The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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This was a moment between my mother and my uncle – who is my mother’s younger brother, who she loved dearly. 

My uncle was born with a brain disease that caused him to become unable to control half of his body, as well as damage many of his cognitive functions. This rendered him unable to speak or be intelligently aware of his surroundings and his actions.

When this happened, my mother was in 5th grade. As my family was financially unstable as a result of the Vietnam War, and my grandma had to work tirelessly to feed the family, my mother was tasked with taking care of my uncle. This resulted in many incidents that came and went. 3 years after this story, my uncle died at the age of 8 due to complications from his illness. 

My mother was a bit teary when retelling me this story. She wished that she could have done more for him and regretted many of her childish actions. 

All pictures are done by me.

Forever and always

I run into the room as my brother Tom screams in agony as blood drips down from his pink cheek.  Tears, mixed with blood, fall onto the glass shards all over the floor, and on the broken vase lying next to him. Even though I am his older sister, the sight left me standing shocked, confused and paralyzed:

How did my younger brother, a five-year-old, get himself into this mess?

But then, at the sight of my young brother breaking down both physically and mentally, I take a long breath... and heed to my brother Tom. Picking off the glass shards on his body, I whisper softly:

“It will be alright now… don’t you cry…  Me -  your sister - is here.”

I bring Tom to his favorite spot in the house – our backyard. The green mossy walls, the soft afternoon light, and the gentle breeze seem to subdue him.

With a cotton piece, I gently wipe the blood and the small fragments from the many small cuts on his face, arms, and legs.  With each wipe, he yells in pain and struggles to escape my grasp. With each wipe, I seem to tear up from the painful expression on his face as I try desperately to hold back Tom, and my emotions:

“Now, now! Don’t move! I’m trying to help you here Tom!” 

Calmed by my voice, my brother stops struggling as he grits his teeth, allowing me to wipe the blood off his wounds. I take a close look at him, at his silky black hair fluttering in the wind, his big brown eyes, at his blushing cheek covered in little cuts, his small thin arms covered with scars from his many mischiefs…  

Tom is such a trouble-maker… How many times has he caused trouble already?

Like the time Tom refused to eat and made a huge scene. I scolded him in frustration.  

Like the time Tom fell from the stair and cried a lot. I yelled at him in anger.

Like the time Tom tried swallowing dirt and filth. I hit him in childish anger.

Like the time Tom was sobbing from my grandpa’s death. I cried with him in sympathy.

Like the time Tom was frightened by the neighbor’s kids who threw rocks at him. I protected Tom in my love for him…


I remember the doctor saying he would only live till three. It’s a miracle Tom is still here with me...

I finish patching my brother up. Holding Tom’s hand tight, I kiss his forehead gently. My brother suddenly looks me in the eyes. For the first time, I think Tom is aware of himself, aware of his sister, and aware of his own tragedy. He suddenly embraces me. I feel the warmth of his small body, his small beating heart, filled with fear, love, and sadness. I hold him as tight as I possibly can… The embrace lasts for eternity…

I’m here with you, little brother. Forever, and always…

Forever and always

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1970s
Saigon, Vietnam

This was a moment between my mother and my uncle – who is my mother’s younger brother, who she loved dearly.

My uncle was born with a brain disease that caused him to become unable to control half of his body, as well as damage many of his cognitive functions. This rendered him unable to speak or be intelligently aware of his surroundings and his actions.

When this happened, my mother was in 5th grade. As my family was financially unstable as a result of the Vietnam War, and my grandma had to work tirelessly to feed the family, my mother was tasked with taking care of my uncle. This resulted in many incidents that came and went. 3 years after this story, my uncle died at the age of 8 due to complications from his illness.

My mother was a bit teary when retelling me this story. She wished that she could have done more for him and regretted many of her childish actions.

All pictures are done by me.

Decade: 1970s
Rating:
Recorded by An Bui on June 6, 2018
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