My Mother, the Palm Reader

Dear Asian Youth,


My house is clouded in a thick fog of incense, mixed with the scent of my father’s cigarettes that burns my nose when I inhale. I know that Paris by Night or some other badly dubbed drama is blasting in the background because my father doesn’t want to hear us talking, but I don’t hear any dialogue. All I see and feel is my mother’s hand on my palm, her blunt nails tracing the lines from one side of my hand to the other. I don’t really believe what she says, but I will never have the heart to tell her.


“Trust me on this. I’ve never been wrong.”

There are five types of hand shapes in Chinese palmistry: fire, earth, metal, wood, and water. I have a fire hand, with long fingers and a long palm. My mother says that this, along with the fact that I’m an Aries and a horse in the Chinese zodiac, is why I have such a blunt, quick nature and why I’m so stubborn.


“That’s why I’m so happy you’re going to be a lawyer. Your birth chart has destined you for this.”


I tell her all the time that I’m studying public law because she let me watch too many episodes of Law and Order growing up, but she insists that it has always been written in the stars. Every time we discuss it, she’ll go off onto a tangent about how long my wisdom line is and how it means I’ll definitely have a long education… unless I want to defy fate itself; or how my fingers close with no cracks, so I’ll make money and not lose any. Then, she’ll show me her hand, pointing out how short her and my dad’s wisdom lines are, just to reiterate the fact that both she and my father didn’t go to college.


It’s like clockwork. It happens every other night.


For years, my mother’s constant worry about my birth chart, and my palms annoyed me. When I was ten, she started telling me that I’d be a lawyer and that I’d live a long life, just because both my life and wisdom lines were long and deeply cut. When I was sixteen, she took me to a fortune teller in Vietnam who told us I would marry a non-Vietnamese man working either with computers or in engineering, and that I was definitely going to work in law and politics. So she pushed me to take internships in both law firms and congressional offices and started interrogating every one of my non-Vietnamese male friends about their intended majors. I was so embarrassed by her chasing after me, telling me to stop wearing red because my signs say that I should only wear dark colors, or asking me if I found her friends’ sons cute so she could ask if they were going to be engineers.


I never even discerned that she just cared a lot about me and that she was pushing me to work harder—to be the best person I could.


Our family never had enough money to send me to tutoring, and both of my parents definitely could not help me with any homework. I think my mother started believing in tử vi (fortune-telling) to reassure herself that her only daughter and the rest of her family would be successful one day. I think she thought that, if I was a lawyer who had a husband with money, we’d be out of our tiny apartment and she’d get to stop working long and laborious hours.


So, now, I humor her. I let her read my palms, and she teaches me how to do it myself. I read my friends’ palms, with my mother laying down next to me on my bed, pointing out details I missed and asking what their birthdates are. We laugh, and she holds my hand, reminding me that I need to stop wearing red nail polish, suggesting I switch to dark blue. I still do not completely believe in fortune-telling, but I’ll agree with her so we can laugh and spend time together; I know it matters to her, and I love her for it.


Both of our love lines have always told us that we’d have an abundance of love in our lives, right?


- Cindy