I was young and childless at the time and had decided to "adopt" a little 7-year-old Vietnamese girl. Not a real adoption but the kind where you send money every month to a charitable agency and about once a year they send you a little note from the child thanking you for your support.
On the news: War planes!, Evacuation!, photoed bodies of screaming civilians Agent Oranged, Chaos, Crisis.
I get a letter from the charitable agency telling me they have lost track of "my child". So do you want to adopt another in another country, they ask. Here are the forms. Pick one. But all I could think was, "What happened to 'my' child?" As if these kids were interchangeable, like when your pet dies and people tell you to go out right away and get another one. Never mind a substitute, I wanted to know what happened to that child. That one with the shy, thin, unsmiling face, the one who wrote that squiggly note the agency forwarded, my first and only personal communication with her. The one I wasn't allowed to send packages to, or get to know except through generic, periodic agency reports.
I kept her picture for the longest time, on my desk, afterwards. I don't remember what happened to the photo, nor even now, her first name, except that it started with an "L". She disappeared from my life, without ever having really been in it, a casualty of war, an adoption that wasn't a real adoption, where I got to play Pretend Mother while I dreamt of someday being a real one. Maybe she got a bit more to eat because of my little monthly donations. Where did that old photograph go? Why can't I remember her name? Whatever happened to her?
Veteran's Day, where you remember the men and women who "served" -- who fought and got sent home physically and mentally damaged, or lifeless, flag-draped in a box. War Memorials should also honor the victims of war, whose lives were also forever shattered, or ended entirely.
Did you survive? I want to ask her. For one brief year I thought of you as my child--"my" child--and I hate that they lost track of you. That I will never know what happened to you.
I sympathize with the families who remain in the dark. It's the Not-Knowing that's hardest, for those who've 'lost' someone in a war. The ones that never come back, the ones whose whereabouts you don't ever learn. Your brother, your husband, your son. Your pseudo-adopted foreign stranger child. You honor their memory.
Today, I was reminded by the calendar, Oh, it's November 11th -- Veteran's Day--and though I know some who've fought in several different wars, still suffering the consequences, they are not just in my thoughts only on Veteran's Day.
But this little girl, for some reason, today she revisited, leaping into my memory, now so faded as to have 'lost track of' certain important details. Like her first name. My little perpetually aged 7-year old, missing 'adopted' child, who are you now? Where did you go? Did you survive?
Why can't I see your face anymore?