Wedding Vow

December 9, 2011
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“You can’t just turn away and leave!” – She shouted as he turned away and left.

The door shut in front of her. She was alone in the big and empty room now. She collapsed on the chair and started crying. She didn’t know what to do. What was she supposed to do when her husband came home one day and told her that he had to go to war in another country?
In the corner of her eye, she saw their wedding picture. They both had such big and happy smiles. The stream of sunlight from the window blazed his wedding ring. She remembered saying her vow as she put it on his finger. Her voice echoed in the room: “…I want to be yours and you to be mine: just you and me – a family…I want you to know that I am behind you even when you turn away and leave…Secrets will never be between us, but love is what is always there…”
Her eyes moved to the picture of a little boy next to it. He was about three years old with bright eyes and a big smile. She wondered what he was thinking when the picture was taken. Did he know what would happen to him the next day? Did he know that it would be his last picture, his last smile? What was his name again? She couldn’t pull the name out of her heart; the sound of it was too far away.
“It’s Nam.” That’s right. Her husband just said that in the fight just minutes ago. “It’s Nam.” He repeated. “I need to go back.”
“We came here for a reason.”
“And I have a reason to come back.”
“He’s dead!” She broke her heart.
“That’s the reason,” he repeated.
“Remember what you told me when we first arrived? Remember the whole ‘new start, new home, new family’ talk? Remember when you held me in your arms and told me that I would always have you? What happened to all those promises?” She buried her face in his hands.
“We need to finish the past before we start the future. And you will always have me. Sweetheart, I was wrong. I can’t just leave the people there. I can’t just leave our country there.”
She looked up into his eyes. Those were Nam’s eyes too. She remembered how bright they were, and how they used to look at her like she was the whole world. Then, those eyes closed and he was gone. She couldn’t let these eyes close too. She couldn’t let him be gone, too.
“That’s not our country anymore. They are not our people anymore. You have a life, a wife, a career here. What about me? What about our family, our home?”
“You know, every time I close my eyes at night, I see Nam’s smile. Remember Xam, Nam’s dog? Remember the day he died? He was trying to save the little girl next door from the bomb. You know what I said to Nam when he was crying his heart out? I said ‘Nam, Xam died for a greater good. He died in honor and pride. Stop crying and be proud of him.’ I often wonder if Nam would be proud of me. Would he be proud of a father who betrayed him, betrayed his little world of honor and pride? Honey, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t lie to myself anymore. I want to be able to look at his eyes, the ones that look just like mine, at night in my dreams. I need to go.” He let go of her, turned away and left.

Nam was still smiling at her in the picture. She loved how just a smile from him could make her world much better.
“Nam, baby, what are you doing in your father’s dreams? Do you want him to go? You can’t take him with you. Remember how you used to kiss my tears and tell me not to cry? Nam, honey, I will cry if your father goes back to Vietnam. I lost you there. I can’t lose him!” She talked to the picture as if he were alive. How much she wished that he was alive. Imagine how different things would be if he was alive. If only he were alive.

She fell on the floor. She realized that she couldn’t have him back no matter how much she wanted to. There was no turn-around at the corner of death. There was nothing she could do and she had accepted it, hadn’t she? She had accepted before she walked on that plane and left that country. She accepted that she would never find her son again. She pinched her nails into her palm so hard that it bled so that she wouldn’t look back. She lost and she surrendered. Then why did all those nightmares come back and haunt her again? All she wanted was a family.

There was a Vietnamese proverb saying: you can lose once, but not twice. She lost to life once, but not again. She lost her son, but not her husband. She would pay the world to have her son back; she would pay the world to have her husband stay.

What could she do? How could she hold him back? The flash of Nam’s smile crossed her mind. What if she was pregnant? That was it. He couldn’t just leave her by herself while she was pregnant. But she was apparently not. And it wasn’t something like a snap of a finger. She couldn’t just get pregnant in one or two days. It couldn’t be true, but it could be a lie. It was a white lie, she justified. Eventually, she would be pregnant; her husband would stay, and her family would be complete.

Then, she thought about how he was so happy when Nam was born. It was the first time she saw him crying. He held little infant Nam in his arm as if he was the world to him. She remembered how he was so afraid too. He was so afraid that he would drop the baby; he held him like a fragile piece of glass. Then the glass did get broken - the second time she saw him crying. She couldn’t do this to him. What could she possibly say to him when he found out that she wasn’t pregnant? How could she do this to him after seeing what he had been through when Nam died? She couldn’t and she wouldn’t. The option vanished from her head.

