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Authors: Lisa Lim

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BOOK: She's the Boss
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“Suit yourself, boss.”

“Don’t call me that,” I said reproachfully. “I may be your boss at work, but outside of work, I’m just Karsynn.”

“You know . . .” Truong emitted a gleeful chortle. “Sometimes I can’t believe you’re my supervisor. How did that even happen?”

“Well it happened,” I said complacently. “So you better
recognize
.”

Truong gazed up at the ceiling, reminiscing. “Do you remember when you were just a lowly minion with a superiority complex? A fresh-faced agent on the floor?”

I smiled fondly. “I remember . . .”

Truong went on, “I’d never seen someone work so hard at avoiding work.”

“How dare you!” I swatted him with a pillow. “I worked my ass off!”

“Stop!” he cried, half-laughing. “And in the middle of smoking a cigarette, you’d pause for another cigarette break. Do you remember that?”

“Oh yeah.” I bit back a smile. “Cigarette breaks
during
my cigarette breaks. What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.” Truong snorted inelegantly. “It used to drive The Führer bat shit crazy!”

“The Führer,” I echoed. “I can’t believe we used to call Hillary that. She’s mellowed quite a bit since then, don’t you think?”

“Now she has. But back then, working under Hillary was like living in the Village of the Damned.”

“True . . . I guess the name we gave her was well deserved.”

Truong gave me a peculiar look. “Funny you should say that.”

“What?”

“About us . . . calling Hillary The Führer.”

I lifted a delicate brow. “And why is that funny?”

“Well,” Truong hedged.

“Well what?”

“Um, all the agents on your team have a nickname for you, too.”

“Nooooooo!” I gasped. “They do? What is it? Tell me!”

Truong sat there grinning, taking enormous pleasure in my anguish. “Are you sure you want to know?”

“Positive.”

“OK.” Truong propped himself up on his elbows. “Get ready for this . . . they call you Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

“NOOOoooooo.” I buried my face in my hands.

“Oh yes.” Truong’s eyes glinted with mischief. “Ve haf vays of rescuing your economy. But if you go bankrupt . . . KAPUT! Like Greece and Spain, then ve vill abolish the Euro and bring back the Deutsche Mark,” he intoned in a silly German accent before bursting into hysterics.

“Humph.” He needn’t sound so enthusiastic about it. “If I’m Chancellor Angela Merkel, then you’re Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

“Hey Chancellor.” Truong held up his hands in mock arrest. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

“But,” I said indignantly, “I don’t think I’m a bad boss.”

“You’re not bad,” he teased, “you’re awful!”

“If you think I’m awful, it’s all that book’s fault! It puts heat on women bosses and it perpetuates this stereotype that all of us are inherently evil.”

Truong didn’t bother to hide a snicker. “But you
are.

I glared at him with blistering scorn.

“Calm down. I’m just messin’ with you.” He sat up and adopted a more serious tone. “All right, which book are you referring to?”


The Devil Wears Prada
.”

Truong started giggling. “You’re more like
The Angel Wears Payless
.”

I threw him another dirty look.


The Devil Wears Prada
. I didn’t read the book but I saw the movie; Meryl Streep played the delicious villain. All right, I see it . . .” He nodded thoughtfully. “I see where you’re going with this. She
does
make me fear the evil female boss.”

“See!” I said with a satisfied air. “It’s partly Hollywood’s fault. They make you despise the lady boss and cheer for the hooker with a heart of gold.”

“Hey!” Truong looked askance. “
Pretty Woman
is one of my all-time favorite movies and Julia Roberts will forever remain my beloved tart with a heart.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s a tired trope that needs to be laid to rest.”

“Oh, it never will be. Not when Hollywood loves hookers as much as the politicians do.”

“True . . .” I trailed off. A beat. Another beat. “Truong,” I said at last, “can you be straight with me?”

“I always am.”

“Do you,” I broke off and added hesitantly, “do you wish you were on someone else’s team?”

