ONE FAMILY 5

“Life is easier if you have a Vietnamese girlfriend,” Dong said. “But my parents are supportive of my relationship with Sarah. Even if we marry. They like Sarah because she is very nice, very polite and she speaks Viet¬namese. And like a good Vietnamese, she is respectful of ciders.
“I was a very good boy before we met at a seminar. I think maybe she was lonely at the time. We had a good conversation and talked about everything very frankly. We agreed to go out on a date. We went on a trip to the countryside. I’d had no experience with love before. American girls respond in much stronger ways than Vietnamese. We agreed to spend time together but we never talked about tomorrow. Maybe things will work out, maybe not. I do not yet know if my love is an endless love.”
The improving relationship between Hanoi and Washington even en¬abled Dr. Nghien to visit the United States twice. “Who’d have guessed I’ve ever be in America?” he mused, still a bit bewildered by the improba¬bility of it all. During one visit, he found himself standing in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, wiping away a tear as memories of war and separation and an old woman living in a lean-to came flooding back.
“When I touched the names on what you call the Vietnam Wall,” he said, “I thought, ‘What beautiful people they would be if they were alive today.’ All the bitterness left me at the moment. I understood that if some visitors there knew I had been on the other side in the war, I could have been beaten up. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to think about how much both sides had lost.”
At their mother’s home on the Hieu River, Dr. Nghien and his broth¬ers toasted me with cups of tea on the day of their reunion. “I wish my fa¬ther was alive to see an American in his home because he would be very honored,” he said. The words made me wince. I had trekked through the rice paddies around Dong Ha many times with U.S. Marine patrols thirty years earlier. How could I once have considered these same decent people the enemy? Outside the rain still fell in sheets.The brothers talked on. Fi¬nally Dr. Nghien said, “Mother, we must be going, or we will have to swim.”
Dr. Nghien spread his umbrella, and his two brothers squeezed in un¬der it. They linked arms. “We’ll be back soon, Mother. I promise,” the doctor said. Then the three of them headed back down the muddied path. Mrs. Nheh watched them go and did not avert her gaze until they had turned the bend and disappeared beyond the bamboo.

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