Milwaukee, WI, USA
My family was living in Saigon at the time (the name of the city will forever be Saigon in this family). My father was abroad studying for his American Medical degree so that he'd have a comparable job when we got to the U.S. This was my mother's prudence. The plan was to have him finish his degree, return to Saigon, and for us to leave. This would not be the case however. Instead, my mother, my two older sisters, my younger brother and I would have to leave Saigon before he returned. The North Vietnames were practically at our door. Always a shrewd woman, my mother had so many alternate plans for our escape that this glitch probably didn't even make her bat an eyelash.
However, when our neighbor asked my mother to take his two sons with us, she probably flinched, if only briefly. Apparently he had made a deal to get his boys out and the other party had reneged. He was too high ranking of an officer to leave quietly with his sons. So, my mother took on the responsibility to bring them as well.
I think the part of the story that always intrigued me the most is the part when my mother had told my sisters to wear several layers of clothes and only bring small suitcases to make it seem like we were going away for the weekend. Indeed, that's what we told everyone. We were off to the countryside for a weekend visit some relative or another. You see, you couldn't trust anyone anymore. God only knows what people would do if they knew you were leaving the country. Would they report us? Would they try to get in on our deal? There are stories of our own South Vietnamese soldiers trying to shoot down planes that were holding people escaping the country because they, themselves, were not on the plane. Mom had thought carefully about this and so much more.
So many things could have gone wrong. Thank god my mom was there to keep things under control. After a stressful bus ride to the airport, the officials at the airport wanted to split my family up into two different planes. If it weren't for my mother's insistence to keep us together, I don't think we'd all be together. I don't believe that the other plane ever made it out of the airport. However, we arrived in the United States safely. We stayed with our sponsor family and waited for our father. The neighbors' mother and our father joined us. The neighbors' father did not.
Our families moved on. We grew up. The mother remarried. I thought the story was over.
We were all in college when my mother informed us that she had seen our neighbors' father in Chicago. I believe she arranged for a reunion of sorts, but I never got the details. Even as I grow older I realize the story is far from over. Two years ago, my mother introduced me to my wet-nurse from Vietnam. She had escaped too and her story was probably more frightening than our own. My mother had learned of her escape and found her living in Texas. This wet nurse travelled all the way to Wisconsin to see my family. I had millions of things to do the weekend she was here, but yet my mother insisted that she be allowed to at least stop by the apartment one night. I now understand why. My wet-nurse had carried a photo of me as a child with her throughout her employment with my family, during her escape, and during her life in the United States. She came to my apartment and told me that she wanted to "return it to me". My whole world stopped. I mean, who WAS this woman? Why was I crying? How did this happen? Yes. The story goes on.
I can't go into details in 2000 words (and I've probably already gone over it), but I can say that I was too young to remember this myself. Yet it is such a part of my life that I probably think about it everyday. There's always a "What if?" and "Where would I be now?" and "Who would I be now?"
It's probably fateful that even as I write this my family is getting ready to celebrate the anniversary of our arrival to the United States. Frankly, I don't think I can do our story justice alone. Every year my family retells the story from my mother's diligent planning to my father's final reunion with us in the United States. In each telling of the story another detail is added. Another name or another place. These memories aren't mine alone. This story isn't just mine to tell. I just ask the questions when my parents and my sisters tell the story. I only can remember it through them.