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  • 1.

    When I realized what was happening, it was already too late.

    The door had closed. The plane lifted up into the sky.

    Vietnam would become a memory. The destination: Paris.

    With tears. Everything became as white as clouds.


    C’est mon pere.

    C’est ma mere.

    I am six years old. I do not understand why I have to repeat these odd sounds. I do not understand why I have to refer to my aunt as mere and this stranger as pere.

    But everyone. My mother. My aunt. The strange man.

    They look at me intently. I sense an urgency.

    The strain in their voice. I must be perfect. I must perform.

    I mimic the words. Mere. Pere.

    My mother smiles. She is beautiful.


    Soon after I was born, my mother consulted a renowned fortune teller.

    The old man, blind in one eye, with yellowed nicotine teeth, told my mother: If you want your son to prosper you will have to give him up. He does not belong to you.

    My mother angrily stood up. That’s a ridiculous thing to say, old man.

    Throwing a wad of cash on the table, my mother departed in a loud huff, banging the door, on the way out.


    After the Communist victory, a relative, whose father was an important member of the Communist party approached my mother.

    He asked if he could adopt me:

    Your husband has been imprisoned. Your house is being seized by the State. You have no means to take care of the child. With your class enemy status, your son will not be allowed to graduate beyond elementary school. His future will be limited to driving a cyclo, or vending trinkets on the street. Let my wife and me raise him as our son. I will bring him back to Hanoi, send him to the best school.


    Later, I will learn the circumstances of my escape from Vietnam.

    My family purchased fake French passports on the black market. I assumed the identity of the son of a French citizen.

    They could only afford three passports. One for myself, for my youngest aunt and for my cousin, Mimi (also a child, one year younger than me).

    Meanwhile, the remainder of the family, my parents, my grandmother, my uncles, my other aunts, fled Vietnam by boat.

    The sea journey was perilous—one in three boats did not survive—the French passports were the insurance that in the worst scenario, some remnant of our clan would survive to carry on the lineage.


    The day of the journey, my mother tells me, there will be ice cream on the airplane. My favorite treat.

    I am on the back of the motorbike. We are swerving through a mayhem of traffic. Her dark hair cascades in the wind. Her perfume
    intoxicates me. I hug her tightly.

    At the airport. She says. Go along now. Don’t worry. Follow your auntie. I will join you later.

    As I am shuffled to the gate, I turn around, I see my mother still waving to me, soon, she will vanish, becoming smaller and smaller, like the earth seen from above the clouds.
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