Nocturne
Winner of the Arts & Letters Creative Nonfiction Award, judged by Jeannette Walls. Originally published in Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture, Issue 19, Spring 2008.

My mother, young and newly married, finds herself on a boat one Good Friday night. Her husband is away. She sits next to her brother and a friend, huddled together, waiting in the dark with nearly a hundred other passengers. The boat remains stationed, bobbing at dock on the South China Sea. The journey home to Saigon will take all night, and they have still to leave port. Dazed and feeling sick, she leans against the cargo, hoping something stable will calm her nausea. It is too dark to see one’s own hands, so nobody notices the approaching shadow of an oncoming boat. The passengers only hear the loud crash, feel their own boat lurch at the collision, and think the war has reached them. In a flash, my mother leaps to her feet and steadies herself on a ledge next to her. The mob around her is in a panic. She teeters, still in a stupor. Her mind vacillates between boat and sea, not sure where to run for safety, until desperate, she turns and looks out into the water, ready to plunge into the darkness below.

***

That night on the boat has rarely ever surfaced in my mother’s conversations. Not because she didn’t want to tell me, but because I never asked. I didn’t know how to ask about that other world, one I was once part of but has since faded from my memories. How to begin asking for something I know nothing about?

And so, for many years, I never heard this story, but even during my childhood, before I had found a way to ask, I knew how the story ended. My mother must have survived. My parents must have found each other. For in our present existence, we were living out the story’s ending. And perhaps it was this loss of suspense that for so many years had kept me from asking, or even wondering, about my family’s past.

I didn’t know, for example, that the afternoons I napped with my mom could be traced back many years, to when she spent days lying in bed, recuperating from mysterious conditions the doctor couldn’t identify. All I knew was that throughout my childhood in Canada, napping together became my favorite way of spending time with her.

She didn’t sleep well at night and spent every spare moment trying to compensate. When she was home from work, I found her in bed. When my dad told me to get her for dinner, I found her in bed. And on evenings when she felt well enough to spend her time reading instead, she got up the next morning feeling faint, dizzy, and nauseated. She had to call in sick and spend the rest of the day compensating for the evening before. It seemed she was always trying to make up for things past, recuperating from fatigue and illnesses beyond diagnosis, lingering from days in her youth when she wasted away on books.

Yet for all the time she spent in bed, she barely slept. She lay there, her mind drifting in and out of consciousness. Again and again, I asked her what she thought about, wondering what kept her awake.

Meaningless conversation, she told me, idle chatter. Lying in bed, she thought about words exchanged that morning with a friend she’d run into at the supermarket, their carts staggered in the aisle, chatting away about things she only vaguely remembered. Then her mind would float, and the memories drifted into dreams, visions of herself visiting a friend and making small talk—how are your children, and have you eaten yet? A moment later, and she would wake in bed again, the room dark, the quietest sounds of the day magnified in the night—my dad breathing next to her, the drone of the air vent overhead.

When we were children, my sister and I would beg to spend the night in our parents’ room. On holidays, nights when they didn’t have to work the next day, we were allowed to bring over our blankets and pillows, spreading our things on the floor at the foot of their bed, and we’d talk and read and laugh until we were worn out and couldn’t remember the next morning when we’d fallen asleep.

When my dad was preaching out of town or away at a conference, my sister and I fought for a turn to spend the night with my mom. On the nights I slept beside her, her conversations became my own. We’d talk until I fell asleep, but she continued the conversations in her mind. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, she started talking to me, holding me and stroking my face. In the morning, I couldn’t remember what she had told me and what I had dreamt. I had to call her at work, wondering if she had asked me to do something for her while my dad was gone. Did you tell me, I asked, or did I dream that you told me, in the middle of the night, when I heard your voice?

 ***

Her nocturnal habits can be traced back many years. When my mother was a student in college, living in Saigon, she would stay up studying through the night. There were always tests to take the next day and a family-owned business to attend to. After her family went to bed, she turned the light back on in her own room. She kept a vial of eye drops on her desk, reaching for it during the bleakest hours of the night. Beside her was a glass, over which sat a small filter, perching like a top hat whose rim cupped over the rim of the glass. In the night, as she studied, Vietnamese coffee trickled from the filter down into her glass.

