Sunday morning, arising early at the Sainte Clare Hotel where I always stayed when visiting San Jose, I was tempted to drive by our former house and Edward's apartment before visiting Mom but instead drove to Alviso, again seeking its mystical connection which evaded me.
Even Alviso, however, had changed and while Val's was still there, it was operated by a niece of the deceased elderly woman who fussed over Gary and me. The salt ponds were converted to a national park of some sort with crowds instead of the soothing loneliness they once provided. The estuaries were filled with kayakers and throngs toured the railroad tracks and levees reading park explanation signs. None matched Gary’s narrative as related to me. His, perhaps less accurate, was the better.
Lane's, more decrepit, still stood. My only reflection was of the passing train kiss. I didn't trek the rail line with others to the drawbridge. With nothing left to connect with. I quickly left to visit Mom, noticing the Agnew State Mental hospital complex was now occupied by Sun Micro-systems as I passed Agnew.
Where are the nuts now? They're our street homeless, of course. The cuckoo’s nest hatchlings are downtown, begging at the crosswalk.
Like Dad’s and Mom’s past, mine’s also was gone, as if Edward never lived here. The Valley’s rapid change from what I knew to what is new, has left me homeless too.
As I drove, I weighed my mother in law’s revelation and decided it best was kept as an ultra-secret. It renewed my curiosity about my parents, however, and I decided to ask Mom how she met Dad.
I took Mom to brunch in the little downtown of Willow Glen which had revitalized into an upscale, quaint shopping street. Afterward, we drove to our old Tropicana Village neighborhood, past the old house and stopped at the church of my wedding. There we discovered it offered mass in Tagalong, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Wow, we'd fit right in here now.
Crossed my mind. Next, we went to Dad's grave at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery with flowers for Dad's headstone proclaiming, "No Sad Songs".
Back at her house, we ate take out Thai food, then sipped wine in her small back yard. I enjoyed the California sun and let it dry out my Pacific Northwest dampness. The wine warmed me too.
Mom rarely drank. A little wine turned her complexion red and her tongue loose. She gained color as we drank. At rosy pink, we talked, talked as daughter and mother, as confidants, as equals. Other than housekeeper gossip from long ago it was the first time we talked beyond chit chat. To resolve past puzzles and get to how she came from Hawaii to California and met Dad, I set her up with a flattery compliment.
"Mom, I admire you, I want you to know. I always did but as I grow older, I admire you more. I appreciate everything you did for me."
"No, it I, admire you. You help me. I must thank you. Even little, you help."
Every daughter wants to know how her Mom met her Dad, so I got to the point.
"Mom, tell me about Hawaii and how you met Dad?"
There it was, point-blank. I wanted to know the past, the past never talked about. She sat silent; a tear welled up and zig-zagged down one wrinkled red-hued cheek.
"Please Mom, don't cry, I didn't mean to make you cry. Let's talk about something else. Do you need some help in the yard?"
Her face crinkled in concentration. She was struggling with memories, scabbed ones, now scraping them open. When she finally spoke, she reverted to the Pidgin English of her Hawaiian origin.
"Okay, okay, I tell you. You must know. You must know your mother now. Not good, not good. It bad, very bad. You must not tell I was bad."
"Ha! Mom, you make me smile. I know you. You can't lie to your daughter, the daughter who always went to Mass with you. You’re not bad! You’re the goodliest!"
I thought she was going to tell me she was not a virgin when she married Dad or her and Dad never married. I repressed a smile thinking of how her bad would pale before mine.
"You never say what I say now. Very bad….., Rickie… he… he only…."
She fell silent needing a nudge to continue. My mind flashed to thinking she was struggling to say something about Rickie being killed in Vietnam, somehow twisting it into being her fault. I needed her to get over the Rickie bump to get her to tell me how she left Hawaii and met Dad.
"Mom there’s nothing you can say that would make me think less of you. I know you. I’m your daughter. Trust me. I have some sins. I'm not the goody daughter you think. Please tell me about Rickie and then how you met Dad"
"Rickie, Rickie, he, he is…. your half -brother."
It came as a whisper. Boom! It exploded in my ears. Out of nowhere came, half-brother?
