Memories are so haunting
I drove by a familiar place today. For a brief moment I was reminded of a time when life was innocent, and the most complicated thing that summer was forcing myself to sit down and comprehend all that literature for my summer assignment.
You’ve always put my education first.
I don’t recall a time when you’ve ever let me down when it comes to my education. That was always a priority in our family, and often times I feel your time and effort was wasted on me. But I remember you found your way to this particular Barnes & Noble. So far from home. Such a scary world out there without GPS and smartphones, but you’ve never failed me.
What happened, daddy?
When I was younger and I made mistakes, or I did something to disappoint you, screams and violent yelling would proceed. I was always so terrified of your booming voice. That thunderous sound back then was a reiteration of how wrong my actions were, a reminder of how disappointed you were in me.
What happened to that yelling? What happened to that innocence?
Those violent storms are now replaced with silence. I’m older now. I’m older now, and you’re growing weary I suppose. I’ve come to understand when I disappoint you. I don’t need the sounds of thunder to remind me that my choices do not meet your approval. It’s ironic how as a child, loud screams are an indication of dreams deferred, and now silence fills that same void. But that’s how you know I’ve grown up, right daddy?
I’ve made my choices. I hope I can live with them. I have been quite successful as a matter of fact. However, there are days like today. There are brief moments like these. There are deja vu locations that instantly take me back to a time where my choices were fixed by you. All I had to do was be angry at you.
Anger is so much easier than accepting that my choices disappoint you.
Anger is so much more forgiving than accepting that you’ve never abandoned me, but I’m beginning to abandon you. Anger is less haunting than guilt. Anger doesn’t spark memories in the middle of a hot summer day. But guilt, guilt stirs up memories that no matter how pleasant, can haunt my actions for the rest of my life.
Happiness is fleeting.
At 6 PM today my good news finally arrived in the mail. I have been antsy waiting for the mailman to come all day. I hate waiting. I was waiting for a green letter. When my parents rushed into the house – I should say flew, they literally flew – waiving my board letter in front of me, my heart stopped.
My heart stopped. It was like an omen of its own.
I swiftly tore that letter open. I could not see the green letter through the little window showing my address, and this made me even more anxious. I stared at the letter, unable to make sense of it in the first few seconds. My eyes quickly and confusedly glanced through it. The words “Congratulations, you’ve passed CPJE” did not register when I read it. I read it again. A smile formed on my face. My parents started to have a screaming fest. We exchanged hugs. More screams of happiness ensued.
I’ve finally received my long awaited green letter. I passed both my NAPLEX and CPJE. I was officially licensed to practice pharmacy in California. This was the biggest accomplishment my family and I had been working for since we stepped foot onto this foreign land March of 1995. Joy and relief could not even come close to describing how we felt. Emotions rushed through us. Emotions we could not explain. Emotions only we as a family could comprehend. We were happy.
However, happiness is fleeting.
At 9:12 PM the phone rang. My caller ID displayed an array of strange numbers. It kept ringing. Then all was silent. At 9:30 PM the phone rang again. It was loud. Annoying. Persistent. Again, it kept ringing, its urgency ignored, and then forgotten. That’s the thing about strangers. We ignore them and refuse to invite them to enter into our comfort zone. We are so stubborn we sometimes end up refusing to acknowledge the people we know.
At 11:00 PM the phone rang, again. In less than a minute everything was a blur. Despite the blasting music from our TV because all Asian parents are inherently deaf, everything was silent.
It was a silence that shattered the noise. Silence that penetrated into my green letter of emerging hope. Silence that replaced her existence.
I felt anger and sadness. I was angry because she deserved so much more. Kind, generous, and loving do not come close to describing the kind of person she was. But that is the problem with a heart attack. It does not care who you are, how young you are, or what kind of person you are. It comes into existence to rob the world of your existence.
She was my neighbor, my family. As my tears break the silence that was overwhelming my heart, I am more angered by the fact that I will not be there to see her begin her journey into eternal sleep. I cannot thank her enough for all that she has done for me my first 7 years of existence. I cannot thank her enough for making my poverty-filled childhood filled with joy and rich memories.
Happiness is fleeting. It comes in spurts. Thank you for giving me many spurts of happy memories.
It was like in some old movie. Little girl on a stool alone staring at the piano. Sunlight filtering through the empty room, warming the void they’ve left behind. Silence all through two stories of the house. Emptiness, but within that room there is warmth. The warmth of companionship – in human companion and in music. Next to her an elder man with gentle eyes, understanding smile, and graying hair. Her grandfather.
I remember the first song I ever played on the piano. It wasn’t some cute happy birthday or mary had a little lamb song. It was the national Anthem of a democratic Viet Nam. He nourished in me the burning passion of music and emotions – specifically the love for my country. Four thousand years of history all collected in one song.