“Of course not,” he said at once.

I sighed. “The other day, I overhead Adam saying that he preferred working on Joshua’s team.”

“Weird.” Truong tilted his head to one side. “Why would Adam say such a thing?”

“In his exact words, Joshua’s a lot less emotional than me.”

“J
alapeño
Joshua?” Truong’s voice pitched higher. “Are you kidding me? That guy’s a hothead! I’ve got chest hair longer than his fuse.”

“See what I mean!” I frowned to myself. “There’s such a double standard. When Joshua loses his temper, oh he’s just being a man. But when I blow my top off, I’m being hormonal, moody,
emotional
. It’s just not fair!”

“Mmmm.”

“And you know what the worst part is?”

“What?”

“Pamela and Jewel agreed with Adam! They said men make better bosses. And I thought they were supposed to be on my side.” I threw my hands up in despair. “Can a sister get a little solidarity in the Sisterhood?”

“I don’t judge a book by its cover and I certainly don’t judge my boss by gender. So I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”

“But I can’t help it. I feel like I constantly have to prove myself. You tell me, should I be more masculine or feminine?”

“It depends.” Truong chewed on his bottom lip. “Why don’t you define masculine and feminine?”

“Why don’t
you
define it? After all, I’d like to know how you really feel about all this.”

“Generally speaking . . .” Truong seemed to be choosing his words carefully, “Women are more nurturing and caring. Men are less so and they tend to focus more on other things . . .”

“Like?” I pressed.

“Oh you know,” he murmured airily, “things like facts and logic whereas women tend to focus more on feelings and um, their emotions.”

“I’m not emotional!” I cried defiantly. “I get things done! If you want to talk about a task, go ask a man. But if you want it done, ask a woman!”

“By the way,” Truong said mildly, “you’re getting really emotional right now.”

“Stop using that word,” I huffed with annoyance. “I am
not
emotional!”

“All right, I’ll give you credit where credit is due. You do get things done a lot more efficiently than Joshua.”

“Thank you!” I said with dignity. After a pregnant pause, I asked, “Do you
really
think I’m emotional?”

“Well, all women are emotional when their basement is leaking. Then it’s like the communists have invaded the summer house.”

“Truong! You’re such a sexist pig! You can’t blame me for having PMS. And by the way, the preferred expression is Elmo riding the cotton pony.”

Truong pulled a face. “What do you have against Elmo?”

“Nothing!”

“Speaking of double standards,” Truong said pointedly, “when a man talks dirty to a woman, it’s sexual harassment. When a woman talks dirty to a man, it’s $3.95 a minute. And when you women look after your own, it’s called ‘Solidarity in the Sisterhood’ or at worst, you’re labeled a radical feminist. But when I try to watch out for my brothas, I’m called a chauvinist.”

“Ah, but there lies the difference. Feminists believe in the equality of sexes, whereas chauvinists don’t.”

“Hey! I believe in the equality of the sexes. Hell, I wore spiked heels to work yesterday.”

“Oh yeah, that reminds me. He wants you to tone it down a notch.”

“Who does?”

“The dude with the lips.”

“You mean Carter, the male version of Angelina Jolie?”

“Yep.”

“Tone what down? Exactly?”

“You know,” I said carefully, “dress a little less like an eccentric piano player.”

“You mean dress less like Liberace?” His voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Or Elton John, perhaps?”

“Erm . . .” I trailed off.

“Honey!” Truong did a zigzag finger snap. “Carter has no right to dictate how I dress.”

“But, Truong.” I cushioned my words with thoughtful pauses. “He’s imposing this dress code on everyone, not just you. I know you want to celebrate who you are, but maybe the workplace is not such a good place to be doing it. The blouses, the ruffles, the dresses, the heels, it can be a bit much at times.”

