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After a quick hop in the air from Harrisburg to DC, the woman pushing my mom IMG_2090in a wheelchair and I ran like hell, going up and down 7 elevators and in one train to get to our gate in time. The woman, herself an American immigrant, understood how important it was for us to make our flight, and that is why she worked beyond her shift without pay to get us to the gate on time for our flight to Tokyo. Once in Tokyo, the next wheelchair woman and I had to run, go through security, and run to the gate to make our flight to Saigon. One 30-minute flight, one 15-hour flight, and one 6-hour flight later (with lots of running and sweating), we landed in Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Yeah, it was fucking insane. But there we were—my mother and I in the motherland.

IMG_2262As I watched the sunset tonight from my hotel room window in Tan An, I reflected on the last 5 days. It feels like I’ve been here much longer. It feels like last month, or maybe six months ago, that I was watching This is Where I Leave You and If I Stay on my marathon flights. Both movies have a common theme of what is left behind when someone dies, and what the people who are left behind do with their lives—how they deal with the sudden change. Change in a breath. Change you don’t see coming. Change that so cruelly stays forever, way beyond the fractioned-second moment it’d happened.

One of the main reasons I agreed to come to Vietnam with my mother was to find myIMG_2287 brother Hieu’s ashes. My older sister had come to Vietnam twice 20 years ago for that very reason as well, but she was unable to or forbidden to see his remains. Hieu and my sister were very close, not unlike my older two children who are joined at the hip. When my sister came to the U.S. with my mother and my father in 1971, and Hieu was left behind, a huge hole ripped open in her soul. I’m quite certain it has never been repaired. That moment changed her forever, and in time, it would change me too.

For two decades, I’ve been living with my brother Hieu’s ghost, especially in the way my sister would come apart with such deep sorrow over the years. When she first told me about him, I couldn’t believe that I had a brother, and that my mother had left him behind. For years I struggled with anger and confusion, wondering how any mother could leave her son behind and go to a different country. But as I got older, some of my questions were answered with Mom’s brief signs of remorse and regret. When my father died last year, the story of Hieu opened up, got bigger.

We all thought that Dad never knew about Hieu and how he was abandoned. But a few days before my father passed away, I asked him if he knew about Hieu. He simply nodded yes. He did know. But he didn’t want to cause Mom any pain, so he let her keep her secret, and he took his secret of knowing to the grave with him.

This is where Dad left us—not only with an unending bottomless pain, but also a liberation for my mother to tell her stories that she thought she couldn’t tell before.

Today, when I woke up, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew we were going to My Tho, but I didn’t know why. Before we headed off to My Tho, we went to Uncle’s house and picked him up. I was even more confused. I didn’t know that Uncle would be coming with us. I was sleepy and nodded off. When I woke up, we were parked along the side of the street, across from an alley. “Why are we here, Mom? Where’s Uncle going?” I asked, as my uncle disappeared into the alley. “He going look for your sister family.” I sat there, stunned. I didn’t know we were on this search today. He came back and told us that we had to go further down the road. We stopped again, he got out again, and came back. Further.

Finally, we stopped near the end of the street, and he told us to get out of the car. We IMG_2229walked down the narrow alley until we reached my sister’s aunt’s house. The woman was old, like 90-something Mom said. She was so happy to see us. And she chatted with mom. Her daughters came by as well. I got the Vietnamese affectionate touchy feely pat-down, my mother gave them some money, and then we left.

“Wait, Mom, aren’t we going to see Hieu’s ashes?” I asked as we walked down the alley to the car. “You want see that?” she asked quietly. “Uh, yeah, that’s why I’m here.” She told Uncle what I said, and we turned around and walked back to my sister’s aunt’s house. When she and Uncle tried to explain my wish, they started to discourage a visit. But I remained firm. “If Hieu’s ashes are at a temple around here, I want to see it, Mom. Tell them.” Mom got the courage to insist on us seeing Hieu’s ashes, and finally, they gave in. In some ways I didn’t expect them to agree so easily, after hearing my sister’s stories of how they aggressively denied her access. But this is something I need to process over some time.

Here is the emotional video I captured when I finally got to see Hieu’s ashes. I feel so so so much in terms of closure and in terms of opening up really ancient wounds. 

This is where Hieu was left. Would he still be alive today if Mom and Hanh had stayed? Life is so random, yet we are all fooled into an idea of permanence. This is what I’m left with now. This is where I stay.

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Check out this amazing Facebook contest! Please participate, and share widely!

Fun referral contest! You already like this Facebook page? That’s awesome. How about your share the love with your friends? If you go to the left side of my page, you’ll see a thing that says “Invite your friends to like this page.” That’s where you can invite your friends.
Here are the contest rules:
1) Invite your friends to like the page.
2) On your wall, tell your friends that if they go ahead and like my page, to post to my author page that you were the one who invited them to like it.
3) I will keep track of the posts and likes. The person who gets the most people to like my page and post their referrals will win an autographed copy of What Doesn’t Kill Us, a beautiful full-sized autographed poster of the book, our awesome bookmark collection, and a poem written especially for you!
4) Contest ends at 11:59PM on December 31, 2014.
Feel free to share this status update too, so that your friends who like my page can participate in the contest!
Good luck!

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Kitteh Endorsement

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This.

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#TBT: Glamour Gal

I don’t normally do #TBT, but I figured that since I’ve gotten so much awesome feedback and reviews for my memoir, I’d give the readers a treat…the video that is mentioned in the book. And if you haven’t read the book yet, here is one of the highlights. Enjoy!

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