn't stand watching her cry night after night just to fall asleep.  It broke my heart and spirit, but I hid my shattered emotions from my mother.  I had to be strong for us.

It all changed one afternoon when I brought home my first aptitude result with the highest possible score.  I was only in second grade.  The delighted look on her face was nothing I've ever seen before.  I still have her beautiful smile clearly etched in my mind.  After that day, she found a purpose to live life with smiles rather than tears.  It was my responsibility to keep her spirits up with exceptional grades.  And that’s exactly what I did till this day.

His name was Collin Montgomery, my father.  He came with money, breath-taking good looks and empty promises.  My mother was living in Hong Kong with her parents at the time.  Her two elder sisters were already married off to wealthy businessmen from Taiwan and England.  She had no desire to follow their footsteps.  She saw a different future for herself, one that her father didn't agree with.  She wanted to become a surgeon.  He strongly believed a woman’s role is better served as a supportive wife and a loving mother to her children.  She wanted to find success and independence for herself.  But since Jia, my mother, was his beautiful baby girl, he was slightly more lenient with her.

Her father found a solution that satisfied both their needs.  She was thrilled to hear him out.  He ordinarily doesn't compromise with anyone.  What he says is revered and no one ever dared to challenge him, especially his children.  He promised her medical school if she was willing to marry his potential business associate’s son.  Initially, she was mortified to hear his selfish proposition.  But as much as she hated being forced to marry a man she didn't know or love her desire of becoming a physician was far greater.  She agreed to his terms.

Charles Montgomery, my grandfather from America, hastily flew my unwilling father to Hong Kong to meet my unwilling mother for the first time.  He was prepared to seal a trading deal in exchange for his son’s marriage proposal.  My father had no shortage of obliging women which made his mandatory nuptial even more difficult for him to accept.  But he was left with no choices either.  His father threatened to cut off his exuberant allowance if he disagreed.  How would he be able to continue his carefree life of partying and chasing gorgeous women without any money?  He unhappily conceded. 

He was intimidatingly charming and handsome which made introductions fairly easy for my mother.  It was also beneficial for him that she has had limited experience with other men.  He exceedingly met her expectations with no effort.  My grandfather kept close tabs on all his daughters.  They were escorted to and from school and were always accompanied by her father’s security team.  It was his duty as their father, to nurture them and control their destinies by choosing wealthy husbands for them.  And at the same time, increase his successful growing business empire.

They were generously given two weeks to ‘fall in love’.  The physical attraction was no obstacle.  He was flawlessly built in every way: thick sandy brown hair; light cocoa eyes, full lips, tight masculine jawline, toned body and dominating height.  She had a petite frame, lustrous silky long black hair, fair skin and beautiful large burnt sienna eyes enclosed with dark seductive rings.  Her parents often centered their attention on her beauty over her sisters.  She was blessed with her Vietnamese-French mother’s striking genes. 
My father, Collin, played the courting fiancé part precisely, and my mother fell hard for him.  Heart, head, soul and all…  She didn't believe it was possible for anyone to fall in love in two weeks but she managed effortlessly.  They had a hasty wedding with no expenses spared on both sides of the family.  Charles pushed for my mother to return to the states as soon as possible to start the new school year without delay.  Little did she know he was only interested in sealing his business deal with her father as quickly as possible.  She returned to the states with Charles and Collins and was kept confined in their mansion which she termed, cruel fate prison, without parole.  Charles denied her of medical school.  He created excuse after excuse for why she wasn't able to enroll.  Eventually, she stopped asking because it was futile.
My father was only physically attracted to her at first.  He had his way with her and then left for days and then returned for more.  Even though he offered her intermittent days of affection, her love for him remained steadfast.  She became more appealing to him as weeks and months passed by.  He realized her love for him was unconditional.  No matter what an asshole he was to her, she would still love and respect him as her husband.  But this wasn't enough to change him. 
   Six months later she discovered she was pregnant with me.  She hated being a prisoner without any rights or choices.  My future was unclear and possibly unsafe.  What if Charles or my father found out?  Would they try to get rid of her baby?  She had no one to turn to except for Collin.   He was her only hope.  She blamed her own father for betraying her, for placing wealth before her.  He was the reason she was locked up in a foreign country all alone without any family.  She bitterly severed him out of her life.

She begged Collin to help her escape every time he visited her.  But he denied her requests of course, fearing his father’s threat.  However, after watching her ghastly wither away, he grew concerned for her health.  He spent as much time with her as feasible.  He was terrified that she was starving herself to death.  He had to do the decent thing.  His conscience was crucifying him.
He smuggled my mother out while his father and elder brother were away on business.  They drove for eighteen hours to a small town, Fort Wayne, Indiana with only silence between them.  My father randomly chose this town by throwing a dart at a United States map at a bar, weeks before he actually decided to go through with the escape.  In his inebriated state which my mother witnessed often, he confessed his entire plan to her.

He was careful to eliminate all traceable evidence that could possibly lead them back to Fort Wayne.  His family had shamefully used Jia to expand their medical company.  This indignity was obvious.  He had the weight of this guilt crushing his integrity for months as he watched my mother's spirit deteriorate.  It was time for him to make things right for her.  It may take more than this lifetime, but he had to start somewhere.

He bought her a modest size home, a three bedroom ranch, that we still live in.  He also set up a banking account for her.  His goal was to deposit enough money each month to get her through a few years before she can independently be on her own.  He thought of everything but their future together.  How could she fault him for this?  They were both using each other.  He needed his allowance and she wanted to go to medical school.  Though she would never admit it to him, deep in her heart, she felt differently.  She had truly fallen in love with him.

They agreed to spend one real last night together as husband and wife.  He asked her for forgiveness, knowing he had failed her in countless dishonorable ways.  It was the first time she had ever seen him cry.  The tears were heartfelt, and it affected her intensely to this day.  He snuck out early the next morning while she was still sleeping.  He left her a note on his pillow that said, "I love you, too."  All along he had understood her feelings for him.  She never saw him again after that night.  He never knew about me.  She stubbornly kept her secret, me, for twenty-two years.
My stubbornness stems from my mother.  She had me and her pride.  She was determined to find a job and make it on her own.  Initially, she didn't qualify for any decent paying jobs because she lacked a U.S. college degree.  This obstacle didn't keep her down.  In fact, they fueled her to work much harder for us… for me.  She took nursing classes in the evenings and worked during the day.   After four years of dedication, she graduated first in her class with bachelor's degree.  Her drive and determination became mine as well as I progressed through all of my academic achievements with the highest honors.  I never wanted to see her unhappy again.
We continue embracing each other tightly with endless tears of mixed emotions.  Eventually, my mother breaks our tearful embrace and bravely tells me, “Distance can only physically separate us but can never divide our hearts.  They will forever remain together.”  Her Asian-American mixed adages are invaluable to me.  Though sometimes it’s difficult for me to completely understand their entireties, I've kept many of them close to my heart.
I wipe the remaining tears from her eyes and mine as well with my sleeve and press my lips against her cheek.
“I love you, mom.”
“I love you, Lily.”
She fishes inside her shirt pocket and pulls out a red Asian jewelry pouch.  “This necklace was a wedding gift from your father.  I want you to have it.  It’s the only remnant of him that I’m able to share with you.”
“I can’t take this from you.”
“Yes you can and you will.”  She unclasps the latch and circles the necklace around my neck.  It’s a finely braided gold chain with a jade lotus lily bud pendant.  “This is why I named you Lily.  You’re the one beautiful product of my ill-fated relationship with your father.”  
“It’s lovely.  I promise I’ll never take it off.”  I hug her again.