I know I saw his fingers played. I know I learned the rhythm well. I can sing to every note. But today, as I was listening to Abraham play, I realized I can’t remember what his notes sounded like. Were they strong? Resilient? Angry? Defeated? Hopeful? I don’t remember the sound of his fingers, of his heart.
I was never supportive of his actions because I didn’t want to be reminded of the war. I see the scars on my father’s skin. I see the vague look he gets sometimes when he sees the uniform and the badges. I don’t want to be reminded of that terrible turmoil that tore my country apart and left it broken since the defeat on April 30, 1975 – a date that we have all ceased to forget.
I played that song with so much excitement and bitterness. I was excited because I learned how to play the piano. I was bitter because my first song that was played with true passion was my last song.
All through senior year in high school I purposely drove back to that house to see if I can remember how his fingers hit the keys 11 years ago. To see if I can feel what he felt when he taught me how to play that song on the piano. But when I’m there, everything around me seems so uninviting. The past is gone now, and can never be relinquished. I wish I can ask him why he taught me that song. Why not teach me Mary Had a Little Lamb, or something different from my heritage just to hear him admit his feelings of our defeat and move on.
I can no longer remember how to play the piano. I’ve memorized the lyrics to that song, but I can no longer sing in perfect sync with the tune. I can no longer remember his fingers. It is as if I have never seen him played. I cannot remember the sounds reverberating through the emptiness in that autumn afternoon. I can only imagine. But when I close my eyes, I can’t see anything of that afternoon.
It’s October again.
And I remember the every feature of his countenance, but I can’t remember the sounds of his music. Why do I miss something I cannot even remember?…
It’s October again.
Even to this day, I regret not letting myself fall into that instant of misery that they’ve all fallen into. I forced myself to leave the fragments of memories that were painful behind, but it still comes back to haunt me occasionally. You see my perfect, vivid smile, and to you it’s the sunshine that fills my life, but to me it is just a smile. Simply a smile and nothing more. There’s this large picture frame on the wall hanging in the family room back at home; it consists of fourteen photos that my mother and I have chosen. We wanted to frame our history from the day she and my father got married, and that’s what we did. Within these fourteen photos are the remnants of our past, the one we left behind, and the ones we’ve created and forced to be beautiful here in America. The sad thing is, when we forced ourselves to make these hard times beautiful to get through them, we also forced ourselves to forget the purity of our homeland; now all we see is the corruption and greed.
I look at these pictures, and it tells me everything I need to remember about my family. We knew poverty. We knew the warmth of family. We knew family morals and relations. We knew the bondage of marriage, of family, and of friends. We knew deaths, and goodbyes. And somehow in all those virtues that I’ve been raised into, I faltered. At the age of six, on that train heading towards Saigon – my last voyage to the south of VN as a child – I learned how to bottle up my feelings and hide every last bit of heartfelt feelings I can muster with my broken faith. I learned how to smile on the outside and at the same time cry out every last bit of tears I have on the inside. I learned to withdraw myself from the world around me.
I learned to forget.
I began to forget my goodbyes and their tears as they stood facing our tiny dirty window on the train waving to us. In the picture I only see their backs, but I can clearly remember the agony of their pain in my nightmares. Sometimes I forget that it was then that I learned not to cry. I try to erase so much I forget where the boundaries of reality and falsehood lie.
I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to cry, and I still do. I want to stare them in the face and tell them, I will miss them – and I have missed them very much. I want to be able to face the people I call my family and admit to them that my heart has been bleeding. Shattered. Frozen. But I can’t bring myself to do that, because in doing so, I also have to admit that after 11 years, I have to say goodbye to the roots of my identity. Que huong – two simple words that carry a world of meanings. To my cousins it means nothing, because they’re still thriving in that land – that land that I desperately return to in my dreams. If you ask what my favorite song is, it’s that song: “Que huong moi nguoi chi mot, nhu la chi mot me thoi. Que huong neu ai khong nho, se khong lon noi thanh nguoi…”.
I stare at that picture for hours every time I’m home. I stare at it to remind myself what a terrible person I have been. And every time I see that 6 year old, sitting with her emotionless face staring back at me while everyone around her was in tears, it makes me cry. It makes me cry because even to this day I still hold on to that innocence – that moment right before my heart turned so bitter against the world. I hate that child, and I hate how I let her grow up alongside me. I wish I was as strong as they were. I wish I had left it behind me and moved on. But that’s my weakness: I’m so focused on preserving things as the way they were, that I forget that it has been so long now.
Time is my greatest teacher, and my fiercest enemy. I am constantly aware of every second that passes. But Time is unaware of my existence and my pleas – it keeps on moving forward, oblivious of my cries.