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PPLILOVE: Marlena Dang-Nguyen

July 20, 2013

(People I Love is a segment in which I feature one person — on his/her birthday — who is near and dear to my heart. I guess you can say this is an open-birthday card.)

July 20th is Marlena Dang-Nguyen‘s birthday!


I have no clue where to start when it comes to talking about Marlena. She already knows how I feel about her through the various love letters I’ve written her — not really — but I figured that I might as well profess my love for her to the world.

Marlena and I first met each other when we were young kids: five? six? seven? Actually, I should probably say she met me when she was young because I don’t remember meeting her at all. She claims that she saw me behind the counter at my family store and hated me instantly because she thought I was acting like I was too cool for her. Of course, I don’t remember this at all. She also says that she remembers the life-sized doll I had. She thought it was creepy; I thought of it as my best friend (which, now that I think of it, is sort of depressing).

Okay, my roller-shoes did not have Barbie on them, but they must as well have!

Okay, my roller-shoes did not have Barbie on them, but they might as well have!

But I do remember meeting her on the first day of junior high. I thought she and her gang of girls were scary. Okay, scary’s a little harsh; I thought they were intimidating. Over the next two years, I steered clear of her and “the gang.” She was the popular girl with the right kind of clothes, and I had my sneakers with the wheels that folded in and out of the bottom. Alas, we were from two different parts of the world. Cool vs. me.

High school hit, and I thought I had rid myself of Marlena for good, but dang, there she was again! Just kidding. I didn’t really mind going to high school with Marlena because aside from the casual comments she would make that would make me feel awkward, I didn’t feel completely terrified of her anymore. Just intimated, still.

Whenever she would say something to me and laugh, I would just nod and laugh along. She made me nervous, that girl! This continued throughout all of high school–she, making comments, and I, laughing nervously.

2007-2008 Marlena's comment in my yearbook.

2007-2008 Marlena’s comment in my yearbook. Example of awkward comment.

But even though I was still deathly afraid of Marlena, I made a special effort in grade twelve to get her to like me when I discovered that we were both going to McGill. Again, she made comments, and I laughed nervously. But it went beyond that. I remember when she ran lines with me when I was trying out for the school play. I remember bending under the desk in English class, whispering to her over the phone “not to pick up your house phone. Mr. R is calling you right now to ask why you’re skipping!!”

And I remember her being the first person I told on May 6th, 2010, that I had just gotten into McGill. Actually, she was the fifth person I called, but since the other four didn’t pick up, she’s technically the first person I told.

And then I remember her calling me sometime in June to ask me which rez I had gotten into and to check her McGill account (since she was away from the computer) to see which rez she had gotten into. And then I remember her saying those fateful words: “Oh my God, do you want to room together??”

It was one of those things that you weren’t so sure about but were afraid to say no for fear of making things awkward, so you say yes anyway, not knowing what you were getting yourself into. It was definitely one of those things. But I will forever be grateful for those words because it changed my life in so many mind-blowing ways.

Why was I so “afraid” of Marlena for all of those years? Because she had an intense personality that I felt was so different from mine. Marlena is just that kind of girl who says what’s on her mind. She’s not afraid to put you in your place if you have wronged, and I admire her for that.

You know, I have been thinking for some time now that in order to be close friends with someone, you must truly admire one thing about them, and thinking of all of my close friends, I can tell you the one exact thing about each of them that I admire. With Marlena, it’s this: that she isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind. I truly admire this about her because it’s something I can never and will never be able to do, and it is in this way that we are polar opposites. Marlena isn’t afraid of hurting your feelings if you have done something wrong, and I love her for this because I know that if I have done something wrong, I can count on her to tell me when no one else will.

I lived with Marlena for two years, and during those two years, I have never learned more about myself and about interacting with other people. I definitely became more aware of how my actions could affect others, and Marlena definitely helped me do that by pointing out to me all of my flaws; for this, I am extremely grateful.

