long-form Writing

Copyright Gregory Beals, all rights reserved.


                     A black and white photograph of my father, my mother and I stands on the night table next to my bed. My father is dressed in a dark suit. His hands are folded. I wear a dinner jacket.  My mother sits between us. She has doe eyes.  I look at myself in the photo. Then I look at my father. I can see my lips in his. My cheeks are like his. I am four years old. We are in a restaurant. It is my first time in New York — the night before we are to take a boat to France.

                     I am struggling to remember him. It is odd this feeling. Vital parts of his history – the texture of his hands, the sound of his voice — are lost. He has been dead for 25 years now.  I hold on to the photo. I try to remember when it was taken.  I remember the ship we boarded the next day. It was called the S.S. France and that evening mom and dad snuck out our room while I slept.  I woke up and searched for them.  I remember the olive light of the ship’s hallways — the narrow corridors that led through doorways to more hallways that like some closed circuit, arrived to the ship’s ballroom. I recall my mother and father dancing there. They danced their way across the Atlantic.  They waltzed, the black man in the dark suit and the white woman dressed in white. It was the early 1960s.

       My father, Alfred Beals loved to waltz. That dance was part of the persona he created in opposition to his past. What vision was he attempting to enact? How did he re-dream his life?  I think of his beginnings. By all accounts, my father, Alfred Beals, shouldn’t have been born. My grandma Susie was only 12 years old when she became pregnant with him. When she relinquished him from her body after hours of difficult labor, Dad wasn’t breathing. The mid-wife slapped him several times and he still didn’t breathe. But then my great grandmother covered his mouth with hers, and pushed the wind from her lungs into his. “My grandmother told me that she kept breathing and breathing until I started to breathe too,” my father said. Dad was born on March 30, 1913. Birth was his first act of survival.

       As a boy, I’d sit at the foot of my father’s bed and he would tell me about his childhood in an east-Texas sawmill town called Orange.  When he told me stories about his past, our childhoods became a kind of singularity.  Dad, Great Grandma Ford, Grandma Susie, his Uncle Walter, and his Uncle Willie lived in a three-room shack.  Uncle Willie was the one responsible for feeding the family when my father was young. One of the neighbors was a chicken farmer who had a shotgun and a marksman’s eye for trespassers. Uncle Willie’s solution was to pull up one of the floorboards to our family’s shack and lay down a hook with some bread on it. He’d then take the hook and dangle it from beneath the house. Eventually one of the neighbor’s chickens would come under the house where it would be snatched up. Then he’d put the floorboard down to cover his tracks. Uncle Willie called it “fishin’ for chickens.”

       The shack had no plumbing. There was an outhouse out back that the neighbors shared.  Sanitation men with long black boots came each week on a mule-driven cart to clean the manure. “One day the mule got spooked and made a few steps backwards,” my father told me. “And all this shit in that cart, all that shit from all our neighbors came spilling out. Boy, these men were head-to-toe in neighborhood doo-doo. They were swimming in shit boy, trying to get out of that ditch but they kept on slipping back in. They were hollering, ‘Help me! Help me!’   But nobody was going near.  We were too busy laughing until the tears ran down.” He would say “shit,” and I’d laugh until my sides hurt. The scatological nature of his stories made me feel somehow privileged. “Boy, we didn’t feel bad for those men,” he said. “They were respectable people and you know everybody has to swim in some kind of shit.”

         My father believed that you should laugh at your troubles and laugh with people who had troubles like yours.  Hardships could be made fun of if you share respect.  But there were also violent recollections that could never be fully conquered, only passed along from mouth to ear to mouth to ear.  One of his first memories as a little boy was watching a young man riding on the running board of a large automobile as it trundled down an old dirt road. The teenager was riding on the side of that car when a white man on a horse asked him why he was still in town. “He told him that there was no train today but he was trying to leave town now,” my father said. “But that white man said, ‘too late nigger,’ and shot him in the head. For the next three months me and my friends would sit by the road, thinking of ways to kill that man.” My father told that story and in my mind it felt like a movie.  He took danger and fear and imbued it with a magical quality that was couched in the language of adventure.

       I was never afraid when he told me about the violence he endured. In fact, I felt safe.  My father understood that surviving was as intimate as it was transgressive. You couldn’t tell stories like that unless there was a space inside that was comfortable. His accounts about how he came through reassured and affirmed us both.

