Real people: Meihong

Meihong was my college roommate, for my sophomore year and the beginning of my junior year.

She approached me about being roomies, and she approached it like… forgive me… an old-fashioned guy would approach dating. She sat and talked to me in public places. Then she asked me to go to a concert of flute music with her. Then she proposed.

A year later she confessed that the flute concert was a complete waste of time.

She had come from Canton when she was sixteen. She had three younger brothers, which was part of the problem. She had lived in a small village, and the local police had heard that her parents had three children–at the time. They had come to the family house, while Mei and her family were away, and finding them not home had taken the front door off the hinges as a warning.

She turned 23, while we were roommates. Her birthday was October 30.

She had come to the United States and been delayed in high school because of the language issues. Being not-from-a-city, none of her family had any English at all, when they emigrated. Mei was put into intensive classes, and finally got her high school diploma when she was 20.

She was majoring in math. She was good at it. She took Mandarin Chinese for her foreign language.

She got up early every morning to exercise. She was a couple of inches shorter than me, built with compact strength, not one of those naturally waiflike Asian girls, but she took care of herself. Her hair was down to her waist. She wore it in a braid every day.

She was engaged to her high school history teacher. He had left her alone until she graduated from high school, but not much longer. He was over 40. He had kids from a previous marriage. He didn’t have much furniture in his house because he insisted on making it all. He slept with her before marriage.

She was big into church, and when her church friends found out about this, they caused her a lot of consternation. She hadn’t known that they would think it was wrong. Possibly my assertion that it wasn’t necessarily wrong had something to do with her wanting me for a roommate.

She took a swimming class, as an extracurricular credit. She asked me to go to the pool with her on the weekends, to practice, because she was afraid she would drown and no one would notice.

We would lie awake at night and talk. She wanted to take me back to her village in Canton. We would wade in the lake, she said, and the little animals in it would nibble our feet–

Nibble? I asked.

Yeah. Like, they sting a little, but it doesn’t really hurt.

Schistosomiasis, I thought.

One night she asked me if it was all right to fall asleep with wet hair. Her grandmother had done that, she said, and now her grandmother couldn’t walk.

I told her that it was all right to fall asleep with wet hair. I was a biology major. She believed me.

She was naturalized as a US Citizen while we were roommates.

Meihong means Beautiful Red, in Cantonese.

The microwave in our room was hers. One day I tried to cook rice and eggs in it, together. After the rice absorbed the liquid, the eggs exploded and blew the microwave’s door open. We both screamed. I started to clean it up, but she took over.

I drove her to the supermarket, where she bought onions, garlic, rice, soy sauce, eggs, mushrooms, catfish nuggets, and ham. She made fried rice for us, in one of the dormitory kitchens.

In our second year of rooming together she decided to eschew a meal plan in favor of doing her own cooking. She had flats of fruit, vegetables, a bin of rice, and cans of fish from the Chinese market. It smelled, and the windows didn’t open. I asked her to eat it in the dorm kitchens. A week later, she transferred to a private room.

Nearly a year later, we ran into each other again. She smiled, and said that she apologized for anything bad she had ever done to me. I shrugged. She hadn’t ever done anything bad to me, as far as I was concerned. That was the last time I saw her.

There are pieces of Anna Woods, in her.


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