Because I have been stripped of my wheels in an automobilecentric city, and because I am losing my vision at an unpredictable rate, I am happily forced to pay more attention to the world directly around me. I have always had an interest in people and all the ways that others are different from me, and I haven’t ever been the person who is in a rush, so I stop and take the time to at least try to truly see. It is an ironically positive side of RP and it brings things into my life that may not have been there if I didn’t have RP.
Every two (or three if I am lazy and/or forgetful) weeks, I go to the nail shop around the corner for a pedicure. It isn’t because I am a princess, but because I can’t see my toes clearly enough to cut the nails in a way that even approaches presentable. I have been a customer at my local nail shop for over 10 years, and, as most nail shops in Los Angeles, it is staffed completely by Vietnamese women.
Every woman in the shop has an American name, and although I ask them to tell me their Vietnamese names, they are often reluctant to do so. When they do tell me, the names are often hard for me to pronounce, but I keep working at it because I want to be able to call them by the names they were originally given.
My tendency is to stick with one person for my pedicures; I like to establish a relationship with the woman who is touching my feet every two weeks. In my 10 years at All Star Nails, I have had just two different regular pedicurists (I have decided that is a word); first, it was Michelle (An Mei) who left because of a back problem, and for the past year, I have been seeing Kim.
Kim’s Vietnamese name is Nguyet; it means moon. It is a perfect name for Kim, as her mother must have known. She is like the moon; she has a beautiful and vivacious light that makes it a joy to be around her, but she isn’t all flowers and sunshine. Nguyet has an edginess to her that I equate to the darkness around the moon; it is where her secrets are kept and it is where her sarcasm lies in wait for those she truly knows and likes. She has a quick, brilliant, and sometimes strange sense of humor and she loves being alive. The more I learn about her, the more I want to know, and I love her name, but Nguyet does not; she says it is too hard in the mouth, so I continue to call her Kim.
Kim is tiny in stature; there just isn’t another word for it. She is 4’8 with a 7’8 personality. The first time she did my pedicure was by chance; I hadn’t called for an appointment and she was the person who was available when I walked in. I had wanted to meet her for a long time. She is definitely the coolest looking pedicurist in the shop. She has a short bob and an air about her that feels just slightly punk rock. She wears a lot of printed leggings and a jade bracelet that has been on her wrist for over fifteen years; it is her version of a piercing. During our first hour together, she told me that having the bracelet put on was very painful; there is no clasp, so it had to be forced on. Kim told me that they use oils to help get it on, but her hand still had to be contorted and squished and after it was on, there was no way she was ever taking it off. See, pretty damn punk rock; but, now I know that it isn’t Kim’s bracelet that makes her cool, it is who she is and the life that has shaped her.
Kim came to the U.S about 12 years ago, with her husband and two small sons; she later had a daughter who was born in the U.S. She loves to show me pictures of her family and tell me about her kids: I have seen videos of her middle son giving his 8th grade commencement speech, photos of her oldest son with his new guitar and at his high school graduation, and videos of her 9-year-old daughter who is a total fire cracker, just like her mom. Kim is always joking about her husband being so old – he is 13 years older than her – but I know that she adores him and that they are a super close family.
Just after Valentines Day, I was getting a pedicure and Kim brought out her phone to show me some new photos that her middle son had taken. They were of Kim in her garden, sitting beside what looked like a giant topiary heart. Her husband had apparently let the grass grow long so he could mow it and leave the heart shape in the center of the garden. Kim said she doesn’t care about Valentines Day (and I am with her, no V day for me either), but I could tell she was thrilled at the romantic gesture from her husband. He is clearly the softy in the family and she loves it.
Another afternoon, Kim showed me pictures of her family in Vietnam. She was born and grew up in a beautiful city near the water; she met her husband there and her first two children were born there; her parents and most of her siblings still live there. In the photos, I recognized her kids and her husband and 2 older people I assumed were her parents, but there were also some people her age; one of them was in a wheel chair. I asked about him and, at the time, she just said it was her oldest brother and he had been hurt. I didn’t press her.
More recently, Kim has been taking more about her life as a child in Vietnam. She told me that her brother is in the wheel chair because of a bomb. Their city was bombed by the VC, and at the time of the bombing, Kim, her brother and father and 2 of her sisters were in the blast radius. They were all injured. Her older brother was hit in the back with shrapnel and a piece lodged in his spine; he was 5 years old and he would never walk again. One of her sisters almost lost her arm, but was taken to a nearby hospital by helicopter, where they managed to save it. Kim was only 3 years old at the time of the bombing and was left with shrapnel scars all over her legs. She recalled to me how much blood there was and how afraid they all were. She told me that her father still suffers from the memory of that day and that is plays like a film in his head over and over again. One moment, they were a family in town for the afternoon and the next their lives were altered in every conceivable way, forever.
It is remarkable to me that I live in Hollywood and every two weeks I get to spend an hour or two with a woman who has seen things I can’t even begin to imagine; and yet we laugh and joke and have truly become friends. Kim is one of the strongest and funniest people I have ever known and I feel so lucky to have met her and to be learning from her; I feel grateful that she has chosen to share the stories of her life with me.