I sat quite to let this sink in while I mulled over what would come next. Racing, no bouncing to and fro in my mind was.
Who the hell is Rickie's father?
Trying not to look shocked, I broke the silence.
"Mom, Mom, that's okay, I am glad you told me. You’re good, you’re wonderful. I love you. I love you more. Trust me, tell me how it happened."
The truth was my mind was in confusion. A basic, fundamental precept of my family structure had just been swept aside. What else was to crumble? She struggled for words then began letting them flow, reverting more and more to pidgin, inserting Tagalog too. She stuttered released the dam held back so many years.
"Hard, hard, me to say; hard me to tell you. Tatay, Ina from Philippines, work on pineapple company, Maui, we live Maui. War over…..
High price no more. Plantation now poor time, poor, very poor, we were… poor.
Nine of us Tatay, Ina and 7, me, like you, only girl.
We live in little house, 4 room, house. House, it on poles, bathroom outside.
I good girl. I help Ina like you help me.
Tatay work hard but still owe money. We… always owe store money.
Storeman, …, China man, nice to me. Always give me sweet. ….. He no nice Tatay, he yell at Tatay, want money we owe.
I go to shop, get spam for dinner…...
No one there. Only shop man. …. in shop, he give me sweet. He say, take spam, no pay. ….. Then, he take me back, back, ….., to his sleep room.
He, … pull up sarong,…...
I go leave. He say, no go, hold me. …., put hand on mouth. He climb on me. ………."
Each short sentence accompanied by a sob. As she stopped, her body shook with sobs.
"He raped you, Mom?"
Tears, not single ones, streams, continued to flow; unable to speak she nodded.
"Mom, oh Mom, I’m so sorry, how old were you?"
With sobs abating but tears still streaming over her weathered wrinkles, still unable to talk she flashed her hand with five fingers, three times.
"Mom, you were fifteen?"
As she nodded affirmative, I too began to cry.
"He got you pregnant?"
"Was he Cantonese?"
It explained why Rickie was short. He was two inches shorter than me. My other brothers were normal height, close to Dad but a little shorter. Things were starting to fill in.
"Mom, when you were pregnant, what happened?"
"Tatay, angry, hit me. ….. I ruin family. Hit me, hit me, want know who sex me. ….. I not say. Shop man, he say, Tatay must pay money owe, if I say. We lose house if I say.
It little house. …. 4 room house, all us, no place else live. Tatay yell in house, yell I bad."
"What happened when Rickie was born?"
She paused again to reflect on what she was going to say next; then again it rolled out.
"Shop owner, he visit Tatay. …… No more owe money. ….. He, forget what Tatay owe. Instead, he, give money, he, give Tatay money. Then, man he come, Chinaman. ….. he come, he, take me go away. I cry, no want, go away. Ina say, I stay, no go but Tatay he, yell, go, go away. Not look at me.
Man, he, take me in boat to Honolulu. Big city, he, take me old building, … it on Hotel Street, street have many bars, in other old building there too, like Chinatown.
I lock up, no can go out. China boss man, he, bring doctor. Doctor, he come. … Chinese doctor, he come to take baby out but doctor he, say too late. No can take baby out.
Rickie born, China boss man, he, say, … give baby away!
No, I say. I say me love him. I say kill me. … I say give away, I kill me, I kill someone.
No make me give Rickie away. They put me, Rickie in little room, little room. …. They have six little room. …… six girl. We Pinay girl, except Burma girl. …..
They love Rickie but Rickie he, cry, boss man, he get angry, yell shut up."
She stuttered and stopped. Stunned I reached over and hugged her, openly crying.
"Mom, ….. please, ….., please Mom, ….., let it out. Let me help carry what they did to you …. oh God Mom, I love you!"
My words too were between sobs.
“Chinese lady … she live in front building room. She, keep, see us. We no go out. Man, he come ….. come in shop door. …… door tinkle when he open door … door little bell, tinkle when open ….. We know man come, hear tinkle bell, man come see girl. China, lady, she, talk, man, white man only, ……, army, navy, some not army, navy.
Man, he, give, give five. ……. He, give money, he, give five dollars to China lady.
