My father had a porno collection. Because I was alone most of the night—my parents worked the night shift—I was in the habit of snooping through their desks and drawers. At ten, I didn’t know pornos existed. I don’t even recall why I was searching through my parents’ belongings, only that it felt good and wrong, and that combination, then and now, was overwhelmingly thrilling.
I found little in my mother’s closet and drawers; I didn’t expect to. She was too predictable, except for her anger, which could come at unexpected times.
My father, however—I marveled at my discoveries. He kept a manual of sexual positions under his side of the mattress—pencil-drawn sketches of a man and woman engaged in a rambunctious game of Twister. In his desk was a nude deck of cards—vintage women—that I pocketed and hid in my comic book collection between The Amazing Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. In his sock drawers, condoms, which I thought were skin-colored balloons with an extra wide blowhole. In his briefcase of important documents, I discovered his porno.
I initially thought the VHS tapes were recordings of famous Thai funerals or weddings. My family loved to watch important Thai people, especially royalty. It made them feel like they were still home and not in a land of foreign faces and voices. There were five VHS tapes and nothing to indicate what they were. I took one and put it in the VCR.
The world suddenly opened up.
Once, sixteen years later, when I first got through a central New York winter, I waited to see if I could catch a tulip in blossom. I had been so desperate for color. Where I lived we could go for weeks without seeing the sun. My ex-wife thought I was nuts, hovering over a tulip, wanting to see one actually open. For weeks, I watched. I imagined the stem rising from the ground, growing taller and taller. The tip would become bigger and bigger like a tear ready to burst. And then, it would happen. It would open. I had fallen asleep on a folding chair, waiting, and when I woke up there it was, a tulip in full bloom. Despite my slumber, I felt as if I witnessed something extraordinary, something that stole my breath and quickened the heart.
That was how it felt that night, a blossoming of a different sort.
Tangled bodies. Sweat dripping onto bare backs. Thrust. Pause. Thrust. Moan. Pant. Moan. The mechanics of sex escaped me, but I couldn’t deny that what I was witnessing was akin to dancing, one body responding to another, moving in synch or repelling violently off each other like opposite charged particles, which I just learned about in science class.
There was a peculiarity, however. The women on my father’s tapes were white—blonde, brunette, the occasional redhead. They were buxom in the ways the women at the Chicago Thai temple weren’t. These were the women my mother told me to stay away from. The ones she spoke of in quiet whispered warnings. “Be careful, Tong. American woman too aggressive, want only one thing.” It was exactly these warnings that made them much more appealing. Made me want that one thing, also.
It didn’t surprise me that my father had videos like these. He was an admirer of the female form. At temple, he would tell stories to doctors’ wives, charming them. They hung on his every word, smiling and touching his shoulder with vividly painted fingertips. My father enjoyed their attention, craved it. He allowed his eyes to trail the movements of every beautiful woman. It was what got him into trouble a few years later, the unraveling of the family, a divorce that sent my mother into herself, and me with a ball of anger I couldn’t reconcile. Still, I had assumed his gaze was reserved for Thai women. But here they were, white nakedness, as exotic to him perhaps, as a rare tropical fish. Here they were, white women, fornicating on 120 minute VHS cassettes, hidden in a briefcase of important documents, which told me two things: he thought it was wrong, and it was a secret.
Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the short story collection, The Melting Season; two memoirs, Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: the Adventures of Buddhist Boy; and the poetry collection, In Thailand It Is Night. He teaches at the University of South Florida.