No one knew that she was wearing herself thin. In a few years, she would be fighting death from the edge of her bed. She would become too frail to sustain life or to bear it. Had she known how this would end, she might have lived differently. But in the night, she was preoccupied with the task before her. Perhaps somewhere in her mind, she thought she was working towards a better life for herself and her family. So she went without sleep, studying until the glow of her lamp faded into the dawn, and she emerged from her room to begin another day’s work.

Her mornings were spent helping her mother with the inventory down at the seafood company. The work began at six. She was responsible for managing the company’s finances. The workers helped divide the company supplies, wholesale shipments of fish and shellfish for delivery to various restaurants in the city. My grandmother sorted the stock, which the workers helped weigh, and then she called out the numbers for my mother to record.

At noon my mother stopped for lunch, then went to school from one to five. Five o’clock was her favorite part of the day. She had two or three hours of her own to use however she liked. They were too precious to spend sleeping, so she studied. On days when friends convinced her to go out, she ran off with them after school to get ice cream at a café. But after dinnertime, she was back on the road again, making the daily rounds to collect money from the company clients. She returned home around ten, exhausted, and studied late into the night.

On evenings before exams, a servant would brew a tall glass of Vietnamese drip coffee for my mother. Instead of mixing in condensed milk the way the restaurants served it, my mother took it black. Not wanting to give up her studies or to let her family down, she made the servant keep her secret.

The coffee dripped steadily through the night, trickling down until the filter ran dry. Over the course of two or three years, she withered away, a five-foot girl down to 80 pounds. Then she began to have stomach pains so violent she spent days in bed, tossing in anguish. She had no appetite, ate like a cat, pawing around at her food. Even when she did eat, simple white rice sent her into fits of vomiting.

She was taken to the hospital numerous times, but the doctors were never able to diagnose the problem. Perhaps it was the coffee, strong and acidic, wearing away the stomach lining; perhaps it was so many nights without rest, too much on her mind; perhaps she never had the stamina for this lifestyle to begin with. Finally, one doctor declared it was anxiety. She had been studying too hard, and the extended periods of concentration were draining her. If this continued, she would not last long.

 ***

She never told me this, all those nights I spent with her while growing up. I learned bits of it instead through overheard conversations. When my parents’ friends asked my dad why my mom was sick so often, he would shrug and say the bouts of sickness were constant, that she had been this way for as long as he had known her. And he told about courting my mom by taking her to the doctor’s, helping with her family business, coming over to tutor her younger siblings. When I finally asked her myself many years later as an adult, she said he had married her when she was at her worst, frail and fading, binding himself in sickness and in health.

*** 

Some aspects of our lives are so pervasive that it never occurs to us things could be otherwise. So we don’t even think to ask. In this way, our memories split, and a chasm opens. Suddenly we are on opposite ridges, a gulf between us, keeping us apart, unable to reach the other side. And the chasm separates us, my parents whose memory spans much farther than mine. We cannot follow.

I awoke one night when I was seven or eight, crying and trying to speak between gasps. I woke my parents, and they stared, confused. What is it I had dreamt, they asked, what was this dream that frightened me? An endless pattern, was all I could say, repeating over and over, until it overwhelmed me. It was a dream sprung for the first time in my childhood in Toronto, and one that has recurred with no warning several times in the span of my life. Each occurrence leaves me alone in the morning, unable to explain what I have seen, unable even to recall it fully for myself. And in my memory now, this awakening itself begins to feel unreal, as though it never happened. I see myself as a child fighting for breath as I look for words to tell them what I have seen. And suddenly speaking one language does not ease our understanding, but simply makes it impossible to translate, to come to knowledge in any other way.

Sometimes, by accident, I ask questions that lead us stumbling into untold stories. This is how it happens over the phone one night, long after I have grown up and moved away for graduate school. I ask her about Vietnam. She answers by telling me of that night on the boat. In Chinese, without inflections of tense, she remains in her perpetual present time.

On the eve of Good Friday, 1975, my parents part ways, each with separate tasks, not knowing they might not meet again.

In the week before Easter, they are preparing for the most important celebration of the Christian calendar. At this time, they are both studying at the Bible College in the city of Nha Trang, seven hours away from their home in Saigon. My mother is a part-time student, a full-time load too demanding on her health. My father is in his last year, anticipating graduation in another month. They have been married for less than a year.

The Bible College sits atop a hill, whose summit can be reached by a winding path that has been paved and widened over the years. The school looks out onto the beach, a view fringed by coconut fronds and extending into the never ending blue of sky and sea. In the distance, an island lies in sight, and over this bulge of land the sun crawls up every morning to light up the courtyard between the dormitories and the library.

