It takes a village
October 16, 2014 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Rich Evans’s widow—Ornuma “Ao” Evans—was born in Thailand. She hadn’t spoken to her own relatives in years and knew very little about her husband’s. There was no family to take her and her children home from the scene. She didn’t have the name of anyone—not a friend or a neighbor or even a business associate—who might help sort things out. She also didn’t have a phone, a driver’s license, or house keys.
posted by ellieBOA (57 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is sweet. (And not as disturbing as the pull quote made me think it would be.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah.
posted by infini at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2014


Touching story. So nice to hear about people coming together to help a neighbor like this.
posted by me3dia at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2014


Wow, really nice. I'm tearing up at work. Thanks for the link!
posted by wyndham at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Crazy story. Thanks for this.
posted by resurrexit at 10:58 AM on October 16, 2014


Have just realised that pull quote is a bit creepy, apologies! You read it with a different perspective having read the article.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:00 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wow, what a touching story. It's really amazing that the whole town came together like that. They certainly didn't have to, and in some places just wouldn't.

It's kind of amazing that Ao started out being shoved into someone else's life (her deceased older sister's) and never really had her own life until now, with the help of all these people. I wouldn't be surprised if this got turned into an Oscar bait-style movie with Sandra Bullock a year or two from now.
posted by bleep at 11:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Have just realised that pull quote is a bit creepy, apologies!

Yeah, I was prepared for something unspeakably ghastly like that woman who had total amnesia from a ceiling fan. This was really lovely.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine what kind of life the kids would have had if their father had lived. Complete isolation and "home schooling". Would he eventually have taught them how to use the alarm system so they could go out on their own?

The article very carefully sidesteps what appears to have been a serious problem.

Also, don't think I'd be okay knowing the kindness of strangers is the only thing that prevented my mother from murdering me!
posted by Dynex at 11:18 AM on October 16, 2014 [27 favorites]


Man, the story of the community was lovely, but I think the story, before the essay starts, is really creepy. Her husband sounds horribly abusive. Maybe by accident, maybe out of misplaced worry, and not physically, but it sounds a lot like he treated her and their children in a pretty terrible way. The woman did not know how to access her own house -- that's horrifying. I get why that wasn't the crux of the story, but I think it's okay to recognize that this is what the isolation part of spousal and child abuse can look like -- someone basically unable to be self-sufficient, unable to get into her own house. Kids with no friends or social life. And it's amazing and fantastic that the community raised up to support her after he died, and I wish that more communities would support abuse victims so fantastically earlier.
posted by brainmouse at 11:20 AM on October 16, 2014 [55 favorites]


No, the pull quote is creepy because the way Rich Evans managed his wife is creepy - it's not entirely clear if the security system was for keeping people out or in? But the story told here is wonderful. Now that the Evans family is in the world, I hope they can continue to grow into it.
posted by maryr at 11:20 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think Sandra Bullock could pull off being a Thai wife.
posted by infini at 11:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's so sad that Rich Evans never got to experience the kindness of a human community like the one which has embraced his family.
posted by grounded at 11:23 AM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


You know, the response of the neighborhood is awesome, but the pull-quote? Appropriate and creepy. The way Ao and the kids were treated by the now-dead father was ... wrong. She didn't know her own address, and couldn't get into the house without setting off the security system.

That's fucked up.
posted by suelac at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Well no, Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt would be the Leaders of the Good People. Fassbender would play Rich. A stunningly beautiful newcomer would play Ao.
posted by bleep at 11:26 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, that was not what I expected at all. Nice story. Way to go, Cleveland.
posted by klangklangston at 11:28 AM on October 16, 2014


The story doesn't read as creepy nor does the anecdata from the family friends. She was quiet but could kick ass and a lot of what he was doing sounds a lot like what a lot of Asian husbands tend to do. Or from a previous generation. This isn't the first non abusive situation I've heard of where the wife was totally helpless in "external to the house" matters, though its tended to be more from my mother's generation. If he was indeed that much of a control freak, she wouldn't be either so competent (once taught) nor the kids as well adjusted as they sound.
posted by infini at 11:33 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Maybe Michele Valley could play Ao. Especially if you wanted to film it in Greek.
posted by localroger at 11:35 AM on October 16, 2014


A stunningly beautiful newcomer would play Ao.

