Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When Mindy leaned into me, I thought of dominoes. As a child, I loved to line the black blocks in long curvilinear patterns, holding my breath as I placed the last one. Then, in a brief moment of joy, I would push the first in order to watch the chain reaction begin. Each leaning domino would fall against its neighbor. I would clap happily as they clicked and fell to the floor.

Mindy was leaning into me as we sat on the floor of my bedroom, bent over the laptop on my legs, viewing the glowing screen and the images of the men from her Match.com page.

“Tula, you lucky,”

Yes, I am lucky. I have always been lucky; lucky to have been born, not by choice but by chance, in the United States. Mindy was born in Saigon, to a catholic family, one of three girls. She wanted to be a stewardess and fly around the world. Her family wanted her to be an attorney, and she was accepted into law school. A war altered her luck. She married a man she did not love. His family had been in power before the fall of their country. Thanks to his parent’s money and the benevolence of a Texas church, they were able to leave the war zone, to come to Houston, and to start a new life. Her marriage fell apart, and Mindy raised her son alone. She worked long hours as a hairdresser and manicurist to bring her mother and sisters out of Viet Nam. She speaks of America with passion, without regard to politics or administrations. She despises Viet Nam and the history that unfolded for her country. Mindy never wants to return to Viet Nam, not even for a visit.

“What this mean?” Mindy points to the face of Clint, a middle aged handsome man on the screen who has emailed her, one of 30 men tonight who have responded to her picture. I see Clint’s photo. “Looking for Fun,” is his moniker.

“See, he like fun,” and Mindy giggles as she places her fingers directly on the screen of my laptop.

Oh God, I think. There is no way to explain to Mindy that this man is not interested in her mind, her courage, or her large and generous heart.

“Yes, He says that he likes to have fun, but he doesn’t look like your type,” and I lean back into Mindy and place my arms around her shoulders. “Mindy, you are beautiful. You deserve the best.”

“My young one not call me today.”

Mindy has been dating a man fifteen years her junior. They go out three times a week, but usually not on the weekends. She tells me how she rubs his muscles in the shower using a circular motion, how she ties his shoes for him when he gets dressed, and about the egg rolls she serves to him at dinner. It makes her happy to give to a man. Her young one is enjoying all of her attention as well, but only during the week days. No telling whose affections he receives on the weekends.

“Look this one,” and she points to another man on her crowded page of admirers. “So many men email me,” and she giggles again like a schoolgirl.

Mindy has thick dark hair with bangs that cascade over her forehead and hide her eyes. She tosses her hair as she laughs. She wants to upload another photo of herself. We look at her profile pictures together. In her photographs, her back arches in provocative poses, as she shows off her slim form in parking lots or shopping malls.

“This one, good,” and she stretches out the word “good” to sound long and delicious. She is right. She looks exotic and sexy in front of a store sign, wearing a short checked jacket and tight jeans.

“I want to show my winter clothes and new boots.”

“What if we crop the photo to accentuate your smile?” but Mindy will have none of it.

“I want my boots not just the face. My smile too big.”

She does have a large and happy smile, which I like better than her nearly erotic pose.

“Mindy, only the top of the boots show.”

I know what she does not understand, that men will not notice her boots. The long list of suitors, studying her photos late at night, will fantasize over her tilted head, her serpentine spine and her unkempt, long hair.

“Mindy, lets remove this photo,” and I point to a suggestive pose on a boat in which she wears tiny white hot pants. “Your hair seems really messy here.”

“No,” she says again stretching out the word. She pokes me hard on my shoulder. “I Like it.”

Mindy is a product of her culture. I imagine the countless women and girls, posing for soldiers to catch their eye in hopes of rescue and release from their war torn home. Mindy is tired of working long hours. She would like to find a husband to care for her, to take her away and rescue her. She would like to be lucky as I was.

I leave her photos as she wants them, and we stare at the screen for several minutes without speaking.

“Why my young one not call, Tula?”

“I don’t know Mindy. He must be busy working and tired.”

My heart feels sick. I don’t know. I don’t know for myself either. How can I give advice to my friend? I tell her again that she is beautiful and hug her. I wish these men could see Mindy for who she is.

“Tula, I am beautiful on inside as well as outside.”

“I know Mindy. I know.”

I stare at the screen for a little while longer, and upload her picture in her new winter boots. She happily thanks me for my computer expertise. I tell her that I have to pay bills, and that its time for her to go home. I need to stop looking at her Match.com page and the faces of the leering men.

Mindy goes downstairs to the family room and begins to watch television with my son. She does not want to go home, to be alone another night, and wait by the phone for a call or the computer for an email. Eventually I urge her to leave. I have important things to do.

I say goodbye to Mindy, remind her how to find her way home to the freeway, kiss my son goodnight, and return upstairs. There on the floor of the bedroom glows my laptop. Without self control, I check my emails. I look for a blinking red light on the cell phone that charges on the night stand. The urge to look is as powerful as a narcotic. I pause as I search for a connection to someone, a man, hopefully a new partner. My entire evening pauses.

I wish that my friend Jeannie was near for me to lean into, to put her arms around me, and to tell me that I am beautiful. And, like dominos, Jeannie would lean towards me. She would tell me about her problems, her sons, her husband, her life that isn’t quite what she had planned so long ago. Together we would remain, for a brief while, balanced, staving off the eventual chain reaction. Dominos poised before they click and spill to the floor.

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