“It seemed to me that he didn’t have a plan for his life so much as he had a pattern. He was a like a compass, with one leg swinging around the globe and the other planted in Haiti.”
The book: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
As I begin the writing process in my head, sometimes days or weeks ahead of time, I try to veer towards different topics, but ultimately go back to the same central themes and characters. Hey, go with what you know, right?
So although I initially didn’t intend to talk about this, I recently had this conversation, and it occurred to me that I should archive this in print.
Memory’s a funny thing, ain’t it? Sometimes it’s always cloudy, a little blurred. Or sometimes it’s so sharp and the colors so bright, it’s even better than when the events actually happened.
Whenever I tell people that I lived in Vietnam for a few years, they always ask, “Oh, are you from there?” I’d respond with a resounding “Yes” and that’d be the end of that. Much of my reflection during my years there was centralized around “the self” and “where I was going” – you know, that quarter-life millennial non-sense (okay, I don’t really think it’s non-sense, but it was definitely self-involved).
Now that I’m not living there anymore, holding onto those memories have become much more difficult, as hard as I try to remember. Blame it on years of honing my forgetting and repressing skills. The images have become more difficult to conjure, never in sequential order, but those thoughts and memories still leave me with a heavy heart, though, and just recently I realized why:
I immediately am transported back, standing in the kitchen of my mom’s home in Laredo. She’s chopping scallions, or was it daikon? She’s imparting on me her wisdom, such things as “Men are never satisfied” or “Make sure he love
s you more than you love him” (Where do you think I get my skewed perspective of this whole romance thing?). I was nodding along, silently chuckling to myself, until she quietly reminisced about how she misses Vietnam. If she could, she stated, almost to herself, she’d go back and live there. There, in Vietnam, people live with tình người. Here, in America, they don’t.
That’s all she said about that, and continued chopping.
My memory lens zooms out, with only the crisp sound of a rhythmic knife on a chopping block.
Then I hear my dad’s voice.
Once, and only once, he said, “People don’t ever want to leave their home country, con hiểu không?” He uses that phrase a lot, partly a force of habit because he’s a teacher and academic, but I think in a sense, he always asks “Daughter, do you understand?” because he’s desperately wishing for us to truly understand his words and his meaning. There’s just so much difference between our lives and his, hers.
I really think that’s why I went back to Vietnam. I think I was trying to tap into that collective unconscious I sense so many of my parents’ generation share. I wanted to walk those same rice fields and feel the same heat they felt. There’s something to be said about shared experience, even if I’m experiencing it twenty years later.
Yes, we’ve heard those immigration stories many times over, but no, they’ll never grow old to me. They’re as resonant now as they ever were: my parent’s stories, their friends’ stories, or the millions of others who are migrating right now. Their stories have become part of my memory, so no matter where I go, one foot will always be planted in Vietnam.
But the other foot? Who knows. =]
Like Dr. Dog says:
I can’t remember what is wrong
I’ve been happy now for way too long
and oh, we got a lot more to go
I put a trash can by the road
and filled it up just to lighten my load
but oh, I got no where to go.
End, Memory Nine.