"a terrible accident with a scooter left her scarred and feeling so ugly that she broke off the union"

A single artful line on one cheek that makes her even more beautiful.
posted by CaseyB at 11:35 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


CINCINNATI klang, not Cleveland. Wrong entire end of the state. Wyoming is a very diverse community west of Vine St. in my old hometown.

This is great writing.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:41 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


a lot of what he was doing sounds a lot like what a lot of Asian husbands tend to do

Ok, but not so much Californian husbands.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:51 AM on October 16, 2014


Wondered how long it would take for the pitchforks to come out for the dead husband.

These people both came from decidedly unique backgrounds and came up with ways to live life that were mostly working for them. Not to discount the obvious failings of their strategy. If your family is going to be utterly helpless if you suddenly die, then yeah, that's a weakness. But maybe the person best qualified to determine if Ao's life was creepy and her marriage a hellhole of emotional abuse is Ao.
posted by Naberius at 11:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


But maybe the person best qualified to determine if Ao's life was creepy and her marriage a hellhole of emotional abuse is Ao.

It would be hard for someone who was kept so cloistered from the world to even know if her life was creepy.

And given the fact that she didn't even know her own address and her eight-year old had never been to school, I'd say yes, her life was damn creepy.

Her neighbors are wonderful people.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:04 PM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


The failings of the strategy would show up eventually: even if both parents were happy in the bubble of five people, the children would eventually need to move out of it, and it sounds like the husband was deliberately not educating his kids.

So yeah: no pitchforks for a husband who met his soulmate on the other side of the world and built a life with her (which she obviously shared and was happy in: they both sound like wounded people who didn't have much reason to trust the world).

But a small very hot poker for the father who figured his kids would never need to do anything outside of his locked house.
posted by jrochest at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


There are so many aspects to this story that make you wonder. His trips to Thailand for "fun." Marrying a girl there who was much younger and then bringing her over here, not getting her visa situation fixed, not letting his kids socialize. Keeping his family so isolated. In similar stories, these are red flags for potential abuse.

But maybe he's the exception, and he didn't act abusively, just weirdly, thanks to his crappy upbringing. I mean, we don't know. His wife and kids will apparently be ok now, and that counts for a lot. They have a great community and that counts for even more.
posted by emjaybee at 12:17 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised no one picked up on this (emphasis mine):

"The owner, Rich Evans, moves back to talk with the small woman in the food prep area. The customer crosses behind the counter and pulls a gun. The woman throws herself in front of three tiny figures. Rich Evans slides across the counter and breaks for the door. The gunman shoots and follows."

Her instinct was to protect the kids, his was to run, and the gunman went after him. This wasn't a robbery gone wrong. You have to wonder what he had gotten himself mixed up in.
posted by mkultra at 12:22 PM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


actually now that I think about it, if something awful happened to my husband, I would have literally zero clue how to log into his computer, access our joint account, or figure out how to wade through the legal ramifications of the house ownership and what not. And it's not because he's a controlling kook, it's because we are both just plain flat out lazy and forgetful and while we've discussed stuff like living wills and the fact that we'd really prefer it if our cats didn't get dumped in a shelter if something happened to us and soforth but hey, we're both still so young and so why bother, right?

It's not for me to judge their situation, and it sounds like from the description he was homeschooling the kids. Not like it was the best idea ever maybe but tbh if I had kids in this day and age I might think twice at putting them through the public school systems myself, depending. While there's a pretty diverse Asian community in Cincinnati (specifically Thai; one of my favorite memories of living in Cincy was a friend's Thai wedding ceremony / reception) there are also some pretty terrible public schools, and also depending on where you live, racism is still a thing.

I am so glad to see the sense of community still thrives there. Cincy can be weird and kind of insular-cliquey in some strange ways (the city is divided up into very distinct communities that become almost echo chamber siloes of culture in ways that are hard for me to articulate) but it was definitely the one place I've lived in my life where I knew all of my neighbors on a first name basis and we did stuff together as a neighborhood, like community gardening and hanging out in coffeehouses and soforth.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:26 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


If your takeaway from this article was that they were both creepy because the father isolated his family and the mother was a potential murder-suicide, then you need to step back from the keyboard and take a walk outside for a while. Perhaps the internet has made you too cynical.

