I’m the middle child of 5. There’s a certain responsibility that comes with being an older sister. One that is never really defined, but one that you feel as soon as you get to hold the baby that is supposed to be your younger sibling. You start to change into this other person. There’s something even more special when you know you’re holding a baby sister.
You become strong; in your moments of weakness you learn to hold it together for her greater good.
You become wise; paying attention to all the mistakes and life lessons you learn so that you can offer her advice when she undoubtedly faces them all herself.
You become protective; being extra sensitive to all criticism from anyone around you about her and will be ready to bring the beat down for the sake of her honor.
You become fun; wanting to give her the best time of her life, and trying and doing all the fun things so she can enjoy life like you think she deserves.
You become your best; changing your attitude, goals, and life choices to reflect someone that you hope she could look up to.
You become love; unconditionally and irrevocably for her.
Or at least, that’s what happened when I got a baby sister. This post however, is about a time I became the youngest of us all.
April and I have been best friends since we were really little. With only 2 years between us, we shared a lot of the same likes, dislikes, and social/cultural interests. We both excelled at sports and video games, and skated by in school. Both of us never learned a lick of Vietnamese growing up (besides your required greetings, goodbyes, thank you’s) and we knew what it was like to be the black sheep and stuck between two cultures. We both had a “damn the man” mentality and were constantly pushing the boundaries of sex and gender roles that come with being a small mixed race Asian/Native American female growing up in a pocket of White America. Both at home and in the world. We did almost everything together. I wanted to do everything better than her, and she was always just as good.
She is one of the few friends in life who I call when I don’t want to hangout with any people. You know the kind I’m talking about. We can sit around watching reality TV, drinking, talking, and just chatting about absolutely nothing until our eyelids are refusing to stay open. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly we know each other’s hearts. It’s the luxury of the middle child: Being just as close to your older sister as you are to your younger sister. I was once protected and cared for by my older sister, and now it was my duty to do the same for my younger one. It’s hard to forget the times I would read April’s reading homework out loud at night because she had trouble with it. How we’d do back-flips on our trampoline for hours with the sprinkler running underneath. How we’d come out of our rooms dressed in the same outfit for school and both refuse to change. Or how we stayed up until 7 AM when our mom told us that we could “stay up however late we wanted” playing the new Super Mario World, thinking we’d fall asleep. So many heart connections that and ‘only child’ could probably never understand.
Times change though. Personalities change, and how we react changes. I think between the two of us, I adopted and continued life with a lot of the Vietnamese values and culture more so than April did. I followed my elders and didn’t ever talk back, like a good little Vietnamese girl is supposed to do. April was feisty, and you had to really earn her trust and respect. She always had my back in the things I did but I never felt like I needed her protection or wisdom or anything like that. Not in a “I’m older than you I know more than you” kind of way, but more of a “it’s my duty to protect you” kind of way. We were equal in life knowledge and experience, but like I said earlier, there are certain responsibilities you get when you become an older sister.
Before I got married, I was daunted with the task of having to address all the envelopes to my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I never learned Vietnamese growing up, and quite honestly, always had trouble remembering JUST how to say everyone’s names correctly. Now, I was faced with writing everything correctly too. I lived in this weird limbo world where my 50+ relatives spoke and wrote fluently in Vietnamese. My dad, the youngest of 9, was in and out of our lives during childhood and through adulthood. At the same time, we were still deeply connected to my aunts, uncles, and cousins, who, at every single family gathering (4 times a year) would ask, “Where’s your dad? Why can’t you speak Vietnamese? Why don’t you take care of your dad? You should let him live with you.” Each time we had these get-togethers, my sisters and I had to prepare for that most reprehensible, “Where is your dad?”
They all knew. They all knew that he was probably at the card room drinking or scoring the next hit with his friends somewhere just across the river. But they asked anyway. And each time, it made us angry, it made us annoyed, and most of all, it made us remember. Remember all the times he didn’t show up, all the promises to change, and just how much we didn’t fit in to the family that we had. But what we did have was sisters.
