Today’s post is for Cindy. You don’t know Cindy, but I wish you could meet her. She’s my nail technician, and she’s my friend, too. She’s been doing my nails for nearly four years because I was not born with the girly girl gene and can’t file or paint my fingernails worth spit. It’s probably because I chewed them to nubs for 38 years and didn’t get any nail painting practice. Since I sit in meetings with elected officials and business leaders, it’s important that my hands be presentable, so I’ve handed off that task to someone who’s much better at it than I, Miss Cindy. Left to my own devices, my hands would look like gerbil toes. Cindy is waaaay too shy to let me post her photo here, but trust me, she’s a lovely Asian lady with wavy brown hair, glittering eyes and a Mona Lisa smile. She’s also the focus of my favorite love story, and I feel compelled to share it since we’re so close to Valentine’s Day.
Cindy is 45 and was born into poverty in Vietnam. She didn’t come to the United States until a few years ago. Ever since she landed in this country she has been going to school, first to become a nail tech. Then she opened her shop and worked afternoons and evenings so she could attend cosmetology school fulltime during the day, on top of being a mother and wife. She has an unbelievable work ethic and spent every spare minute studying. She took a little break on Sundays to clean house and do laundry. She did this for two years and passed her boards this past summer with nearly perfect scores. She has expanded her shop and is supervising other hair dressers. Her next step is to obtain U.S. citizenship. She has no idea she is an example of how immigration is supposed to work in this country. She’s just trying to better herself.
When we first met, she could barely communicate with me because her English was so bad. It still needs some work, but she’s come a long way and has even picked up some southern slang. While she files and clips and paints my nails every few weeks, we talk about life and family, and she answers my many questions about Vietnam and her life there. She has shared with me the trials of growing up desperately poor in a harsh country. She didn’t have a toothbrush until she was twelve. The dental care she received prior to coming here was done with little pain medication. She began working on farms when she was a child to help earn money to put food in her family’s mouths. She and her two sisters shared one pair of dress pants that was used for special occasions. Her first marriage resulted in her essentially being a slave to her mother in law and her husband’s family. The quality of medical care in Vietnam, according to Cindy, was based upon your ability to pay extra money to hospital staff. During one hospital stay, her husband paid extra so she wouldn’t have to share a bed with another patient. Yes, I said bed. He also paid a nurse to change Cindy’s sheets after she had lain for several hours in her own pee because no one had taken her a bed pan and she was too sick to get up on her own. Her stories always make me feel grateful for what I have and for being born in a country that affords so many opportunities. Cindy is extremely grateful for those opportunities now. As much as I have enjoyed hearing about her struggles in life, my favorite story is about her struggle with love.
She says she knew on her wedding day she was making a mistake. Her sister tried to talk her out of it, but Cindy was an old maid in her country, 25 years old, and her father was embarrassed that she was still single. She said “I do” and tried to make the best of it but hated living with her in laws and doing all of their housework as was the tradition at the time. After several years with a man she didn’t love and the birth of a daughter that couldn’t keep them together, they divorced. Well into her thirties, she started a new life and began looking for a new love. She had never forgotten the dimpled faced young man she had met years before in the farm fields near her childhood home. She was twelve years old when she first met Andrew and immediately developed a crush on him, but he was a little older than she and didn’t have time for little girls. He was saving money for engineering school.
It had been years since she had seen Andrew, but she longed to connect with him again. Cindy had a sister living in Australia who was friends with Andrew’s sister. Cindy called her up, found out where Andrew was and took the bold step of calling him. Apparently, he had been smitten with the tiny dark haired girl in the fields all those years ago and was quite pleased that she had tracked him down. He was still single. It wasn’t long before they began dating and married months later. Soon after the wedding, they headed to the United States where Andrew lined up a great engineering job. By the way, all of his numerous brothers and sisters are doctors. They’ve come a long way from their poor beginnings.
While I could leave you with that happy ending, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this little tidbit, which demonstrates the depth of Andrew’s love for Cindy. When she got to the U.S. she wanted to get her nail tech certification but knew she’d never make it through the classes and the exams because she spoke such little English. So Andrew signed up too and went to nail school with her. He learned how to do nails, so he could teach her. He basically taught her English and helped her through long tedious hours of translation and study. She passed her tests and became a certified tech. So did Andrew. He can do nails, too, but he’s not very good at it. I won't let him polish my fingernails, cause he's kind of messy in a really sweet way. He sticks to the simple stuff, helping out only in a jam, but he’s there whenever she needs him, like he was in the beginning. She is Americanized to the point that she calls him “honey” all the time now, and she seems as grateful for his love as she does the chance to be in the land of the opportunity. Now that, my friends, is a romantic story.
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10 months ago