Below the bed is…nothing

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There was never a monster under the bed growing up. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe or that my parents weren’t into the scaring-your-child-with-mythological-figures type. It was because there was nothing below the beds.

When I was a kid, we lived with my grandparents. My parents had me when they were 26, 27. They weren’t doing very well yet and it was typical for a daughter-in-law to live with her husband’s family for the first few years. We lived in a small room upstairs at the end of a hallway. That was the only enclosed, separate room in the whole house. Everything else was a big open space that my grandparents sectioned out using curtains.

The room was small, but it was the only room so my parents took it. They placed a mattress on the floor. They didn’t think a bed frame just to prop up the mattress was worth the money. We slept almost on the floor for 7 years before leaving grandparents’ house. That was 7 years of me bouncing on the bed without ever worrying that the bed would break.

We moved to another house. The bedrooms were on the second floor. We placed the mattresses on the floor. My parents just used all of their money buying a house so they didn’t want to waste anymore money on unnecessary stuffs. I’ve never slept on a bed frame type of bed before so with or without a bed was not a concern for me. I was not allowed to bounce on the bed anymore because they were now on the second floor. My parents were afraid that jumping up and down on a mattress would make the creaky wooden floor break. No floor would be made that fragile but I didn’t want to take that risk.

The last house we moved in, we moved in with my aunt’s family. We decided to live together in a bigger house. My aunt and uncle were more concerned with the aesthetics of things than my parents. They wanted bed framed beds for everyone. When choosing a bed for themselves from the catalog, they chose a bed frame that had a drawer below. So from outside, below the bed looked like a solid block of wood which could be pulled out as a giant drawer for more storage space. Me, it was the first time I experienced being so high and close to the TV. I didn’t have to hurt my neck looking up to watch TV anymore.

Later, when I moved away, got my own bedroom, my own apartment, I put my mattresses on the floor. It was never my first concern to have a bed in the house. There were more important things to worry about.


I Will Follow You Into The Dark

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Love of mine, someday you will die
But I’ll be close behind and I’ll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark

I Will Follow You Into The Dark – Death Cab For Cutie

I had never lost anyone in my twenty something years of my life. I had all four grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, everyone. I grew up with everyone loving me and me loving everyone. I spent days as a child hanging out at everyone’s houses. I would have never wanted to lose any of my family, but deep down I knew that day would eventually come. And when the first drop of water fell, a whole waterfall would start splashing down on me, so quickly I could barely breathe. I was terrified.

Last year, my paternal grandpa passed away.

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

Ông nội was my everything when I was little. My parents couldn’t really afford much when they had me. My family stayed with my grandparents until I was 7. My childhood was filled with ông nội. He picked me up from school, took me on walks and dropped me off at dance classes. He made sure the neighboring kids I hung out with were good kids. He used his little retirement money to buy me toys. He watched TV with me when my parents got home late from work.

Once in a while, his friends came by to visit. Then ông nội reminisced about his old days as a soldier. He attended the wars. He fought in battles. He hid in bushes. He commanded troops. And he killed people.

Mum said ông nội was a big shot government employee back in the days. He traveled far and met many people. He had mistresses in places that my grandma didn’t know. Grandma was 20 years younger than ông nội because he used to be a lady man, handsome, well-traveled and successful. He worked hard and he enjoyed life.

He had 5 children. During the war time and the peace time, he did all he could to make sure they all got to go to schools. Climbing over hills or hiding in the bunkers, studying was a must. He used his money and connections to get them to colleges during a time that the rest of the country was barely literate.

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me,
Son, fear is the heart of love, so I never went back

My grandparents were not Christians. They practiced a combination of Vietnamese traditional ancestor worship and some Buddhism beliefs. In his house, on top of the big wooden closet was always an altar with pictures of our ancestors. Ông nội said the altar should be as high as possible so the ancestors could watch over us. The smell of incenses being lighted up every week lingered around the house.

Ông nội probably believed in reincarnation or just becoming nothing after death. A thought that his family still remembered him might be enough. Every time we placed fruits and offerings on the altar, ông nội told me to pray for our family happiness from our ancestors. Family would always take care of family.

You and me we’ve seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary and the soles of your shoes
Are all worn down
The time for sleep is now
But it’s nothing to cry about
‘Cause we’ll hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms

I had ông nội for more than 20 years. I had him as a child. I had him as a teenager. I even came home from across the globe just in time to see him one last time before the incarceration. When it was time for him to go, there was nothing I could do.

I lighted an incense for the altar, now with his picture in the center. I still cried every time.

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