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.