In Nha Trang, my father is interning at a small church, a gathering mostly made up of new believers. The church is funded by his home church in Saigon, which also provides my father with a stipend so he can continue his studies. Every Sunday, my parents go down the hill and into the city where they spend the day at the church.

One Sunday each month, the Bible College holds a mandatory all-prayer day. Aside from a few hours’ break for meals, the students are expected to spend the entire day in prayer. Since my parents are at the church in the city all day, they are exempt. Their friends take advantage of this and plot each month to escape all-prayer day by offering to help my parents in the city.

Life in Nha Trang is calm, so calm that the students create their own mischief. At the Vietnamese Bible College, my parents and the other Chinese students are known for their chatter and their persistent socializing. The resident assistant has purposely dispersed them, leery of what disorder they might cause were they housed together. But this only increases their loudness, leading them to shout down corridors and across the courtyard to each other.

Almost every night, my parents, who live in married student housing, play host to their friends. The students are eager for a place to congregate without disturbing their roommates or drawing the attention of the watchful assistant on duty. After lights out, they come to my parents’ room to hold small feasts.

No one eats much during the school dinner hour, the college being notorious for its food, which is both meager and bad. The rice is never cooked properly—raw and tough in the top layer, burned at the bottom, and mashed in the middle. Only my mother is thankful for the mashed rice because she cannot stomach the rest. This staple is served with steamed bean sprouts and fish with the scales still on. Once in a while the students go down to the restaurants in the city for a decent meal. It is in Nha Trang that my parents first have bun bo hue—Vietnamese rice noodles and pork trotters in a spicy broth, heavy with lemongrass and sprinkled with lime.

But usually there is no time, and cafeteria food is the only choice. So while their roommates study in their rooms, my parents’ friends come over with packaged goods sent from home: instant noodles, oatmeal, milk powder, and sausages. Only kerosene lamps are allowed after lights out, so my father bends a clothes hanger into a makeshift rack to hold a small pan above the burning lamp. They roast sausages over the flame. They eat as they study together, dividing up the work so there is time left for play.

But things are tense in the days leading up to Easter, and everyone has suddenly grown serious. The city is full of news about the encroaching communist forces from the north. The army is taking over cities one by one as it makes its way to Saigon, the southern capital. Nha Trang is in the central district of Vietnam and lies not too far down the army’s path.

At the same time, the funds are running low at my father’s church down in the city. He wonders whether they should leave and go home to Saigon and, if they do, what he should do about the new believers. He is not in a position to make a decision. If he continues his work here, he would need to return to Saigon anyway to bring money back. So he asks my mother to make the trip home with him, thinking that if the situation grows worse he can return to Nha Trang on his own and she can stay home with their families.

But she doesn’t want to leave their foundling church alone on its first Easter. For many of the new believers, it will be their first Easter celebration ever. She won’t be alone, she assures him. Her younger brother is here, a student too, and they will stay together if something happens. My father says he will go home and return immediately, in two or three days.

It is Thursday when he leaves.

 ***

My mother is calm when she tells me about Nha Trang. I look for fear and trauma in her eyes, but detect none. I have to prod her for details about this past that is mine yet not at all because I have no memory of it.

Even of Vietnam, where I was born, I have only dim recollections, images that never quite fall together. By that time, Saigon had already fallen, taking on the name of the country’s Communist father, Ho Chi Minh. I remember playing jump rope between the pews of the church where we lived and where my parents continued their ministry. I remember crying to my mom because our cat had scratched me. And I remember climbing out onto the rooftop of our church with my dad to watch him put up a flag. Many years later, surprised I remembered this, he would tell me it was the flag of the new socialist republic: red, with a yellow star in the center.

Not until Toronto do our memories begin to cross. I emigrated with my parents to Canada when I was three and a half, my sister born the year afterwards. My parents had lost a large sum of borrowed money in an initial attempt to flee Vietnam by boat. They had pawned their wedding bands for this failed trip. On the night they were to board the boat, the government announced that all foreign ports had been closed. Forced by circumstances to wait several years, my parents bypassed the violent journey by boat and the brutal waiting period spent in refugee camps, often ending in starvation. Instead, my father’s younger sister in Canada served as our sponsor. My parents borrowed another large sum of money from my grandparents to emigrate. In Toronto, they spent years working to repay debts, years compensating for a life they thought they had left behind.

