The first time I kissed her in that club, she tasted like peppermint mixed with alcohol and cranberry juice. The music got lost in my ears. My vision went with it. I only felt the beats of the heavy bass stumping on the dance floor, beating against my heels, and then my whole body. Maybe that was my heartbeat too. Maybe it was hers.
So what is it, I asked.
Petrichor, he said.
Fresh woods and wet leaves. Dripping. Pouring. Tropical rain forest in a city. All awaken in the refreshing cold air after the rain. If Hanoi city were a woman, I would fall in love with her over and over again.
In Vietnam, the kids were jealous of how Chinese I looked. How much whiter my skin was compared to theirs. How much less hair I had. But our differences were too subtle.
So I was in love with all things foreign.
I wanted my skin tanned, hair lighter, like the girls on the American TV shows. Light brown. Blond. Red. My hair was browner than my classmates’ coal black strands and I took pride in that, but I never understood why.
You drink so much chocolate milk your hair is turning brown. My grandpa spoke with a horsing laughter.
I drank it even more after that.
I only realized he’d lied when I switched to strawberry milk, hoping to get pink hair.
I forgot that word again at trivia, he complained, the smell after rain.
I love that smell. It reminds me of home. It rains so much there that the storm became our friend. The thunderous roar was our white noise. The constant lightning never woke us up.
So Hanoi always smells like its aftermath. And I was so eager finding out it had a name.
Our first sober kiss was wet. Rain fell from leaves in little careless drops onto my shoulders, onto my nose, and then hers. All I could feel was her full lips against mine. All I could hear was her gasps of breath. All I could taste was mint.
In America, I look even more Chinese. Our differences are extreme. My face represents a race. My skin is no longer the whitest but a shitty shade of cream people call “yellow”.
I speak American English with an accent. I used to pronounce “gloves” like “gloofs” or “literary” like “litter-ah-ee,” and most people laughed. But they didn’t want to pronounce my real name.
Olivia, I used to say. I’ve been using that name since I was 12. It’s easier to say.
The first time we kissed on our first date, everything was wet. It rained the whole day that Sunday, she kept chewing gum but I didn’t mind.
NYOONG. In college, I started to introduce myself with my real name. Sometimes I enunciate it so non-Vietnamese speakers could hear how I pronounced it and try.
I taught my girlfriend how to say it and she told me my name sounded as soft as my lips.
Sometimes, I like to explain what my name translates into.
That’s fucking sexy. A gay woman once responded with a smirk.
I never changed my name again.
Kissing her was soft. Her lips smooth, falling open at the brush of my tongue, welcoming me at her cold minty breath.
Nhung An is a 22-year-old writer who moved from Vietnam to the United States at the age of 16. She has won first prizes for the Quinnipiac University’s Donald Hall Poetry Prize and Wilder Fiction Prize. As the first Quinnipiac recipient of the Connecticut Poetry Circuit award, Nhung was on a collegiate poetry reading tour in the state. Her work can be found on Hematopoiesis Press, Lunch Ticket, and Montage; but she is found on Twitter @nhungan_. Most of her writing revolves around her journey, sexuality, and relationship with her mother named Snow White.
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