“L’Orange” by Page Lambert
I’m having a pedicure at Ivy’s Nails and Spa. The shop owner is Vietnamese. Her seven sisters and one brother work here too. The shop is immaculate. Ivy and I talk about her homeland while she files my toenails. When her father, a prosperous businessman, lost everything, he was given $200 to start a new life with his wife and their nine children. He paid Ivy’s passage on an illegal smuggling boat first because she was the oldest. She lived on one orange a day, for thirteen days. One by one, her siblings and their mother joined her in America.
“My father—he died,” she tells me, a nail file suspended in her hand. Her eyes mist over. “His heart was broken. He lost his country. Then his pride left. Then his soul.”
“My own father lost everything, too,” I tell her, “when a flood took our home. I was with him when he died. My eyes mist over. “His heart broke too.” She reaches one hand up and touches my knee. I think of the war demonstrations in Boulder when I was in college, and of a novel about a Vietnam vet whose soul split in two.
As Ivy massages my feet, our conversation turns to the Iraq war. She knows more about America’s foreign policy than I do. She speaks in rapid-firing syllables. “War is horrible,” she says. “It is never good. In my old country, the land has died.” She puts down the fingernail file and looks at me. “But not here,” she says, smiling. “Here, everything is possible. Land of opportunity. We work hard, but life is good.”
As a senior in high school, I watched classmates go off to war in Vietnam. Many suffered the shame of the My Lai Massacre. Those who stayed home suffered the shame of “not being patriotic.” Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Richard Nixon was elected, America seemed hopeless. The boys in my graduating class compared draft numbers like today’s graduates might compare SAT scores. Too low, and you wouldn’t make it into college. Too low, and you’d find yourself in the jungle killing gorilla soldiers younger than your own brothers. Nowhere, including Kent State, seemed safe, or sane.
My boyfriend drew #68. By the time he took his physical the army had already drafted his best friend, who had drawn #69. A few months later, his friend came home in a body bag, the number of troops was cut to 70,000, the draft ended, and anti-war demonstrations faded away.
“Did you pick your color?” Ivy asks.
I hand her the sunset-colored bottle of L’Oréal I’ve been holding and glance at the label. L’Orange. I think of Ivy as the oldest daughter, still just a girl, eating one orange a day, for thirteen days. I think of Agent Orange. I hesitate. Ivy takes the bottle from me, shakes it, twists the lid off, draws out the tiny brush, and bends over my toes.
“Good choice,” she says. “Here, there are many choices.”
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Page Lambert Artist Statement:
Once, while reading her essay “Porcupine Dusk” at Devils Towers’ outdoor amphitheater, a wild
porcupine perched on a ponderosa limb above Page’s head and listened with rapt attention.
While reading Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” a flock of Canada geese flew overhead. When
reading “Turkey Tracks,” a wild turkey flew out of the willows (so close, she swears it snagged
her hair). Page has dissected mountain lion scat and hunted for elk velvet. Author of the
memoir In Search of Kinship and the novel Shifting Stars, she’s been featured in The Denver
Post, Bloomsbury Review, Red Room, and Forbes. Her poetry, essays, and stories can be found
inside monumental sculptures at the Denver Art Museum, online at Huffington Post, inside The
Writer, and in anthologies about the West. Oprah’s O magazine once featured her River Writing
Journeys as “One of the top six, great all-girl getaways of the year.” She writes the award-
winning blog All Things Literary–All Things Natural from her Colorado mountain home.