MARJA'S DREAM

I close my eyes to dream but hear explosions, sirens that signal approaching danger. I see flashes of grenades and I can judge the distance to danger and also to the possible escape routes.
As when I was a child, the same fears return to haunt me almost every night, reducing me to fight for a way out of this sleepless night, to find relief. I wait, now as then, for my fatigue to overcome me, to allow me to sink into a disturbed peace, on a tightrope between the bad dreams and slumber, knowing that the nightmares are ready to come alive in a perpetual terrifying movie, where I replay my escape with my family. My nightly film is violent, full of demons that ravage my Country, my People, my Childhood, inflicting me with a pain that I can never ignore. I would like to be able to simply click on my memory like on a computer, deleting the file named "Vietnam 1970" – containing the smells of fear, sweat, excrement, and war. I need to cancel my unforgettable past, to remove it by the healing of writing. I HAVE to write about those years, about what happened, and to pass my history on to my daughters. My inheritance without a dowry; the only treasure of my life...
I run, but I do not know why I'm running, my fatigue confuses my thoughts. I cry. Others are also crying around me, I'm tired, I'm hungry, thirsty, every thing is heavy. I'm ill and aching, but still I must run, all of us must run away. I was born running away, but this is a different race, this is the beginning of the final race.

I started running in the womb of my mother in 1969. She ran protecting her womb, called me Thyu "I miss you already." Mother was expecting to die, hence lose my life as well, but my father saved our lives making an exchange with three truckloads of weapons. I do not know where that merchandise came from, but I'm certain that blood and pain was its price. 
My father was an expert in guerrilla warfare and knew the territory and his enemies, were they Viet Cong, American or Chinese. This was Vietnam in the '50s, he had learned the craft of death in the Foreign Legion. The Castor operation allowed him to profit. Buying and selling weapons to whosoever asked for his services since it was to support a wife who he loved and as many children as he had fingers. 
In my memory, running was what we had to do every day, because if you did not run, you were dead. For children the world over, to run and hide naturally means playtime. Hide and Seek is a global game, except for Marlene, my lost sister. We passed our days between swimming in the Mekong and playing games, trying not to blow ourselves up or hurt ourselves with the armaments that the Americans had abandoned in the streets. 

At the first sign of danger you learnt to hide away. I was very afraid of everything that went on around me. I was hoping every day for a magic spell, as only children can create in their mind. I began to dream for a spell to come true after watching a film stolen from an American Military camp: "Eternal Youth". This film recounted the story of a man who would be able to stay young forever, if he was able to find three keys hidden in three towers beyond seven forests. Together, these keys would control the flow of time, to allow him to remain young and move as he wanted. This was everything I wanted, to stay in a small safe world and to be removed from what my eyes saw.
Shortly after my father took us away from that improvised cinema, a rocket attack struck us, cutting into the legs of many children.  In my dream, there's that chapter, but also another scene with a plane that moves down a runway and lifts off in leaps that make us hug each other crying. It is the monster that will take us out of Vietnam. Now this is the scene where my real nightmare begins. The scream that issues from my mouth does not reduce my pain. I cry and wake up with a splitting headache. But I continue to dream, even when I am peeling potatoes to make gnocchi for the girls. My mind works like a projector, playing back the scenes on those jungle paths, between the trees. I feel the damp humidty on my skin that pulls me back with fatigue. And my father and mother are there. I see my mother conversing with her sisters. She was a very beautiful woman. She had special skills to deal with American, French, Vietnamese. With her aunts she opened a gambling house. They held shows and served much liquor and infiltrated themselves amongst the soldiers. Alcohol swallowed in abundance was a good ally to receive information that could be sold or used in retaliation. Those women, known as the "long-haired army" helped families affected by the horrors of war. My mother worked hard for the resistance, whilst my father disappeared into the forest for weapons and combat training. She taught us that if we children wanted to be fighters we needed to overcome our fear! And while our parents were away, if there were alarms or sirens, we children were entrusted to other adults. At the first sign of danger, we quickly abandoned all our activities to take refuge underground. Thus, for days we hid in burrows under the feet of soldiers who had come to kill. To get us through our fear and to avoid crying, we dug further holes and tunnels in the bunker floor.