FYI in buddhist societies in Asia, it is fairly common for widows who are driven to desperation to commit suicide with their children, in the belief they will all be reincarnated in a better place. Sure you might have problems with this due to cultural differences. But consider the context: the woman mentioned this obliquely, triumphant that her tragic situation did not drive her to suicide. You might not have been as strong, in those circumstances.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


This wasn't a robbery gone wrong. You have to wonder what he had gotten himself mixed up in.

The guy who killed him turned himself in. It was an attempted robbery.
posted by vacapinta at 12:38 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


There's homeschooling and then there's homeschooling + isolation. There are plenty of happy, successful, well-adjusted homeschooled kids, but I would venture that none of them were always cooped up in the house. Abuse is so easy to cover up when kids never see anyone outside their little bubble (of family, or religion, or whatever) and are kept away from mandated reporters, medical professionals, and nosy neighbors. I don't have a problem with the idea that the Evans kids were homeschooled, but that isolation gives me the creeps.

And I am side-eying Ao's isolation and not knowing how to get into her own house (!) so very hard. I know there are "traditional" marriages that work, but Ao's situation seems like such an extreme that I can't help but wonder if something more sinister was afoot in the Evans marriage. I'm with Emjaybee, "going to Thailand for fun," marrying a much-younger woman and keeping her and the kids so isolated is all kinds of creepy.

It's sweet that the neighbors were so helpful, and that Ao learned so well to deal with the world on her own, but I find the story horrifying rather than heartwarming. It's rife with red flags.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Can't it be both horrifying and heartwarming, though? I found it really powerful, if hard to grapple with.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:45 PM on October 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


Ok, but not so much Californian husbands.

Eh. When my friends dad died while she was in college it turned out her mother was basically this woman. She could drive poorly but wouldn't go on freeways or "big roads". In LA. She couldn't write a check, change a lightbulb or pump gas and wouldn't use the stove when she was alone in the house in case it caught on fire. She's been living with various of her kids for the past 20 years due to a complete inability to function alone and they're a white American family.

I have no idea why or how families function this way but it's definitely not confined to one culture.
posted by fshgrl at 12:45 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


nd a lot of what he was doing sounds a lot like what a lot of Asian husbands tend to do.

Not true. So not true. I don't know your ethnicity but there is no "a lot of Asian husbands" in this. Some, maybe.
posted by discopolo at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


From the article:

...Ao knows that some people are critical of that. She wants me to understand that he was a good man, and a good father, and that even if their family life was not like other people’s, it was a happy one...But it’s clear that she understands that the way they lived when Rich was alive is also partly responsible for the challenges she faces now. When we talk about that she says, “He feel bad.”

I don’t know if she means, He would feel bad if he knew what we’re going through. Or if she means that he feels bad now—in the afterlife.

Either way, I think she’s right.


Regardless of what some of us here may think of her late husband, Ao seems to have made, or be making, peace with it. I'm glad for that, and I won't take away from her peace by casting aspersions on her husband.

I'm so grateful that the neighbors are there to help Ao, that she is finding confidence every day, and that her children appear to be thriving. I hope people in similar situations are able to find a similar positive outcomes.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I, too, was puzzled by the breaking for the door thing. I've never been the victim of an armed robbery, so I can't judge. I don't think anyone really knows how they will react until it happens. It's possible that he thought he could best protect his family by drawing the robber outside, even at the risk of his own life. I mean, that's what happened, isn't it?
posted by ogooglebar at 1:13 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The curry is rich and complex; she seems to have good culinary instincts. Maybe, Margot Madison tells me, Ao could do some catering in the neighborhood.

Or, she could teach kickboxing since, in Thailand, she was a seasoned fighter at exhibition matches in the region, which is how she met her husband.
posted by maggieb at 1:23 PM on October 16, 2014 [16 favorites]


and a lot of what he was doing sounds a lot like what a lot of Asian husbands tend to do.

Where are you getting your information from?
posted by cazoo at 1:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


ogooglebear, in the police report (one of the many side links from the time of the robbery) it's framed as though Evans was chasing after the intruder, not running away.

It's difficult to say, and after the fact, and none of us were there, so like I said upthread I'm going to refrain from judging the situation. It sounds pretty complicated, and with this whole thing going public who knows how much public scrutiny this family has faced already, whether well meaning or not.

