|"I was lucky," my friend told me.|
I was over at the gym on Friday waiting for our instructor to arrive. My long-time yoga neighbor and I were lying next to each other on our mats. She's quick to laugh, so I say silly things to amuse her. We always giggle during a balance exercise and throw each other into a tumble.
So I was just on talk vomit, releasing whatever random thoughts were in my brain and this time it was cookies. The delicious cookies that my friend Tamara makes, a delicate near cloud-like confection of chocolate chips and oatmeal. They are manna from heaven and I had made a special request for them the night before. So trying to limit my sugar intake before bed that night, I was hoping only to have one. But then this new mantra that I've been practicing of respecting my impulses took hold and I grabbed two more and ate them with pleasure. The morning after, I told my Yoga friend, the scale registered almost five extra pounds. We were giggling then. I wasn't serious at all. Cookies. Weight gain. Just word vomit. To make my giggly friend giggle.
"Beth," she said, "when I eat cookies, I just eat as many as I want."
I don't know when the story turned, but it fell like a quiet thunder from her lips. Because, she said then, during the communist time "we ate nothing."
Washington, D.C., is a melting pot of nationalities. You almost forget how far people have traveled to be your neighbor. And when you ask sometimes the countries are so exotic, Togo, the Philippines, Malaysia, that you can't even imagine visiting.
Remind me, I said to my friend, where are you from? I heard it before she said it.
All dead, she said.
The Khmer Rouge. My lovely friend. Always smiling. Always kind.
And then, with her hand over her face, she told me her story about living three-and-a-half years, beginning when she was 17, in a labor camp. Hard labor, she said. "It was our job to clear the land mines from the fields to grow rice."
But the rice, she said, was exported to China. And she got no food.
Oh, the killings, she said quietly. "I was lucky."
She was lucky because she lived. She was lucky because she managed to navigate a harrowing journey out of the camps as a refugee. She was lucky when she escaped the rapes and the murders in the refugee camps. And she was lucky she said that she wasn't pushed off a mountain when she arrived in Thailand. She was lucky she had a brother in the United States, who had left Cambodia before the ascent of the Khmer Rouge. And she was lucky because she managed to get a letter posted. And she was lucky because he found her. And on September 17, 1980, she was lucky because she came to the United States.
My beautiful friend. She works for the United States government now. After we work out, we laugh together in the locker room. I was always tease her because she takes too long in the shower. We get dressed again for the afternoon meetings. She puts on an elegant dress and heels, she paints her lips. I don't know what her profession is, but she commands a quiet authority, when she leaves the locker room. I always wish her a pleasant day.
The roads we've traveled brought us together. I don't know how she does it. But to her, she simply was lucky. And now she's quick to laugh at whatever silliness that I can concoct.
But the next time, I eat a cookie, I'm going to eating it slowly, and joyfully, and revel in my great good fortune. And for Memorial Day this weekend, I honor my friend, and all those in this world who suffer so unfairly at the hands of evil. The Putterer