Archive for November, 2009

He walked into the room with a copy of Vietnam – America’s Conflict and said, “You should watch this.  It might give you an idea of what I saved you from.”

“Sure, Dad,”  I said without looking at him.  Saved.  How many times have I heard that word since coming back?  Hearing it repeatedly makes me want to scream at him to get over his savior complex.  Taking me out of Viet Nam doesn’t get him a free pass for being a crappy father.  There.  I said it.

I stared at the dvd case in my hand and mused over his intentions.  What was he trying to tell me and why that moment?  Though I was closer to him than my adopted mother, we’d never really gotten along.  Lately, things had become strained again.  The TRA in me interpreted it as another attempt to shove gratitude down my throat.  The daughter in me wanted to believe it was his way of asking for understanding.  The skeptical side of me remembered the way he had altered my history to suit his own purposes. What did he hope to accomplish?

Ah, well.  With only two hours left before I had to leave for work, there was no time to watch the documentary series anyway.  It would have to wait until my days off.  I put the dvd case on my desk and got up to dress for work. I need my job for more than just my finances.  It’s been one of the few things that’s kept me sane.  Once I’m on the clock, I can trade one whirlwind for another. The rushed and sometimes chaotic pace at work leaves little room for anything else.  However, the twenty minute drive to work is full of mental forks in the road that my mind can’t help but follow.

Outside, the moonlit night had faded everything into shadows and silhouettes.  Houses, trees, and abandoned cars on the side of the road had all been deprived of their color and reduced to barely discernible shapes that seemed to shift in the darkness.  Again, I thought of the train ride scene in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

‘Round and ’round the train track, I go,
in circles so far from home.

off ramp…

It was my hope that reuniting after so many years would bring us closer together.  I really wanted to mend our broken ties and had hoped we’d come to some better understanding of one another.  It makes me sad that nothing’s changed.

He still sees exactly what he wants to see and there’s no changing his mind.  It’s not that I blame him for everything, but I notice the same patterns with my younger siblings.  He’s so blinded by his illusions and his efforts to keep up appearances that he doesn’t see what is so clear to everyone else.

I’m so disappointed by what I’ve seen, but part of me feels validated.  I can see now that it wasn’t just me.  Things I didn’t understand as a child have become so clear.  The manipulative lies he told, the denial,the unwillingness to admit any of his mistakes and his self righteous justifications for them are all so obvious.

Pattern: when use of gratitude gag doesn’t work, pull the ungrateful card and infantalize, when that doesn’t work, vilify, make threats and use scare tactics

“You left all those years ago and broke my heart when all I wanted to do was save your life?”

“It cost me $_____ in 1970 money to get you out of Viet Nam.”

“You know the Vietnamese are Communist and don’t really care about you.  They would have let you die.”

“Can’t you just be grateful?”

“You don’t act like a daughter.”

“She needs to grow up and get over it.”

It  just deteriorates from there.

on ramp…

As I reached the edge of town, I felt relief to see the lights.  It felt good to leave so much darkness behind.  The Path streamed hypnotically into my ears.

“I see through the darkness my way back home.  The journey seems endless but I’ll carry on. The shadows will rise and they will fall and our night drowns in dawn. Amidst all tears there’s a smile that all angels greet with an envious song. One look into a stranger’s eyes and I know where I belong.

And the path goes on…”

off ramp…

Finally, a song I can completely relate to.  A gift from a trusted friend whose favorite saying seems to be, “You do what you have to do.”

“I know.  I’m tired of just reacting to other people’s choices,” I told him, “even my decision to move here was based on circumstances out of my control.”

“You do what you have to do,” he said, “and you see what happens.  I don’t mean to sound dismissive about it, but that’s what it always comes down to.”

“That’s coming from the guy who says he’s here ‘just to fuck shit up,'” I shot back.

“Given all you’ve been through, seems you’re here for the same reason,” he grinned.


“Ohh, so violent!” he laughed.