The departure - In my continued dream finally comes the point of departure which breaks me in two, like a reed from the Mekong River. We are at the airport and my family has just managed to cross the gates. Barbed-wire is everywhere. A stream of people moves forward towards the aircraft. The soldiers shout: "Go, Go." Then the boarding is halted, and the military push away those desperate to leave. My sister Marlene remains on the ground, by the aircraft. She screams with all her strength and her scream remains inside me like the sirens that warned of the bombings. I remember her words in this way: "Ong thay (Honorable Deity, my Father), mea mea, (Mama) come back." Crying, cutting her hands on the barbed wire, the blood flows onto the sleeves of her dress and disfigures her face. We try to reach her, but the soldiers point their guns and shoot in the air, stopping our attempts. Marlene continued to shout: "Do not leave me, take me!" These are the last words I remember my sister, fifteen years old, a tiny form, with a large conical straw hat tied under her chin. Then comes a wall of tears and screams. We are pushed into the plane and we run to the side windows to try to glimpse her, but the chaos has engulfed her.
It seemed to us that the soldiers fired on the crowd and for a moment I saw a hat in the crowd. The plane moved along the runway to rise up in the air. I felt then and I still feel a tragic and deep sorrow for not having brought Marlene with me and my friends, but I was only little, without the magic that I yearned for, helpless in the face of an evil so great. The dream continues. I'm in a room where I talk to a woman with her shoulders turned. I wish that she could be my lost sister. I try to speak to her and beg her to let me see her face, or to let me see the straw hat that she wears. But she does not answer and leaves, taking my daughters with her, by their hands. I wake up suddenly, finding the aching void that I know so well.

With my daughters I wrote this song:

"The last time that I saw you, dear sister, Marlene, I did not know that we would have died together that day. After such a long time an image still remains, you clinging to the fence. When can we hug again? I remember you refusing to eat your rice, so that you could to offer it to others. And your presence was my defense against the fear that never left me. I miss you. I never asked to be born into that land, but now I can not remove it. I cannot remove your memory either. "

This is what is left of me, Marja Thyu, after our departure. Sometimes it seems to me that I am condemned to transmit my torment to my daughters, as if it was an infectious disease. The disease that makes me suffer in all aspects of my daily life. I am speaking of the "no" I hear, every time I apply for a decent job, perhaps because I have almond eyes. Then my fear of being a bad mother. Each insecurity and failure makes me relive my greatest fears. For ages, I felt that I was nobody, coming from no-man's land, belonging to nobody. Today in Italy, as in Vietnam, therefore, my objective is to avoid death. Maybe in other forms, in smaller doses, but it is always for me a struggle to survive. My two daughters offer me strength; our difficult life is pleasant even if we have hardship. 
But we have to train to recover our lost Marlen, somewhere. To find a way to find her. For her.

THE REASON

Marja needs to tell me her story. Immediately, urgently, simultaneously reordering her multitude of thoughts into a logical flow of dates and events. Her words describe such vivid memories that they draw me into each episode, reliving the experiences as if I was there with her. It's an un-ending loop of the strongest sentiments, where the meaning of the word "surviving" takes on a bittersweet flavor that I had never tasted before. Her urgency infects me, I also need to catalogue these accounts in an ordered sequence to accept them, putting the masses of memories into neat rows as you do in the Spring with geranium pots on the balcony.

I am her daughter's teacher;

One September morning in the kindergarten where I work, Marja cradles in her arms a small girl, freckled, with ash-blond hair, twisted in African braiding, and whispers, "Sirya, you must stay with her." and points to me with a slow sinuous movement. "I will return here and collect you after I get the hat."
Sirya and I follow her with our eyes as she departs, wrapped in her flowing clothing, colorful, anxious to keep an appointment that we didn't fully understand. I become a more than a teacher for Sirya, she and her mother will become my extended family.