What else could she do? What about committing suicide? That would be too cruel to him. She couldn’t hold him back by leaving him. What if she just pretended to do so? What if the cut was not deep enough to take her life away? He still would have to stay, wouldn’t he? But again, if this method worked, Romeo and Juliet would not be this famous. Her husband did not deserve to go through this tragedy. He wasn’t strong enough for this….He wasn’t strong enough. That was it! One couldn’t go to war if he wasn’t strong enough, or well enough. He needed to be not well enough.

Her hands were shaking. She had been standing outside this pharmacy for more than an hour. “You have done the research. The drug won’t hurt him,” she kept telling herself over and over again. The brand of the drug kept flashing in her head with bold and capitalized letters: AMBIEN. That was it. That was what would save her husband, her family. It would only make him sleepy and tired all day. She would just use it until the thought of going to Vietnam passed his head. Then she would win this battle. She remembered reading through all the precautions: people with allergies with zolpidem, people having surgery, people with kidney and liver condition… She checked every possibility for accident. She knew about the drug now even better than the doctor did. It was just a sleeping pill. It would save her family. She looked at the wedding ring sparkling on her finger: I want to be yours and you to be mine: just you and me – a family. She opened the door to the pharmacy.

She was sleeping. She knitted her brows as if she was having a bad dream. He thought of the peaceful sleep she used to have. In those days, he used to turn to her peaceful face when he couldn’t fall asleep. It had its magic way to comfort him and put him to sleep. He missed that face now even though he had always been sleepy lately. He put his finger on her temple to ease it down. He kissed her forehead and got out of bed. Love is what always between us.

Tick.Tock.Tick.Tock. The clock pointed to 2 o’clock in the morning. He was looking at Nam’s picture like he always did when he felt uneasy. He touched the head of the boy in the picture. I’ll be there soon, he muttered.

Tick.Tock.Tick.Tock. The clock sounded extraordinarily loud now. Nam’s smile was getting blurry. He shook his head to look at the picture more clearly. It helped; the picture did become clearer. He could see the bright eyes of his son now. They were looking back at him like an invitation. They looked so real as if he was walking out from the picture. Wait, he was walking out from the picture. Nam held one of his hands out. And he took it.

Tick.Tock.Tick.Tock.It was 5 o’clock in the morning. It had been 3 hours since she found her husband collapsed in the living room. It had been 2 hours and 17 minutes since he was taken to the Emergency Room. Tick.Tock.Tick.Tock. She felt her heart stop beating.

Angels looked like this she guessed: white coat, soft hands, and warm eyes. One of the angels was holding her hand. His voice sounded distant: “….Your husband has liver cancer…The zolpidem in the Ambien medication reacted with his condition….The liver could not metabolize the drug….It made his condition worse…liver cancer…surgery…liver cancer…zolpidem…liver cancer, Ambien…liver cancer….” The angel’s eyes were warm but not as bright as her husband’s and Nam’s. They looked dark and sullen. They matched his voice though. His voice sounded sad and tired. She wanted to hug him: Angel, it will be alright!

“…I mean every single word I said in our wedding vow: …I want to be yours and you to be mine: just you and me – a family…I want you to know that I am behind you even when you turn away and leave…Secret is never between us, but love is what always there…But I can’t keep it. I have a secret. I have never gotten over Nam’s death. The color of my life has been the redness of his blood ever since. I’ve tried so hard to overcome it, I swear. I thought America would be the solution, for me, for you, for our family. But it isn’t.

I think of him every day and every night. I think of him when I’m awake and when I’m asleep. I hear his voice, his laugh, and his cry all the time. I hear him calling me. I hear him laughing with other children. I hear him crying when he is alone. I see him too, even. He is walking with Xam. He is running up the hill behind our old house in Vietnam. He is climbing the tree in front of the old church. He is waving at me. The last time I saw him we even talked. I said: ‘I love you.’ ‘You left me’, he replied.

You will hate me; you have the right to. I’m sorry I have liver cancer. By the way, I have liver cancer. I’m sorry I can’t spend these last days with you. I need to do something so that I can look at him when I come to see him.

I love you, and always will.”

She weeps her tears, folds the letter, and puts it back under the pillow where she has found it. She needs to pack some clothes for him. How is the weather in Vietnam now?

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