Three days before I left for Vietnam, I finally got a hold of Lynn, my father’s close friend from Vietnam who I was raised to know as my aunt. It wasn’t until after his death that I found out that she wasn’t my father’s sister.
It’s incredible how complicated it can be to track people down, especially when you are living across the world. After a series of random phone calls and emails to people I’ve never met before, I finally made contact with Monica, one of Lynn’s daughters, who passed along her mother’s phone number.
Lynn is the only other Vietnamese person who I remember having a relationship with in my childhood. But these memories are sporadic, the details of her almost entirely lost to me. Lynn had two daughters, I remember, to an American man who left them when the girls were very young. She remarried another white man and he adopted the girls as his own.
When I neared adolescence, my father didn’t take me around Lynn’s house any longer. He cut her out of my life completely and I forgot for a long while that she even existed until my father died and Lynn never turned up at his funeral. I don’t know why she didn’t and I didn’t ask her when I finally gathered enough courage to call her.
A lot was riding on this conversation. So as the phone rang, a part of me wanted it to just keep on ringing, that I wasn’t ready to make contact with the only person I knew who could give me something tangible and real about my father and my journey ahead. But she picked up the phone and all I could do was to open my mouth and speak.
“Hello Lynn. It’s me, MaiLynn. Hoat’s daughter,” I said through a trembling voice. Would she remember who I was? Would she still carry whatever sentiment she had that kept her away from my father’s funeral and from me for so long?
“Hello! How are you?” Her answer was bright. Happy to hear from me, I thought. Monica must have told her to be expecting me.
It had been over fifteen years since I last heard from her, but she still spoke and thought like a Vietnamese woman. When I told her that I am living in New Zealand now, she asked if I made good money from my job, if I was married with any children, and why I wasn’t living closer to my mother so I could take care of her.
I am not sure how she felt when I told her that in fact I have no job at the moment, that I quit it to go traveling, that I have a boyfriend who I live with but no children, and that my mother is just fine without me. I didn’t wait for her words of acceptance or disapproval.
I needed information from her and I needed it now.
I let words pour out of me before I had time to think and feel self-conscious about what I was saying. I told her that I am going to Vietnam soon and that I wanted to meet my father’s family. I told her that when my father died, I didn’t really know anything about him, that I didn’t know why he never kept in touch with his family. I told her that I am twenty-six now and I needed to finally know more about Vietnam, my father and any real connections that I have to his family.
“I don’t know anything about your daddy’s family. I only know his mother and father die. That he had sisters and brothers who died, too. He say that when his father die, his mother feel very heart broken so wanted to die, too. And when I ask about his brothers and sisters, your daddy get very sad so I don’t ask him to talk about it.
“I think he have an uncle in Texas though still. Someone else in France, I think. I don’t know for sure. But your daddy didn’t talk to them.”
“Why?” I ask.
“I think they ask him to move with them. To come to Texas or France or wherever they are. But your daddy say ‘no’, because he had you and your mom. He wouldn’t leave you. So they get mad, I think.
“You’re daddy had nobody,” she finished. “Nobody.”
Blunt, honest truth that stung.
There were so many other questions I could have asked. She could have told me everything she had ever known about my father. But I didn’t have it in me to keep probing. With only three days before I was to leave, I couldn’t stand to hear anything else that could deflate me further. And to have this conversation through a phone line just didn’t feel right.
“I miss you,” she said at last. “I lost your phone number and I wanted to call you many times but I didn’t know how to reach you.”
I wasn’t sure if she was being honest, but I chose to believe her because the words touched something inside of me that made me feel better.
“I miss you, too,” I said back. And the truth was I did. I didn’t know her well, but she was the only family I knew of from my father’s side, even if wasn’t blood deep.
“Next time you come to Reno, you come over to my house. I will tell you more about your daddy.”
When I hung up the phone, I felt a wave of guilt and sadness take root in me. Even though Lynn’s answer didn’t get me any closer to finding relatives in Vietnam, it was poignant.
How much my father must have given up for me and my mother. He let go of his family to create our family. He let go of his past so he could spend his future with us.
I shouldn’t have felt guilty.
My dad didn’t have nobody. He had my mother. He had me.
He chose me.
And that isn’t something to feel bad about. In fact, it is a damn wonderful thing to know.