       Dad said that one of our relatives was also lynched. I am not sure what his name is but I know that he was my grandmother’s uncle and that his murder was a turning point for my father. My grandmother’s uncle had worked as a butcher in Orange. He was very good at what he did and he began to take business away from another butcher who happened to be white.  It didn’t take long for the lynch mob to come.  Initially at least there was a standoff between my grandmother’s uncle and the white butcher. It lasted just long enough for my father and some other members of the family to leave town for Chicago. My father could not have been more than 11 years old when they fled. 

       The lynching had an odd effect on Alfred Beals — it freed him. It was horrible, of course, but it freed him. My father spoke about arriving to Chicago where for the first time he lived in an apartment building that had electric lights. He’d turn on the lights then run outside to stare at them. He couldn’t believe it.          

Dad grew addicted to travel. It was a re-enactment of his escape. He left Chicago for a while and went to Mexico where he worked as a chauffer. Then he gambled from one end of the country to the other. He bought a purple Cadillac.  (Dad was color-blind. Purple and canary yellow were the only two hues he could recognize.)  He won money, started a grocery store with his winnings, then bought an apartment building and was successful enough to travel even more. He traveled First Class to Buenos Aires, to Rio, Rome, Lima, London, Istanbul, Paris.   Everyone thought he was a movie actor or an athlete. In New York, once, I remember a boy came up to him asking for his autograph. Dad signed it Mickey Mantle.

“Thank you, Mr. Mantle.” The boy said.

“Who’s  Mr. Mantle?” I asked.

He looked at me and smiled.

       My father died when I was 15 years old. Burglars had broken into his supermarket on several occasions, and he decided to spend several nights up guarding the premises. He had a routine that he told me about. He’d take out his 9 mm. before opening the door to the store. Then he’d go to the safe, open its door, then get behind it so he could use it as a shield. For several days he spent the night at the store, came home for an hour of sleep, then returned to work. One day he came home, went to sleep and just died. He always said he wanted to die in his sleep just like his Grandma Ford. The store was sold off to creditors. The apartment building was sold off to creditors. A friend of the family paid for the funeral because we didn’t have the money to bury him. Now it was our turn to live on without him.

       It strikes me now that he could only safely look back on himself after he had traversed one horizon or another. It was as if the life he lived after having become a successful businessman was a kind of fantasy life, not to be taken seriously. When we went to a new country, my father would invariably stop at the place where poor people lived. He would regard their habitations then look at me.  “Boy, if I came from here, this is where I would have grown up,” he would say. “This is where you come from.”             

What are the ways in which we attempt to continue on despite adversity? Years after my father’s death I ended up working as a journalist writing for the New York Daily News, Newsweek and as a contributor to the Boston Globe and Newsday.   I found myself drawn to stories that were strangely similar to the ones Alfred Beals told me when I was a child. They pulled me out of myself. They were not my father’s stories but there was a similar sense of bravado and blues humor despite occasional sadness and longing. They made me feel the force of possibility and hope in places where one normally finds despair. 

        I write this from a church shelter where the victims of New Orleans have gathered. They arrived to Sheikana Glory Full Gospel Baptist Church in droves after Hurricane Katrina and Rita cleaved its way into the Gulf Coast. One woman arrived with 30 members of her family. Another came on a stolen city bus after being raped on a rooftop. A refugee from Vietnam who became homeless after the storm has begun to teach the group her native tongue.  A mother and son who are mentally disabled and abandoned by their extended family have found a sense of home in this place, which has become its own little community. When he is not constructing showers or trying to find people work and housing, the minister listens to their stories. He reminds them of the power of testifying in the face of disaster, of holding on to a faith more sturdy than any home. He understands that telling a story of how one made it through carries with it a capacity for hope, for wonder and for belief in the power of redemption and regeneration. Indeed, surviving is only a form of passage.

       The experience of these people has rubbed off on those around them.  For one woman who worked at the church, their arrival has brought relief from her suicidal thoughts.  Even the pastor finds himself transformed. He explained to me tearfully how he had always thought of his calling as a performance to be -delivered from behind the pulpit.  “I feel more like a minister than I ever have,” he told me. “I feel as though I my life is more the way Jesus intended. Not a life of talking but a life of doing good works. I have never in my life felt as capable as I do now.”                          

