It was St. Patrick’s Day, a drinking holiday in the city. When the city drank, I drank. But since I’m Filipina, instead of drinking to the luck of the Irish, I drink to the luck of the Asian at Forbidden City, a bar with sweeter than sweet Lychee Mimosas and tangy tequila shots dressed up in a name like the Drunken Master Shot. The only drink that represents my people is San Miguel beer, the only drink people know worldwide from the Philippines. I don’t remember what I drank that night. I didn’t choose the San Miguel, but a cocktail, something sharp and fast and smooth that made my head float on air and my moments like a soft slow motion.
I don’t know what made me go out drinking that night, it wasn’t even my intention to go out on one of the worse drinking nights out in the city. But it was a long day at work, my nerves were frayed, so Jenn, who is Taiwanese, a fellow Asian friend, called me, and I joined her to celebrate our fellow Asianess on a day for leprechauns and four leaf clovers. Brendan, Jenn’s boyfriend, was with us. He’s tall, Caucasian, part Scottish, part German, no Irish green flowing through his veins. But we were tired after only a few drinks and wanting to escape the mess of the bridge and tunnel crowds swarming the city streets for St. Patrick’s Day, we thought it best to end the night early.
We chose to split a cab between us, on the way home to Brooklyn. Jenn and I never had problems getting cabs, perhaps the petite Asian woman thing did something to lend us an advantage. But within minutes, a cab was in sight. I slid in first, then Jenn. But Brendan never made it into the car. A hand grabbed him from behind, shoved him to the ground. Jenn’s scream echoed in my ears.
When I was younger, I never talked of my brother’s screams. Nor of my sister’s. Over the years, their screams followed me in my dreams, hollowed echoes, waking me at night, my hands sweaty, my mind numb from the sound. I never slept well through the night. Maybe because it was years of screams built into my memory, pent up, bursting at the walls of my mind. Once, after a night of screaming, I took out a journal, wrote down the words, “I am scared.” My brother was there. He stopped my hand from imprinting the words into paper. I was taught never to tell these stories. It was never my story to tell. I never had a reason to scream.
Brendan didn’t scream. We heard his grunts from outside the cab, heavy hands forcing him away from the car. Jenny slid out first. I second. The cab sped away, back door swung open, tires squealing around the corner.
Jenn cried, “No! No! Stop it! Stop it!” Brendan was on the ground. I didn’t know how many guys there were. Maybe four or five. All Caucasian. All drunk. But Brendan was Caucasian too. But this fight wasn’t about race.
A Drunken Boy tried to connect his fist with Brendan’s face as he yelled, “Our cab! That was our cab!” There was no logic to this. These boys were nowhere in sight. Jenn and I hailed it down. It was our cab. But alcohol pushes past logic, works feelings into a fever, makes hands curl, faces red, the urge to hit an instant impulse.
To me, a hit is an imagined sound. I’ve heard the slap of skin against skin, the hard crack of bone connecting to bone. A body shoved against a wall. Glass broken. The echo of a scream.
As a child, I grew up in the aftermath of imagined sound. The cause and effect reaction of borders being crossed. Our house was like a museum. Perfect carpeted living room and dining floors, dark upturned fibers marking the stroke and push of the vacuum. Large vaulted ceilings, cold skylights carved geometrically into the wall, light hitting the rooms in perfect angle. We didn’t raise our voices in the museum. We had to tiptoe like mice, lower our voices to whispers. We bowed our heads, kept our feet out of the living room and the dining room. The carpet was too perfect there. Its marks bore our disrespect.
A hit would happen when a border was crossed. My sister slipped out of the house to see a boy. My brother drank tequila with his friends. My father found out. My mother retreated into their bedroom. My father yelled for me to go to my room. I sat in my room, door open, in the silence, in the dark. The screams reverberated the walls. I clutched my pillows to my chest. Sometimes, I did leave my room, even though I wasn’t allowed. Sometimes, I slipped into the hall. The screams became even louder then. But my brother always screamed the loudest. He always screamed the most.
As I neared the screaming in my house, I pictured what I would do then. How I would throw myself into the fight. Daddy would never hit me, I thought. I would come between them. I won’t think about his fist cracking against my face. I won’t think of my little body shoved against the wall. I won’t think. I’ll just act.
I threw myself into the fight. I shove the startled Drunken Boy away from my friend. But the Drunken Boy didn’t look at me. His eyes were still on Brendan. A boy his height, his size. My mouth opened before I could think. Logic fled the mind in times like this.
“What are you going to do, huh? Hit a girl? Does that make you a man?” The Drunken Boy’s eyes finally find mine. Who are you? His glazed eyes seem to say.
“Hit me!” I screamed. Everyone went silent.
I never threw myself into the fight back then. I never found the courage. I backed away, running to knock on my mother’s room. “Mommy! Stop him! Stop him! Do something!” My mother finally bounded out of her room, rushed past me. She opened the door. “Stop it! Stop it!” She’d finally say. I backed into my room, sat in the dark, in the silence, my face dry, my body blending into the still of the room.
“Hit me!” I screamed, pounding my chest with my fist. “If you’re going to hit someone, then hit me!”
Finally, Drunken Boy saw me. The Drunken Boy yelled, “Get out of my face, Chink. You fucking Chink!” He thought his voice would be enough to scare me away. But it only made me thrust my face closer to his. His friends held Drunken Boy back, saying, “Dude, come on. Dude, let’s go!”
“No. This Chink is in my face!”
“So I’m a Chink? You don’t like Chinks? Then what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do?” The words tumbled out of my mouth. A hand touched my shoulder. Brendan. “C, it’s over,” he said. Another hand touched my shoulder. It’s Jenn. “C, let’s go,” Jenn urged.
Drunken Boy’s friends forced him away. Jenn and Brendan pulled me away, walking backwards, my eyes still on the fist that was ready to finally connect with my face.
That night, I have a dream. A memory of when I was about 12 years old. I didn’t do the laundry. I knew I had to do the laundry. But I didn’t. I kept putting it off. Instead, I fell asleep. My father poured the clothes over my face to wake me up, his voice booming in my ears. This is it, I thought. I closed my eyes for the impact. But all I heard was his footsteps as he walked away.
When I tell this story, Brendan always says, “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t saved me.” People that hear this story tell me I’m gutsy, tough, fearless for throwing myself into the fight. I thought I threw myself into that fight to save my friend, save him in the way I couldn’t save my brother or sister from a hit. But there is no guts or toughness in what I did. There is only fear. Fear that the screams would remain pent up in my mind without an outlet.
I never thought that what I witnessed growing up was my story to tell. But the screams, the sounds of abuse bear their own mark. They bare their own abuse.
So now, for the first time, I write. I write my feelings out about the past. I write, “I grew up waiting for my turn.” I write so I won’t jump into another fight. I write so I won’t crave the fist coming towards my face. I write to let go of my own pent up screams.
C. Goss says: “I am a staff writer and creator of the popular Women in Beer Profile Series for thebeersessions.com. My other writing credits include ABC’s All My Children, Seal Press’s anthology P.S. What I Didn’t Say, the HarperCollins Yell-Oh! Girls anthology, AsianAvenue.com, and WordRiot.org.”