Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “The Sudden Disappearance of Lil’ Cassidy Nguyen, part 2 of 3”
We’ve all got a different version of what “home” is. Maybe it’s the house you grew up in. Maybe a city or a state or a country. For some of us “home” is a person, or a group of people, or a community or a scene to come back to when you’ve strayed too far and too long. Some of us are like Odysseus—forever working to get back home after being waylaid for half our lives. Some will never find home and some never had one to begin with, not one they truly loved. “Home” is a loaded word. Because if you want to come home but you CAN’T? That’s when the sadness of life will consume you. What do you do when you can’t have the thing you need most of all?
The idea of “home” can force us to long so deeply for that which we cannot have, it will verge on the masochistic.
There’s this quote I like and can’t remember who said it. Maybe the poet Jessie Lynn McMains. Maybe a friend long forgotten or a scene from a movie—something about how baseball is a beautiful sport because the players are all trying to get home. I don’t cry often and care little for sports, but that quote gets me every time I think of it and makes me think highly of the sport of baseball. Jim Jarmusch has that great line about baseball being beautiful because it’s played on a diamond. Maybe it’s part of that. A scene left off when people use the Jarmusch quote. If it is, they’re missing the best of it. There’s something about the return home that catches you in the chest, that derails you because we’ve all felt estranged from where or whom we came from at one point or another.
There’s another quote I like on the topic of home. This one is from the director John Cassavetes. “I try to find some kind of positive way to make the world exist like a family, make a family, not of us behind the camera, not of the actors, but of the characters, a world so that they can patrol certain streets, patrol their house, and they know their way home. And when they cease to know their way home, things go wrong. You somehow, drunk or sober or any other way, you always find your way back to where you live. And then you get detoured. And when you can’t find your way home, THAT’S when I consider it’s worth it to make a film. Because that’s interesting.”
When I opened the door and let Cassidy in that night and asked where she’d been, she told me “home” and I figured that meant her apartment in Golden Hill. She meant Vietnam.
Cassidy’s story began at the Viejas Casino a month prior, the night she met the actress Tan Le Pham and her husband Ben Curtis the LA real estate mogul. Pham introduced herself because of a misunderstanding—that Cassidy had tried to pay for their drinks. She hadn’t. Someone else had. A business acquaintance across the room. But the three got to talking over cocktails and when Pham and Curtis learned Cass had never been to her family’s home country, they decided they would take her.
Curtis was a vet. Two tours in-country. He met Pham as a young girl and came back after the war to bring her to the States. Cassidy told me Curtis said often during their conversation that he had “more money than god,” which made her feel as if she “had stepped into the wrong scene in a movie,” but soon she was drunk enough it didn’t matter.
The next day they flew to Ho Chi Mihn City.
On the 15-hour flight, in the sunny cabin of the plane, Cassidy was terribly hungover and stuck to water and coffee while Pham and Curtis continued to vodka drink cocktails. Five hours in, after bickering for ages, changing seats three times, and returning once again to argue, Curtis and Pham passed out and didn’t wake up until the plane reached its destination.
Cassidy knew the first thing she needed to do once off the plane was ditch them, and she did, ducking into a crowd, moving along with the flow of bodies, leaving Pham and Curtis arguing at the curb under the hot gray sky.
(To be continued next week)
Read part 1 of 3 below:
Lil’ Cassidy Nguyen disappeared one day. No calls. No emails. Our friends talked about it incessantly. “Incessantly” is a strong word, a word that leans toward exaggeration, but incessantly is the best way to explain it. Cassidy’s brother Duong filed a missing person’s report three days after she vanished. He called the cops. None of us could take that final step. (Duong could.) “Vanished,” that’s the word our friends used. It’s a word you don’t use often because it has an air of the mystical. Unicorns vanish in a rainbow mist after piercing the frozen heart of the Queen of Snow. Wizards vanish with a swirl of their long-fingered hands. But people? Regular people? Nah, they leave. They split. They skip town. They don’t fuckin’ vanish.
A month later I woke up to a loud, repeated knocking on the door of my apartment late one night—the kind of knock that’s never good. No one knocks on your door at (I checked my oven clock as I shuffled down the hallway from my bedroom) 3am unless something is very wrong or something is about to go wrong.
I shut one eye and looked through the peephole. Cassidy. Yup. The top of Cassidy’s shaved head (because she was in fact lil’) and the smoke from her cigarette trailing up through the dim porch light to obscure my view. Of course I opened the door immediately and of course I was overjoyed and relieved to see her and of course what she had to tell me came as a surprise.