I would find it difficult to be thrust into the public limelight, especially being a private person from a different culture, who doesn't command a full grasp of the language. It's explicit in the article that Ao was bullied and shamed by her family and community / teachers, even prior to coming to the US. It's very hard to advocate for yourself or let yourself be vulnerable to strangers like this if you've been taught all your life not to trust.

knowing how judgmental and shaming the internet (even those who mean well) can be, all I can say is: we weren't there. Say what you will but it sounds like the past is now the past, let's leave it there, and thanks be to the kindness of her neighbors. Like I said, Cincinnati contains multitudes, and many of them are terrific people.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:26 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


He might have had a misguided sense of what he needed to do to protect his family, but it does sound like it's a stretch to think he wouldn't have noticed if it had really been rendering anyone unhappy. I didn't drive until late and spent a span of time living with a guy who I did depend on for things like getting groceries (I mean, I always went, too, but I couldn't have gone alone), and I didn't have the security code or keys for about half the time I lived there just because I never went anywhere by myself because I didn't drive. Now that I drive and live alone, that feels sort of insane, but at the time, it didn't.
posted by Sequence at 1:29 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Their relationship seemed a bit weird, but however odd, they seem to have been two kind of broken people that suited each other. However, when you start bringing kids into the world it becomes a lot more irresponsible. I'm glad her neighbors stepped up to help her family, and I'm glad Ao stepped up to re-engage with the world for their sake.
posted by tavella at 1:37 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sensitive about posting something that sounds like an apologia for a potentially abusive relationship given my posting history, but my first thought when reading through the article was simply that she likely didn't read English well and that her dependency on her husband came organically over the years out of being a stranger in a foreign country in a codependent marriage.

I lived in Greece for a year and not only did I never know my physical address, I have no idea how addressing worked in the town where we lived and always gave directions based on landmarks. I didn't have a phone of my own for the first six months I was there and like a poster above, I didn't have a license until I was 32 and while it didn't matter in Greece because nobody drove in that town anyway, I could definitely see how she ended up in a situation where she didn't know anyone, couldn't recite her address, and didn't have a phone of her own. I've been in that situation and I wasn't helpless or a victim of anything (I wasn't even dating anyone!), it was just a byproduct of being a foreigner in a foreign country.

It's a very sweet article and inspiring, and it sounds like it isn't that the husband kept everyone inside the house and paranoid, but that they simply did everything together - they were five people. It's unusual, yes, but it worked for them until it very much didn't.
posted by annathea at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


When my friends dad died while she was in college it turned out her mother was basically this woman. She could drive poorly but wouldn't go on freeways or "big roads". In LA. She couldn't write a check, change a lightbulb or pump gas and wouldn't use the stove when she was alone in the house in case it caught on fire. She's been living with various of her kids for the past 20 years due to a complete inability to function alone and they're a white American family.

That is not the same thing as not knowing your address and not being able to leave or enter your house without your husband.
posted by maryr at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2014


but my first thought when reading through the article was simply that she likely didn't read English well and that her dependency on her husband came organically over the years out of being a stranger in a foreign country in a codependent marriage.

That's a really good point.
posted by emjaybee at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


On which note, it wasn't clear to me - how did they find her address? Was she able to direct them driving or did they have to check the husband's license?
posted by maryr at 2:09 PM on October 16, 2014


Article says they used Google Street View.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2014


But how did they narrow it down?
posted by maryr at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2014


I picture them showing her the street view on the screen, and her pointing the way to her house.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:14 PM on October 16, 2014


annathea as someone who moved to Germany at the age of 22 with 2 bags of clothing, 70DM in cash and zero German language skills to be with a guy who was in no way controlling or abusive (ah, youth!) that was my take on it as well. I lived in Hamburg for a year, and had a nearly identical experience to yours. Being the dumb kid I was, I was also not exactly a legal foreign resident, so my employment was dodgy, and I was afraid to answer the door to strangers, not because I was abused, but because of my immigrant status and the restrictive German tenant laws that made our sublet situation dicey at best.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


"CINCINNATI klang, not Cleveland. Wrong entire end of the state. Wyoming is a very diverse community west of Vine St. in my old hometown."

Ah, good catch.
posted by klangklangston at 2:44 PM on October 16, 2014


Or, she could teach kickboxing since, in Thailand, she was a seasoned fighter at exhibition matches in the region, which is how she met her husband.
posted by maggieb at 1:23 PM on October 16 [4 favorites +] [!]


