Don’t Abandon the Winding Road

Northeast Cambodia. (Photo courtesy of

A few weeks ago.

“Hello?” I had missed Ba’s first call. Maybe it was urgent.

Koun (daughter). My ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) just shocked me.”

I gasped. “WHAT?!”

With a new diagnosis of heart failure, Ba recently received a ICD/pacemaker device. It was programmed to shock if he had a life threatening rhythm, or if it was too fast.

“I was jogging, felt a headache, and suddenly, I was on the ground… there was only a small amount of bleeding on my face and leg…”

“AGH! You fell and you hit your head?! Ba, you are on blood thinners, YOU NEED TO CALL 911!!”

Shortly after, the ambulance arrived and transported Ba to the hospital for evaluation.

My dad jogging, falling, hitting his head on concrete, all alone… I could not shake this horrible image from my mind.

If it were in God’s timing, Ba could’ve died at that moment. But he didn’t. God had given him a second chance.

Actually, it wasn’t his second. It was probably his third, fourth, or fifth chance.

At least.

~ ~ ~

Pursat, Cambodia. April 19, 1975.

The white flag raised up. Then lowered back down. Someone forced it up. And it came back down.

The Khmer Rouge had taken power, and the local Cambodian government refused to surrender. But they had no choice. The white flag raised once more and stayed there.

“They have asked many of us leaders to escort the King upon his arrival to the country,” Ba’s supervisor said.  “I will go, so you stay.”

Ba did not want to stay. “They tell me I must leave the city with only a pair of clothes, no shoes, and no food… how will I survive with so little? Where will they take me? I’d rather go to escort the King,” Ba insisted.

“No, in case there are questions regarding our staff or inventory, you stay behind,” his supervisor instructed.

Prior to his supervisor leaving, the supervisor’s wife warned him of the Khmer proverb: Do not abandon the winding road. Do not follow the straight road. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay.. I’ll be fine,” he reassured her.

A few days later, the trucks that hauled all the city leaders off to escort the King returned empty. He was never seen again.


Ba had been spared.

His second chance.

~ ~ ~

2 nights ago

“I don’t understand the proverb, Ba,” I said.

“It means, do not always trust the straight path, because you can be taken advantage of.  It is a caution that you must protect yourself,” Ba explained. “My supervisor, he was such an honest man. His wife warned him, but he left not knowing what would happen.”

“Where did he go, Ba?”

“Where else?”

We sat in silence. Neither of us uttered the words, but we both knew it.

The Killing Fields. 

At the kitchen table, I sat forward on my chair and leaned against the table for support.  I felt like collapsing. My mind mulled over that fateful day when the city fell to the Khmer Rouge. The fear the people experienced as they were evicted from their homes onto forced labor camps to face starvation and torture.  The trauma and tragedy of the slaughtering of millions of innocent lives.  The fact that Ba had been spared from his first potential execution, only to be come so close to death, time and time again. Each thought gnawed craters into my chest, leaving behind a hollow diaphragm.

“Anyway, look at this. Mustard greens, they don’t have as much Vitamin K as spinach.” Ba interrupted.  The bruise to his eye and scabs to his knee were improving. At the hospital, they had found no bleeding in his brain and they adjusted his cardiac meds. He fumbled with papers from his doctor detailing the required diet for his irregular heart.

I sighed.

These reminders of Ba’s mortality deepen the urgency of grasping onto my parent’s memories. This is why I write…the pressing need to document the crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge (to prevent history from repeating itself), to better understand the trauma and the effects of trauma on genocide survivors as a whole, and to honor the victims of the genocide by recording their stories, so they are remembered and not forgotten.

It is horribly difficult. My notebook remains blank, my pen yet to be picked up.

To write, I must.


Before it’s too late.



~ ~ ~


This post is in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge:Writerly Reflections.



15 thoughts on “Don’t Abandon the Winding Road

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  8. glad your dad is okay. how come you don’t tell me these things??!!! i still don’t get the proverb. it’s not the same thing as the road less traveled.

    also i wish you could write for me… 😦 i don’t now how to share the stories from the philippines. your writing helps me connect and get to know your dad, his supervisor, etc

    • i read somewhere online (can’t find it now) that this proverb was formed during years of mistrust of the khmer people when the french colonized cambodia. so it’s a proverb that warns that when you follow or obey blindly, or do the ‘right’ thing, (following the straight road) it might lead you to destruction.

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