“You want sexy me?”

      It sounds silly now, but when I was young and American boys were stationed in my country, they thought it was cute. If one answered, "Sure, honey," I asked, quick, "How much you pay?"

      Back then, I was as graceful as a young rice plant and my face and hands were delicate, so those boys imagined I was just a girl. In fact I was five years married, with my husband conscribed into the Vietnamese army and a mischievous three year old son. I never saw my husband again. I am sure he was killed. He had intelligence in his mind, love in his heart, and bristling black hair I pretended to discipline into place with my hand. My son inherited that lovely unruly hair.

      We girls cleaned the army barracks. The MP officer let us in each day and we washed and swept, but we were really prostitutes. No ugly girls were allowed, and no old women. You could make better money as a bar girl, but I wanted to be with my son at night. Besides, I feared the drinking and the drugs.

      After I cleaned the toilet, I asked, eyes downcast, "You want sexy me?" as if I had not learned correct English from the soldiers themselves.

      The young soldiers believed we were exotic: naive and pure or debauched and knowing, but always exotic. They pretend what they did with us was separate and different from what they did with their wives and sweethearts at home. It happened in a separate world with different laws.

      I did that dirty thing because of our son. The war was ruining our country and I knew we had to leave. Unlike American war widows, I got no pension. My need was great. If I could I sexy the soldiers with my feet or my hands, or I charged extra for my mouth. I did not want to lie with them. I did not want to make a baby with a silly boy.

      Now I am a nurse's aid in a Veteran's Affairs hospital, so once again I work with the soldiers. That is how I sent my son to college. I was smart enough to become a nurse, but I could not stop working to study until it was too late. When I arrived in America I claimed I was eighteen and my son was my brother so I still work, but I am an old woman now. My skin folds and sags. No one but me remembers how those boys used to look at me and long for me.

      The American Viet Nam vets are old now, too. Their noses are red, their buttocks are flabby and they have beer bellies or they are so thin they look scraped. They come to the hospital with cancer, or bad livers or hearts, or they are sick from Agent Orange. Some still have nightmares from crawling into Viet Cong tunnels, or from dropping napalm on people, or just from all the killing and death.

      When those old men need my help, they ring a buzzer. But I have too much work. Sometimes I am bathing another man. Sometimes I would rather watch the end of a soap opera on one patient's TV instead of going to another patient. I am especially slow with men who treat me like a cleaning girl in the Saigon barracks or like an old woman on the street. Sometimes I do not even get bed pans to them in time. They were always dirty men.

      Unlike some other countries, here we do not have to sexy a doctor or a nurse's assistant when we need help. We have pensions and veteran's benefits. This is a superior system but  money still matters. Money talks and people often remind you who must sexy who.

Due to the need to make a living and a serious addiction to back country skiing, this writer lives in a state of vagabondage between NYC, SLC, Pine Hill NY, and Torrey, UT.


A Vietnam Vet I know had a girlfriend in Vietnam he loved, but left behind. His stories provided the seed for this story. I've always worried about her.



Copyright 2009