As I listened to the hurricane survivors of New Orleans, I felt the reverberations of other people’s tales. The evacuees in the church talked of how during the worst days after the storm they lived through their imagination.  One woman spoke of the beauty of dragonflies on flooded streets. Another talked of the stars at night. They told me their stories and it wasn’t strange when I thought of my friend Jorge Watts from Argentina who loved tangos. In 1976, security forces arrested him for opposing the military junta. Jorge said that when the cadres tortured him, he felt strangely lucid and spiritually connected to the life of his one-year-old son. Those who wanted him disappeared sought to reduce him to nothing. They played the radio as they tortured him because in their minds his existence was as significant as a chair or a table. He listened to the tangos and they would take him to his family. Throughout the experience he told me that in his mind he was dancing tangos with his wife and playing with his one year old. If the lexicon of terror was disappearance and nothingness, Jorge found the language of survival in family and connectedness.

       Someone once said: “the eyes are the organs of asking.” When you have inherited a love of the road, you feel a kinship in the eyes of others. My eyes were always asking even in the furthest corners of the world whether my father and I were somehow related to people like the ones I met in this church shelter, an Argentine café — not through blood but through the experience of survival and wonder.

       I have read the narratives of struggle and redemption in the Odyssey and the Book of Job.  I have seen the survivor’s gaze on the faces of refugees from the Indonesia tsunami, from Somalia’s terrors, from Congo’s violence, Syria’s consuming war, from war in Ukraine.  I have heard the stories of victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. I have spoken with people who saw an atomic bomb explode not 6 blocks away from them and lived to tell about it. I have listened to testimony from victims of torture. They all spoke of their passage through hardship in a language of intimacy unique to each. They talked of the creation of a magical space that enabled them to continue. A grandmother breathes life into a little boy. A mother saves her daughter from the rubble of an explosion because she recognizes the color of her shoes. A  10-year-old Syrian girl finds dignity while living with a bullet lodged just above her cerebral cortex. I listened to them and I found their lives were never singular and never separated from other people’s lives. Their histories were never secluded from history itself.

       But their history and experience always seems to exist as a kind of world beneath the world. That is to say, people who endure the worst often have an understanding of events that contrasts dramatically with state-sanitized versions of the past. As with many lynchings there is no record of the murder of my grandmother’s uncle. Nor is there any record of the murder of the young man who my father saw shot leaving town. In fact, there is no record of my father’s birth.  Silent pasts abound beneath the surface of official versions. “Whoever controls the past controls the future,” George Orwell once said. Indeed, the struggle for collective memory is the struggle for how a culture will be defined and who will get to define it.            

       If the removal of painful memories would bring them peace, most survivors would gladly comply. But memory is a silent intelligence at work in the back of the mind that defies banishment. What cannot be said becomes the shadow of that which is spoken. “Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work,” writes psychiatrist Judith Herman. “Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.”

       And so survivors must develop strategies to survive even their survival. They reckon with their experiences by moving back and forth between life in the present, and a powerful often dangerous past. Both are replete with longings for a sense of home, narratives and counter-narratives about the nature of what they have endured and how their experience fits into that of the larger society.

         The survivor’s tale, like the blues, reflects a part of living that all of us to one extent or another must endure. We all will suffer setbacks.  We will bury those we love.  We will witness the slow decline and decay of our bodies.  We will come face to face with the deepest questions of our own mortality.  And if we survive it is because we have exercised the capacity to re-dream our lives. 
There are those who might argue that to look at survival is to be fixated by sadness. I think the opposite is true. Often, people who continue on, are forced for to master their best selves.

         The summer after my father died my family had nothing but $200 in the bank. My mother decided that if we were to fall apart we would do it traveling enjoying life the way we did with my father. We jumped into the car, filled up the tank and headed off to Colorado. We ate spaghetti from the can and slept by the side of the road. I was 16 then and I remember my big treat was watching a rodeo and drinking a can of beer.  The trip was a turning point for us. We made it to Colorado and back and somehow all of us, especially my mother, felt more capable. We knew that we would be alright.

         The following journey is different from the one I took as a teenager, but somehow it fells no less significant. To walk clear-eyed through the lands of survivors of some of the worst our globalized era has to offer is to pass along a chain of human recognitions whose strength exceeds any melancholy or longing. These links are not acts of will. They are more a state of our humanity — as real and as natural as the swaying of the trees.