Which brings me back to addressing those God-forsaken envelopes. I bring up that stuff about my dad so you can understand a little about the expectations put on us by our family, and the difficulty we had meeting any of them without completely understanding the culture we ourselves came from. When it came time to addressing the envelopes my dad was supposed to meet me to go over name spelling, who lived where with who, and how to address them. In the end, he didn’t show. So, I did what any other American person would do, I addressed them as “Mr. and Mrs. (Insert family name here)”. Totally understandable, right? Wrong. So so so wrong. Apparently in Vietnam, even when women get married they actually keep their last names. So when you refer to someone you’re supposed to write their full names. HOW THE HELL WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT!? So, I sent them out.
A few weeks later my dad called and had told me he was borrowing money from one of my aunts. He told me that before I came to pick him up, he needed me to pick it up from my aunt. Now, I NEVER agreed to this, but apparently he already called her and told her I was coming. So, I went. Unfortunately for me, it was the first time I learned of this cultural difference between Vietnamese and American family names. My aunt was incredibly offended. She threatened to not come to my wedding, had ‘heard’ from another aunt that my dad wasn’t invited (which I have NO idea where that even came from), and told me that if he wasn’t invited then NONE of the Truongs were coming.
My heart was thumping trying to rip through my chest, the heat in my neck was slowly creeping into my jaw, my ears, and finally my face, I choked down a lump, and my ears started ringing. I was on the verge of tears when I did nothing wrong. Addressing the envelopes was already stressful enough, having my dad not come to help was bad, and now being told my best effort was offensive was a punch in the gut. I began apologizing profusely trying to explain what had happened, when she said, and I will not forget it,
“Here’s the money. How dare you not take care of your dad! We [her and her husband] work really hard for our money. We shouldn’t have to give it to your dad! You should be giving it to your dad. A good daughter would take care of her dad. He took care of you. A good daughter would never ask anyone else to help them. You have a job, you give him your money. Why are you here? You are bad, letting him live like this.” By this time I was in tears. I can’t even remember if I took the envelope or not. I just remember sputtering something back then quickly leaving their shop.
I drove to April’s house a few blocks away. I came bursting in crying. When I looked up her face was so gentle, so worried, and so in tune with mine. She wanted to know what had happened, and when I told her, I watched that sweet gentle face turn to rage. Rage for my sake. She snapped up and told me that she was going straight down there to tell my aunt how the entire thing was not even my fault and that she needs to get over it etc. I can’t remember, but I don’t think she went. But what followed was something that even today reminds me how ready she was to be my bigger sister.
She became my strong, wise, protector and went against all Vietnamese cultural norms by calling my aunt, leaving heated messages on her machine. My aunt didn’t call her back, so she called the eldest aunt and uncle and left messages with them telling them to call her back immediately, until they finally did. She got involved when she didn’t need to. She did for me, what I wouldn’t dare do for myself. She didn’t even care if that meant that the aunts and uncles would be ‘disappointed’. All she cared about was my justice.
A few months later April would pick up this role again when my dad didn’t come to my wedding and my family thought it was confirmation of the rumor that I hadn’t invited him. When I’d ran out of the reception hall after being pointedly asked, “Where’s your dad Tori?” April stepped in and angrily told my cousin that I’d found out he wasn’t coming when the rest of them did. She found me later, and put on her happy face and told me that this night was about the people I love and that he was missing out on all the fun. Thank GOD Ape was there to remind me.
In a word, April is FIERCE. She is fierce in her ambitions. She is fierce in her hobbies. She is fierce in her work ethic. She is fierce in her self confidence. And most of all, she fiercely loves those to whom she cares for.
I love you baby sissy. I’m lucky to have you in my life. Happy Belated Birthday (4/19/1985).