The Long Lost Email

Dearest Long Lost,

I think it was ordained in Heaven that your classmate gave you my address in HCMC and you decided to fly from California to Vietnam. Or was it simply magical that we instantly became a pair? (I mean Saigon, if you still prefer that to HCMC).  My friends said some bad things about Vietnamese men living abroad who visit their former homeland as tourists – that they bring a pocketful of money in order to find and seduce single women, and then leave, and that I fell into that trap. I faced many questions like this:

“Is he really going home to California after only three weeks with you? He tells you he has to go but is soon coming back? Is that right? Fat chance! Have you ever heard of Madam Butterfly?”

So, when you sent me the date of your planned second trip, and I went to Tan Son Nhat airport to meet you, I was very nervous and unsure you would actually arrive. Under the hot sun at International Arrivals there was a huge crowd of welcomers pressing against the metal barriers. As soon as I saw you, I screamed your name, ducked under a railing, ran to you and threw my arms around your neck. I was transported with joy, broke the rules by slipping through the barrier and completely ignored the hundred and more pairs of eyes watching me. I have apologized already for embarrassing you so long ago, but I still remember the happiness of that moment as if it were yesterday.

Do you remember that when we met that second time, and were planning on getting a fiancée visa, we had only a short time together? I surely remember getting the phone call from Best Computer Repair. They told me how the police had become suspicious about their store and arrived to conduct a search. In detective style the police pulled a label off a large carton and found underneath a previous label with your name and California address. The store owner told me that it would take a day or two for the police to check with Customs and visit Immigration and have “criminal” added to your computerized passport record so that you would be caught at Departures and prevented from leaving Vietnam, if the police had not already found you. And I was in tears wishing you had not bribed the Customs agent with $1000 in order to import the ten computers duty-free. And how you hardly had time to hug me and wish me goodbye before you called a taxi and took off for the airport while your passport was still clear.

And then we wrote to each other for a few years during which time you considered visiting Vietnam would be like opting for prison.  Then the somber news – you let me know that you had married in California. And I knew that the woman would turn out to be not right because you should have been married to me.

Before your marriage there was no way I could get a visa to visit the US. I was too poor, and the US Consulate knew that if they granted me a visitor visa, once I arrived in the US I would stay. My only asset in Vietnam was a bicycle – not enough reason to return to Vietnam. Actually, later I was given a motorbike. In case you forgot, I’ll remind you: the sailor gave it to me. Due to losing you I was so heartbroken that I let the sailor get me pregnant. But he proved no good – a few months later he was involved in a drunken bar brawl in Yokohama, was punched and fell on a step. His skull was cracked, and he died in hospital two days later. Since then, my son Khanh has grown up, and in high school he shared the motorbike with me.

Twenty years after you hurried out of Vietnam, as you know, I found you on the Internet. I was overjoyed and so happy that you replied. But now I am sad again as I am writing from a bed in hospital. There is a tube poked into my stomach for feeding, since my throat is much too swollen for normal eating. I overheard the doctor say to the nurse “a week”. I am sure he was predicting how long I will live. I am typing on my laptop propped up on my thighs. The pain in my neck is not too bad because I am taking morphine. But I don’t have the strength to stay leaning against pillows for long, and I would prefer to live less than a week rather than longer.

Thinking like that I asked the nurse, who has become my friend, if she could give me a double or triple dose of morphine. She answered: “We usually don’t do that.” It could be that she was agreeing.

So sad you discovered the high price for used computers in Vietnam compared with the price in California.  We didn’t need the money you got through bringing that box of computers as checked baggage. We could have lived during your visit the simple life I was used to. We could have explored more of the city and the parks as we did during our first time together – using bicycles – no need even to buy fuel. We could have rested on the benches and wiped the sweat off each other’s brow, while you told me more about the life we would have in California.  And I could have cooked noodles with pork skin and pond weed… and rice with shrimp on occasions.

Khanh left by train all the way to Hanoi for an interview.  It seems the interview went well, and he is starting work there already.  If he were to get married to a Northerner, then he too would disappear from my life.  He left four weeks ago, just before my diagnosis. And right after that my motorcycle broke down. I emailed that news to Khanh, and he replied that he will return just as soon as he can to repair the motorbike. But Hanoi is too far away and, actually, I don’t want him to see me in hospital in this state.

The nurse just came in again, and I must stop writing and press the “SEND” button. She placed three phials on the table next to the IV.  So, this may be the last time I press “SEND”. In the temple they say we may return in the future to another life. If that happens, I will run up to you and throw my arms around your neck and love you even more than I have in this life – if that is possible.

Never forgetting those days of our youth…goodbye for now…

Culled from by Glyn Harding

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