I awoke to my mother’s voice, “Get up! Let’s GO, we have to go now. Grab your suitcase!” I didn’t understand where we were going, but obeyed. I clutched the heavy black and white stitched suitcase and stumbled along groggily in a herd of people. I don’t remember seeing my three younger brothers in the crazy commotion but I do remember our live-in nanny, a short chunky woman with short black hair. I wonder what happened to her?
I heard my mom yell, “Let’s GO!”. Driving away from our house, the bombs were exploding in the distance behind our jeep. The deafening noise hurt my ears and I saw flames in the distance. We drove by a lot of trash and homes that looked deserted.
Everyone kept silent and I didn’t understand what was going on. The adults looked terrified and anxious. It was like watching a surreal movie.
We moved around a lot prior to ending up in Saigon, Vietnam. We first lived in Hue and then moved to Da-Nang. My dad was in the army so that was the norm. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my aunt had connections to some Air Force friends, allowing us to escape from Vietnam, a country we would never see again. We were literally taking one of the last few cargo planes to leave.
My dad almost did not make the flight with us. He had barely escaped the communists, then firmly in control of Vietnam. To elude capture, he was hiding in a lake, breathing through a bamboo tube. It’s interesting to even picture my dad in that scenario. It is something I need to ask him more about because, our lives could have changed in an instant.
I stepped into the cargo plane where families with suitcases hustled inside. I had never been on an airplane in my life. I remembered there was lot of confusion, children crying, and anxious in voices. There were no seats. Families huddled tightly on the aluminum floor with the few belongings they were able to take with them. “You’re responsible for that suitcase,” my mom snapped. In my bewilderment, I clenched it harder.
I don’t remember much of the flight, only getting on the plane and squeezing in between bodies. I guess I slept the entire journey to our unknown destination. In reflection, my travels were first class in comparison to stories I’d heard about other people nearly drowning in boats and other horrors of cannibalism.
We ended up in a camp in Guam with hundreds of tents, sleeping on cots and sharing a big tent with other families. All of my mother’s siblings and her parents were at the camp with us. My mother has three younger sisters and four younger brothers. My aunt was only able to take her parents, sibblings and their families on the plane. My father’s siblings and parents were left behind.
Meals were prepared by American soldiers. We lined up for food that we’d never tasted before. One day, I wandered off on my own. A woman was selling hot tea at the camp. “Oh wow,” I blurted and ran for a cup. The warm tea tasted hot and delicious as I drank it down! Later, I found out she was using muddy plain water; no tea leaves involved. I found this out when my aunt told me to stop drinking the mud water. We spied on the woman as she continued to sell her “tea” to other refugees.
The suitcase I carried was jammed with Vietnamese currency, all large bills, a lifetime of savings. But, my parent’s savings were worthless since Vietnam had been taken over by the communists. Other families brought more gold over, so they were more fortunate and didn’t have to work as hard as my parents. Our sponsor also helped my parents find jobs. My dad got a job as a painter since you didn’t need to speak English to paint and he could get by with his broken English. My mother cleaned houses to earn extra money while attending E.S.L. classes at night. She eventually became an accountant and worked for the same company for 35 years, until recently retiring.
These events shaped my life. I make extra efforts to be kind to people in the service industry, especially the immigrants that have just arrived to the U.S. and barely speak a word of English. It’s made me respect other people that are now in the same situation my family experienced.
ღ I am grateful for every happy moment, because it can be taken away in an instant.