From the time I was six to ten, we lived at the corner of Tecumseh Street, a walkable distance to the CN Tower in downtown Toronto. Because of my mom’s weak health, my dad took care of my sister and me. Wanting to let my mom rest a little longer in the mornings, my dad was the one who woke me up for school each day with a small tug on the foot underneath my blanket. Then he disappeared to the kitchen where he made me breakfast while I brushed and washed. And as I ate the noodles or the toast that he taught me to dip into hot cocoa, like a biscotti or a croissant, he packed up a juice box and a sandwich for me to bring for lunch.

We’d choose one of two paths to school every day—right or left—either direction taking us around the block to the opposite tip of the diamond. There, we waited for the light to turn and crossed the street to school.

At the school gate, we parted, our lives becoming separate again, diverging paths that would form diverging memories.

I left my dad to join my school friends, the classmates who on some days were my friends and on other days ignored me for what I knew even then were silly reasons—not holding the door open, not giving an answer to homework, or talking to someone we were supposed to ignore that day. Only it seemed that that person was frequently me, and I was always writing notes on notebook paper—Are you my friend? scrawled out above three different colored boxes that I drew for yes, no, and maybe.

On days when we were friends, I gave up my lunch to play with them. They were fast eaters, finishing their sandwiches in five or ten minutes and then bolting off to the playground.

I didn’t look forward to lunch as I did to dinner. My dad unwound from his sermon writing during the day by spending hours in the kitchen, cooking up elaborate meals of Chinese, Vietnamese, or French Vietnamese dishes. In the evenings, guests often dropped by to share the meal with us, knowing there was always an open invitation to dinner at our house.

Lunchtime, however, was about convenience, everything made to fit a sandwich bag. My dad would pack fried spam wedged between white bread. I had to hold onto the sandwich on all sides so the meat wouldn’t fall out. This I didn’t mind as much as the peanut butter sandwiches, which were dry and sticky and made me gag. Worse still were the sandwiches with processed cheese slices that stuck to the bread and clung to the roof of my mouth. If tomatoes were involved, the cheese would have turned to slime by lunchtime, making my sandwich soggy.

The unappetizing lunch won over any thoughts I might have had of my father earlier that morning. The thought of him in the kitchen, the warmth of his hand at my ankle in an awkward tug, my surprise at his mindfulness every morning, a man who never used an alarm clock. Somehow, by midday, these images had already grown faint. The morning was already part of the past by noontime. No longer vivid, no longer real.

Watching my friends take off, I stuffed my sandwich back into its sac and flung the whole bundle into the trash.

And this was how it went nearly every day for one or two years.

How the memory has haunted me afterwards. With a toss of the hand, I chose again and again to forget the morning at noontime. With my irreverence, I unraveled our past, turned back the way things were, as though obliterating the memory of my father in the kitchen, my mother half-asleep in bed. And even farther back, the memories I did not yet have knowledge of—my mother’s pale white face, my father escorting her to the hospital in a pedicab. I didn’t see that our lives, the intricate bits and pieces woven into place, were starting to come undone by my own forgetfulness. I reversed the course of these events, interrupting their sequence, undoing our history.

 ***

One night in Toronto, I dreamt I was kidnapped by vampires. My dad and I were walking to school together, our usual route around the block. But as soon as we reached the gate, it was too late—I was being taken away. They threw me into a cage, one of many strung across the sky like a gondola. I looked down and saw what bore its way into my imagination for months and years afterwards—my dad, growing smaller and smaller as I looked out at him from between the bars of my cage. I knew he would try to come for me, and I wanted to cry out and tell him not to. It wasn’t worth the risk. I screamed, but my voice was hoarse, nearly gone. Don’t try to rescue me, I wanted to say. But nothing came out. It’s useless, I wanted to say. The daughter who throws away the food you make.

*** 

When I ask my mom what she remembers most about that night in Nha Trang, she replies, being on the boat. Feeling dizzy, thinking it will be safer if I jump overboard. It doesn’t even occur to me that I can’t swim.

She tells me how chaos follows almost immediately after my father leaves. People are flooding in from all over, fleeing cities that have already fallen to the Viet Cong. All the shops are closing down, but refugees break through to loot the places. People resort to tearing down their own signs, breaking their own dishes, vandalizing their own homes, to make it seem like they have already been burgled, hoping this way they will be left alone. She cannot believe that the city has changed so much in a night.