Phnom Penh.

Arn and I watched the rain from a sweaty cafeteria where we talked about the peculiar habits of our dead fathers. Mine never ate at the dining room table. He came home from his grocery store and took his meals in bed where he called his three children to gather around for a night of blackjack or baccarat.  We used food stamps collected from customers as chips and ate black-eyed peas, steak or pork chops on paper plates. He dealt the cards and told us of how he grew up with two pairs of pants – one for today and one for tomorrow; how the family traveled from Texas to Chicago to escape a lynching; the first time he lived in a house with electric lights; his first knife fight; Nat King Cole.

Arn’s father loved music. One of his first memories was of his father putting him on the stage of the basat opera that he ran with his four wives in the city of Battambang. There were Aspra dancers and singers everywhere in and around the old wooden house and after the spring rains, they gave performances in the countryside. The troupe rumbled along in an old pickup truck and his father followed on a blue Vespa.  His trick was stand on the seat of the motorbike and while still driving, take down his pants and pee. It was effective publicity for the arriving theater but Arn told me that his father peed from his motorbike because it was his peculiar pleasure – one in which he could claim both a sense of freedom and a peculiar technical expertise.

We talked for hours.. My father died when I was 15 years old of a stroke induced by overwork.  Arn does not know his own age and couldn’t tell me how old he was when his father passed. But he remembered the funeral — he was too small to see into his coffin and a man had to lift him up. He saw his father’s hands. They were pinned together by sticks meant to give the appearance of prayer. We talked until the daylight gave way to dusk and our voices grew more subdued as the darkness arrived.  “I am still a child,” he finally told me. “I still live my life around the things that happened to me when I was a little boy.”

I first met Arn Chorn Pond at a dinner party I threw for a friend. He arrived about an hour late to the little wooden house just off of Norodom Street where I lived, apologizing a mile a minute. There were a number of musicians at the party and after a bit of prodding, Arn admitted that he played several instruments and loved very much to sing. Then he dreamt aloud of how he would do a feature film – a musical love story based on the period in which the great temples of Angkor were built. He said that it was just one of the things he wanted to do in the coming years. He wanted to start a television station. He wanted to start a radio station. Of course I took this kind of ambition for insecure bravado.

In fact, Arn had been waylaid by history. He reckons that he was perhaps nine years old when the Khmer Rouge interned him at a Buddhist monastery called Wat Aik, where he was forced to partake in the cadres’ atrocities. He fled them three years later and ran into the jungles of northern Cambodia with nothing to eat and only his side arm for protection. He tracked monkeys and ate their discarded food. He lived off of insects he found on the forest floor. When he stumbled across the Thai border four months later, delirious with malaria, he was taken to a refugee camp. He survived and somehow found his way to America. Now he was back home, living with his half sister and her husband.


Among other things, genocides are wars against memory and Cambodia’s was no exception. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in April of 1975, they promised that the past would be wiped from the people’s minds like chalk off a blackboard. The new state would be a collectivized, agrarian utopia. A history of defeat – the country had been invaded by Thailand and Vietnam, colonized by the French, occupied by Japan during World War II and bombed by American B-52s during the Vietnam conflict – would be purged. The Khmer Rouge called their government “Ankar” (the organization) and sought out urban dwellers, students, intellectuals, professionals, teachers – all those who had a relationship to the written word. These “new people,” were identified, reduced to something less than human then destroyed either through execution, forced labor or starvation.  Soon, the dead piled up, the regime’s failures mounted and Ankar began to gnaw at itself with purges and counter purges. In a span of four years, the country was transformed into a mass graveyard filled with the bodies of 1.7 million.

When it was over, people were caught between the fact of memory and the need to forget. These struggles with remembrance did not emanate from some need for “truth” or “reconciliation.” As the nation hurdled from an era of atrocity into an era of globalization very few wanted to remember. To remember was to look back on the myriad reasons why they were afraid, why they were poor, why they could not compete, why no one was educated, why they suffered. To remember was to remember who and what had been sacrificed. The loss spanned several generations and looking into the future will span several more. Memory invoked a space filled with a nauseating terror that could safely exist only as something unmentionable. The unmentionable lingered everywhere, in politics, in villages and in cities. It didn’t act in opposition to that which was spoken but rather, like a shadow, accompanied it.