Then, then she, call us. She, she have, little bell too, she ring her little bell. …. We hear bell, go in front, we stand so man can look see us. We wear sarong ……. sandals, no wear more. In front, sarong, we wear down ….. down so man can look see dede. He, look, see …. He, see girl he like. … He, tell China boss lady, girl he like. Girl he no like, they go back little room. Girl he like, she, take to her room, on bed …. He, sex her.
Burma girl tall ….. men look-see, like her. Man, they like me too …. Me young, look, see me …… me dede big with milk for Rickie.
In-room, I have dresser in room. …. I take drawer, hide Rickie in drawer, on floor, cover with cloth, not want Rickie see me bad even if baby. ….. Man, some drunk, some no nice, some nice, sex me ….. some, …, after sex me, give dollar, some less, …..., I give some give money to boss lady.
Boss lady, she, say, man, he, give you money? Take away money if she, find man give money. I give some boss, hide some.
They look-see, if I have hide money. No find. I hide good, hide inside, Virgin Mary.
Me not happy but have Rickie. Feed Rickie okay, feed me good. Food …. food it ... good. All rice we want, pork, poi. Boss want us eat. We eat all want, boss want we big, like Hawaii girl. "
"How many Mom? How many men came at night?"
"No, not night only, sometimes day. Sometime no men…… sometime five, ….. sometime, …... more if big ship come.
I think, how escape? Chinese boss lady say I run away, family must pay money back, paid for me. I sold girl, no can leave. I think…... find policeman, be safe.
Soon policeman, he come. ….. Door it, tinkle. I see him, think me now okay. He, go talk China boss lady. No give her money. No ….. she give him money. She, call, ring bell, we stand for he, look-see. He, look, see, pick me. I take to room……. He, sex me, after sex me, I say him, take me out. Take me out with him. He, look-see me …. He, laugh. He, say next time, he, take me out. …, He, take me jail. He, laugh, he, laugh at take me out, to jail while he dress up.
When he leave, ……, he still laugh take me, …., take me out, …, out to jail, ……, Then I know police get money, not pay, sex girl free, …., police not help me."
When she paused I just hugged her, broke free, wiped the tears streaming on my face, then waited for her to start again but she was not ready. At last, I asked.
"How’d you get here?
"After year, me pregnant, …., no can have baby. They no like, Rickie, no more baby. Chinese doctor, he, visit. Sometimes give girl needle shot. If girl pregnant, he, take baby out, …., throw away. He take baby out me, throw away.
After I no pregnant, Chinaman, different Chinaman, boss,……., he come, take Burma girl, …., take me in big boat to San Francisco.
When boat go under bridge, I look up, promise Rickie we run away.
Then see. big city, …. I afraid. Man, he, take me, Burma girl from boat to Chinatown, get money from China big shop man in little street. Shop, man,….., take us old building, lock us in little room again. We told, be good or get hit. If not good hit, hit me, hit girl not do good, not make boss money, get hit. Chinatown, …., not good, ……, bad.
We ten girl Chinatown, sometime more, girl come, go, …., go Oakland, Stockton, go back. Girl no make money, go Stockton. Go Stockton for farm workmen. Me, Burma girl no go Stockton, make boss money Chinatown.
Some girl, they China girl, most Pinay. No food enough. No can eat what we want, …., China boss man he, want, skinny, …., want us like China girl…… skinny. We wear, silk, china dress, silk slippers too.
Like Hawaii, man he, pick girl, lift cheongsam, sex girl, …, leave. Only Chinaman, ….., no white man. China man, they sex, run, sex run, no dollar. Only say English little. Some no say English. One…. He, say English…. He say he pick beans in Santa Clara, get two cents pound picked. Tell me dumb, used girl, like me, can pick beans, make money. I tell Burma girl we go Santa Clara and pick beans. I give half hide money to her, she, hide too. We escape together, we think.
But,….but like Hawaii, girl no go out, lock up. China boss man, he, say police come we hide in hide wall. If police find, we go jail. If we run away police take us, go jail… then maybe ship girl away…maybe ship Hong Kong. After Hawaii, ….., I think, police if find me, jail me, ship me away, I…, lose Rickie.
