NOTE FROM LB: Angelo Bell is an indie filmmaker who in the past has contributed several articles to this site. (Past being mostly in 2014. If you’re in the mood and you have time, you should enjoy what you read by searching in the index on the righthand side of this page.
The other day, Angelo wrote me about a GoFundMe campaign he’d started and described the love story that inspired it. I thought he was telling me about his latest project, and I found the story deeply moving, so I said, “Hey, Angelo, write this up for TVWriter™ and we’ll post it and see if we can help you find some investors.”
A few minutes ago, he sent me the post below. Turns out he’s not trying to get a film going. It’s a real-life story about, well, about a couple he’s half of. This isn’t the kind of thing we’d normally publish here, but it’s wonderfully written and I’m hooked.
I know Angelo won’t mind me sharing this with you; it’s what he asked me to do. So if you’re ready to feel all warm and fuzzy, read on!
by Angelo Bell
I was in third grade when I made the decision to be a writer. I remember that exact moment as if it were carved into the walls of my brain matter. Everything in my life after that point revolved around the education, artistry and creativity of writing. I consider myself a writer in every sense, and as such I enjoy all forms of writing. I firmly believe that one cannot love writing without loving language. I have studied French, Swahili, and Cantonese, and now I am learning Vietnamese.
It is my love of spoken English and all its vast and often contrary nuances that compels me to reach towards perfection in the dialog of the screenplays and novels I’ve written. Sometimes I can be one of those snobs who frown upon the butchering of the English language with misused words whose definitions have been misappropriated for some foolish pop culture lexicon. Incidentally, it was my love of the English language that led me to the next chapter of my discordantly dismal love life. Who would have thought that English is something a man living in the USA would have in common with a woman living in Vietnam, and an unspoken love of English would lead them into love?
When I divorced five years ago I felt that love had disappointed me. I accepted my culpability in the decline of my relationship; I was not a victim. However, there were all these unspoken rules of marriage that seemed to vanish in the face of the selfishness that often evolves in a relationship under stress. Married again? Never. Hell no. To the dating world I was damaged goods with a divorce, four kids and bad credit under my belt.
I focused entirely on my writing after my divorce. I was so narrow-minded in my pursuit that I successfully secured two TV pilot development deals with NBCUniversal, but I also neglected my health. I nearly died and spent 18 days in the heart center including five days in ICU. I often tell people that there is a moment of clarity when death is upon you. There was one particular moment when I was fairly certain I would not wake from sleep so I took the lock off my cell phone. I wanted to make it easier for whomever found my body to locate my family back in New York. I know. How morbid was that?
The combination a nightmarish near-death experience and a dream come true set me on a new path. I began dating again. My dating life was the equivalent of dismal dissonance, like an orchestra out of tune with itself. It was frustrating and only solidified my dark opinion of relationships, especially for the over-forty crowd.
I went on relationship hiatus after I ended a chaotic 18-month relationship with a woman in her early twenties. At the time I surmised, I’m back in the gym, my health has improved, now would be a good time to recommit my focus to my writing. However, in the back of my mind I had started to explore the possibility of a long-term relationship in my future, however distant it might be. Still open but frustrated, I deleted Tinder, OkCupid, Match.Com, and Plenty of Fish dating apps off my phone. I asked my friends and coworkers if they had single and available friends who were interested in dating.
A friend at work introduced me to Nghia. Nghia was happily living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and was studying English. She was working for the supply distribution arm of Adidas and learning English would give her a chance to travel within the company to Europe and other Southeast Asian countries. Nghia had no inclination to come to America. She was happy where she was born, raised, working and going to school. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why my friend would introduce me to someone 14,000 miles away. I thought, what’s the point?
However, Nghia (pronounced Nee – aahh) was taking a Level II English class and it helped to have a native English speaker with whom she could converse. We connected through Facebook and corresponded over text messages. There is a fifteen hour time difference so our communication was spotty. Despite that, I learned Nghia’s goal was to become a “master” at speaking English. I was intrigued and I offered to help. We’d chat casually and then I’d help Nghia with her spelling and grammar. Our text chats became more regular as we developed chemistry through our written words. I think she appreciated my playfulness with American English. I admit, there were times that I certainly did flaunt my writing talents in order to flirt.
Our text messages became WiFi telephone calls. This was essential so I could help Nghia with her pronunciation. Despite the time difference of our busy schedules, our WiFi calls escalated into hour-long video chats. We couldn’t settle for a single chat. We started to have two-a-days. I remember vividly the one day we did not have our regularly scheduled video chat just before Nghia went to sleep. The next day she expressed to me that she didn’t sleep well. I jokingly said, her poor sleep was because she hadn’t spoken to me just before bedtime. After that, we never missed another night.
One of Nghia’s homework assignments required adapting an American short story (circa 1960s) into a play. I’m serious, you cannot make this stuff up. It was serendipity. Throughout the day I’d get regular text messages from Nghia with questions about screenwriting, narration, and dialog. I later learned that she’d shared news of our friendship with her classmates and many of the questions I’d answered had come from them. She made sure to give me the credit for the answers and she even introduced me to her classmates via video chat during the team’s weekly meeting at a local coffee shop In Ho Chi Minh City. Two weeks later her classmates formed a “fan club” for me. They ask Nghia throughout the day to find out what I was doing in America. Silly kids.
Then funny things started to happen. Despite the frequency and extended lengths of our text and video chats, I could not get Nghia out of my mind. Also, when she’d call me on Facebook Messenger I could see her quickly fix her hair and apply lipstick before my video camera came on. Nghia taught me Vietnamese phrases and we began referring to each other as, anh (me), and em (her), sort of pet names for boyfriend and girlfriend. Nghia would record and send me short videos in English just to say hello. She even recorded a 15-minute video presentation showing me how she made Vietnamese coffee.
One day the L-word slipped out my mouth. Instead of dreadful silence, Nghia quickly responded in the affirmative. We had fallen in love. To this day she accuses me of using “evil magic” to get her to fall in love with me so deeply. A few weeks later I asked Nghia to marry me and she accepted. She agreed to turn her life upside down, leave her parents, her siblings, her niece, her job, her staff, her classmates and friends to come to the USA to have a life with me. In turn I promised to visit Vietnam first to propose appropriately and in person — and to meet for the first time. No more hugging the computer, no more blowing kisses at the screen. We would hug and kiss in person.
This is not a story of two people who met through a dating app. I most definitely do not subscribe to any “Meet Asian Singles” websites. Now that the word is slowly coming out, my friends have asked me questions about the nature and validity of my relationship. I confidently assure them that there isn’t a question they can ask me that I haven’t already asked myself a million times. Is this unorthodox? Absolutely. Unusual? Most definitely. But as an old romantic, I know that love follows no guidelines or rules. It is its own thing. “Anh yeu em.” I love you. It means everything, as it should.
If you’d like to help me get to Nghia to meet for the first time, hug for the first time and kiss for the first time, please see my Go Fund Me page. The proverbial and literal clock is ticking. Wish us well in our journey and thanks for allowing me to share my story.