“They tried to, how to say it, wash my mind?’
“Yes, that is it, exactly.”
The Doctor is in his mid to late sixties. Thin as a celery stalk, he is exquisitely polite as he simultaneously conducts a physical for my life insurance policy, and slowly, haltingly reveals his life story. Shy and painfully reserved, the physician is almost apologetic about offering up the harrowing details.
“After the Americans left, the Communists arrested us and put us in camps — just like what they did to your people, how do you call them?”
“Yes, concentration camps. Roll up your sleeve, please, so I can take blood pressure.”
“What happened in the camps?”
“They forced us work, day and night, and they washed our minds, brainwashed us with Communism and atheism. There was very little food.”
“When you say we, who do you mean?”
The Doctor stops and looks at me. His gaze feels like an x-ray penetrating skin, blood, bones.
“Did I take speak your blood pressure numbers?”
“No, not yet.”
“I remember the camp and my family and what happened, and the memory is —”
His voice breaks off.
The Doctor concentrates, takes my blood pressure, inscribes the numbers on the insurance form. Pleased with the results, the Doctor smiles and says something, but I have no idea what he’s saying for he’s speaking in French.
“Pardon, I do not speak Francais.”
He is startled.
“Really, all my Jewish friends speak a beautiful French.”
“Not this Jewish man.”
“I receive my original medical training in French”
He bows ever so slightly, and apologizes. Believe it or not, I return the bow. It just seems, y’know, the polite thing to do.
The good Doctor wants me to lay down so he can hook me up for an EKG. I move towards Ariel’s ZT’L room.
Karen steps up, and says:
“Are you sure you want to do that in there?”
I look at Ariel’s bed. Remember all the years we spent with our beloved son, nursing him in that bed.
“Let’s go to the guest room,” I suggest.
Karen and I lock gazes. Always, always, we are in this together.
The Doctor hooks me up for the EKG, continues the examination.
And I continue my examination.
“How did you resist the brainwashing in the camps?”
“I am Buddhist.”
“You say you had family in the concentration camp, can you tell me how many, and what happened to them?”
“Five brothers and five sisters. The North Vietnamese Communists killed them; murdered my five brothers, murdered my five sisters. Killed my entire family.”
“Baruch Dayan Emet,” I whisper.
The portable EKG machine chimes: Beep! Beep! Beep!
“Very nice, very good heart.”
“That’s a relief.”
Rolling up the EKG printout, the Doctor muses out loud:
“Americans do not understand what happened after they left Vietnam. Americans do not realize what the Communists did to us. Americans do not understand the great killing that happened.”
The Doctor jots down some notes on his company forms. His handwriting is neat and meticulous.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat.
I sound so stupid, so lame. I actually feel guilty for the slaughter of his five brothers, his five sisters.
The Doctor inclines his head, and with no hint of bitterness says:
“I escaped into the jungle. I was lucky, and became a boat person. I came to America. I love this country. But still — Americans do not understand.”