For Christmas one year, my sister bought my mother a copy of Brigette Bardot’s biography, Initiales B.B. In French, no less.  I sort of knew that my mother was a Bardot fan, the way I sort of know her birthday and sort of know about her life before we moved to the United States.

What I know for sure about my mother:  she keeps all the books we gave her on the headboard of her waterbed; she likes Sidney Sheldon novels; she watches adaptations of Sidney Sheldon novels on the same television where, every evening, we watched the news and, on Wednesday nights, Dynasty, and, once a year, the Miss Universe pageant.

When I was young, I scoured the TV Guide, looking for her favorite movie.  I found it once — the listing so small it was an inky smudge — showing in the wee hours, and I was so excited I wanted to stay up and watch it with her.  But I fell asleep during a commercial, around the point where the heroine falls off a mountain during a ski race, breaks her back, and is paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Years later, of course, I realized the movie my mother liked was The Other Side of Midnight and not The Other Side of the Mountain.  But she watched with me anyway.

I don’t know if my mother saw And God Created Women.  She would have been about 24 when it was released.  She still lived in Vietnam then — or she could have been at Southern Illinois University, I’m not sure which.  What I know of Vietnamese history of that time includes:  1) the French being driven out of Vietnam; 2) the Geneva Accords splitting the country in half; and 3) the mass exodus of Northerners fleeing southward, bringing phở with them.

Had my mother already met my father by then?  I don’t know.  In the dining room back home (Aurora, Colorado, not Vietnam), there’s a black-and-white photograph of my mother.  She wears a white áo dài, like a schoolgirl’s.  Her face is tilted down towards the left, and the soft light picks out a luminous feature.  Her nose.  Her cheekbone.  She’s possibly as young as Bardot herself when she starred in And God Created Women.  Director and then-husband Roger Vadim writes of Bardot:  “She comes from another dimension…. That’s down to her presence, which comes from outer space somewhere.”

My mother calls regularly, and I return them irregularly.  She calls with news, with gossip, or just to talk.  Her voice reverses time:  here we are watching Alexis and Krystal getting into another catfight.  Miss Venezuela wins again?  But the conversation now veers towards different topics:  her weakening knees, the regimen of capsules and multivitamins that she dutifully splits with a plastic pill-cutter.  As she speaks, I imagine her sitting up in bed, phone extension in hand, leaning against all the books I’ve bought her:  intergenerational Asian mother-daughter sagas, Vietnamese novels in translation, poetry — the unread stories in our lives.

Advertisements