“A bit much?” Truong looked at me with sudden anger and a torrent of words came spilling out. “Let me tell you what’s too much! When I was nine years old, my dad had a one-on-one talk with me. And do you want to know what he said? He said that if he ever found out that I, his only son, was a homosexual, or as he called it, a
hợp với người đồng tính
, he’d snap my neck in half.”

I swallowed hard and spoke around a croak, “I’m sure he must’ve been joking.”

“He was dead serious,” Truong deadpanned. “My own dad. Can you believe that? I stayed in the closet for years and years, locked away in my own Narnia.” There was a small silence and then he added, “I only came out when my dad passed away two years ago. So now I celebrate who I am. How I dress is who I am. And I am who I am, Kars. There is no alternative.”

“But what about your mom? Wasn’t she there for you?”

He emitted a silent laugh. “My mom was too busy grieving over my sister.”

“Oh . . .” I trailed off. “I never knew you had a sister.”

“That’s ’cause she took her own life.”

I couldn’t speak for shock. The silence was stifling.

Eventually, Truong explained with patient resignation, “My mom was one of those tiger moms. Any grade less than an A was unacceptable. So from an early age, me and my sis . . . we associated our self-worth and who we were with how well we performed at school. Whenever we didn’t get an A, oh hell! My mom went ape shit! She made us feel awful. Worthless, even.”

Quietly, I said, “She sounds just like Amy Chua.”

“But my sister didn’t turn out like Amy Chua’s daughters. Actually,” he amended, “she did, in a way. She was every Asian parent’s wet dream. Scored straight As, took AP classes, placed first at the Science Olympiad, president of the Student Council, perfect SAT scores, attended Harvard Med School.” He said nothing for a moment, then, “During her second year at college, she took her own life.”

“Why?” My voice came out strangled.

“Haven’t you heard?” He gave a little shrug and said in a sardonic voice, “The tiger mom approach makes depressed cubs.”

I knew Truong well enough to know that he was using mockery to mask his deep anguish.

“But no one really knows with Tien.” He sighed deeply. “She had always kept up this facade that everything was great. Inside, she must have mentally cracked under all that pressure. Sometimes, I wish I’d done more to help her. Should’ve. Could’ve,” he said almost angrily.

In the pause that followed, I reached for a silver framed picture sitting on the nightstand. “Is this your sister?”

He nodded and smiled ruefully in answer. “We were twins, you know. I was actually a surprise. When Tien was born, my parents thought she was going to be one big baby.”

“Really? But how could they not know?”

“My mom never wanted to have an ultrasound and when she went for her routine checkups, her doctor only heard one heartbeat.”

“That’s insane.”

“I know. Tell me about it.” Laughing in a fatigued way, he tried to joke, “After Tien was delivered, the doctor said, ‘Oh, I think there’s another baby!’ Five minutes later, I entered this world as my mom cursed, ‘Holy Shitballs!’ ”

I started laughing. “Your mom never said Holy Shitballs!”

“Well, she said something along those lines in Vietnamese.”

“You and Tien.” I took a long last look at her picture before replacing it on the nightstand. “Were you close?”

His face softened and he smiled slightly. “Very close. I’d give anything to have her back. So would my mom. My mom . . .” He stopped and gave a bitter laugh. “Once a stoic tiger mom, well it crushed her. Now all we have left of Tien is a room full of perfect report cards, sheaves of terms papers—all graded A’s of course, and a shelf lined with her gold medals and trophies. Ironic isn’t it? It’s what my mom had always wanted from Tien. And mom got what she wanted.” He didn’t say any more but his eyes said the rest.

“Truong,” I said gently, “don’t blame yourself.”

In an abrupt confession, he said, “For a while I blamed my mom. She wanted us to be successful so much that nothing else mattered. Not even our happiness. Do you know,” he added heatedly, “that suicide rates are outrageously high amongst Asian Americans?”

“No.” There was a startled pause and I said in a small voice, “I did not know that.”

BOOK: She's the Boss
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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