Living Vietnam

This memoir was sparked by Andrew Q Lam’s blog, Foreword: Vietnam 40 Years Later. In the foreword Andrew wrote for Vietnam: 40 Years Later by Robert Dodge, he says, “What can we discern from Vietnam 40 years later?” Andrew answers, “That first and foremost, Vietnam is an active verb.”

For myself, Vietnam is a myriad of verbs, nouns and adjectives flitting from one tense to another. It is the procession of people, places and things birthed in 1973 that live to the present day. It’s the childhood-ending articles in Time Magazine that introduced me to the horrors of war and it’s the names of soldiers killed in action scrolling down the TV screen at the end of the news. Vietnam is images of unsmiling babies in orphanages and dead women and children imprinted on my thirteen year-old brain.

Vietnam was the phone ringing. It was the September 12th call from a Denver staff member of the Friends of the Children of Vietnam. It was the one-hour our family was given to decide if we would adopt not one, but two infants; a boy and girl set of twins. It was the ten seconds it took me to say, “Yes, I want a sister!”

Dinner was planned around the Nightly News. Updates on the twin’s condition in To Am Orphanage were irregular. My prayers were demanding. My sister Thach Thi Truoc (nicknamed Twilight by the nuns) must survive her latest life-threatening infection. She and my brother, Thach Van Sau (Sunset) need to grow strong fast so they can survive a trip to Denver. And don’t let the orphanage get bombed or anyone get bombed and please let Time Magazine get lost in the mail because I can’t stop reading it.

Vietnam is the painfully slow answer to a prayer.

It’s joy arriving in the arms of two nurses walking off a plane at Stapleton Airport on December 5th, 1973. It is the first time I held my brother Jason and sister Beth, who at five months old, weighed 8 and 6.5 lbs.

When I was 28, I was stalked and threatened by a Vietnam Veteran who lived next door to me. He thought I was harboring the enemy when he saw Jason and Beth at my house. He damaged two vehicles and caused additional property damage. He threatened my life and tried to break into my apartment in the middle of the night. The police told me he was on disability for Agent Orange.

Vietnam lives in me. Forty years later and I still see the guarded eyes of a traumatized infant when I look at my sister. Forty years later and Jason wants to return to Vietnam but Beth says she really isn’t interested in visiting her birth land. I am though. I want to walk the streets of the city once called Saigon and experience Vietnam healing. I want the sad and horrific images to be restored to ones of happiness, hope and beauty. I want to hear Vietnam’s people laughing.

There aren’t many pictures of To Am Orphanage from 1973. While writing this memoir, I found a group photo on Adopted Vietnamese International’s website that I haven’t seen before. I’m 99% sure the young woman kneeling on the lower right is holding Jason in her right arm. The young woman kneeling to her right is holding Beth in her left arm.

To Am Orphanage Saigon 1973

Vietnam is love.

 

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Jules Jacob

julie ginkgoJulie "Jules" Jacob is a contemporary poet who often writes about dichotomous conditions and relationships among humans and the natural world. Her poems are recently featured or forthcoming in Plume Poetry, The Tishman Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She is the author of The Glass Sponge chapbook with select poems featured at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts and Le Moulin à Nef where she was a resident of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Poetry Workshop.

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