I believe this to be true, that I was a whiny kind of kid. I remember sitting in a drab train station when I was 4 or so, feeling as though I would suffocate from chest-heavy gloom, the weightiness of which I wasn’t able to communicate beyond soft syllables. I was cradling an oversized mug full of lumpy ricemeal next to my face, hoping the scent of milk sugar would take me elsewhere. Except there was no elsewhere. We were in a neglected train station on the outskirts of Siem Riep, having just got words that the Khmer Rouge were near. When my cereal ran low, I lifted my head and wailed for more. I’m sure I wanted to cower in a corner or shake my mother for answers, but it came out ungracious. I was a whiny kind of kid, completely lacking the poise to deal with catastrophic changes. I was an embarrassment to my mother.
We had just evacuated our home in Siem Riep, a coastal town most famously noted for Angkor Wat. My father wasn’t around, so my mother somehow hauled 4 kids, a nanny, and a servant to the nearest train station to wait for … what? The details are vague. I remember the muggy heat though. I had just spent an entire summer tearing up lily pads. When our house was built, my father had dug out a pond beyond our kitchen door and garnished it with plump lily pads and orange fish. He’d taken great pride in the house, having designed the master plan himself. There was that circular stairway leading up two floors, a tiled recreation room where he played exotic American music, and of course, mosquito net decorating every inch of the bedrooms. No doubt when the Khmer Rouge burst into the backyard, they spotted a pond littered with shreds of lily pad.