New York Tyrant

On Submission and the Waves
by Lily Hoang

Jordan Castro

On Submission and the Waves <br>by Lily Hoang</br>

                                                                                                                       art by Christophe Kochheiser

The youngest, we are always the final birth, a coda. 
     This is how the fairy tale goes: I was so small at birth that the hospital diapers did not fit me. As proof, my mother kept one on the high shelf in my father’s closet—hers being too full—in our old house.
     This is how the fairy tale goes: the Little Mermaid was also the youngest.
     This is how the fairy tale goes: use us. We are yours to use, tarnished though we are, we are here for only you.
     This is how the fairy tale goes: in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Louis said, “I am always the youngest, the most innocent, the most trustful. You are all protected. I am naked.” 

*

When writers beg for publication, we submit. It is a search for validation and our arrival at rejection.

*

Without voice, I speak for her. I am every she who is only like me.
     Who?

*

A good Asian daughter knows submission. She does not argue, she is not rude. She listens to the wisdom of her elders because they know no flaws. She cannot know what an adult does. When she thinks she understands the world, she is always wrong. When she is an adult, then she will be right. 
     A good American daughter, she talks big. She is rude. She does not appreciate. She is bad.

     I was given a choice as a girl: to be a good Asian daughter or a good American daughter, and I chose to be Vietnamese every time. It was the correct answer and I was praised. “Good girl,” my parents said. They said, “She is a very good girl.”
     If given the choice today, I would still choose Vietnamese. In my work life, I have power. When it is not allowed, I make it for myself. I am heard because people are listening.
     At home I desire submission. 

*

A student asks, “Can I be a feminist if I believe a woman should always submit?”

*

The Little Mermaid knows pure love—although it is a love reliant on vision—alone. 
     I miss intimacy. I hurt for it. 

*

In The Waves, Neville said, “To whom can I expose the urgency of my own passion?”
     With just one other, it is not so raw.

*

Please allow me to amend. At home I desire submission without domesticity. I suck at making house. 

*

I am playing house in South Africa right now, and I make my bed every morning.
     I wash the dishes before the maid comes and hide my dirty laundry. 

*

Synecdoche confuses me here. I say house but I mean bed, where electricity runs in currents under my body.

*

In my spare time I am learning chemistry. I read Chemistry for Dummies on my iPad and take notes in a notebook I have labeled “In Which Lily Learns Chemistry.” My brain can’t catalogue information. I surround myself with youth and get drunk on their passion. This is funny because I never drink. Dear Adonis—

*

Already, the Little Mermaid has submitted her voice to the sorceress. The witch of the sea, the most powerful of them all. The Little Mermaid had to journey through the witch’s frightful garden, she had to make her body small to avoid their touch. 
     I guess this is the heroine’s journey: one of retreat. 

*

I just want to feel everything. 

*

“The branches were long slimy arms,” writes Hans Christian Andersen, “with fingers like flexible worms.”  

*

The Little Mermaid contracts her body, makes herself smaller. The grotesque surrounds her, and what is my excuse? But I am only hiding and when will you find me, Charming—here, I wait. Adonis—I am right here. 

*

In The Waves, Louis said, “I dash and sprinkle myself with the bright waters of childhood. Its thin veil quivers. But the chained beast stamps and stamps at the shore.” 

*

Of course it was a storm only Poseidon could have made, wrecking the Prince’s ship.
     I appreciate the ocean from afar because it has tried to kill me in the past and it succeeded.

     In three months, I will move to the ocean, and I have never lived by water. 
     I wonder about the ways in which I will change, the ways in which I won’t, too.  

*

“Well,” I say, “that’s something we can talk about.” I say, “That’s something we need to talk about right now.” I walk up to the dry erase board and in green, all caps, “SUBMISSION.” 
     Our conversation is a rager, all that bright fire. I learn so much from the classroom. 

*

Submission for rejection. Rejection is necessary in becoming a writer, says who. 
     Count the rejections. I used to keep them for sentimentality but it turns out I’m just not very sentimental. The things that don’t matter anymore are no longer important to me, and my life is already cluttered.

     I don’t need to take you on, too. 

*

I am mixing up my stories. Poseidon and Adonis are Greek. The Little Mermaid is Danish. I am in South Africa. Donkeys and princesses and race and sacrifice. I give her my elixir. 

*

My mood is jarred in angles. It knows nothing of smooth waves or silence. In this moment I am marveling. Please, let me marvel.

*

I drowned in those waves. I died. I think I died. When I return to the ocean, maybe I will find out. 
     I respect you, ocean, I respect you. 

*

Once, I went swimming in Lake Michigan and the water was so cold my skin became emboldened with color and desirelessly swollen. It wasn’t swelling of desire then. Although now, here, yes, sure, here I am: swelled and in hunt. 

*

You know the Little Mermaid doesn’t really get the Prince at the end, right? She gambles big, and the house always sneaks out a better hand: homegirl gets turned into seafoam, just like anybody else. 

*

We trod on knives, sisters. 

*

In The Waves, Rhoda said, “The wave breaks. I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uttermost rims of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.” 

*

The iconic scene with Ariel on the rock and the wave surging up behind her. 
     Disney took out the pain the Little Mermaid feels when she walks. Ariel’s hurt gets minimized. So too does her strength. 

*

In Martinique, Jackie had said that I should date a younger man and let him worship me. “Give it a try,” she said, and so we went into the ocean because we were on a Caribbean island. 
     I did not go far enough in to see the fish. I should have, but I was too scared. Jackie said they were spectacular. 

