The American government had pulled out of the South China Sea fifteen days after the fall of Saigon. There were no American ships waiting for us in international waters. In addition, many countries had instructed their cargo ships to look the other way if they saw a boat filled with Vietnamese boat people, as we were called. The odds of being rescued were stacked against us. We had a better chance of dying than surviving.
The strain of the situation was played out in spades: dehydration, sun exposure, and overall seasickness. Having gone without food for three days, everyone had finally lost the desire to eat. It was as if our stomachs had surrendered to starvation and simply stopped sending hunger signals to our brains.
With no food in my stomach, I became incredibly nauseous and convulsed with dry heaves. My lips were covered with blisters that hurt whenever I gagged or tried to speak. Exposure to the hot sun and salty air made my skin peel and itch. Sleeping was the only thing that brought me relief, so I slept a lot as my brain vacillated between dreams and hallucinations. Sometimes I would hear Thanh calling me. I would try to respond to reassure him that I was still alive, but this was often difficult to accomplish.
When I was awake, I would work my way to the side of the boat where I could hang my arm over the edge and feel the cool water slipping through my fingers. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Though soothing to the touch, I supposed it was only a matter of time before I—before all of us—succumbed to its call for our lives.
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