Yesterday I had my nails done and had another of those truth is stranger than fiction experiences. In writing, we are exhorted to find the universal truth--that which is true for all people regardless of race, religion, or national origin. One of those universal truths is the pain of betrayal.
For nearly three years, I've had the same young Vietnamese woman as my manicurist. I find it interesting that I'm one of the few people (meaning anglo and hispanic women) who patronize this salon who actually has conversations--other than, "How you? I'm fine. How are you?"-- with the Vietnamese women there. Maybe it's because I'm not uncomfortable around people who chatter in their own language--probably because I lived in Japan for so many years. I feel at ease with my manicurist and even can spot a few words I recognize in the flow of Vietnamese that characterizes a typical nail salon.
My manicurist (I'll call her Wanda) and I have an easy relatinship, and she has often confided in me and sometimes asked for clarification of our (meaning Americans) strange ways or English words or phrases. So I wasn't particularly shocked when she told me that her husband had left her.
I'd already noted that she looked awful--you know that glassy-eyed look from too much weeping? So I'd asked with a rather more serious tone than usual, "How are you today? Are you all right?"
In a salon crowded with a trio of giggling teenage girls, suburban wives, and half a dozen other nail specialists giving manicures and pedicures, Wanda shared her story. Because of the mask she wore, I could see only her pain-filled eyes. It was even worse than a story of a husband abandoning a wife and a four-year-old son. Wanda had found out that her husband probably wasn't even hers. His "real" wife had called Wanda to tell her to leave the woman's husband alone.
"I was number four," Wanda said, her voice choked with pain. (I honestly couldn't understand and didn't want to probe deeply about whether he had actually gone through a wedding ceremony with her or if she'd been the fourth girlfriend in a live-in relationship with the man.) She'd thought her husband worked off shore--several weeks out in the Gulf and a small amount of time at home. She'd discovered that he'd never worked off shore. Everything she thought she knew as truth was a lie. Now she's left to raise her son alone and try some day to explain to him who his father is and why he'd done what he'd done. Maybe one day she can even explain it to herself.
When she fell silent, I asked if she'd seen a lawyer to pursue him for child support. I already knew that probably she wouldn't do this. The Vietnamese community is assimilated into our culture in varying degrees. There are many who never go to the police when they have been victimized. They often don't seek the legal redress that we wouldn't hesitate to go after. Wanda said she couldn't do that. Her husband had disappeared. She fell silent.
When I was getting ready to leave, her gaze lifted to mine. With her eyes blinking rapidly to hold the tears at bay, in a low voice, she said, "I hope my son does not grow up to be like his father."