Picture, if you will, a split screen. On one side, two little girls meet on a beach under a boardwalk. On the other, two little girls are formally introduced and set down to write a contract as Laotongs. On the first side, the girls grow up and are the best of friends; sharing an apartment, laughing, writing letters; not really 100% aware of the others true circumstances. On the second, the girls grow up together, writing letters in a secret language, and marking important events on a fan - the supposed rich girl who isn't and the supposed poor girl who is really, much better off. The first set date and meet their husbands. The second set endure arranged marriages and spend a year taking conjugal visits before being sent off to clean house for their mothers-in-law, only being beaten once in a while. Of course, that's only after their husbands have succeeded in getting them pregnant. Imagine years of a misunderstandings, in only the way women can have them; most often - silent. And they gradually grow apart. Until that day when they meet up and the sparks fly. It could be in a mall, walking through the makeup department. It could be during the bridal events of one of the girls. Insults fly, hearts are broken and years pass without word from the girls to each other. Imagine now that in one set, there is a little girl. Her mother is terminally ill and the women come back together. In the other set, there is a boy (more highly revered than a girl, tho behaves much like one) and his mother is also terminally ill.
Ok...you certainly get the picture now, right? I almost think I need to watch Beaches again. Don't get me wrong. I really liked this book. It reminded me of how blessed I am to have grown up in small town America, where I could play and run around and become exactly who I wanted to be. I married the man I wanted to marry. And, my husband not only never beats me, he does laundry and cooks meals and he loves his little girl as much as he loves his boys.
It also left me considering our relationships. How we allow our friends or sisters to influence our decisions. I had a sister tell me once, how much she loved it when my hair was shorter. Come my next hair appointment, my hair was short again. Simply because I knew she liked it that way. ("Why did you cut your hair?" "Because you told me to!" / "Why did you have sex before you were supposed to after having a baby?" "Because you told me to try for more sons!") I can't help but admit that I did admire the idea of a Laotong. Someone who shares so many similarities. Not so much as children, but a Laotong as a grown up could be an incredible blessing. A lifeline, even.
I don't know if any of you read the Catching Cool Breezes chapter. The one I warned you about? It strongly implies that the two girls had a physical relationship as well. While I 100% agree with the Man/Woman only thing, I have to admit that I completely understand how and why that could happen. Probably happens a lot. Those poor women never get love from anyone. Their mothers are mean. Their fathers ignore them. Their husbands and mothers-in-law beat them. The human spirit just needs a soft place to fall somewhere and if the only person in the world who understands and loves you is your laotong?
I don't often truly shed a tear when I'm reading. But when Third Sister didn't survive her foot binding, I couldn't help it. Golden lilies or not....un.believable. Curse the idiot who came up with that idea. And curse the men in China for being turned on by it. I can't really compare it to boob jobs or something here in America. We don't torture our daughters when they're teeny (well those of us who are sane, right?) I was at the pool a couple of days after I'd finished this book. There was a family there with obviously adopted little girls from China. I don't really know if the same foot stuff and attitudes about women continues there, but I'm betting in some of the more remote villages, it does. And darn it if I wouldn't fly over there and rescue a baby girl from such a life.