The Peace Bride-- Yen

November 5, 2012
It was a misty day in the rural village I was born and raised and never once dared to leave. My name is Yen .. It means Peace but it was quite a irony since this was a time of many uncertainties and pain. It was 1971 in my homeland. Many were suffering and fighting for what they believed. In my village the soldiers for the Viet-Cong would hide and spread the word of freedom. First it was the French, then the Japanese and now it was the Americans. It seems Vietnam has always been the conquered land..
All of this history never once affected me because I was just a simple girl who picked rice with my callused worn out elders. It was a known duty that I stay in my place and that I had no opinion on these matters.
I was 17 when the soldiers came back after setting the traps. I don't go into the forest anymore after seeing a man who had mistakenly fell into a Punji stake trap..
It was a gruesome sight but I never dared to disagree..
The soldiers would sleep in our place , though quaint and small it was enough. They would often eat all our rice , leaving me without dinner or breakfast . "Mother can we suggest that they sleep at Bien's house tonight? " Her face wrinkled "Not now ,get back to washing the rice." I was getting frustrated with her dodging the subject "Mother I hate these men! I can't sleep , eat , and I don't even know why they are here!!" Her face twisted and looked like a snake ready to strike. "Foolish girl!!", grabbing my wrist with her rough hands and twisting. " I never want to hear you speak like that again! If anyone else heard you say will be thrown in the Punji with no remorse !"
My wrist burned and my eyes watered but she was right..and I knew it was because she cared about me.
The night dimmed and the birds loudly chirped . The men yelled in our house as mother quietly served them rice and our limited meats. I poured drinks as a man stared at me with a gleam in his eyes. Without even a warning he grabbed my shoulder as the other men chanted and laughed "Ahh she can bunk with me anytime!!!! " My face was burning and I wanted to fight back .. Instead I just had to hide my face from the shame. "Excuse me.. " they went back to eating , loudly " Ahh Lam you scared her away! "

I sat in the dirt swatting mosquitoes trying to keep the pent up frustration inside.. I wanted any way to leave. The only way I had was if I were to get married but even this seemed too much trouble in these times. In my life I knew it was only about duty , never emotion.

The rest of the night, I stayed outside in the shed where our tools are kept. It was far better than being in the house with those pigs we call soldiers. The morning came and my legs itched as I ran to the fields. Mother was sure to be mad me for sleeping past sunrise! I ran as hard as I could down the dirt trail when I heard the soldiers screaming and celebrating. " We have them!!! We have them!!!" as us farmers stood silently .
The soldiers held dangerous weapons and in the aim were three men.
Never in my life did I imagine seeing a white man . Their eyes were bright like crystals and their skin pink and red from the bug bites. One man was short and hefty and had vomit on his shirt for some unknown reason, the other was older with long hair and had a bad injury on his thigh but was still forced to walk. The next and the one most feared looked around my age and walked with so much strength. He turned his head and stared right into my eyes . His eyes were the most striking color I have ever seen . .. They looked like the freshly grown leaves in the forest and time seemed to freeze. Was I just absorbed in his beauty or maybe foreign curiosity ? Or did I know in fate that this was going to be my one and only love.. He smiled at me even with a weapon to his back and was marched through mud.
Young boys whispered " I want to see them get the fat one!!" with too much excitement.

Mother grabbed my wrist again " Do not gawk! You are late for work!" but I couldn't help staring at the man in the distance. Hours went by and my legs and hands were caked in dry mud and the topic of " What will they do with the white men ?" went on all day.
The night came and I decided to sleep in the shed once again .. When I opened the door I saw the big man yellow and stiff from the sickness. The older man yelled and cussed as he put pressure on his leg. "Damn it Charlie!!!!!!"
Charlie? Who is he talking about?
The man who caught my eye sat with new bruises on his face, " You should leave before they see you ." I couldn't understand him at all.. but I heard the soldiers behind the flap " That one is being much too loud! Also we still haven't gotten any information!" The whispers got louder and the foreign man said " Hide!" I hid behind the tarp near the dead man shaking .. The wet air made the plastic stick to my arms as I held my breath. I could see through the warn out fibers as two young boys dragged the dead man out, nearly hitting my foot. Lam stood in front of the injured man with a bayonet as the man yelled louder ,"No! Damn you to hell!!" but before he could finish the weapon killed him instantly. I jolted and Lam glared at the tarp "What was that?" before being distracted by the one hostage.
" So how much do you think I'll go for? Probably not much my dad even said I'm only about a buck fifty, tops." the foreign man said . Lam shouted "s? im l?ng!!!" pointing the bayonet. The animals filled the silence till Lam spit at the ground and walked out.

