It’s all there on my friend’s web site: the seating lay-out in the classroom (three jr-high students to a table) I drew up 40 years ago. When you click on a name, it pops up a few byline and that friend’s mushy words about “summer time” or “we will never be this good as a group – cutting classes… knowing a few of us would be drafted to the war zones”.
Also posted was a picture of three guys, who shared a table in the back of the class, all with bell-bottom pants and innocent looks (one of them later came back from the war zone with only one eye left). Ironically, it’s him who later created the web page, which also runs a personal ad looking for the other two.
On my first trip back to Vietnam after 25 years away, I managed to track down a friend who used to sit next to me (table next to last). He in turn helped connect the three in the picture I have just seen.
Those early day “postings” were our version of facebook. They bore imprints of innocence and premonition for our soon-to-be-lost youth , fours years after Tet 68 and one year before the Paris Accord, which was signed 40 years to date.
I still remember those diaries. They were passed around at the end of the school year, to record our impressions of each other and our time in middle school. During the year, we had produced our version of Wall Paper (the student version of White Paper), for the entire school to read.
We stayed up late, typing, designing and laying out. Then, we used the school stencil (roneo) papers the night before deadline.
We named it “Uoc Vong” (Aspiration).
Since co-ed only introduced a few years later and only for night school, we boys had to stick together all those hot afternoons. Extra-curricular actvities would include volley ball, soccer, ping-pong, Rock music practice, karate, fund-raising campaigns for refugees fleeing the war zones (the girl in the picture) and a bit of home-grown journalism.
Those four years were incubating time.
We were pruned in school tradition with “flame” as our mascot and learned to emulate upper-classmen (Quoc Dung who wrote music at the age of 12, and got noteriety at 16). We participated in and campaigned for student representative posts. Even after getting elected to the Student Council, I still had to observe the pecking order (seniors got to pick the best all-girl schools to sell our Tet magazine to). Being junior, I ended up with a nearby “rough” co-ed schools (where other boys surely wouldn’t give us free rein on their campus to court “their female classmates”).
We also learned a very important lesson: friendship lasts forever!
After four decades of drifting apart (with one known dead, and two wounded) then stumbling upon that picture of the tallest boys, with Lobo‘s hair and bell-bottom pants, facing the black/white camera, I felt a lump in my throat. If they had only known.
Had I only known.
Yet even then, I sensed that our lives would be swept along by strong political currents.
I wrote on our Wall Paper ” around the bend, further ahead, where we have yet seen, but with a good chance of turning out not as thought.. in whatever shape or form we found ourselves then, let’s meet and greet as if time had stood still and that we remain friends despite of it all”.
That turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The one-eyed red-beret is currently visiting Vietnam. I showed up early on the third day of Tet at his door step to fetch him, and guided him across a busy street.
He used to be a black belt but has to wear black boots to straighten his crooked ankle (a one-eyed shaky hand and crooked leg man). “No matter what shape or form we found ourselves then, let’s meet and greet as if time had stood still”.
In the US, Vietnam vets are calling attention to the plight of vet homelessness.
It’s the same everywhere: we are quick to forget, unless something triggered our memory and sparked our imagination. It’s not an unsolvable issue, but the “social” dimension needs to be personalized. When asked why a little girl tried to save a star fish when the seas are full of them. She replied “it matters to that one”.
My teen boy’s dream has made a 360-degree turn on me; my personal Timeline has just sent a reminder to my inbox, urging me to click on a link to the past. Around the bend, further up the road where things have yet revealed themselves to us, let’s make a commitment to stay friends despite of it all (war and its unintended consequences). Dream, dream, dream.