Why we ever became so close, I’ll never know, but it was a relief to find a friend I could trust.  Trusting people has often been a serious challenge for me, even more so after moving back to Texas.

“You have to be like that,” he grew serious, “There will always be some people who try to make you feel bad.  Don’t take shit.”

He reminded me of someone else who once told me, “Sometimes, you have to shove that creature of conscience down the stairs and close the door, or else people will try to play on your emotions.”

My concern, however, has always been taking it too far.  How do you find the balance?

on ramp…

I pulled into the parking lot and saw my co-workers running in from the cold.  The icy wind made my face feel like it was full of paper cuts as I got out of the car.  My mind immediately switched to work mode.  Time to focus on something productive.

*set jaw*

*deep breath*


My supervisor greeted me at the door, “Ready to get to work?”

“You know me,” I laughed, “work is my drug.”

Read Full Post »


pic by sume

Stepmother, who I was closest to of all my mothers, had prepared everything to the best of her ability.  Rooms were ready to be re-arranged to allow us to squeeze between the empty spaces she’d made for us.  I’d forgotten how much I’d missed her when I’d left.  She’d been my best friend during my time in Nebraska.  I’ve always called her by her nickname, but she’s been “momma” in my head since I was fifteen.

It seems a joke that I’d be closest to the one person most would consider an outsider,  but true to my contradictory life, I grew closer to her than anyone in my adopted family.  Perhaps it really isn’t so strange given we were both outsiders in our own ways, both of us having to make a place for ourselves in an already established family under unusual circumstances.  Adopted Vietnamese Daughter, meet Dad’s really young, live-in girlfriend.

We were fairly close in age and spent a lot of time together in Nebraska.  I was 15 at the time and she was 23.  Dad was always traveling which meant my stepmother and I spent weeks and weeks alone together.  We even worked at the same place.  Children need constants in their lives and she was definitely one of mine. She carried a quiet and sometimes not so quiet strength beneath her bubbly exterior.  She was a doer more than a talker and that was the example I needed.  More importantly than anything, I could talk to her.

She served as a buffer between Dad and I.  For her, it must have been like being squeezed and pulled between two invisible bull elephants as Dad and I fought our war of wills.  Somehow, she found ways to unobtrusively insert her diplomacy and keep the peace.  It would be interesting and probably a little painful to hear her take on Dad and I.  Though I’d inevitably disagree with a lot of what she had to say, I’d probably find her opinion more credible than most. In the past, she hadn’t been shy about expressing her opinions.  Whether I agreed with them or not, I felt I could at least rely on her honesty.

As I watched her hug my children, I wondered how she felt about us coming back.  She’d always been insistent that I come back to Texas, but I don’t think this was what she’d intended.  Whatever her true feelings, she didn’t hesitate in expressing her wish that we feel at home, even my friend whom she’d never met.

We’d barely entered the house before she’d whipped out two old photos of me to show him.  One was my high school senior photo and the other from my senior prom.  I knew the embarrassing childhood stories wouldn’t be far behind like the time I left the car on E and the car died on the railroad tracks.  Then, there was the times she’d rolled the clock back, because no matter what, I had to be ten minutes past curfew every time I went out.  And let us not forget about the time I lied about being late, because I’d driven into a ditch only to have it actually happen a couple of nights later.  She had tons of them and wasn’t shy about telling my friends.

I couldn’t help but notice how there were no photos of me hanging up in the house.  Not that I really blamed anyone.  This wasn’t my home really.  This home belonged to Dad’s new family.  My children and I were just guests.  Still, I couldn’t help but feel the sting of the omission.  I couldn’t suppress the feelings of being an intruder, but Momma always made it better in her usual way.  She immediately whipped out the photo albums and invited us all to look at the past we shared.

“At first, Sume was so unhappy in Nebraska,”  she said, “No other Asians would talk to her because she didn’t act like them.”

“Momma, I didn’t think you knew.  I never talked about it,” I said, surprised.

“Of course, I noticed,” she replied, “I’m your mother.”

Read Full Post »