The foreign man said " I think it's safe now." and waved his hand forward. I was too afraid to come out but my bones shook so much that I had no control when I fell out the tarp. When I wiped my tears something warm rubbed on my face and the man's eyes grew large. I looked down to my hands to find blood that was not mine ..
It was that moment I could not stay below a whisper , with my lungs about to burst in fear as I started screaming. My scream was interrupted by the mans strong arms as he squeezed me tightly ,into his chest " Shhh.." The soldiers walked by " You're just hearing things Bao.. It was probably just a bird moron! " as the lights flashed through the cracks.
The danger passed and our breath was the only thing we could hear. The man's eyes still shined even in the dark,and I had to ask his name. I pointed at his tags and he replied " Russel Cartwright. You're name?", still holding me . " Yen.."
"Yen.. what a beautiful name. I'm glad to hear it in I don't make it through this. "
His hands were shaking and his head was limp on my shoulder. I didn't know this man but I knew he needed me..I got up quickly and quietly but before leaving I turned back and stared. Russel leaned on the wall , weak and beaten , but still strong..

The moonlight was bright and I ran home to sneak some rice to Russel to find the house to be too quiet.. "Mother are you here?"
She was standing firmly in the middle waiting with Lam beside her.. "May I ask what is going on ?" Mother's lips pursed and her eyebrows furrowed as she said " Yen , Lam has just offered to take you as his wife. He will make a fine husband and will support you. You will accept this kind offer and we will proceed with the wedding."
I had no choice.. Though I hated Lam , it was my duty to obey mother and be his wife.

Lam's raggedy hair was rubbed back as he exited and scanned his eyes over me up and down.. A shiver ran down my spine, feeling his perverted gaze..

The weeks went by and wedding preparations were going by so fast when the date was set by the priest . Afterwards I would always visit Russel in the shed , some days he seemed strong enough to fight his way out and other days he looked as if he wouldn't make it through the night. Even though we had trouble understanding each other with our language , he was the only man who truly understood me. It was if words weren't needed to express ourselves. Just the simple nod he would give me when they would let him out to use the restroom was enough .

" I think I would actually like this village if it were under different circumstances." Russel said, trying to hide the pain in his back. " I'm from Oklahoma City , I always found it boring but now all I want is to be back home.." I nodded not knowing what Oklahoma City was but I knew he did miss home. I learned so much about his homeland and it sounded like a dream.. the binding of cultures and the vast land of freedom was only something I could imagine.

" I look forward to coming back as a hero unlike those draft dodging hippies ." He then made the peace sign and then hit the dirt."But when I get home I hope you will be there with me .We could live on a farm with rolling fields and big open skies." It was silent again and I found myself staring at the handsome man , forgetting all about my fiance.. Russel's face got closer , our eyes never leaving the each others , till our lips met. Covered in dirt and feeling the bristle on his face we kissed forever. He was my first kiss and prayed he was my only...

Everyday I would sneak and bring him my dinner, though I never told him that. "Yen you are getting so thin.. Are you okay?" Through talking to him I learned a bit of English and would practice in my head while picking rice. " I'm fine" I struggled to say. Russel's lips pouted and he gave back the bowl " Take this! I'm sure you need it more than me. " I held the bowl and felt the tears well up .
How could he think of me when he has been chained in a shed for months!?
I cried silently and hugged Russel tightly ."Xin vui lòng không ch?t!"
It was still silent as he stroke my hair and whispered a unknown song in both our native tongues..

Gentle rains.
The sun shines on the leaves.
Forest gives me peace
In the morning

M?a ?? nh? nhàng.
M?t tr?i t?a sáng trên lá.
R?ng mang l?i cho tôi s? bình an
Trong bu?i sáng

The rain pounded and the shed's roof making the sound of breaking glass. The storm was harsh and I couldn't bare to leave his arms. Russel was so warm and comforting that as my eyes dropped from exhaustion I forgot about the danger. Late in the night and early in the morning I felt the cold mist hit my face and feet. When I realized what was going on my hands clenched in fear and there I saw .. Bao at the door looking straight at us. Bao the chubby faced man stood mouth agape " What are you doing Yen!!?" he exclaimed. There was nothing I could do but silently weep..
" If anyone else saw this you and the hostage would be killed instantly! " , pointing at me." You are lucky I was the one to find this because if I mention this because Lam would never want to face the embarrassment and kill me . .. If you want to live.. you will end this now." , with the lightning flashing behind. In a stern voice Bao ended with "Do you understand?"
The empty void and truth hit me and I knew Bao was right.. No matter how much I want we will never survive together. I should I just had to say one last goodbye.

