The prolonged leave taking is finally done. Pammy and her husband Pan get in the car, which sputters at first, as if it too is stuffed with endless flow of holiday food, too full to exert its engine.
Pan had a great time, but even when he’s talking with Lau effusively about whether to get that kind of brownies for their Christmas party now that New Jersey has legalized it, he was a little uneasy about his wife Pammy, who seems to strike a quick friendship with Lau’s wife Fei. Pan and Lau are colleagues in a financial firm, Lau being a newcomer in the company. The two wives meet for the first time. It’s strange to Pan that women could become intimate friends in such a short time. Pan’s not uneasy about their friendship, but rather they way the two women glanced at their husbands as if they were discussing something…
They drive on and Pammy remains silent for a full minute. Then she sighs and clears her throat to say something. How much Pan is apprehensive about the sound of it. Whenever Pammy wants to say something unpalatable, she will make sounds like that first. On a full stomach, Pan feels a little sick to think about any word related with food, but he can’t find another word to replace unpalatable.
“You know who Fei is?” Pammy finally starts.
“Lau’s wife, as far as I know. What? What’s going on? The whole time you two glanced at us as if you were plotting something.” Pan says.
“No wonder you looked a little cranky when we were leaving. You didn’t say a word about the excellent dinner you just had.” Pammy says.
“You said enough for both of us. By the way I am not cranky. You are.”
“I am not. I just feel sorry for Fei. Now she’s practically a prisoner at home, living her life under the whims of somebody else. Isn’t it terrible?” Pammy says.
“Excuse me? What are you talking about? Lau tells me how much he takes care of his wife. I can’t believe this. When we were talking about nice things about our wives, you two were talking about how awful we are. I can’t believe women.”
“That’s not the point. I don’t understand every time I talk about life, you think it is an attack on you.”
The two fell silent. Two minutes later, Pan asks, “You said you know who Fei is. So who is she?”
“I’m not going to talk with you from now on.” Pammy says.
Then she looks at him, pleased that he shows a little distress. So she continues, “Remember twelve years ago this brilliant girl won an international competition and got a full scholarship to go to Singapore for college? It’s all over the newspaper. That’s her.”
“Then she came to America for graduate school. People thought she’s going to be a brilliant scientist. Then she got married with Lau. But when she got pregnant, she’s so sick that she almost died. She’s been a shadow of her former self ever since.”
“Oh, shut up. Nobody dies of pregnancy nowadays. You like to exaggerate things, but nice to know you have an active imagination.” Pan says, trying to lighten up a little.
“Men just don’t understand this. You think it is nothing, but actually it is a big thing, especially for immigrants. Fei worked so hard that her body just couldn’t handle work and pregnancy at the same time. So her body just went crazy. You know back home there are family and friends, but here you are alone. Women can’t have a child alone, you know. I really think women have such a ….”
“Thank you for giving me another lecture on how much women suffer, especially immigrant women like you.”
“American dream is for you, my little dragon. Not for me. For men, not for women.” Pammy says, her hands fumbling his thick black hair.
“Shut up. And keep your little witch hand off my hair.” He cries loudly, “and if this is not for you, my little witch, what do you want to do?”
“I wanted to be a singer and an actress, but instead I am here doing some forgettable jobs anybody can do.” Pammy says.
He chuckles. “Oh, I remember now. About ten years ago, during my Christmas break, I flew back home and your mother begged me to go to see you to persuade you not to perform in that little theater group of yours. It’s said it’s quite a daring show, isn’t it? What’s it called again?”
Now Pan remembers. It’s probably his mother-in-law’s little trick to push the two together, but anyway he’s happy to save a beautiful girl like Pammy who’s about to throw herself onto the stage to disgrace her family. Pammy has two sisters. In that conservative island of Southeast Asia, once disgraced, the marriage prospect of the whole family is doomed. He has always thought of himself as a problem solver and rescuer, who gives Pammy a life line and a new future in America by marrying her. Now he feels so betrayed that his selfless good deed is considered as a selfish act of benefiting his own American dreams while destroying Pammy’s aspiration.
Pammy doesn’t reply. So Pan continues, “come on. That little group of performers like yours. You can hardly afford the costumes and have to stitch everything up yourself at night. When I came to see you, you were painting the backdrop with paints all over your sleeves. You will starve yourself before becoming an actress.”
“I am not going to speak to you anymore.” Pammy declares.
“Wait a minute. You said American dreams are for men, not women, but that’s not what I witnessed. Remember when Joon wanted to move back to South Korea, his wife Kim refused to go with him. Same thing happens to Dandan’s parents. Her father is back in Taiwan working for a Buddhist temple while her mother refused to go with him. So American dreams are for women after all.” Pan says, happy to punch holes in his wife’s story.
“Kim’s mother-in-law is barbarous. Every festival big or small, Kim has to go to cook, wash, clean for her in-laws. Kim is much better off to stay away in New Jersey. Joon’s family is too traditional. If they have the money they used to have, no problem. However they lost everything in 2008 and has to let all the servants go. They can afford to use nobody now but Kim. Dandan’s father lives in a Buddhist temple and no women allowed there. If Dandan’s mother goes with him, she has to rent a place in Taipei, which is an expensive city. She’s much better off working for Macy’s in New Jersey.”
“So… What’s your point? Women like to stay here. I am right.” Pan says.
“Your examples don’t prove anything. It only proves men have more choices while women don’t.” Pammy says, “Oh, I forgot. I want to tell Fei that she should stand up to her husband. I didn’t want to do that while we were there since I was afraid that she may start a fight right there to ruin our Thanksgiving dinner.” Pammy says.
“What are you doing? Are you texting her? No way. You can’t go to a man’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and then set his wife up against him. You just can’t do that. Now give me your cell phone.” Pan says.
Pammy stops typing, but keeps holding on to her cell phone.
“He controls all their money and she can’t even buy a blouse she likes. He wants her to cook the Thanksgiving dinner to save money, and she has to fight with him to order the roast duck. He also psychologically bullies her.” Pammy says.
“That’s just some hearsay. I believe Lau is a decent fellow and you can’t just slander a decent fellow like that. Have you heard Lau’s side of the story? No. Have you thought about her being so sickly, how much he has to do to keep the family together?” Pan says.
Pammy considers, “I think you do have a point.”
“Actually I am bullied by you regularly, but I never complain.” Pan says.
“Oh, shut up. I bully you? How?”
“The ESPN is cancelled by you and I can’t watch soccer anymore. That’s emotional bully, don’t you know that? Also you insist on one burger night and one pizza night every week, depriving me of my sticky rice meals. Food is very psychological, don’t you know that?”
“Oh, shut up, will you? I want our little Sam to be Americanized. No soccer, no language but English, and more American meals. You need to sacrifice your entertainment and your stomach for our little Sam. By the way, I don’t know how Sam is doing right now. I hope our neighbor has Americanized him enough with their turkey dinner.”
Pammy places a phone call to Sam and happy to hear Sam telling her about turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing etc.
“Fei tells me that one of her colleagues, also from Malaysia like Fei, has to get her four limbs cut off due to a complicated pregnancy. Isn’t that terrifying? Her parents can’t be here to take care of her. They don’t have the money to travel.” Pammy says. “I feel so lucky that I am alive and healthy. I am not in such a big stress as Fei, though. Never have been and never will.” Pammy says.
“I will love you even if you are a legless little witch.” Pan says.
“I will love you even if you are a clueless little dragon.” Pammy says.