One China boss lady, she nice, she, know Rickie need time play outside, let me take Rickie out, play and run park. Rickie, me, let go little Chinatown park, …..., church park.… not Catholic. Rickie, he get fresh air….. play…. man come too, watch, make sure I come back, work. He, smoke, go eat mee soup. I think run away when he, eat soup. He, watch me and Rickie from mee shop when eat soup.
In park, ….I see cable car.…. It, go past, not block away. I know when come… it, turn corner.
It ring, bell, …, ding, ding. In park I listen, …, learn then watch cable car, ….., think pick up Rickie….run cable car…. getaway. No can run fast with Rickie, in cheongsam, I need time, getaway.
After time, take Rickie to park, man not watch close, …., he, go soup, no watch, sometime he go, get cigarette, go smoke. I learn cable car come when hear bell. I keep hide money with me. One day I see okay chance, man, …, he, go eat soup, no look. I pick up Rickie, …, walk, …, then try run cable car. Hard to run, …, hard to run, cheongsam, slippers, hard to run.
I get to cable car, hold Rickie up, hard get on, maybe not can. Man on, he take Rickie, …, put Ricky on, set on seat, ….., I hold and run, …., no can jump on, …, man, he reach, he pull me up. I hide in cable car, …, so no can see me and Rickie.
Cable car go, up, up, hill, ….., then go down, …, down, down fast, …, then stop, ….., I see people, many people, pick up Rickie, …, want jump off, …., man he help me down, …., I go hide in people but easy see me. White people look, see me, me China girl, carry Rickie. I think someone call police. I have twenty-five dollar hide money, go to big store, near cars go into ground. I go Imagine store, people stare, boss lady want to know who I am. I run to Paris store. I stop, ask people where Santa Clara? They think I crazy girl. No understand me.
Old woman, white hair, she, wear fur coat, she in Paris store, store under glass roof, she, see me, she kind, very kind me.
She, hear me ask help. She, take me, other, big store, Macy. I cold in cheongsam, slippers. Rickie cold too, crying. Workmen fixing Macy store. No one notice us. She, buy me coat and Rickie blanket. Not let me pay. Then I see, out store window, see man watch me. He, look-see for me, run crazy. I know get hit if he, see me. He, look up, down, street for me. Run one way run back.
I say old woman bad man look-see for me, hit if look-see me. When he, go one way, she, take me, get taxi, take Rickie, me, to train station. She say, she, buy ticket to Santa Clara. I say no. I buy Santa Clara but she, buy anyway."
"Oh God Mom, I am so sorry. I never knew how you suffered. Oh God, please, oh, God Mom!"
We sat until she calmed tears of memory trickling down her face, no sobs, no crying just tears, one by one, silent, drip by drip.
I thought of her in a cheongsam, small step constricted, trying to run, to catch a rumbling cable car on Powell Street at the edge of the Chinatown ghetto. I imagined her carrying a young boy, a stranger helping her, picking up Rickie, her jumping, grabbing a railing, dangling, the man pulling her up.
I thought of the cable car's noise as it's underground cable rattled and clanked, first struggling to pull it up the Powell Street Hill then the brakeman pulling back hard the chrome brake handle, the chain groaning to avoid the car crashing down Powell Street, the bell's ring a ding, to clear the way, it stopped at Union Square with its underground garage, surrounded by big upscale department stores. I thought of her holding a chrome exterior grip in one hand, Rickie in the other struggling to get off to escape, a spectacle among the throng of shoppers, hobbled in a cheongsam.
I imagined her wandering frightened into the big upscale department stores, now gone, to hide. Her being out of character at I Magnum and City of Paris and confronted by a saleswoman. I suppressed a smile at her success then thought of her plight under the glass dome of the City of Paris, her rescue by an old San Francisco matron in a fur coat, saved by what the San Francisco columnist Herb Caen referred to as a LOL, (Little Old Lady).
I understood now why she never went with Dad and me when we went to Chinatown.
Calmed, still sniffling, with Mom finally on a train to Santa Clara, I asked.
"Mom, what happened when you got to the Santa Clara train station?"
"Train stop. Train ticket man, he, say, Santa Clara, me get out.
