You can’t escape your past, it always follows you. You can only turn around and summon the courage to face it.
Matt Pim was Vietnamese and American. In Vietnam, before he was born, his blue-eyed father hugged the woman who called him husband, stroked her pregnant stomach, and told her, “I’ll be back.” But he never returned.
Ten years later, Matt’s mother pushed him into a swarm of children around the American helicopters, telling him he had to leave her and his little brother to go to America, where he’d be safe, even if he was alone. When he begged to stay, she told him,
“You are strong,” she said.
When you are grown,
if you still remember,
you can come back.”
In the middle of the night, when he’s jolted awake by his dreams of screams and flashes, his now mother sits on his bed and sings to him, as he thinks,
“There are no mines here,
no flames, no screams,
sound of helicopters
or shouting guns.
I am safe here,
but how can I
be at home?”
Matt and his now dad play catch, and his dad tells Matt he should try out for the team. But when he does, Matt can hear the whispers from the other players—
“Hey, frog face,
you learn to play ball
in a rice paddy?....
if you make the team,
My brother died
because of you.”
The next day, Matt makes the team, and there’s a picture taped to his locker. A rice paddy with a rat drawn on it, and underneath “Matt-the-Rat.” Coach is angry, but nothing changes.
Sometimes we hang onto the past so hard that we can’t see how to move ahead into the future. Vets who remember Matt’s Vietnam all too well, the mother and little brother Matt can’t forget. Boys who remember fathers and older brothers who never came home, who see only their own pain, and ignore the pain of others.
Men and boys broken because of a war that never should have happened—if they can see each other, talk to each other, perhaps they can finally begin to heal.
This booktalk was written by Joni Richards Bodart, university professor, librarian, consultant, and internationally known booktalking expert.