Then there is also Nicole, Sirya's big sister by ten years. The three form a strong family of diminutive women, street performers, who survive by inventing movements and dances, constructing objects from recycled plastic bottles, re-telling long-forgotten stories. Marja performs with her two daughters in the town-squares, at festivals, on a makeshift stage the size of a cardboard box opened with a knife. The backdrop is a large sheet, full of clothes pegs and gaudy shirts. Sampled music accompanies the movement of their bodies trained to dance with fire and writhe in harmony. Finally a hat appears, a Beret of yellow canvas, designed by Sirya and Nicole, which is never full enough. For this reason.

Back in time... When she escaped from Vietnam, Marja was six years old, with eight brothers, a mother from the militant army of long-hairs and a father, Luigi, who had been a Legionnaire, subsequently became a mercenary in South East Asia for over twenty years.
Returning to Italy after a long absence in which Luigi had participated in a series of conflicts, he wished to renew his relations with the Valle d'Aosta and with relatives who believed him to be long dead, instead one day they found him on their doorstep.

Marja grew up quickly in Valle d'Aosta, adapting to the chill mountain temperatures, fontina cheese, black bread. Her mother, however, suffered in this new home. She is not accustomed to the hard temperatures and her health and body declined. A women, trained in guerrilla warfare, capable of dealing with great men like chopping down small trees, is taken by an invisible enemy that destroys the soul. The housework in the home left to the family by her old father in-law isolates her, and prevents her from learning the language of the New World. The icy silence of the seclusion crushes her. Soon her husband and her children begin to use the new language which she cannot get used to, for her it becomes the sound a betrayal.

Even Luigi, the father of Marja, is confused, and becomes emaciated. He takes care of children, a task almost unknown to him, using absurd discipline of war still in his head. He used to place them in line, shouting orders out of place in this new place. The boys escape, or hide away. Luigi did not relent. With eleven mouths to feed, without the love of the family in return, he goes crazy. His anger, pours over Marja, who becomes the target of his wrath. Relatives of Aosta Valley are to him a just a further problem, which Luigi deals with dramatically, as a soldier, and he obtains a court blocking order without appeal.
"Who is this stranger who claims to command?" the relatives say between themselves. So they exclude Luigi, or rarely have work for him, rewarding him with thin soups that do not nourish. Reduced to an evil shadow of himself, with no dignity or feeling for his life-blood in his veins, this was the end of a man who only some time before was a lethal combat weapon, handsomely paid. So he reflects; If only his Vietnamese wife, pregnant with Marja, had not been arrested ... if there had not been the urgency to find attractive bounty material for her release... there would have been no need to escape from Vietnam. In that country, all of them would have been better-off. Trading and their gambling house had been a good earner, but his wife and her sisters had wanted to overdo it and the Americans were resentful, imprisoning them without ceremony. The US soldiers didn't want to know of Marja's mother's pregnancy, they joked that Vietnamese women were always pregnant like rabbits.
The women stole money from the US officers, now the Americans wanted it back and asked Luigi for a barter of three weapons trucks. Luigi agreed. People had died at his hands. He was able to steal Vietcong army weapons, relying only on his skill and physical strength, this had meant killing, betraying, and finally escaping in the dust between bursts of machine guns, with his wife who had given birth a few hours before to Marja.

Now in Valle d'Aosta, Luigi looks at his daughter, Marja, and realizes that she no longer resembles the soft bundle that come into the world during an act of war. Marja is changing: she is beautiful, smart, and tempting. The men look at her in a certain way. It is a matter of time before she will return home to him, made pregnant by some man. In the mind of Luigi, for the good of all, it is better to drive her away. In their house there is no room for others from outside the family.

Marja, at fourteen, escapes and begins to live on the street in cardboard boxes. She frequents stragglers. The men hunt her, women protect her. She dances to drive away to her nightmares that torment her and the flames of the communal fire, precious companion of the night, become her training, her agility, her art.