Her brother asks her whether they should try to leave or to stay and wait for my father to return. My mother, remembering why she had stayed in the first place, suggests that they hold Good Friday service for the church and then pack to leave.

They walk down into the city to buy bread for communion. The woman at the bakery is shocked to see them out.

Why are you outside? she scolds them.

When they ask for a loaf of bread the woman shoves it at them. Here, take it. Keep your money. Listen to me and go home!

Even in the madness, the new believers come for Good Friday service. They live here and have nowhere to flee.

The service begins.

Her brother prays and breaks bread, speaks the words her husband would have delivered, enacts motions her husband would have performed.

My mother remembers reading on to the passages ahead, taking the congregation through scriptures normally read on Easter morning, because they cannot stay until Sunday. Her heart grieves when the new believers cling to her after the service and beg her and her brother to stay.

If Nha Trang is taken, Saigon will be too, they reason. Stay here with us.

Her heart is heavy when she tells them they must go home, that they must return to their family.

She remembers hiking up the hill back to the seminary, where the other students prepare to leave as well. Someone calls a cab and convinces the driver that there are enough people, worth the drive up the hill. She takes only two items with her: her rice cooker, which was a wedding present, and my father’s violin.

She tells me how the roads are blocked, how they must leave by boat, how they pay their fare and board. She recalls the darkness sweeping over them, no stars, no moon. They wait three or four hours, and she tells me how the boat bobs on the water, how she holds still, feeling sick and faint.

Most of all, she remembers, in the darkness, suddenly making out the shape of another boat, looming larger and larger until, before anyone realizes what is happening, it hits them straight on, shattering the quiet with noise like a bomb. She remembers not feeling safe, leaping to her feet, her mind dizzy, her body moving by reflex, thinking she will escape, the sea will be safer, she will jump.

What are you doing? She remembers her brother’s panicked voice, feels his hand reach out and pull her back. Don’t do it. You can’t swim!

And then, as though her reverie dissolving around her, she remembers, no, that’s right, she can’t swim.

And when the clamor subsides and the passengers settle back into their hunched waiting positions, a rumor begins to spread somewhere on the boat, that the other boatman must have been drunk and couldn’t see where he was going.

At midnight, the moon appears, so bright it seems they are glowing in its beams, and finally the boat begins to move, slowly, careful not to drift too far away from the shore, following the curve of the land back to Saigon.

*** 

I was 23 when she first told me this story, and I have since wondered if these memories ever surfaced in her dreams, in those nighttime visions when she lay half-awake.

Only once in my childhood, do I remember her mentioning the past. One night in Canada, when I was 11 or 12, I awoke to the sound of banging on our door. Then silence. Then the banging returned even louder, and I wondered if someone would get up to open it.

I heard my parents’ bedroom door creak open and my dad coming out to answer the door. From my room I heard two brusque men’s voices.

There’s a report that you have been starving your wife, one of the men said in English. I gathered that they were police officers. They had purposely come in the middle of the night to surprise us.

I was terrified, wondering if I would have to come out and speak to the men for my dad. I was used to being the translator for my parents.

What my dad said in response I don’t remember. I only recall lying on my bed, thinking and praying that everything would be alright without my having to go out and speak to the men.

Then, I panicked and wondered what would happen if I didn’t go out and he didn’t know how to explain the mistake, tell them they must have had the wrong house. The terror at speaking to these strangers pitted against the terror at my father being taken away. I stayed put, paralyzed by indecision, hoping that if I waited long enough, everything would go away. As much as I didn’t want my father taken away, I couldn’t bring myself to come out of the room, to be thrust in the face of strangers in the middle of the night.

It turned out they had the wrong apartment. The morning after, my mom told me she had come out and talked to the policemen. She was not as malnourished or frail as she had been in her youth, and one look at her was enough to show that she was not being starved. And, for the first time that I recall, I learned that there were in fact memories from Vietnam that surfaced for her. There were nights when a knock on their door had meant letting in communist officials who scoured their home, looking for a reason to arrest them. Why was there not a picture of Ho Chi Minh in their home? they were asked. They had hardly thought it appropriate to put his picture up in the church sanctuary, but they kept this reason to themselves. My father led the officials into the upper room behind the sanctuary, where he explained to them that this was their living quarters and they had thought it better for Ho Chi Minh’s picture to reside there. But the officials returned. Again and again, they came back to take my father to their headquarters where they made him write out his personal history and his confessions, scrutinizing over each repetition in attempt to catch some discrepancy, a slip in memory that they could manipulate into cause for arrest. For my parents, there was reason to hold tightly to their memories.

