I know I am old when my little nephew who I used to hold in my arms is now in 10th grade and taller than me. I know I am old when the little boy who used to live next to me and my mom has a son older than my son. I still remember him wearing his diaper running around our apartment and now he’s changing his baby’s diaper. How crazy is that? Now we can talk about fatherhood to each other.
Dana told me that yesterday marked her 17 years living in the States. I then realized that I have been here for 19 years, even though I can’t remember the exact date. Although I have been here for almost two decades, become an American citizen and changed my name to Donny, I never once feel like this is a permanent place. Somehow Vietnam still holds on to me like the color of my skin, which hasn’t get any lighter over the years, even though childhood memory is the only part of me that belongs to Vietnam.
I have changed and so has Vietnam. My relationship with Vietnam is like my relationship with my father who hasn’t been around me all these years. We are connected by blood, but the gap is unbridgeable. We love each other, but we are distanced. I can’t live with my father just like I can’t live in Vietnam. We’re in two different worlds and our lifestyles have changed. My life is better here, but I still don’t feel a sense of home. I don’t yearn to go back just like a kid who grows up and doesn’t want to return home.
When I look at the older generation like my mom and my parents-in-law, I wonder how do they feel? With their limited English, this is definitely a temporary place for them. How do they live on and adapted to the environment that is so foreign to them? Was it because of the hardship in the past that give them the strength?
Often times I see myself living here temporarily for the rest of my life and than die on this land and that’s it. Don’t give me wrong. I love America and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world, but here. It just that Vietnam is also part of me. When I am in this sentimental mood, Trịnh Công Sơn’s “Ở Trọ” comes to mind and his words help me get through: “Tôi nay ở trọ trần gian / Trăm năm về chốn xa xăm cuối trời.” Even life is just an interim and you will go somewhere else after this. So live this short, impermanent life to the fullest so that “Mai kia dù có ra sao cũng đành.”