The Axe Forgets; The Tree Remembers (Magatama #3)

This is another installment of “Magatama: Moon and Tara’s Saga”. View the parent page to read the complete introduction and for links to read the previous installments in the correct order.

Content warning (for the overall story, not necessarily in every installment): domestic violence, explicit sexual content, general violence, emotional/verbal/psychological abuse, queer issues.

“Alice, I’m home,” Chariya calls to her daughter as she walks through the door.

When she doesn’t hear a response, she wanders into the living room, where Alice is playing some Legend of Zelda game on her Switch.

“I’m home,” Chariya repeats. “Need anything?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Alice replies. She pauses the game and stands up to give her mom a hug. “How was work?”

“Same old, same old,” Chariya replies automatically. “Get your homework done? Shower?”

Alice nods.

“Okay. Try and be in bed by ten tonight. I need to go chill out in my room for a while.”

“Kay,” Alice replies, then sits back down and returns to her game.

Once in her bedroom, Chariya opens her texts from Moon, and re-reads the last message she received that she has yet to respond to. You have a pretty admirable mission, T. I’d love to learn more about what inspired your costume, too. If you don’t mind my saying so, you look both powerful, scary, and sexy in it.

She’d first read the message back at the restaurant before walking to her car, but she couldn’t bring herself to reply. Her ex-husband Monty’s voice reared itself in her head. He doesn’t really think those things about you. He’s just buttering you up to get in your pants. It doesn’t matter that Moon had the opportunity to get in her pants last night and chose not to, opting instead to get to know her first.

Chariya finds herself wishing she could just be over what happened to her by now. She’s been divorced for close to two years already! Yet, she can’t help but wonder if maybe Monty’s voice in her head is right. What if she doesn’t deserve happiness? She still hasn’t managed to make any new friends. All of her friends had been Monty’s friends, and they sided with him when they divorced. Had she been wrong about him?

Shaking her head as a means to try and shake Monty out of it, she refocuses her attention back on her early memories; of who she was when she met Monty in Bangkok. She recounts the facts in her mind as logical and emotionless as possible, because she can’t stand the idea of another breakdown.

Back in 2002/2003, Chariya had been a web developer, which is vastly different compared to what she’s doing now, as a chef. She’d left her hometown in Ayutthaya to study as a computer scientist in Bangkok and then stayed because the city was the place to be when you wanted to work in business. 

Whilst she’d heard many stories about white American men coming to Asia looking for a submissive Asian woman to marry and do with as he pleased, Monty didn’t seem like one of those guys when they met. Monty had been living in Bangkok for six months at the time. He was there as a lawyer to help a multinational corporation set up their first Southeast Asian office. It was only a temporary posting and seemed more legitimate to Chariya than the types of men she’d heard stories about.

They connected on so many intelligent issues, and he seemed to appreciate how outspoken she had been back then. He listened with interest as she talked about her opinions on the conflict in neighboring Myanmar. Though the historical events had been shortly before she was born, Monty had seemed fascinated when she taught him about the genocide in neighboring Cambodia. Perhaps she should have seen that as a red flag. 

When it came time for Monty to move back to San Francisco about six months later, on a whim he proposed to her as a way to help her legally move to the US with him. After six months of feeling swept off her feet, like weekends away in places like Kyoto, Bali, Taipei, and Hong Kong—she didn’t want that to end, and how exciting would it be to have weekends like that from the US instead, with anticipated trips to Mexico and the Caribbean? Those ideas implanted in her mind, she later learned, were a strategy known as future faking.

Chariya was pregnant with Alice before they got her green card sorted out. It was less than a month after their small wedding ceremony in Phuket. USCIS was a minefield, and Monty worried about navigating the US healthcare system and costs for a non-citizen and non-green card holder, so she stayed in Bangkok until Alice was born. Back then they registered a different name on her birth certificate, and it wasn’t until after the divorce that Alice told her parents she wanted to go by Alice. Alice’s birth name feels so foreign to Chariya now that she couldn’t bring herself to say it even if she had reason to. 

Though it felt challenging to live apart while Chariya was pregnant, Monty made regular trips back to see her in Bangkok about once a month, and sent flowers and a card with a different love note to her in her office every Friday. Though the Internet was still in its relative infancy back then compared to now, they were still able to talk regularly over an instant messenger application. Video chat wasn’t a thing yet. Once Chariya got too pregnant to continue working, Monty paid the rent on her apartment and supported her as best as he could. Chariya still struggles with the question of how much of that was normal for people in their position, and which parts should’ve been red flags.

After Alice was born, getting through USCIS seemed a faster process. Nothing says “bona fide marriage” better than a baby, and they could register Alice as a US citizen because her father is one.