***

On the eve of Good Friday, back in 1975, my father does not yet know all he will face in the years following communist victory.

He leaves Nha Trang by bus. It is so crowded everyone stands tightly, unable to move. He is not sure where exactly he is anymore, but he is heading in the direction of Saigon.

Suddenly a loud noise, like an explosion, sounds. The man standing next to my father panics, thinking a bomb has struck. He lunges for cover and jumps from the bus. My father watches him hit the road and die.

It’s not until the bus advances along the road that my father sees what has happened. The bus ahead of them is overloaded, and its tire has blown. That was the noise he’d heard.

But the buses are no use anymore. They discover that the roads have been blocked, and everyone must get home by boat instead.

When my father finally arrives home after a long journey, he is greeted by his father’s scolding. No sooner does he walk in the door, his father, seeing him alone, is full of reproach. Where is his wife? Why is he at home, and why is he alone? Why didn’t he bring her home with him? Does he know what’s happening? Does he know that Nha Trang is about to be taken? That the central district might be sealed off from the south? He may never see his wife again! Does he know this?

My father is headstrong. He did not just fight his way home to be scolded like a child. He explains that he’s come home to bring money back and to ask about what to do with the church there. His father is not happy about this. Not only has he come back without his wife, but now he has to leave again to go back for her.

My father storms out, finds his way to his own church. His pastor tells him there is nothing left to do. They will have to dissolve the church and return home. Everything is changing. It can’t be helped.

Hearing this, my father rushes to the airport, asking the authorities to let him get on the next flight to Nha Trang.

There are no flights, he’s told.

He explains that he is a minister, working for the church. He tells them he has an emergency.

And because the current regime values the pursuit of religious faith, they make an exception and try to help him. They tell him they will put him on a military helicopter, one sending supplies to the troops north of Saigon. The pilot says he will notify him as soon as he can leave.

My father waits for a day and a half, anxious.

Finally, he receives word that nobody can leave.

He panics, not knowing what to do. Everything has been closed off. The planes are unable to land.

He returns home, utterly dejected. His younger sister opens the door for him, and when she sees his face, she keeps silent. He heads straight for his bed in the corner of the room, hoping the unconsciousness of sleep will take him away from the world, from possibilities he does not want to face.

***

We spend entire lives next to each other, only to wake up unknowing and unknown. How does one person understand another’s memory? How do we explain our own? How will I ever truly know about the boat rocking in the dark waters, the explosion in the night, the imminent drips of bitter coffee that fall like time distilled, petering out until time is no more?

We think that by knowing we will understand. That by understanding we will know how to react. Only to face disappointment, to realize that the tragedy is not living in lack of knowledge, but to know and not understand, worse, to know and forget.

In a waking dream, I see the world suspended, the mind hovering above an abyss carved in time. It churns, contemplating its move. What does it know? How far does it see? A girl sick and dying on her bed, told she must never study again. A boat moving towards her in the darkness, her husband far away. Neither of them could see that far. Neither of them knew how things would end, that lying there in his bed in the corner, disappointed after waiting a day and a half, he would hear a knock at the door and open it to find her and her brother, standing, looking back at him. Knowing this ending, would they risk it all again?

Knowledge of the future somehow carries more weight than knowledge of the past. If we knew how our lives would play out later, we might live more wisely now. But how do we live more wisely now knowing how our past has played out?

I am haunted by the horror of loss. Of the possibility of loss. The possibility that all of life and love could be thrown away with a flick of the wrist, a toss of the hand. And the fear that that hand might be mine.

I fear that I will look out and see my parents, and my memory will have faded, no recognition of who they are, who I am, and what we are doing here. I will cry but be voiceless. I will want to move, but instead stand paralyzed, wracked with fear and indecision.

I will look out across the chasm and see my parents growing smaller and smaller, fading away from me, until nothing is left but the hollow before me, and peering into the dark abyss I see my own nonexistence—what could have been—like an endless pattern of emptiness, into infinity.

***

So I listen and I cling desperately, not knowing what will slip between the cracks and what will be left. In the dark, she holds me and strokes my face. I listen to her voice, her stories making their way into my dreams. In the morning, I will have faint recollections. I will think, I have heard this before.