Criticism and flaws are not bad things. I needed to know my own flaws before I could fix them, and Marlena was the only one who was willing to tell me those flaws. (Also, I think she just couldn’t stand me and my neurotic ways anymore… just kidding!) She made me a better person.

In first and second year, Marlena and I often spoke of our disappointment with “the college life.” We were disappointed that we weren’t making life-long friends, and we were disappointed that university wasn’t all about partying and being carefree. We often complained about it, but now, looking back on the three years that have gone by, I wouldn’t have traded in those years living with Marlena for all of the “life-long friends” and “partying” in the world.

Marlena and I have had our fair share of fun. Seriously. We had so much fun together that people were clearly envious of us. They would come up to us and ask us if we were best friends in high school, to which Marlena would say, “I used to bully her in middle school!!”

We did really stupid things in first year like choosing to subway forty-five minutes to Walmart in a storm instead of going to class, which was being held in a building five minutes away from where we lived. We had our own online show — the Tina and Marlena show — with it’s own theme song (Tina and Marlena… laugh like hyenas). Those videos consisted of anything from a makeup tutorial (where Marlena would declare my “colour-story” as “shit colour — Winter, you know at the end of February when there’s slush and dirt all mixed in together? That’s your colour-tone.”) to a public funeral service for our dying sea monkeys.

UnknownMost nights, we’d stay up to 6 a.m. talking from our respective Queen-size beds. Marlena would draw the curtains before crawling into bed so that we could sleep in until 2 p.m. without the sun interrupting our beauty sleep. (Actually, I would wake up at 1:45 p.m., 15 minutes before breakfast ended, so that I could get my tater tots.)

Once or twice a week was movie night. But of course, there was no “set” day. On any given day, at around 11 p.m., one of us would lean over to the other and say, “Wanna watch a movie tonight?” Then at 1 a.m., we’d sit in my bed (because her bed was a sanctuary, which did not allow a “dirty” person like me in it–see below for elaborations) and prop her laptop on my shoe box from Spring. 30 minutes into the movie, Marlena would either be shaking me and telling me to wake up or telling me that I was stupid for not understanding Inception. In my defence, it was a confusing movie AND I had fallen asleep at various pivotal moments throughout the movie. But that was how it was first and second year. Movie night was always a joy with her because she would say things like, “We should watch ‘Never Been Kiss'” and during the movie, she would point to it and say, “THIS IS YOU!!! YOU ARE HER!!!! Never been kissed!!!” Which of course, is not even true at the least– I’m rolling my eyes. She’s just referring to how I’m gaga over boyzzz and how I get all giggly and nervous.


We’re definitely a fun duo. I remember that one time when I lied to her and told her that I couldn’t pick her up from the train station because I was “busy” when I was actually hiding under her bed for an hour-and-a-half, ready to grab at her legs when she least expected it. To kill the time, I read my National Geographic with one of those big emergency flashlights she kept in her room in case of an apocolypse. Yes, that’s right. I said “one of” because she had two of those gigantic emergency flashlights in her room in case of an apocolypse. I remember that time when we wrote a song for our friend KL called “K-‘s hair” because his hair was getting too long (Did you get lost in K-‘s hair? What’s with all this rift raft? Nothing, it’s just dandruff!). I remember our knitting phase, when I taught Marlena to knit, and that entire year when we would find little fluffs of yarn floating around everywhere.

I remember spending an entire afternoon when Marlena was away, scrubbing the washroom until it was sparkly clean and e-mailing her the pictures so that she would be proud of me.


So shiny, you can see the reflection of the faucet in the sink bowl!

