Her name was Tron. My mother painted her in 1970, from a photo in Life magazine, and during that last year of high school she graced our suburban living room in a way that was both incongruous and yet entirely fitting. We were a white bread community; I had never seen an Asian in the flesh, and yet this young, glowing face represented a larger world I wanted to explore. She added exoticism to our living room suite.
Did I know her story then? I must have, because I devoured the magazine every week. She had been severely injured by American helicopter fire, and had her leg amputated. She was twelve, and I was fifteen. Vietnam was on the news every night, but abstract and far away while my focus was on watching Mod Squad and trying to be cool as Peggy Lipton.
My mother was taking oil painting lessons, and worked strictly from photographs. Her style was tight and realistic, her milieu normally landscape. I think the fact that she veered into portraiture with Tron made me take notice. She captured her beautifully.
Last year I helped find homes for all my mother’s paintings done over the course of some forty years, as she and my stepfather downsized and moved into a retirement community. I remembered each and every painting, especially Tron. And so I claimed her, as I wondered about her life. I had visited Vietnam in 2003, so many years after the war sputtered badly to its end, and viewed the westernized giggling teenagers with charmed curiosity. In that brief trip I fell in love with both the country and its people.
I discovered that Larry Burrows was the acclaimed photo journalist who captured her story, and that he and three others in his profession were shot down over Cambodia in 1971. I further learned that his son and granddaughter went back to Vietnam in 2000 and found Tron.
The painting is now mine, but I feel it should travel a full karmic circle, back to Tron. I would like to make that happen.