But everyone remembers.  One cannot escape it. A village elder told me that memories of Angkar arrive in dreams as a looming darkness that overtakes him.  An old monk told me he dreams of empty bowls of rice. At night, Arn dreams he is running from the cadres. He runs towards a group of children and is shot. Everyone remembers. And they have transformed their memories. They have become a different kind of “new people” — people who have declared new lives. They carry on in the space between who they are and who they were.  They have assaulted memory with a clear-minded dreaming.


Arn traverses his past with music. He plays a klim – a dulcimer-like instrument that resembles a Japanese koto. He was about nine-years-old when he was taught the instrument by an old man at Wat Aik. The cadres there had already killed a number of musicians before they realized that they needed songs to feed the vanity of the party leaders. The old man taught Arn and one other boy for several hours each day. When the lessons were completed and they were sure that Arn could play, the cadres killed the old man. They said he had been sent off but Arn knew he was killed.  Arn was then made to perform revolutionary songs for the cadres who, in turn, gave him a gun and said that he was a child soldier in Pol Pot’s army. Arn played and the music created a space where something resembling sanity could reside. Nowadays, Arn spends his time finding work for master musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge.


There is no mention of survivors like Arn in Cambodian schoolbooks. In fact there is no mention of the genocide at all. In primary school, students study history until the Angkor period. In secondary school, they study history until the Second World War. Teachers make no reference to the period between April of 1975 and 1979.  It is simply a void.  History begins again in the 1980s.  At the country’s newest cultural school, the curriculum depicts the post Khmer Rouge period in terms of the arrival of “the happiness family.” — in the schoolbooks it is shown as a mother lying on a sofa watching television, children playing with a dog and a father on a cell phone.

Cambodian politics is remarkably pliable. Memory has been alternatively de-emphasized, suppressed, or manipulated for a variety of reasons connected to a multiplicity of forces. For one reason or another every major political actor in the country embraced senior members of the Khmer Rouge. Currently, only two leaders of the government that nearly destroyed Cambodian society are currently in jail. The rest walk the streets freely.                                                 


A few weeks after we met, I called Arn to tell him that I would be traveling north to his home province of Battambang. “I’m in the movie theater,” he said. “I’ll call you back.” He said it was a horror movie about a Cambodian woman who could command the nation’s snakes – he called her “the snake lady.”

Two hours later he retuned my call, cancelled his appointments and told me he would take me to his hometown himself. The next day, Arn, his sister and I drove down a dusty red road that extended towards Wat Aik and the killing fields just beyond. On the way, we stopped to pick up his stepmother, who lived in a little shack next to a dilapidated rail line. The tin walls were decorated with pinups of Thai movie actresses, Hindu and Buddhist deities. Before the Khmer Rouge arrived, she was a star in the opera. After Pol Pot was ousted, she survived by making a living as a local astrologist and palm reader for shantytown dwellers.

The way to Battambang held secrets discernible only to those who knew its intimacies. We passed though the  dust and looked beyond the  road’s stony edges to the various locales where Arn’s family witnessed Khmer Rouge atrocities – nine out of his twelve brothers and sisters perished under the regime. Arn’s stepmother and sister retold the tales of those times and their stories were punctuated by a forced laughter that many in Cambodia use to mock the past. “Remember when Khmer Rouge almost raped you for singing a man’s song?” mother said to sister.  Together they begin to sing the song. “I thought you were a virgin./ Why have you tricked me so.”

“Remember that time when they almost shot you for teaching the children to sing the opera?” said the sister. The mother laughed. “Yes, they had me tied up to that pole for two days. I never was too much of a singer.”

We paused at a local cafeteria, a collection of   dilapidated tables and chairs. When the food I paid for arrived, Arn’s stepmother and sister looked at the servings of chicken with their mouths agape and eyes wide like children. There was a car accident outside; a truck had swerved away from a little girl crossing the street and flipped on its side. They glanced at the scene briefly then returned to their meal. They spoke to each other in Khmer and the words grew louder and more punctuated with laughter.

We arrived to Wat Aik and the stifling midday hours and the fine silence of the temple compound conjured myriad recollections. The memories arrived through the heat and the bright sunlight in ghostlike fragments and as they issued forth, Arn’s voice became like that of a child. It shifted from the past tense to the present and the words came out matter-of-factly, as if he was talking to himself.

