This is for all of you lovely ladies who enjoyed the beginning and asked for more. You inspired me to go further and this isn’t the end. Thank you for that!
For those who missed the beginning, you can read it here.
Written by Kerry Whiteley
Henry and Kannika arrived in Texas early morning in August of 1964. Stepping into her new home after a long and arduous journey, she felt excited for endless possibility. This was the “land of the free”, unlimited opportunities and she had long waited for this moment to come. But shortly after stepping into the double wide trailer that she would share with her soon to be husband and his mother, she realized that the only thing comforting her was the heat, so similar to Thailand reaching 100 degrees, being mid- August in rural Texas.
Opal, Henry’s mother, glared at Kannika with suspicious eyes as Henry dropped their bags and sprawled on the couch exhausted from their travels. Kannika spoke very little English and smiled shyly at Henry’s mother. She relied on her ability to read expressions along with her very basic English lessons from travelers in Thailand and from Henry. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” Opal said to Kannika. Kannika did not understand the question, the sarcasm or the leery expression on Opal’s face. So, she nodded, said hello and sat down politely waiting for a cue from Henry of what to do next. As he soon began snoring loudly from the couch, it was clear that Kannika would be left to figure things out on her own.
She began to unpack the few items she had packed from home and pulled out a small gift she had planned to present to Henry’s mother. She knew that his mother lived near Henry from his description but she did not know they would be sharing such tight quarters. These living arrangements did not bother Kannika though as she was accustomed to living closely with family. Her grandmother had lived in her family’s small hut with them for years after her grandfather passed away. And even when he was alive, her grandparent’s hut was beside theirs. The main difference between her familiar living arrangements and this was that contempt was now a resident.
Opal sat still at the table in the trailer chain-smoking her cigarettes and watching as Kannika finished unpacking her few items. Kannika stood slowly and reached out to Opal to hand her a beautiful emerald colored piece of fabric. It was hand-made in her village and had stunning intricate designs stitched in gold. Quality fabric was a luxury to Kannika so giving this gift to her future mother in law was an expression of reverence. Opal did not make any attempt to move toward Kannika to accept her gift but only scoffed asking what she was supposed to do with that “Oriental rag.”
Kannika stared unknowingly at Opal but understood that her presence was not welcome and slowly stepped outside into the oppressive heat. Gazing at the blue sky, Kannika felt a heaviness beyond the heat as her vision of opportunity was taking on a different view. But yet she remained hopeful. Henry woke an hour later and seemed to be different from what she remembered when he was in Thailand. The shy, sweet and quiet man was now comfortable in his setting. He did not intentionally neglect Kannika and while he was not mean, he was not very thoughtful or attentive. Being the only child to Opal and his deceased father, he was catered to and had no experience taking care of anyone, much less a woman thousands of miles from home who could not speak English or easily blend into rural Texas society. Kannika, being a care taker in her homeland, was very self-sufficient but being a foreign woman 1964 in Texas, would prove to test her capabilities.
The next two months moved slowly and in a haze. Henry and Kannika married at the courthouse on a Tuesday and celebrated alone at the local Chinese restaurant. Kannika had no taste for this food but appreciated that Henry was trying to make her feel “at home” even if his understanding of Asian culture was a bit generic. Their privacy was limited in the trailer as Opal seemed to always be lurking about but they were able to have moments of intimacy when Opal went shopping in town or in the wee hours of the night when she slept.
Into the third month of living in America, Kannika began to get very homesick. Her mother in law wanted nothing to do with her other than to chastise, mock and criticize. The people of the small city where they lived stared at her relentlessly whispering cruel jokes behind her back. Stores were not helpful when she went to town looking for familiar food items. She did, however, find one very small and unmarked building that provided Asian products and befriended the owner who was from Bangkok. But part of this sickness could also be attributed to the nausea she had been feeling over the past few weeks and the heat was beginning to make her feel light-headed on a few occasions when she helped Opal shell beans outside under the small awning. She had never struggled with heat in Thailand so it made no sense why she was struggling now. As Kannika knelt over the toilet for the third time in one day, it occurred to her what was happening as she had witnessed this same daily retching from her mother eight times in her childhood, though only six times produced a worthwhile explanation.
The realization that she was pregnant gave Kannika unexpected sadness. She felt even more alone foreseeing that she would not have the village to help her through her pregnancy and raising her child, or hopefully children if fortune provided her with twins. Taking this moment of insecurity to her small shrine of Buddha next to the bed she shared with her new husband, she knelt and left offerings of small bits of food and coins. She sat in silence until Opal’s presence stood foreboding in the doorway. Opal asked Kannika what in “God’s good creation” was she doing kneeling looking at that little figurine. Kannika slowly opened her eyes staring straight ahead then stood up and walked outside while Opal followed behind her yelling that she had no right bringing voodoo into her home and other such insults.
As Henry came home from working his job at the post office that he acquired shortly after returning home from the Viet Nam war, he wearily walked toward the front door aiming for the same spot on the couch he posted each day. Kannika sat quietly crying beside the trailer as Opal sat on the front porch smoking her cigarettes. With little concern, only wanting to be fed dinner, Henry wandered to Kannika to ask what was wrong so that he could get on with this daily routine. Kannika’s voice quivered under her tears but she resolutely said she wanted to go home.