The moon lady must feel so alone

July 7, 2021 / Laura Nguyen

How does Hằng Nga, the goddess on the moon with her snow-footed friend, spend her eternity watching humans love one another so deeply?

I think about the dark silhouette of my sister, framed by incandescent kitchen lights in the night, and wonder if its wisps will exist long after I leave. Sepia-toned memories pitter-patter and flood through. I wonder how it feels to let go — to let fingers slip through the cracks of tightly held hands. To have your heart wrench so painfully at the greetings that echo back into an emptiness you’ve never known.


I am a duckling. My feet were to fit in the footsteps she printed on this earth. I would follow rigorously where they took me. Blindly. Faithfully. Having my sister is having a second pair of arms to embrace ⁠— I can fall fully, recklessly, knowing she’ll catch me in the end.

🌙 🐇⁠

Mom told me you wished me into existence one night by the windowsill on your knees, your hands clasped together in prayer in front of the moon. I never asked to be born, but you were the reason I kept on living. We were named after the lady of the moon, Hằng Nga, the goddess who transcended to the moon with only her rabbit companion to keep her company forever. I had a feeling Mom knew I would follow after you one day, and our deity’s name split into two ⁠— yours Hằng, mine Nga. But 238,900 miles, the distance from the Earth to the moon, is too far for me to be without you. 

Hằng and Nga. You and Me. I want to hold on to you the way the moon brought you to me. Forever. Lovingly.

You were, and are, home to me. In the fifth grade, when you left for college, I stole your old, oversized purple shirt and slept beside it each night, hoping it would make me miss you less. In eighth grade during dinner, my mouth wobbled over the bowl of phở in front of me, my salty teardrops mixing into saffron-seasoned bone broth as you hugged me goodbye for another month. In my tenth year, as I sat in the passenger seat of your car at the fresh age of 17 and told you that I didn’t like just boys, you stayed silent before carefully, tenderly telling me you loved me. The headlights weren’t the only thing that lit up the dark roads that night ⁠— you did. You do. I only ever want to be as kind, as bright, as beautiful as you.

Because when Mom is sick and Dad is angry, who else is there to look to?

You have always been an anchor amongst raging tides. You’re stubborn, unwilling to budge ⁠— the last to ever sign up for a doctor’s appointment for yourself, but the first to overreact to another one of my clumsy paper cuts. I want to be the calm after your storm, when the water doesn’t ripple violently, where you can rest and be your own. You’ve taught me all you knew and all you’ve known. And with each step you take forward, with me behind, I grow stronger. Taller. Kinder. Not by my own will but by yours.

Eventually, I understand you. Through the years and growing intuition, I come to pick up the way your breath shakes at the sight of Mom’s blood. I finally see the tears that well up in your eyes at the raise of a voice. How the area between your brows has Dad’s wrinkle lines. You were just as scared, if not more. Now, my steps cover your own and erase them. Suddenly, I’m too grown. Now, I want to say sorry, sorry, sorry, for all of the burdens I’ve placed on you, for adding on to the hardships and pain, for existing behind you.

In our folktale, Hằng Nga floats up, up, up to the moon, taking her white rabbit, Thỏ Ngọc, with her. I never learned why she fled. Was she forced to part from her lover, Hậu Nghệ, or did she escape from him? Is she at peace, or does she long for him? All I know is that if you fled, I’d miss you.

You were drowning, and I took your shoulders and pushed you down further, your neck below the water. Yes, you are my safety, but you are also their daughter. You were 10, 13, 17, once before. Without a path in front of you, all on your own. You must’ve felt so alone.

When I was 20, I stood beside you once after a particularly nasty fight with Dad in the kitchen. Your shoulders trembled, and your cheeks became wet, tears dropping into the sink water from the dishes you aggressively scrubbed. I saw how young you truly were. Time reverted, and I saw little you. I wanted to comfort you, but the lake froze over ⁠— my feet stuck to the floor, my mouth mum. Slippery, I became stagnant, in fear of overstepping boundaries and falling onto fragile ice.

In the poem “anyone lived in a pretty how town,” noone and anyone live side by side as the women sow and children grow. And noone loved him more by more. I’d laugh at your joy and cry with your grief, too.

Though fearsome, ice will melt. Fear subdues, and new paths form. Nimble fingers reach your form, hesitant you’ll pull away. And you do. It hurts, but we fall, fall, fall again. We learn to walk, to fly, to swim through tries. Where side by side, we form our ties. Where your path is your own after giving it up for mine. To tread carefully beside you, so you will never disappear with time.

How does Hằng Nga, the goddess on the moon with her snow-footed friend, spend her eternity watching humans love one another so deeply?

With clumsy, home-cooked meals I find off the internet, gently pushed onto your work desk as you continue with your 11th meeting of the day. With giving the other half of the cake to you because it’s the prettier one and you only deserve the prettiest things. With knowing I’ll never be able to love you as you do me. But I’ll tie my string to yours, and I’ll hold you.

In the midst of the night, I go to the moon. I escape the world, life silences itself for just a little, and I write. I write of you, of the sun, moon, stars, rain, of how noone knew anyone. How this pretty how town, all by all and deep by deep, sun rain stars moon, brought life to me from you. How we are one but also the other. You are me, and I am you.

Hằng, Nga ⁠— How lucky I am that we are two.

You are the cushion that I fall upon. You are the twine that holds me together. You are. You. I’ve held so tightly, loved so deeply, that there was no void to fill. And I let go.







Alone. ■

by: Laura Nguyen

layout: Kelly Kim

photographer: Alyssa Olvera

stylists: Noelle Campos & Esther Dashevsky

hmuas: Zimei Chen & Lily Cartagena

models: Maggie Deaver & Kamaka Hepa

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