13. Recalling My High School Years in Vietnam
My high school years in Vietnam were terrible,
I was a reckless student bouncing from school to school.
During my eighth grade in Bồ Đề High School,
I felt bored and became a delinquent fool.
I cajoled my classmates,
Di and Thái, to play hooky with me.
We often went to a small stream nearby,
That was how I spent my school time.
Regardless, I was one of the top students in my class,
I knew for facts that several girls fighting for me.
Particularly, there were two pretty ones,
Who both liked the classmate named Lay.
I continued to cut classes more often,
For my parents weren’t there to stop me.
My parents had a business in another city;
Leaving me to my grandma who couldn’t watch me.
I slept outside on the street every night,
On the cool ceramic porch of a rich neighbor’s house.
The house we rented had no electricity or running water;
It was cooler to sleep outdoors and mosquitoes loved to bite.
I grew up like a homeless teenage boy,
For so many years having no parents to check on me.
If I was hungry, I just waited for my aunt to cook,
Sardines and rice were our staple meals, most of the time.
My uncle worked for my parents’ restaurant named Như Ý,
Which was opened in 1958 in the town of Ba Ngòi.
Located on National Highway 1 – about forty kilometers away.
Business was extremely good during that peaceful time.
My uncle had two days off each month to see his family,
Bringing home the salaries he earned and resting.
When my uncle came home, we had some meat to eat.
When he went back to work, we went back to our normal diet.
For me, I went home each weekend to see my parents,
To soothe my homesickness and to get my allowance.
The allowance was budgeted for five days,
But the money lasted only three days at its best.
I continued to play hooky because it was my finest time.
Spending all my allowance for games of billiard.
If not, I would go to the Việt Tiến movie theater,
Waiting for hours just to watch it free the ending ten minutes.
I continued to cut classes almost every week,
The dean of students issued a weekend in-school suspension.
But I thumbed up the suspension notice saying I forgot,
So principal Hiệu had no choice but expulsion.
My older cousin and my oldest sister went to the school,
Begging the principal to give me a second chance.
“No, I must expel him to teach others a lesson,
He won’t change if I rescind the expulsion.”
Thus, my school year was interrupted,
So I went home to Ba Ngòi, loitering all day.
My dad wanted me to enroll in a Catholic high school,
But soon they kicked me out again for me the hooky fool.
“Father, you teach us wrong,
I believe you are mistaken.
The pronoun “you” even in plural form,
Has no “s” at the end, “yous” is wrong.”
I continued to go to school every day,
But to watch people fishing instead.
The school sent home my absence notice,
Asking my classmate to deliver it to my dad.
I roughed up the messenger kid, quitting school for good,
For the rest of eight grade, I stayed home.
One day, a passenger bus stopped in front of our restaurant,
Then I saw three girls — my former classmates getting off.
“Why did you stop going to school?
We did not hear a word from you.”
“It’s because Principal Hiệu kicked me out,
That’s why I wasn’t allowed to come to school to let you know.”
Thanks to principal Hiệu that I am still alive today;
I believed his expulsion of me had altered my fate.
If he did not expel me for all the foolish things I created
I would have completed my high school graduation on time.
Graduating from an Officer Military Academy at that time,
People were for sure to be sent to the war front.
I knew many young Second Lieutenants,
Who came home as heroes but their family were mournful.