If it were not for the dream that haunts her, it would have been a reasonable state of affairs. But every time she falls asleep, the cries of Marlen, her sister that remained on the runway at the Ho Chi Minh City wake her up, Marje's heart beating as if it wants to explode against her ribs.
This terrifying dream repeats itself incessantly;

Marlen wants to be saved. The dream scenes are always the same: a few steps between the two sisters, a wire-fence, soldiers everywhere, shoving, screams. The plane on the runway ready, dropped clothing everywhere, stench, terrified eyes wide open, automatons who only know how to run away from the bombs, from the gas, hunger, disease, suffering. The gates close, the plane begins to move slowly and the cries of t he abandoned people penetrate the noise of the engines. Her father and mother, inside the plane, planting their nails in the metal to make room for their missing daughter of fifteen, to make even Marlen. For this reason.

Then, flying over the city at night with colors and lights that light up like bombs, landing in Italy to findpeople who reject them, because Luigi and his family do not appear in any official list. They are not expected.

This was exactly what happened. The Legion did not remember Luigi, he was not registered. When he declared that he was Italian, he was sent to Rome, to the consulate.
It was the Christmas Eve of 1975 when the family arrived in Rome. The offices close one after another, delegating the security guard to protect this small tribe that arrived out of nowhere, and is out of place and from another time. No pension, no economic security for the legionnaire from Aosta! For two days they lived on sweets found in the Consulate desk drawers and half a chicken offered by the guard. Luigi then decided to return to Val D'Aosta and broke down the Consulate door to escape. In Valle d'Aosta, his father recognizes with difficulty, in the stranger before him, the son that he has not seen for over twenty years.

So Marlen appears to be lost forever. But Marja now knows what to do. She will travel back to Vietnam, to find her sister. She tells everyone to convince herself and to give herself courage. For this reason.

Angel falls in love with Marja, her almond eyes and luminous skin. He knows of her dream to return to Vietnam, but does not consider this as important. He desires her and decides to stay with her, despite his family, which alienates them, but within the shelter of his love and passion, everything appears achievable, and tranquil. Nicole is born and the love for her own daughter reopens a torment for her lost sister. Angel is adamant: no Vietnam. Marja feels that they can be a good family for other children in addition to his daughter. Angel organises the custody of a young girl who reminds Marja of her lost sister, Marlen. In a short time, the custody triples, since the new Marlen has two other brothers in the community and Marja pines for their fate. Angel gives in, but does not appreciate the enlarged family and falls in love with another woman. He abandons all the children, and Marja, and disappears without a trace. Marja, Nicole and the new kids are again on the streets. They retrain in the art of survival, earning pocket money for food, for clothing, for another day. "For this reason".

Marja presents herself punctually at each inspection by the social services; she would die rather than give up her kids. She does not ask anyone for help. She attends country fairs, town festivals. They move by train, hidden in the bathroom, the children follow her, help her. With their small revenues they are able to rent a flat.

But the memory of Marlen is always there and Marja begins to think that this dream is her destiny.

Sirya comes in a moment of discouragement, from Marja's need to be in the arms of a man, but who did not remain. At this time, the original family of the children in Marja's foster care retook charge of their children. Marja becomes a "handyman" and can adapt to any job. She continues to dance at local festivals, helped by Nicole. Seldom some coins fall into her hat, but everything helps.

Marja recently found a part-time job. With what she earns, she does wonders to get by. Chasing her dream. She hopes to leave soon for Vietnam, although clearly recognizes that her dream is an uphill struggle. The girls promise that they will accompany her. Nicole says she believes in her mother's dream, but in the meantime she holds a phone to continuously vibrates, while with her sports training, Sirya has a busy agenda.

I do not know if Marlen is alive, and if one day Marja will be able to find her. I like to think of her as a woman smiling, surrounded by a lot of young family members.

In search of my identity from the dust of life that I left over there in Vietnam, these are my emotions and my memories that don't know the time, only moments of my childhood, that fate has rocked like old days of distant chimes, including embroidery season and patches of life along this path. I chased a dream season long 144... but that is slowly revealing


Nothing would have been without the help of God and yours
Marja

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