It is Sunday evening. My bag is packed and I am ready to leave. The chaos of the last few days has finally stopped and I enjoy the silence that reigns in my apartment. Outside, the night is quiet as it always is after a blizzard.
In a few hours, I will be sitting on a plane on my way to Vietnam. I try to imagine what it will be like to arrive there, but I have no image of this country, no reference. I don't know the people, the customs or the smells.
My father never talked about Vietnam. He would refuse to talk about it to anyone who tried to go there. When he was asked questions, he simply did not answer. Between his past and our present, there was a wall of silence that we never broke through.
We knew a few facts about him. That he came from the south, from a village called Sa Dec. That he came from a family of nine children of which he was the youngest. That his father was a teacher, a very respectable profession in Vietnam. We also knew that he had left Vietnam on a scholarship to study civil engineering abroad. He had been offered to study in Australia, Germany or Canada - he chose to come to Montreal.
That was all.
By his silence, my father made us believe that the story of his life began the day he arrived in Canada. It was as if he was born a second time when he stepped off the plane that August day in 1967. Certainly, he convinced us that there was nothing before that date that was worth telling. We accepted this selective omission without questioning it.
I carried this oversight. I even came to believe that my story began in May 1982, on Rue des Gouverneurs in Quebec City. That I was a "real" Quebecer. Moreover, as a child, when you listened to my words, you couldn't distinguish me from a girl of Quebec parents. I managed to make people forget the Asian features of my face. I wore my father's amnesia with pride.
And the years passed. The little Flora grew up, this memory hole too. Like a parasite, it was eating away at me from the inside. By the time I was a teenager, it had already become a gaping hole, a black hole that sucked up everything. I tried everything to fill it, to get rid of it. But nothing helped.
This hole that I carry within me is this hiatus in my paternal genealogy. The secrets, the unspoken and the amnesias in families create gaps in the individuals who are part of them. Today, I know that I must rewrite this part of my history that my father usurped.
This is what I intend to do in Vietnam: to reweave my father's story in order to better understand my own. Restore the memory. Investigate it, imagine it, invent it. To fill the silence with words.