I am Home
In the Vietnamese language, when you talk about going visit Vietnam, you say, you are “going home to Vietnam.” Whether or not you’ve ever been there, ever felt the heat on your skin there, ever took the word, “war” and pinned it there, you say you are “going home to Vietnam.” When you try to say you haven’t been to Vietnam, when I say, “con chưa đi về Việt Nam,” it translates into “I have yet to go home to Vietnam.” According to the Vietnamese language, I have never been home.
1974 – born into the crosshairs of communism and democracy, she is the oldest of seven children, and family is everywhere she turns. From her mother’s cà ri to her father’s daily rations, she knows your surname comes first because your family comes first; surname Viet, given name Nam. The weight of six other worlds on her shoulders, she puts Atlas to shame. She can draw the maps to where her brothers’ antics will lead, to which mouth she has yet to feed, to her brothers’ and sisters’ every need. Suitors lined up at her door, she waits for a skinny boy with a crooked smile. With nothing in his pockets but his hands, he has managed to woo this gái quê . She is flawless; she is beautiful; she is afraid for the fall.
1968 – an eleven year old girl awakens to what she hopes are firecrackers, to a new year full of promise, to bánh chưng and thịt kho nước dừa, to the sight of tiny yellow flowers in full bloom. Her heart sinks as the booms of gun powder are brothers forced to sing war cries instead of lullabies, the sound of a broken peace echoing in the street. When the smoke clears and the dust settles, there is a Northern boy lying in the Southern sun, his face as young as hers. For a week’s worth of grocery trips, she watches this husk of a body crumble until only brass shells remain. It does not seem like the lions will dance tonight.
1981 – a new killer blind to color, shape, and size ravages the world. He calls himself AIDS, but I don’t think he’s helping anyone. America sends man to escape via rocket ship for the first time, hoping they may find answers in space. Maybe the sky will tell them something the sea will not.
1986 – the year of nuclear meltdowns, and explosive take-offs, of Chernobyl and Challenger.
1987 – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And two years later, tiny woodpeckers nestled in the stone answer this call, chipping at the mortar to make way for doves.
1980 – it is a classic love story gone awry. She marries the skinny boy with the crooked smile, only to see him off as he sails for America the next year. One by one, her family makes the journey across the world, and her home becomes a lonely house, every brick rattling with the sound of foreign words: “evacuation,” “emigration,” “Frequent Wind Operation.” It will be twelve years of history in the making before she will rejoin her love, his absence so glaring, it glows like neon. In twelve years, she loses her key to a fountain called, “youth.” Alone, the silence fills her chest and lines the spaces between her ribs for over a decade. Twelve years is an eternity, but it is no match for a love so deep, even the ocean is jealous.
1975 – the fall of Saigon. Her father taken prisoner, she goes from warrior to worrier. Her brothers trade their childhood for rice paddies and sinew, they are no longer the boys she once knew. Her home ransacked, she watches every hard earned cent burned in a bonfire, replaced with Ho Chi Minh’s face plastered on 200 shiny new bills. Her neighbors face the same fate as every house becomes a spoil of war, evicted on the grounds that Southern men are cowards and Southern women are whores. After all, every family is the same, no matter how big or how small. She becomes the oldest of eight children.
2012 – it is early in the morning, my wake-up call the roar of jet engines. I wrap my arms around this gái quê before she boards her flight, flash her my father’s crooked smile; next to her, I am a 5’2” giant. For the first time in twenty years, she returns to her home in Vietnam, but she does not know the streets wrap their way around a different city. The alleyways breathe air a little thicker, the children sing the song of a new country. From 1993 to this very moment, she has been searching for home. I an apprentice mapmaker, following the incense that burns for my grandfather’s grave, have been sketching for almost twenty years now. But the lines, they never stop blurring, for the blood in my veins runs red for two flags. Mother, you are over half a century old. This time around, let me carry you. Let me carry you home.
Má à, má ơi. Con về nhà rồi. Đựng lo.
Minh is a twenty-something located in Athens, Georgia. She is currently getting a degree in linguistics at the University of Georgia. Most days, she writes to figure herself out, but sometimes it's a long shot. If you'd like to get in touch with Minh about her work, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.