*

I am gathering so much magic in South Africa, and I submit myself to it. I am porous and I give.
     This is called reciprocity.

     I am selfish because I want more. 

*

The Little Mermaid submits to pain akin to “sharpened knives” with every step, such that, when asked, she “raised her lovely white arms, stood on the tips of her toes, and glided over the floor, and danced as no one yet had been able to dance.” She does it all for love, the fool.
     I feign cynicism. 

     I don’t think she’s a fool at all. I think she’s brave. 
     It’s easy to empathize with the loser. 

*

The only time in my life that I have not felt empathy for someone was when my ex wanted to role play my cousin raping me.
     Empathy, once lost, doesn’t know how to return.

     I am ashamed to admit how much longer the relationship lasted and how long an ache I felt after. 

*

The version I put together in my head was, “The only time in my life that I have not felt empathy was at the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. She’s small, as I knew she would be, but she’s perfect. Even my breath absconds at the sight of her. And then some teenage punk jumps over some rocks, over the ocean’s slow withdrawal, and grabs one of her tits while shooting a selfie. He fell making his way back to shore. He wasn’t injured, but he was hurt. In my head, I thought, ‘Score one for Justice!’ and I laughed but only reflexively.
     A Viking took me to see her after we fucked. He was very tall.” 

*

Is open the same thing as submission? As in, I am open to this; therefore, I submit myself to it. 
     I remain unconvinced by both the question and the answer, both of which I penned.  

*

The very best book I could write is a book that nobody wants to read. Editors can’t empathize with the protagonist. Whereas I handled her with such care, her fragility and mine, and she is a serial killer and no editor can love her, but I do. I might have sacrificed myself for that book, except that I wouldn’t know how to.
     I failed. I do fail. But not always. It’s just all a part of the submission process. I know this. And yet—it feels humiliating, as if for the very first time.  

*

Imagine the Little Mermaid, suddenly human, thinking, “I faint, I fail. Now my body thaws; I am unsealed, I am incandescent.”
     But of course, that’s Rhoda speaking, in The Waves

*

But The Waves knows only turbulence of the ocean. All speaking quiets to respect the sublime. 

*

Don’t go casting me as the Little Mermaid though. I prefer the crone to the princess and although not all crones are witches and not all witches are crones, I’ll take a new identity and learn through its skin. 

*

The Little Mermaid submits to her family, and then she defies them.
     The Little Mermaid submits her voice to the Sea Witch, and she loses it.

     The Little Mermaid submits her body to torture, and look what happens.
     The Little Mermaid is given a cushion to sleep outside the Prince’s room, so that she may always be near him.
     The Little Mermaid watches her own fall.
     She tries her best and fails. I want to embrace her, calm her, fix all her damages, but the ocean recedes and the foam liquefies in my open palm. 

*

I submit myself as evidence, but fairy tales do not require evidence. It is eschewed: there is nothing to submit. 

*

I submit myself to authority and take notes so as to not miss a single direction.

*

I just keep on submitting manuscripts. Like this one, for instance.

*

I’ve ignored all the soul business, but then again, so did Disney.
     Forgive me my failures because they are many. 

*

I am very careful to follow the rules of traffic. I am worried about being too obtrusive. 

*

Like the Little Mermaid, without an ability to speak.
     What would I not say? Am I being too loud? 

*

In The Waves, Rhoda said, “If we submit he will reduce us to order.”
     Order is reduction that can be achieved through submission.

     Order is desirable, but what of when it isn’t? The disorder in my life is habitual; the disorder itself is chemical. 

*

Dear Editor—Please accept my essay, “On Submission and the Waves,” for publication in your journal, of which I am a great fan. [Insert bio here. Cut and paste from “Professional Lily” from DropBox.] Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Best, Lily Hoang

*

In The Waves, Louis said, “We push off in to the tide of the violent and cruel sea.”

*

But the Little Mermaid’s ocean was tender and perfect. 
     “We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants grow there; the leaves and steams of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small, glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed of shells, that open and close and the water flows over them. Their appearance is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for the diadem of a queen.”

     And to think, I saw that same sea that Hans Christian Andersen saw. I touched its waters with only the tips of my fingers. Afterwards, I smelled for wonder. 

*

Afterwards, I wonder if I have enough passion to sacrifice for love as the Little Mermaid did. I have not reached that emotion. I have never known that variety of love. 
     I want, though, you. Dear Adonis—I want to dream beside you. I want us to enter the trance of a dream together. Love, Lily

*

Later, in The Waves, Louis said, “For I am always the youngest; the most naively surprised; the one who runs in advance in apprehension and sympathy with discomfort or ridicule—should there be a smut on your nose, or a button undone. I suffer all the humiliations. Yet I am also ruthless, marmorial.” 
     Much like me.

     Just like the Little Mermaid.

*

The way the fairy tale goes, Athena gets Adonis for nine months and Persephone for three. This is what Zeus calls fair. 
     My days in South Africa will not last forever. 

*

And then I wonder if submission is the ultimate act of selflessness, if it should be—in its purest form—called love.

*

The waves broke on the shore. There, they became something new.

 

 

***

Lily Hoang is the author of five books, including A Bestiary (winner of the inaugural Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s Nonfiction Contest) and Changing (recipient of a PEN Open Books Award)

 


1 comment

  • Beautiful! Thank you.

    Nicole

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