Though Chariya had intended to return to work as a web developer in San Francisco, considering it was such a tech hub that it should’ve been easy to find work, that wound up proving more difficult than she expected. A couple of years as a stay-at-home mom to Alice felt like too short a time, and then as time went on, Monty’s snide remarks about her not doing enough for him, or being too lazy, or outright gaslighting her into believing she didn’t want to work ever again kept her at home and she remained dependent on him. It was such a slow process—like that old allegory of slowly boiling a frog alive—that she didn’t even recognize what was happening at the time. When she was so depressed and felt like a shell of a person, she didn’t blame Monty. She just felt like a failure of a human being.

The occasional flickers of thoughts that Chariya might be experiencing abuse were always drowned out by Monty’s and her friends constantly fawning over how amazing he was. They didn’t even bat an eye or blame him the night he “accidentally” knocked her down the stairs during an argument about which after school activities they should enroll Alice in. Monty apologized, but Chariya couldn’t tell if he meant it. On the other hand, it’s not like Monty had ever done anything like that before. All the times she had thought to speak up about how he talked to her, he’d retort back with some variation of, “I’m not being abusive, I would never hit you.” As if physical abuse is the only way you can hurt someone.

Sometimes, like now, Chariya wonders if she should be grateful for that night. Sure it put her in hospital, and she’d been paralyzed from the waist down. But Monty, trying to love bomb her into staying after that—or maybe looking for a way to keep her in action so she’d continue to be able to play active housewife for him—spared no expense in helping her recover. He’d found a doctor that gave her an experimental treatment that gave her the superpowers that she now possesses. It wasn’t just her fast healing ability, either. 

Chariya recalls the moment she realized she’d been granted super strength. It was just an ordinary day about a week out of recovery from the hospital. She’d been on a grocery run, and noticed she could lift a heck of a lot more shopping bags at once than she’d ever been able to before. Not knowing what to do with the new power, she kept it secret, but vowed then that since she now had that kind of physical strength, she could probably withstand more when facing up to Monty. That’s when she decided to take up Muay Thai classes. 

Originally, Monty didn’t approve of the idea of Chariya taking martial arts classes. He said it wasn’t “feminine” and he’d “be grossed out if I saw you with muscles.” So Chariya had to take the classes behind his back while Monty was at work and Alice was in school, paying for it with money she funneled away by taking extra cash out when she paid for groceries with her debit card.

Eventually the classes gave Chariya enough confidence to seek help from the domestic violence help center she currently volunteers with, looking for advice on how to ask Monty for a divorce. After the incident that led to her temporary paralysis, she was afraid about how he might react if she just asked him outright. She needed more time to prepare.

Chariya’s third, and perhaps most useful, power was discovered during this time in her life. She attended group therapy for survivors of intimate partner abuse, and Chariya had supported other women through calming physical touch—rubbing their hands, shoulders, or back as they expressed their fears. Somehow, through this touch, Chariya discovered she could extract the fear from these women so they could not only face their partners in a courtroom, but succeed in court, too.

After the fifth case, Chariya finally realized it wasn’t just a coincidence, and it was time for her to step up to the challenge herself. She’d found her calling, but she knew it would be too hard to help as many women as she wanted to help if Monty continued to breathe down her neck about how she spent her time.

He got nastier than ever during the divorce, and it continually made her question everything. He’d say things like, “You’re going to end up dying alone” and “No one else will ever love you the way I loved you.” What if he was right? What if she is, truly, unloveable?

Chariya lets out an audible breath, as if she’d kept it held tightly within for the entire time she thought about her past. Does Monty remember any of the things he said to me like I do? she wonders. Probably not. The prick was too high and mighty to believe he was ever wrong about anything.

Picking up her burner phone again, she re-reads Moon’s message for probably the eleventh time. You have a pretty admirable mission, T. I’d love to learn more about what inspired your costume, too. If you don’t mind my saying so, you look both powerful, scary, and sexy in it.

She smiles at the first part of the message. Reliving her history helps her believe that part. It’s the rest of it that she’s afraid of. What if Moon’s just love bombing her the way Monty had? Should she look at this as a red flag? This is exactly why she hasn’t dared date since she got divorced. She still can’t tell the difference. But don’t I deserve to be happy? To get laid and feel attractive at the same time? Oh well…all the more reason to keep some emotional distance and stay masked.

Finally finding the strength to respond, Chariya types her reply. Google Tara (Buddhism). Then she questions whether or not confirming the tie to Buddhism is too identifying. She shakes her head, no—she’s not even a practicing Buddhist any more, and plenty of other countries are tied to the religion. To get off her overthinking line of thought, she adds to her text: What about you? What inspired the crescent moon?

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