The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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My dad left Vietnam as the Vietnam War was coming to an end and the communists were ready to claim victory. He was a refugee and along with his family, boarded a ship to take them somewhere away from the devastation of the war. Stuck on the ship, it was easy to feel lost, not having a clue where you would end up or not seeing any sight of land.

In his head, he etched another tally onto the marbled memorial. That was the fifteenth mark since he first started. Each tally, was a remembrance for every sunset that had fallen, a count for each day that waned, spent on that rundown ship that reeked of dead fish from the last catch before its purpose was changed and lack of hygiene, not by choice but sheer circumstance, among those trapped aboard.

The mental tally was a necessity as every day stranded afloat on the boat was very much like those that had preceded it. He would wake up tired, unable to sleep on the hard and cold floor, interrupted on the hour by the unsteady shaking of the ship drifting through the ocean.

Feeling the insatiable rumble of his stomach, he would scour the hull, searching for scraps to tame the beast. Not once did he ever find a crumb.

The starboard was where the majority of his days were spent. There weren’t many other ways to waste time besides leaning over the metal guard rails, the only thing protecting him from giving into the darkness, and staring out into the vast emptiness of the ocean and allowing your mind to go adrift with the boat. He would often call out to the ocean, but the only response would be absolute silence.

Staring out into the sea was like a broken recording stuck on repeat; the same scene of waves crashing against the side of the ship and nothing but water out there, growing sour with every repetition. Every now and then, you might catch something that you didn’t notice before in the recording like a turtle popping up for air, but even that grew stale after the first time.

In his trance while looking out into the sea, he would be in an internal struggle, his soul and willpower staving off the hopelessness. Being at a disconnect with society for such a period of time, it is easy to be tempted by the allure of sorrow. Losing everything that you’ve been accustomed to within a mere instance is disheartening and enough to break spirits and wills.

As the stars began to illuminate the night sky, signaling that dusk was ready to settle in, he heard his mom call for dinner just as she would back home.

“Long, it’s dinner time! Come eat!” she shouted over the waves.

Sitting on the floor in a circle with his family, the same conversation of the day before would ensue.

“What did you do today?” his mother asked.

“Look at the water” he replied washing down the tiny portion of rice with spoiled milk.

“Doesn’t it get boring? What are you looking for out there? ” she asked.

Long gave no response, silence hung in the air.

“Don’t worry, we won’t be here much longer. Just a few more days. Be strong like I know you are” his mother coaxed.

He would curl up on the cold hard floor, having trouble sleeping once more and restarting the cycle and thinking about what his mom said. He never got bored of it. His favorite part of the dull and recurring routine was leaning over that rail and looking out to the ocean. He loved it because there was always a marginal chance of seeing something that he may have not seen before, the sight of land. Only then, the broken recording might not be so broken after all.

Stuck at Sea

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After the Vietnam War
Out on the ocean

My dad left Vietnam as the Vietnam War was coming to an end and the communists were ready to claim victory. He was a refugee and along with his family, boarded a ship to take them somewhere away from the devastation of the war. Stuck on the ship, it was easy to feel lost, not having a clue where you would end up or not seeing any sight of land.

Decade: 1970s
Rating:
Recorded by Tyler Le on June 3, 2019
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