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  • 1.

    When the war with the Americans ended, my mother was twenty-four years old, with a three year old child, a husband who would soon be imprisoned in a Communist labor camp, a father who was dying, a house that was being confiscated by the State, and no skills, except hosting dinner parties, ordering servants (who no longer existed) to cook, clean, chauffer, and launder clothes.

    In order to survive, my mother sold her jewelry. The pearl necklace from my grandmother. The diamond earrings from my father.

    The money was used for food and bribes to the bureaucracy that allowed her to visit my father in prison.


    Soon after my birth, my mother took me to visit her in-laws.

    Her sister-in-law escorted her to what looked like the best room in the old French villa.

    There is a view of a lake, an orchard with mangoes, rambutans, coconut trees. A four poster bed with a mosquito net. A ceiling fan that twirls.

    The next morning when my mother saunters down to the dining room for breakfast.

    She sees her sisters-in-law. Giggling. Covering their mouths.

    What is so funny?

    Did you see anything last night?

    Nothing. Why?

    My grandmother (her mother-in-law) gives my aunts a withering look and says: Of course not. She’s family. Grandma’s ghost only haunts strangers who sleep in her bed.

    Angry. My mother (who is petrified of ghosts) calls her chauffeur to drive us back to the city.

    She tells my father. If they want to see their grandson, they’ll have to see him in Saigon!


    Before initiating her journey to visit my father at the labor camp (several hours from Saigon, near the Cambodian border), my mother visits her in-laws.

    She asks if they would like to send any words to their brother, their son.

    The family is silent. Finally. The eldest sister-in-law says:

    Tell him that we pray for his health and hope he will be released soon. Please also tell him not to contact us. We have to worry about our own future, our children’s future. We
    cannot risk being tainted by his status as a class enemy.


    Many years later, in the United States, my parents would quarrel over money.

    Every month my father sent money to his relatives in Vietnam. Every month, my mother harangued him:

    She would not let him forget. I was the only one who cared about your existence. Your family abandoned you! Now they beg for our money! Where were they when you were
    stuck in that labor camp?

    My father never had an answer. Still, each month, the same sum of money diminishes from their bank account.


    My father is a laconic man. He does not speak about the years he suffered in the labor camp. He does not share whether he feels betrayed by his family.

    In our family, there is an austerity of tears. We are taught to eat bitterness without complaint. We swallow poison with an inscrutable face. We veil our tears.

    Still, I know there is sorrow, for the letters he receives from Vietnam, he tosses aside. Unread.
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