I was thinking about my Cậu Hien who passed away some years ago.
Cậu Hien was a man of his vices and a product of his environment. He, like my mother and his brother, escaped on boat from Vietnam - first to the Philipines, then eventually to America. I don't know anything of his story from then until when he started to live with us. Only what I observed of his life.
He was a man who liked to party. He snickered when he laughed, always near a green Heineken bottle and the white and gold pack of a Marboro light. He was tall and thin like his moustache, always standing with a slight slouch, with sharp eyes behind tinted glasses. He lived with my mother and brother in his own room when we first moved into the suburbs. His bare room was accompanied by a mattress on the floor and an old computer desk that housed his cartons of cigarettes (and my first cigarette, pinched from an open pack and hurredly smoked inside of the garage). Occasionally I'd hear "Hotel California" playing in the background out of an old CD player hooked up to some computer speakers. It was the only song I heard playing. There were times where I would come home to see him passed out inbetween the hallway and my room in drunken hibernation. I would drag him by his feet to have enough room to close the door. My computer's search history post drag would be filled with porn and gambling sites. I once walked in on him, pantless and in our living room, with pornography on television, him thoughtlessly assuming nobody was home. The man had his vices - but he wasn't a bad person.
He always offered me his old jackets from his personal closet. He tended to his aquarium of fish which he loved to show off. I always noticed how dirty the aquarium glass was. One day, while he was gone, I took the aquarium, placed the fish in another container, and cleaned the glass. After returning the fish into their home, I put the aquarium back, only to notice that all of the fish perished. Turns out, tap water is unsafe for fish due to the chlorine/cholarmine cities use to disinfect the water. I was devastated. Heavy tears rolled down my cheeks as I gently flushed each fish down the toilet. When he returned home, I confronted him and told him what I did - he looked at me apathetically through his tinted glasses, placed his hand on my shoulder and told me it was okay. I know he loved those fish.
Our activity together was watching professional wrestling - every Monday for WWE Monday Night RAW and Thursdays for SmackDown! We watched the improvised lariats and adult men tumble through the ring in ambiguous performance as he cheered after each body was slammed onto the mat. We would hang out on the patio, him widdling down another cigarette with his breath cracking jokes I never laughed at. He never told me stories of his youth - none of my family did until I asked them much later in life. Maybe then he never thought I was old enough to understand harsher realities. He would tell me melancholically how he wished he was young again, how lucky I am to have my youth and my face.
The drinking eventually caught up. The doctors told him to quit or he would he would die. That did not deter him, as even on the way home from the news he popped open another green bottle. The prophecy was set in stone. He eventually succumbed to illness and died in his forties.
Rest in peace Cậu Hien.