At first he recalled the silence that the Khmer Rouge tried to impose. It hovered about, muffling the sounds of birds and insects. “No talking. No. No talking,” Arn said to himself as he walked. But it was a false silence  – interrupted both from without and from within. When he played the khlim, the music grew like thick vines inside his head and protected him from the outside. “I would play and sometimes I would think I was in heaven,” he told me. The music made sounds of asylum — sounds that shielded him from the other sounds beyond the vines. It protected him from the cadres when they laughed at their victims and taunted them before they perished. It muffled the sound of the special hammer they used to break heads, the cracking skulls “sounded like coconuts,” he said.

When he spoke to me, he gave the impression that he was revealing an evil so terrible that for the longest time, it could not be spoken. Out of the 600 or so children who came to the camp, perhaps twenty had survived. He talked about what it was like to be raped, of the smell of feces and vomit so profound that his olfactory glands simply give out as a defense mechanism. He described a little girl the Khmer Rouge chased through their living quarters — as they grabbed her hair, they bickered with one another over who would have the right to eat her spleen. He was forced to hold the naked victims while others stabbed them with bayonets. The cadres stabbed them or shot them or clubbed them with the special hammer and Arn had to bury them — regardless of whether they were dead or still alive. He said he could still remember hearing the screams of the wounded cursing him from below the earth.

Then Arn recalled deeply repressed feelings of sickness. He walked away from the monastery for about 100 yards and gazed at a cardamom tree. It still stood at the site where late one night, he went out to steal a banana only to encounter a six-year old eating a corpse.  “The boy always seemed to be sick during the day but at night he would slip out,” Arn told me. He found the site of the little boy sickening and despite his better judgment he told the cadres what he saw. “When I told them what happened, they were angry that he had the strength to go out and eat the dead, but not the strength to work during the day. They killed him that afternoon.”

The grief was etched into the outline of Arn’s narrow face. It spoke through bulging and watery eyes and nervous fingers. As he revealed to me what had once been muffled and silent, it was clear that Arn was neither seeking exculpation for wrongs he committed nor justice for the violence performed against him. He spoke because he knew that behind every horror there is the power of survival. A power that is human, that connects with other humans. He knew that each time he cried, he reconciled with the spirits of the dead and connected with those of the living. With each word and with each telling, his existence as a human being was at once more threatened and reaffirmed.

That evening, we ate dinner in town. Arn’s mother and sister began to tell me stories of what happened to them at the camps. Then Arn’s friends joined in. Each story was a horrible as the next. I tried to listen, but I found my head beginning to tingle as if some blister was growing inside. I watched the rats running the streets and a sickening heat enveloped me. I could no longer eat. My mind moved from the specific to the general. I knew that their stories were a kind of blues  – a song that enabled them to relinquish their mask and reveal that they were still here, still living. But the more I was swept up in their tales, the more I became ill.  Everyone at that table had lost a brother or a sister or a father. Everyone had believed at one time that they too would be extinguished. 

I looked out on the landscape and saw it as a vast cemetery. The land on which the farmers plowed was littered with the fossils of the dead. I thought of the man I had seen earlier in the day, plodding behind an ox near the temple.  He told us that sometimes the turning of the earth brings the bodies closer to the surface. He has grown accustomed to laboring atop the dead. The cardamom tree is a memory machine, nurtured by a femur or a tooth. I too eat beneath its branches.

I began to feel as though I would lose consciousness. I returned to my hotel, stumbled up three flights of steps and spent the night trying to vomit and perspire away what was inside my head. Arn knocked on the door. I didn’t answer.

When I woke up the next day my head was still spinning but it was easier to walk and to eat. Arn had just gotten out of bed and I could tell that he had the same recurring nightmare about running and being shot. He had dark half-moons under his eyes. He asked me how I felt and I began to laugh.  “You’ll be okay,” he told me.

The ride back to Phnom Penh was punctuated by storms that swept across the rice fields and relieved us of the heat. We ate bags of tangerines and Arn began to sing basat operas and talk about movies. A song came on the radio – I didn’t understand the words, but the melody soothed me and I began to sing it. “Do re mi/Do re mi son la.” As we passed a pickup truck filled with strangers my mind turned to my father dealing the cards. I reached out into the cool rain and they too reached out, touching my hand as our vehicles passed.