It little station, no many people. I ask people, where you go pick beans? No one know where go pick beans, think me crazy China girl with baby.
Portuguese lady, Louise, she, hear me, she, listen, she, smile, she, take me in car, drive to country. She, find bean farm. It little farm, no big farm. She, go out, she, talk woman in old house, woman come out house, go car, see me, young girl, she, see Rickie in blanket. She small, like me but Japanese. No enemy Jap, she nice, take me house, feed Rickie, feed me
She take us little bed, I sleep good but up early, pick beans. She, take care Rickie, I learn pick beans with her husband, he Jap too, but American. They just back from war camp. They have bad time too.
After no beans more, Rickie, me, we go farm to farm. Farm women talk, help. They know I Pinay, Hawaii girl, not China girl. I no family, work hard but no know how I have Rickie or bad things I did. I work good, some pay me clean house, some baby-sit, some, me cook for pickers, better than picking. Pick prunes too, get twenty-five cents box picked. Easy pick, off ground.
No afraid more, happy, me and Rickie. I get away but no happy for Burma girl, sad for Burma girl, other girl too.”
With things looking better for Mom I stopped crying. I needed Dad in the picture. I had to get back to what every girl wants to know how her parents met.
“Mom, how’d you meet Dad?”
She smiled; her tears ceased. Relieved by this turn, I smiled too. Finally, something good was obviously going to happen to Mom.
“Things good, farm women help. Priest, he hear of me and come find me. I get confession. I tell him my bad things.
God, he forgives me. Priest tell me, I not go hell. Tell me no worry about hell. I not go hell, he …. promise, no hell. He tell me I good, not bad. He know people, he get me work, I work Hawaiian Gardens. You know, it big restaurant. I waitress, wear sarong, grass skirt but no see dede.
Priest, he, know woman. She Italian, Mrs. Mariani, she let me live in old house she no longer, want live in. It, farmhouse, old in little orchard, on Meridian Road, close to work. Soon they tear down. Mexican girl, she, live there too. She with two babies. She babysit Rickie. I walk work, work night, we share work money. She in trouble too, no okay she in America. She, sneak in, from Mexico. Husband, he, leave her. Priest, he, help her, too. We help each other. Sometime we cry, we cry, hold we together."
She stopped with a sigh, exhausted. Then the smile broadened and she continued.
"Your father, he big man. Hawaiian Gardens, he, chef, not cook!"
Wow, Dad a big shot? Another shock but not bad like the others.
I poured us each more wine. I needed it. I didn't know what else was coming if we had crested the bad shock hill but her smile suggested it was all downhill coasting.
"So, Dad was the chef? You liked him?"
"No, no! I work, no pay attention man. Have enough man. Some man rude, say me cheap China girl. Try touch dede in kitchen. They tease me, ask where Rickie father? Your father, he, say them, leave me alone.
Manager, he young man, rude, bad man, call me China girl, call father, China man. He, not happy father have white waitress girlfriend, she pretty. One night, after close, I clean kitchen. Manager he, call me, take me storeroom, try kiss, pulldown sarong, want see dede, like Hawaii. I yell no, fight him. I pull cans, bottles off shelves, many bottles break, make big noise."
"He raped you too?"
"No, no, father, he open door, him say let me go. Manager, he, say, shut up Chinaman but father, he, stay. Manager, he, try hit father but father know fighting. They fight. Manager he, get arm broke, blood on face. Manager, he, go hospital. Police come, arrest me and father, let me go but father, jail three months, no more we work Hawaiian Gardens.
When father out jail, he come, live with me. We go find farm work but jail time make hard find work. Father never hit me. He kind to Rickie, never ask who father is. Soon I have four more and we big family like you know. That all to say. I have bad past but good now. Please no tell others, Rickie, half-brother, my bad past."
Her faced changed to smile of relief but her eyes were still wet. Her puppet shadow secret explained the over three-year birth separation between Rickie and I, then the rest born about a year apart. I mulled over Dad not being Rickie's father and suddenly realized I already knew but didn't know it. Dad's 1948 entry to Canada meant he couldn't have been Rickie's father. How could I be so stupid? It was all because when reconstructing Dad's image, I'd forgotten about Rickie. I flashed back to Mom.
