As I was driving home with my mother tonight, I let it slip that a guy who works at a restaurant I went to today has a crush on me. My mother giggled, asked a few questions about the gentleman, and then began to reminisce about her days as a heartbreaker.
"Back in Cambodia," my mother recalled, "boys used to come to the record store just to see me. They would bring me food and fruits and all sorts of presents." Then she whispered to me in a giggle, "but I would always give away my fruits and gifts to the other girls because you never know if someone’s poisoned your food. The other girls would just eat it and laugh at me.”
My mother went on to talk about how one boy would drive in circles around her on her way home from work. Other boys would walk a small distance behind her, all the way home, because they never dared to speak to her.
"You were a heartbreak, huh, Mom?"
My mother just sighed.
My mother was married once while she was still in Cambodia. From what I have gathered in various conversation throughout my twenty years of life, he was the perfect man who visited her every day for years at work before finally asking my grandfather for her hand. Afterwards, he took care of her, always took her opinion into consideration, and never raised a hand to her. He promised to take care of her forever, and apologized when he knew he couldn’t keep that promise. I have no doubt in my mind that it was love.
He died of starvation in some dirty, labor camp during the Khmer Rouge.
"The war ruined everyone’s life,” my mother sorrowfully admits.
Because of the Khmer Rouge, my mother lost everything. Her husband, her friends, her family—she lost both her parents and four out of six of her siblings in ways that still give me nightmares. My mother, a once happy and proud Chinese-Cambodian woman, lost her home, her country. Her sense of safety.
Now, all her memories are blood-stained with terror, murder, rape, and oppression. She can’t even recall her heartbreaker days without wondering if those boys who followed her home ever made it out alive. Like she said, the war ruined everyone’s life.
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