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The Road to Perdition was a short one for my family. April 17, 1975, the day after the country finished celebrating a very tense Khmer New Year, Phnom Penh residents were greeted with the sight of black-clad soldiers pouring into the city. My mother remembered having watched, along with her brother, from the balcony as soldiers who were not much older than her then ten-year-old self were welcomed by some city dwellers.
“They said it’s just three days” recalled my grandmother of the day’s event. “They said we have to leave as the Americans are going to bomb the city.”
Those who refused to leave were killed in their homes. By midday came the mass exodus from cities all over the country.
As we learned later, the majority of people decided to go back to their families’ roots, the places of their births. My grandfather, having studied in China and having never trusted Communists, had a different idea. Right away, he knew not to go back to his birthplace as his family was well-known in the area. Or to go to his brother-in-law’s for that same reason. With no concrete destination in mind they decided to head northeast toward Kratié Province, where grandma came from as well as where grandpa spent most of the 1960s managing a paper mill.
My great-aunt, fearing they would be recognized, suggested that her husband and my grandfather leave through the back, separate from the rest of the family. The next few hours were the long hours of her life, grandma would say when she recounted that fateful day. Many families were separated in the chaos. Many died on the road from hunger and dehydration (April is the hottest month of the year). And many, many more were slaughtered along the way.
My family was on the road for a few days when they, along with many others, were rounded up by Khmer Rouge soldiers into military cargo trucks. They ended up in the Village of Thmey, Dang Kdar Commune of Steung Trang District, in Kampong Cham Province.
With half of the family killed by the end of 1975, my grandmother still credits that fortunate pickup on the road to them being alive today. That and my grandfather’s good instant karma. But, that is a story for another day.Published in