Reflections from an Ocean away

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Photo by Christine Nguyen and Jin Kim

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - 4:17pm

Reflective fragments, excerpts, bits from my journals, both paper and electronic since meeting my birth family.

Waking up in a hostel in Hà Nội with sweat on your face, or maybe it was tears, is never the best way to start the voyage to Ha Long Bay. Good thing I’m on the top bunk and no one can see me. I am wilting on the inside.

       — the morning after (1) 
 
Circumstances gave us 20 minutes to fit an entirety of a life. You cried for 19 of them. You couldn’t look at me for 8 of them. You yelled at me for not knowing Viet for 3 of them. You’re still crying. You turn away from me. You tell me you could only care for me for 10 days. I ask you about my name. Ocean. You say it was because I was so big. It took me 20 years to come back. Security puts his hand on my shoulder. Detachment ensues.
 

You named me, Ocean, because I was so big. Who would have fucking thought

You named me, Ocean, because I was so big. Who would have fucking thought Buy this photo
Adam Brodnax

On the way to meet my sister in Long An. She’s a buddhist nun. She comes out from the monastery living quarters to meet me. I see so much of myself in her. She puts her hand in mine. Her smile is contagious, her laugh is synonymous with joy. She bugs me about not knowing my mother’s tongue. She calls me “Em” so I call her Chị”. She tells me Mẹ gave her up when she was 7. So I wasn’t the only one. She is grateful that I am not mad at our mother. She assumed I never came back because I was mad (2).

        Once someone in Vietnam learned my birth name, they would only call me that. 
        Đại Dương
        I am home when my ears are here (3).
 
My sister messages me over Facebook that my oldest brother dreamed of finding me one day. He adds me on Facebook. 
 
 
The language barrier created beauty in smiles, embraces, shared stares, synchronized breaths, communal meals. Language isn’t just spoken.
 
        In Saigon’s airport — I spent 34 days in the country of my birth. I spent 14 hours in
        the village of my birth. I spent 20 minutes with the mother of my birth.
 
        In O’hare’s airport — I scheduled a flight to go back to Texas, because I missed the
        mother who raised me. 
 
At Chipotle, I placed my fork down, full from eating three-quarters of a bowl. Naturally got up to throw it away before the weight of knowing my Mẹ lives off of a $1.50 a day choked the guilt down my throat. I sat back down and finished the rest of the bowl. 
 
 
 
I still feel empty. I thought my harrowed heart would be filled with peace after we met. Not sure if consciously choosing to leave the second time broke her more. Detachment is a form of trauma.
 
       Vietnam was supposed to be this surreal, visceral, place of peace. Two months later,
       my soul is still roaring into its body.
 

I crossed the ocean twice just to become it.

I crossed the ocean twice just to become it. Buy this photo
Adam Brodnax
 
       I think I like to get as dark as I can so that I can see my Mẹ’s manual labor on my back.
 
Chị tells me that Mẹ is out of the hospital and that she is asking about when I am coming back. How do I tell them my stays will always be temporary.
 
Maybe the realization that Adam and Dương were meant to live two disjunct lives is what has been breaking the body that occupies them.
 
Christine says I should write for pagesinviet (4). 
 
 

unfair.

To the mother who birthed me,
I am sorry I am your wound. 
You are the reason I have my almond shaped eyes, 
burning heart, and brave spine
I am the reason you are blistered and broken
For 10 days, you rose with the sun anyway
 
To the mother who raised me,
I am sorry that I did not come to America a blank canvas
I am sorry you did not get to have the first brush stroke
I am scribbled on, crumpled up and slightly torn
but
you painted around it. You picked up right where Mẹ left off
You became the setting sun
 
I am at dinner with another transracial adoptee. I wonder if she has ever felt the same pain. Waiter refills my $6 drink. My Mẹ lives off of $1.50 a day. I choke the guilt down my throat.
 
I am reading poetry by Ocean Vuong. Maybe this will bring me peace. 
 
I need to be Here. I have been straddling Here my whole life.
 
Mẹ, I hope you named me Ocean because you knew I would be restless. My mother tells me I was an absolute terror. 
 
 
(1) In the style of and attributed to Nayyirah Waheed
(2) "Chị" means "elder sister", "Em" means "younger sibling", “Mẹ” means “mother”
(3)  Translates to Ocean. It is a historical and traditional way to say Ocean, not used as common as the term, “biển” when referring to the ocean
(4) Artistic forum started by Christine Nguyen and Khánh San Pham