I don't know, I think her poor English and lack of financial know-how would hinder that -- she couldn't operate her own studio without business skills, and students wouldn't be able to understand her if she speaks too poorly. Maybe if she shows further improvement it will become a possibility, but in the meantime back of the house jobs sound like the right way for her to go.
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 3:46 PM on October 16, 2014


It's unpleasant to contemplate, but if there are people who count on you — family, friends, coworkers, employees, what have you — you need to Get Your Shit Together. (Previously.)
posted by ob1quixote at 7:24 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


ob1quixote, thanks for the link. Timely and useful.
posted by MuChao at 10:18 PM on October 16, 2014


This family's situation has some similarities with my father's. He remarried a younger lady from East Asia that he'd met on the internet. After a few years of marriage they had three kids. She had no mobile phone, no drivers license, and no house keys. She was in the home all day every day with the children when my father worked. Shortly after the third baby was born my father was murdered, most likely by his wife.. but if so I can't blame her because the situation they were living in was awful. There was no police investigation into it and no family members pressed the issue.

All of the issues with the visa (er, lack of it), making arrangements, etc were very similar to this article. Except no neighbors helped.. there was only a group of slightly estranged family members, all of us who had been pushed away from the family by my father's alcoholism. Luckily I speak my father's wife's language so I could assist with interpreting and translating. But to be honest, it was extremely difficult to do this immediately after flying across the globe for the funeral, while I was also starting the process of mourning. And the things she said in English and what I overheard her saying to the children and on the phone to her family and friends was quite different sometimes.... My understanding was occasionally stressful for both of us.

Ao seems like a very different woman from my father's wife, likely a big reason why the story played out differently in these cases. Still, it was interesting to read this perspective and then imagine how it must have looked from the outside in my family's case.
posted by koakuma at 1:11 AM on October 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


So so simple to be her. I'm partly there. I can't get around the German language barrier on my own. Hubby pays the bills and handles house business. I do get around and shop and such, and I'm legal and that stuff. But really I'm a candle in the wind without him.
posted by Goofyy at 5:20 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, there sure is a lot of special pleading for Rich Evans in this thread. The article makes it pretty clear that he met his wife (who at the time was a competitive kickboxer who already knew some English) while he was in Thailand for sex tourism. And they weren't living in some stereotypical pan-Asian society, or even some weird strong-patriarchal cult where they're basically cosplaying pre-suffrage America 24/7. Nor was it the situation of a couple of commenters here who went to Europe and either are still picking up the language or weren't documented. I'm not saying that Evans was an evil man--I can certainly understand, from the description of his childhood, why he'd have problems trusting people in general--but that level of control can't not be creepy IMO.

In part, that's my reaction because I've known a couple of guys who married Filipinas because they totally bought into the stereotype of the submissive Asian woman and, you might have seen this coming, had not had any luck with relationships with American women. One of them is actually a cousin of mine and things seem to be working out OK for them so far (crosses fingers). The other was a guy I knew from college who, while he often went out of his way to be a nice guy, could never suppress his inner jerk for very long, and ended up having the tables turned on him when his bride turned out to be not the meek, submissive helpmeet that he was expecting; for example, she insisted that he break off contact with the woman who'd been his fuckbuddy while he was wooing her long-distance. I don't really miss my acquaintance with him, but I do occasionally wonder if they stuck together for long.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:23 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


The article says that Ao understood English just fine; merely spoke it less fluently. But it doesn't sound like she had that much trouble with the language, even before she spent eight years in the US.

The neighbors had to arrange for a pediatrician for the kids. The children (8, 5, and toddler) had never been to a pediatrician. That is a messed up level of isolation.

Ao sounds like an incredibly smart and resilient woman, though.
posted by eviemath at 8:51 PM on October 18, 2014


Something that just came up, to illustrate my "easy to be her" statement: Realization I have never booked a flight on-line. I haven't made my own flight arrangements in over 16 years. LOL! Not worried about it, but it's WEIRD to realize I essentially don't know who/where/how. The other half makes travel arrangements, as I hate trip-planning. (not bright. I wouldn't mind making the bookings, it's the planning out that overwhelms me. Everywhere in a guide book sounds good, usually. Useless! Schedules? Hate 'em! Antithetical to 'vacation').
posted by Goofyy at 7:58 PM on October 23, 2014


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