The Killing Fields

Eleventh row, window seat, of an Air Tran 737 out of Atlanta last month.  Startled from deep sleep – and the darkest memory – it was about the last place i expected to wake up…

The dream was vivid.  Not really a dream, but a flashback.  Memories of a single morning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia* in October, 2006.  No idea what triggered the recollection.  Maybe lurking work frustrations and exhaustion teamed up to rattle my subconscious and put my petty worries into perspective. 

It worked. 

When The Girl and i saw the itinerary for our day in Phnom Penh, we agreed that it was about the strangest five hour travel session imaginable.  Not exactly “Art Museum, Shopping at Nordstrom, Down time at the Spa”…

0800-0930:  Choeung Ek, The Killing Field

0930-1100:  Genocide Museum (Tuol Sleng)

1100-1300:  Shopping/Lunch at the Russian Market

Students and parents were herded onto a bus, and we left the city.  The congestion, noise and traffic faded away, and soon we were dieseling our way through small villages, rudely splashing pedestrians and bicyclists with mud as they went about their business. 

The landscape changed again.  Green and lush, rolling hills. We arrived at Choeung Ek.  There was sparse signage, cattle grazing nearby and no other visitors at that hour of the morning.

Between 1975 and 1979**, the Khmer Rouge executed an estimated 2.2 – 2.5 million Cambodians – from a starting population of about 7 million.  First rounding up politicians, and opposition leaders, they soon after moved on to the educated classes:  doctors, engineers, teachers.  Families of doctors, engineers, teachers… and soon, simply anyone deemed unsympathetic.

After detention, torture and confession, prisoners were murdered at provincial dumping grounds – the killing fields.  So here we were, a tour bus of privileged students and their parents.  No formal tour, we were told to wander the fields.  Small placards were posted near partially excavated hollows in the ground.  “Mass grave of 166 victims”, “Mass grave of 90 victims”.  And on and on…

As we walked, the sun was rising higher in the sky, making the day inappropriately cheerful.  A gnarled, stately tree stood next to a large pit.  This was “the killing tree”.  Rather than waste bullets on the smallest victims, the babies and small children were held by the feet, their skulls smashed against the sturdy trunk, before they were thrown into the pit.  A faint stain is visible at the base of the tree.   “Mass grave of 450 victims”.  And on and on…

We walked along in stunned silence.  There was nothing to say.  Stopping along the path, turning to take it all in, i felt something under my foot.  i distractedly reached down to pick up the bright white stone, from the dirt path.  Not a stone.  A tooth.  A human molar…

Never in my life have i felt such anguish.  Almost 9,000 humans were brutally exterminated in this pastoral field.  i stepped on the tooth of a murdered man.  i sobbed uncontrollably.  Not really sure how long i was down, but The Girl startled me back to my senses with “I think we have to go now, Mom.  Are you ok?” 

No, i wasn’t.  Far from it… but we made our way back to the bus, and rode off in silence with the rest of the group.  And on to the next stop on the itinerary: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Security Prison S-21)   

As i lurched forward in my seat on the Air Tran jet, it was all there.  As if i’d just been to the killing fields the day before. 

Perspective.  Use it or lose it.

Photo by: Michael Darter

 photo from here:   i am apparently not the only one to have encountered teeth of the dead in the killing field…

* The Girl was spending a Semester at Sea, and i accepted the opportunity to meet up with her in Asia.  Her ship sailed into Saigon, Vietnam and we took a side trip to Cambodia.  One of the strangest sentences i ever read in an e-mail was “Hey, Ma.  Guess I’ll see you in Saigon.”

** Just after the Vietnam War.  And the years i spent in high school…


i have been suffering the escalating consequences of what was only a minor brain-fart all day.  On my way out for a run/walk this morning, i shut down my laptop – hitting the “sign out” button on several windows without really thinking about it.  Returning an hour later, i attempted to log onto my e-mail — an drew a complete blank on the password. 

Thinking “of course i know this password”, i managed to get myself locked out after three failed attempts.  Going to the “password help” page, i realized that i was up against a major obstacle – this e-mail account was formed in 1988.  The security question “What is your pet’s name?” would have been four dogs ago… and could have been one of either critter we had at the time. 

i managed to get myself booted out of that after three incorrect answers, and went to the live chat “help” screen.  Where i was informed by a delightful young Indian man named “Krystal” that i was NOT the account owner, and therefore, he couldn’t reset my password.  Oh, right.  In 1988, i was married to a man with several graduate degrees, including a Master’s in Computer Science.  HE set up the account, even though he hasn’t used that address for 10 years. 

Quadruple Fuck.  i use that account for ALL of my personal business.  Bank accounts, bill paying, and all sorts of things… to have it just disappear?  Up the ass without a courtesy spit… fucked bad.

On my way out the door, i grabbed my work blackberry and sent my ex-husband a desperate plea for help… “really sorry to bug you, but i’m fucked.  can you try to reset my old e-mail password?”  Fortunately, he was able to guess at the set up information from two decades ago, and got the password reset. 

Having no luck re-setting the password (due to the aforementioned failure on my part to remember animal names – even though i used the one he told me he used to no avail), i decided it was time to retire the old e-mail.

i’ve spent the better part of the afternoon and evening beginning the process to migrate to a new account.  Was delighted to find that gmail has an ‘import’ function, which moved all of my saved messages into a sparkly clean in-box.  Even moved my old “saved mail” folders.  Groovy!

Along the way, i realized that i’d been packing a SHITLOAD of e-baggage.  First folder to be deleted?  Theater business.  Fuck all y’all.  Didn’t even read any of it.  “Skatepark” files?  Um, the local skater punks have been burning up those ramps for three years.  Done.  Next?  Went through all of the “home logistics” folders and deleted information that had gone well past the expiration date.  A receipt for a gift ordered in 2006?  Probably not worth keeping…  Therapeutic!

Oh, but the treasures… e-mail exchanges about work stress with my “day husband”.  Shit.  We were funny when our heads were exploding.  Sharing “trailer park” stories with my friends.  Pre-blog.  Some of those exchanges are ripe for lifting directly as historical posts… 

Messages exchanged with my daughter as she sailed around the world.  Heartbreak delivered, and received.  My entire divorce, essentially documented in e-mail exchanges with a friend going through her divorce at the same time.  E-mails with gentlemen friends as we tested the murky dating waters.  The “you have malaria” / “no wait, it’s mono” story.  The breast cancer coaster.

It was my intention to just trash those folders… but i don’t think i can do that just yet.  There are about 1,876 nuggets of “holy shit? i completely forgot about that!” to wade through first…


For giggles?  Here’s a look at an AOL ad from 1986.  Well, quantum link, the AOL predecessor.  And it doesn’t even mention the porn!