Long I have wondered what it must have been like, to be on a ferry crossing the Mekong river, watching the Chinese man step out of the black car and approach where I am standing. It is a photograph, a still out of a film where I tried to learn what love was but found only terror and pain.
I was never on that ferry crossing the Mekong. That was another girl, a girl who aged into a woman and scribed her adolescent screams on cinema screens. I was on a bridge crossing the Kennebec, on the other side of the world, trying not to look down because to look down would show fear, and it would punch holes in my resolve to escape the love I felt for a girl who would never love anyone. She did not understand why people loved her. I do not understand why I did.
I received a letter from Le Hong-Phuc, written in a small city on the Mekong, outside of the city that she and I called Saigon. She didn’t like cats. She complained about the heat and the dust. Midway through the last century Việt Nam lost her jungles as soldiers were forced upon her in Huey helicopters and bombs dropped from B-52s cratered her skin. And her people became burned and distorted but still remembered love. They whispered scenes from Hiroshima Mon Amour because they saw the pictures from 1945 and they knew what would happen to them.
Someday that will be me on the ferry crossing the Mekong, somewhere upriver from Saigon. I refuse to call it Ho Chi Minh City. There is no love in that name, no memories of French girls pressed beneath the hips of Chinese men in dark rooms off of busy streets. There is no collision of culture, no bánh mì served on bright afternoons, no chuối chiên sold by vendors on street corners. Saigon is love.
I keep coming back to that photograph, that film still of the girl leaning on the railing of the ferry crossing the Mekong with the brim of her hat pulled low over her eyes and the Chinese man stepping out of the black car behind. I wonder if ferries still cross the river, or if I will be standing on a bridge over the Mekong like that bridge over the Kennebec, fighting my eyes that want to look down, searching for love, cursing my failed attempts to drown.