"What happen to the Burma girl?"
"I not know. I think of her, I, sorry her. I hope she go away. I tell priest. I tell help her but priest say Chinatown no can go, closed. No can to go in, not can help. Say I lucky get away. I pray to Virgin Mary for her. I pray for other girls too, I pray Mexican girl too with babies."
Wow, her red candles and prayers before the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary were completely different than my assumed superstitious peasant ones.
My respect and love of Mom leaped higher.
Through the priest, she got work as a maid at the Sainte Claire Hotel and had a steady, if modest, income. Mom and Dad moved from one old farmhouse to another for cheap rent and supplemental farm income. She stayed with Dad as he rescued her and accepted Rickie. Her working and his gambling and carousing made more sense and why she never talked about her past or family. I better understood her fear of my getting pregnant before marriage, her never talking about sex.
Dad's puppet shadow on life's screen rose to star status. I asked what Mom knew of his past but she knew nothing before Hawaiian Gardens. We cried together, as a different mother and daughter.
Thinking of her puppet shadow, a raped young girl, sold pregnant to a brothel for US military in Honolulu by her own father, forced to have an abortion, shipped as sex slave with child to a Chinese brothel in San Francisco, escaping and scrambling to survive in Santa Clara Valley farm labor camps, chasing tips as a waitress and being rescued by my father kept tears welling up as we hugged and sobbed.
It then hit, hit me hard, all her efforts to protect Rickie were snuffed out in a senseless maneuver accomplishing nothing in Vietnam. I finally understood the extent of her loss. It was the closest we ever were. Still stunned after Mom's revelations, I continued to sit in her yard letting the California sun dry out the Pacific Northwest rain and absorb our conversation until dusk.
To reconnect with a known past, when I left, I ate dinner at Original Joe’s next to the Saint Clare Hotel. I asked for and got the same booth sat in on the eve of my engagement. I reminisced how simple my world was then compared to my parents, how back then, I thought it so complicated.
Monday morning, after showering and dressing in my Saint Clare Hotel room, I left twenty dollars for the maid with a note saying it was for her so she wouldn’t turn it in as lost. I went down to the restaurant for breakfast before going to the University Parent’s Day, the official purpose of my trip.
Watching the businessmen read their paper, before rushing off to do a "deal", I mused how hubby dove into his newspaper with coffee in the morning before all else, including conversation with me. As I poured tea from its pot, I mused it was a male trait then realized but refused to admit.
My family assumptions are so wrong.
A huge, ugly revelation was churning in my mind's gut.
Driving to the University, the dark thought I was repressing, began to surface, a vile thought, worst ever to cross my mind. I diverted thought to other things, anything but still, it came, no matter how I tried to not think it, to think of something, anything else.
Like acidic vomit, it surged up to my brain stem. I tried to mentally swallow it back, choked and it retched up uncontrollably into the memory cells of my brain, its acid etching them forever.
Please God, no, please don't let me think it!
My desperate plea swept aside, in gut-wrenching mental heaves it came up, in waves.
Mom was a whore! Mom was a whore! Mom was a whore!
No, erase it! Do not think it! It’s not true!
Yet the words kept coming, Mom was a whore!
I mentally calculated the time periods, the days, the men each day. A number flashed, as she so innocently expressed it, she was sexed. I calculated it was over a thousand, maybe much more. Images of sailors, swarming off a big ship, standing in lines, entering the foyer, Mom paraded semi-nude before each, her getting up and down, the men sexing Mom, Ricki hid in a corner stuck into my mind.
Oh God, don't let me think this.
Driving on The Alameda to Santa Clara University, I suddenly pulled over. I parked in a bus stop the first space out of traffic. I shook and sobbed, not over what happened to Mom, for me. I didn’t want to carry the burdens first my mother in law and then Mom put on my shoulders. If only I could un-hear what I’d heard.
I wanted my old truth back. I wanted my Mom! I wanted my real mother, my go-to Mass, pray before the Virgin Mary, light candles, housekeeper, save Kennedy silver half dollar mother but she was gone.
Author Notes: After learning her mother's secret past a woman loses the mother she thought she knew.