I kissed his forehead as he slept away the pain.. For I knew that this was for the best..

Two months went by and the ceremonies continued for my future as Lam's wife. This whole time I felt heartless and cold.. As if I were always in the freezing rain during the season. I looked forward to nothing in this future. Duty was becoming more like death to me , a painful slow demise .. We sat together as a "noble" couple ,lighting inscents at my ancestor alter . Lam asked permission to the alter as I secretly prayed they would deny. Lam's widowed mother stood with her hanging jowls nodding proudly of this milestone. "Ahh what a beautiful bride you have chosen my son.", giving two gifts wrapped in red..
My stomach ached as the ceremony went by and I wondered if Russel was even still alive..
When I left the ceremony and celebration in my áo dài dress , Lam showed me our new home down the village. This wasn't the home I imagined with rolling hills and open skies.. It was sticky and muddy up the trail,staining my dress. The most disturbing of all this is turning and not seeing Russel. All my life I knew I wasn't going to have a choice who I married and I was comfortable with that, but why now is it hurting so much?
Lam held my arm and took me in the house where he started taking off his shirt.
"What are you doing?"
Lam laughed "What do you mean? Of course you know!"
I still did not understand and I'm sure he could see that in my face. " To do your wifely duties Yen."
I bit my lips in frustration as he turned around " Take off your ao dai dress, it's dirty anyway."
No.. No .. I must say it ..
"No" quickly and sharp. Lam froze "What ?" I was feeling all the anger rise up in me as my shoulders tensed and I felt flames behind me. " I said no !!"
Lam was fast grabbing my shoulders ,shaking me " How dare you say that!" I could not stop yelling what I burned in my heart " I hate you !! You are not a true man just a cruel coward!"
He shook me violently and my neck snapped back and forth like a doll.I did not care what was going to happen .. I just had to get out of this. I spat right as his face running down the trail covered in mud. My feet soared and Lam was too far behind putting his clothes back on. The first place I ran to was the dirt road where we piled our tools now. I grabbed the sharpest tool to set Russel free!

Russel was lying weakly , sweating and so thin. " Yen?" he shouted but I had no time to reply. I can't believe he is still alive! I hit the chains with all my strength till the broke but when he tried springing up he fell and quivered..
I held one side of him as he was limp and weak. I remembered that this is the first time in months that he has been able to run . The trail was covered in vines and thick roots as we tripped ,but wouldn't give up. My dress was ripping and covered in mud and the flickers of light through the trees strobes . Russel yelled " Go back!! You won't be killed if I'm not with you !", I just didn't care anymore..
We went about 2 miles in and Russel collapsed in the thick grass.I fell on my knees trying to breathe . " Leave me!! I'm a goner anyway!!" I just crawled next to him hoping my ancestors will give me permission.
Please let me love him..
Let me love him forever..
Russel smiled and leaned his head on my shoulder , and I heard the sticks crack nearby.
We were surrounded and there was no way out.
Lam came out with the mud on his face silently giving the orders to strike. He glared at me with disgust " Kill the pig and whore."
Two shots rang out and we fell side by side. I felt no pain and when Russel faced me , and gripped my hand. He said his final words " I love you.." I replied back "Tôi yêu các b?n" The leaves glittered and the birds sang as the men of my village bowed in respect.

To leave duty and obligation is to enter the unknown ,To enter a unknown world can be the hardest thing in life but the most rewarding. I was not afraid .. because in the sky I could see us married, with children in a little house in Oklahoma . Seeing this was enough for me..

For I was in peace..

The light kept getting brighter and together Russel and Yen went on to their next lives..
It was a death that rattled the whole village. A shrine was made for the lovers of innocence and war. Many years later people of the forest took the beaten trail to leave their wishes and to ask for pure love. Children leave dolls of the white man and the woman in her wedding dress happily together for eternity.

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