A friend and I headed out one morning in search of the art district. I’d never been to that area of town and had to google up a map. Anyone who regularly uses google maps eventually learns that trying to navigate those things can tricky. Sometimes it’s like trying to find true north using a needle-less compass. We ended up heading straight out of town.
Luckily, backtracking was just a matter of getting on the other side of the highway via a u-turn. So back we went to find the nearest gas station to ask for directions. Undaunted, we headed out again hoping the gas station attendant knew what he was talking about. As we continued down the road, I saw the word “Danang” on a store sign and mentioned it to my friend. We decided to check it out and, wow, it was a newly opened Vietnamese store.
For me, it was a big deal. Over two years ago, I wrote a post bemoaning my inability to connect with Vietnamese adoptee bloggers and the Vietnamese American community in general. I couldn’t seem to find an “in” door. Since then, I’ve made contact with other bloggers and even had the privilege of co-blogging with two of the most distinctive voices out there. However, my attempts to establish contact with the Vietnamese American community in my area remained halfhearted.
Still gun-shy from previous experiences, my efforts were minimal. I knew there was a fairly sizable community here, but still did not actively seek them out. My justifications were endless: I was busy. There were more urgent matters to attend to. The community isn’t really a community and is too scattered. It’s too hard, dammit.
The truth is I’d turned into a big chicken and didn’t need much of an excuse to lull me back into forgetfulness. Ah, will I ever learn? As with my adoption, the signs were everywhere and popping up when I least expected them. The Vietnamese store served as yet another reminder that there was something I should be doing and wasn’t.
Of course, to reduce my reasons to merely fear would oversimplify and misrepresent the psychology behind my reluctance. I think the common set of fears did come into play: fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of not being able to connect, etc. However, something that I rarely talk about is the resentment. Being summarily rejected by a recruiter for the Vietnamese student organization at the college I was attending left a bitter taste in my mouth. True, I was hurt and felt seriously discouraged, but just as importantly, I felt this blood-boiling rage.
It felt as if “my own” had thrown me to the wolves and then refused to let me back in because I’d been mauled beyond recognition. I didn’t walk away. They’d given me away. I’d survived to seek them out again but rather than welcoming me back among them, they slammed the door in my face. They wanted nothing to do with me, and why should I care? What had they ever done for me other than relinquishing me to an eternal state of otherness?
I was aware these feelings were unreasonable but felt them anyway. Because I knew they were irrational, I buried them. However, I would eventually have to face the truth. Denial of those feelings numbed my awareness of them but still allowed them to affect my behavior. It’s weird how the mind works. I feel weird just writing these thoughts down, but surely I can’t be the only one.
I know as well as anyone that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to resent a whole community of strangers. They had nothing to do with what had happened to me – either individually or as a group. Furthermore, I’d met and befriended enough Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans to know better. Why did I harbor such a sense of betrayal?
My mind immediately goes back to my childhood. Insomnia and I have been joined at the hip since I can remember. A lot of those late night sessions with sleeplessness involved thoughts of my Vietnamese mother. As I’ve mentioned before, not all of my midnight daydreams were childish fantasies of tearful reunions. Many times my imaginary interactions with Má were rendered with classic feelings of abandonment common to adoptees.
Some part of me felt that she’d sloughed me off like so much unwanted hair to be swept away and forgotten. Of course, now I know that’s not necessarily the case. There were other options, but to a child with limited knowledge and understanding, the only ones were a) orphaned by death and b) orphaned by abandonment. To compensate, I waffled between the two scenarios. Did she die or just dump me to my fate?
Sadly, Má wasn’t around to answer my questions. She only existed in my head and could neither confirm or correct my assumptions. Those thoughts never dissipated. They were never resolved but lay dormant just below the surface of my consciousness. I guess the recruiter for the Vietnamese student organization was just the trigger. He’d unwittingly turned on the light behind my skewed optical lens allowing for a whole lot of projection.