If you’re reading this now, and you know us personally, then you would know that Marlena is obviously the cleaner one out of the two of us. I remember how upset she would get whenever I accidentally would leave used Q-tips on her bed. I only did that twice… or thrice…. I remember how she declared to the world via her Facebook status how I didn’t shower on Sundays, and how I told her that I make it a rule not shower on God’s day (which is not actually the real reason, I just like to use that as an excuse). I remember the time when I told her how I had met a blind person that day and how I couldn’t even imagine how it felt like to be blind but that I’d rather be blind than be deaf because I couldn’t imagine a life without classical music. I remember that she told me that she’d much rather be deaf, and then she went away for a couple of minutes. When she returned, her eyes were squinting, and she was waving her arms about, saying, “My eyes! My eyes!” I thought she was making fun of me, so I splashed some water in her face, laughed, and told her to go away. Turns out, she was trying to put some tea tree oil on the massive pimple on her forehead and some of the oil had gotten into her eyes. Oops.

I remember that time when we were at the library and were supposed to be studying but were actually just typing messages to each other and watching each other on video cam via Skype (although we were sitting directly across from each other). I also remember how I thought it would be  really funny to walk back and forth behind her with my laptop (while we were still video-chating) so that I would show up in her video frame. AND I also remember how hard it was to suppress our laughter because it was “exam time” at the library.

Screen Shot 2011-11-22 at 6.01.58 PM

Screen Shot 2011-11-22 at 6.05.52 PM

I remember how she refused to leave our room for three days after watching Silence of the Lambs and how shocked she was to hear that I was going out to the grocery store a block away from our rez at 7 p.m. I remember how she specifically gave me instructions not “to help anyone load a couch into his van because I know you would do that!!” And then I remember how she freaked out and called me to ask why I hadn’t called her when I got to the grocery store to tell her that I had arrived safely. I remember how she would take the ugliest, weirdest photos of me and then show them to everybody.

Here, she threw a photo in my face right as she was taking the photo. So attractive.

Here, she threw a pillow in my face right as she was taking the photo. So attractive. (And no, it was not Halloween. I was just really excited about the ball gown I had just bought.)

I had no idea she had taken this picture until much later. I'm sure she thought she was being clever....

I had no idea she had taken this picture until much later. I’m sure she thought she was being clever/funny….

There are just too many memories–enough to fill a book. Marlena and I really are “just two ‘banh mi’s far away from the motherland” (i.e., vi3t sistaz).

Viet Bun #1

Viet Bun #2

Marlena has always been there for me, and I hope that she knows that I will always be there for her. She is truly one of the nearest and dearest to my heart, and I honestly believe that there exists no other that knows me like she does. Although we are very different people, we are also very similar. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who would voluntarily go see a documentary with me about a whale at sea-world that was killing its trainers. Whenever nobody get our jokes, we would get each others’ jokes. We are just two peas in a pod. Actually, a better analogy is “shoes.” She’s the left shoe; I’m the right shoe. We are different, and we fit other people differently, but we always come together. A left shoe by itself is just a left shoe. A right shoe by itself is just a right shoe. But when a left shoe and a right shoe come together, it completes the outfit. (I was trying to appeal to Marlena’s fashionable instincts with the shoe analogy; also, she is a shoe addict.)

Whenever Marlena and I are thinking the same thing out loud, we always say to each other, “We are one!!”


On this 21st birthday, I wish you, Marlena, the most wonderful of all days. Twenty-one is such a beautiful number. I hope that this year will bring you the most splendiferous of all joys, the greatest of all loves, and the friendliest of all people. I hope sadness doesn’t know your name, and anger doesn’t know your lips. I hope disappointment doesn’t know your heart, and I hope the sun shines on you everyday, clearing the clouds from your mind.

Happy 21st Marlo, Mars, Mar Mar!

Tino & Marlo 4eva

Tino & Marlo 4eva

Herein let it be known that if I die barren (and without adopted children), I bequeath to Marlena Dang-Nguyen all of my journals/diaries… because that’s how much I love her… and also, because she is the only one who probably won’t throw them out — she’s sentimental like that — and will follow through with my request to get them published. I also bequeath to her all of the things in the various souvenir boxes I have kept in my closet all of these years….

So fabulous. It hurts just to look at us.

So fabulous. It hurts just to look at us.

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