On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

by Ocean Vuong
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Part 3, Section 1

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Last Updated on February 12, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 957

As Little Dog made his way home from New York City, where he attended college, a series of texts appeared on his phone screen: "u hear about trev?" Little Dog texted Trevor "I'm sorry come back," even though he knew by this time that the worst had happened. Trevor was dead, something Little Dog discovered through a Facebook message he received from Trevor's father when sitting in class. He left immediately for Hartford.

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Once there, he remembered his last evening with Trevor. Trevor had told him not to be scared, saying that Little Dog would succeed in New York. Trevor was high. Several of their friends had already died of overdoses, leading to a promise between the pair that they would never say goodbye on parting, but "hello" instead.

Returning to a Hartford without Trevor, Little Dog at first did not know what to do. Eventually, he went home to his mother's house and crawled into bed with her, still soaking wet from the rain. She held him, asking what was the matter, and Little Dog confessed, in the English his mother could not understand, "I hate him. I hate him."

At this point, Little Dog breaks off and begins his letter again. He explains that he is not with his mother because he is "at war." Many of his friends have died because of drug abuse; Trevor himself became hooked on OxyContin at fifteen after breaking his ankle. The government, meanwhile, is trying to deport some of his friends.

Some nights in Hartford, Little Dog writes, he used to wander the streets alone, listening to animals snuffling and overhearing the prayers of Muslims. The sound of their prayer inspired him to pray too, although he did not know for what. He thinks of Trevor, dead at twenty-two of an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl.

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Once, Lan had questioned why a herd of buffalo on television ran straight off a cliff. Little Dog told her they didn't know it was a cliff, and she had said they should have "stop signs," but the stop signs in Hartford did not work. Two brothers died of overdoses. The words "FAG4LIFE" were spraypainted one night across the family's front door; Little Dog told his mother it meant "Merry Christmas."

Little Dog explains that he is bipolar; his brain makes the wrong chemicals. One night, four years after Trevor died, he was horrified to hear Trevor’s voice in his dreams, singing. Little Dog is rarely calm, except after sex. Three weeks after Trevor's death, the image of a "trio of tulips" came suddenly into his mind, a thought that has stayed with him.

One night, after riding their bikes for two hours so that Trevor could buy drugs, the pair sat together on the swings, and Trevor asked Little Dog whether he thought he would really be gay forever. This seemed incredible to him, that it could be possible. According to an incorrect listing on Google, Trevor is still alive; his memory lives also in Little Dog, who thinks of him whenever he sees a Jolly Rancher.

Little Dog tells his mother that Lan had once explained why her name was Rose: because of her red hair. He apologizes for not calling enough, saying that he misses her.

A memory: in a quiet room, Little Dog, Rose, and Mai watched over Lan, who was lying on a blanket. She was dying, unable to control her bowels; she had cancer of the femur, and the doctors told her family simply to take her home and keep her comfortable until she died. The family fed her, and Lan rambled indistinctly about her girlhood.

At this point, Trevor had been dead only seven months. Lan's dying made Little Dog think of him and the first time they attempted penetrative sex. Trevor promised to be slow, but the act was still painful for Little Dog and resulted in an excretion of bodily fluids that left Little Dog feeling ashamed. Afterward, Trevor told him not to worry, helped him clean himself in the nearby river, and then performed oral sex upon him, which left Little Dog feeling as if he had been given a second chance to be loved.

Little Dog returns to the memory of Lan's last hours. Mai had accosted him at breakfast to say that it was time. Lan's feet were turning purple, which reminded Little Dog of an episode in his early childhood when he and his grandmother had picked purple flowers together.

When asked what she needed, Lan said, “Rice . . . From Go Cong,” which was impossible, but her daughters made the rice they had and fed it to her. Short hours later, Lan died, and her children washed her body. She was cremated and taken five months later to Vietnam. Here, monks chanted around the urn that contained her ashes, and when her urn was placed in a grave, Little Dog called Paul via Skype. He showed Paul the grave, and Paul carried out a final conversation with his first love. He explained that, in 1971, he returned home because of a false report from his mother that she was dying of tuberculosis, and that his brother subsequently intercepted any letters from Lan. It was not until 1990—when he had been married to another woman for eight years—that he was told there was a woman whose marriage certificate had his name on it in a Phillippine refugee camp. It is clear that Paul has never stopped loving Lan.

Little Dog remembers that after this episode, he and his mother returned to their hotel in Saigon, and he tried to show Rose gentleness—the sort of gentleness that Trevor had shown him after their awkward attempt at penetrative sex.

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