Told by his daughter, Arun Cheat Ponnary
My father Pon Arun fell in love with my mother at first sight. She was very beautiful and a performer of Basak [a traditional dance]. My father was the son of an Ouknha [a title given to a rich person]. My grandmother, however, didn’t like my mother and constantly tried to find ways to separate my parents.
The man in charge of the theater where my mother worked arranged a traditional wedding for them. None of my father’s family attended. Even after my parents were married and my mother became pregnant, my grandmother still tried to tear them apart, and worked to convince my father to marry another woman. She came around only after her grandchild was born.
Then my grandmother brought our family to live in the King’s palace. Because my aunt was related to the royal family, we lived in style. My mother became a cosmetician for the palace dancers and my father became a doctor. After about four years, my uncle appointed my father to be a court clerk.
In 1966, my father was transferred to Kampot Province and all of us moved with him. He owned several hectares of farmland there with my uncle. It had rambutan trees, coconuts, and durian. He and my uncle invested in the land and sold the harvest.
On April 17, 1975, my parents and younger siblings boarded a ship that was leaving for Thailand. But as it was getting ready to sail, my father changed his mind and came back to find my older sisters and me. Then our family was evacuated to the countryside.
One night in 1976, a Khmer Rouge militiaman came to our house and called to my father, saying, “Prepare your things and be ready to move to a new village, Mr. Court Clerk.” He tied my father’s arms behind his back, covered his face with a piece of black cloth, and took him away in a truck filled with men. My mother thought he would surely die because she had seen many people sent to new villages who never returned. The base people whispered to her that she should not to wait for my father. Some of them later said that they had thrown him into a ravine.
My sister Rada went to visit my mother a month after father’s death. She found only an empty, silent home. The poles our mother had used to the support gourd vines our father had planted were broken. The villagers told her that my mother and four of our siblings had been taken to a new village.
My husband and I were sent to live in Kampot Province. I was glad to think I would meet my mother’s relatives there. But all of them pretended not to know me. Worse still, they said they never had relatives who were “April 17 People” – the enemy – like me. Because I had never done farm work before, the base women despised me and were always watching for me to make a mistake. They scornfully said I was one of the people who used to exploit the farmers.
In mid-1977, my husband was ordered to prepare fields for planting yams and corn in the vicinity of Bak Nem Mountain. Several months passed, but he did not come back. We thought he was dead, but one evening in July 1978, he rode in on a buffalo cart. I told him that just a short while before, the Angkar had ordered four men to reinforce the dam nearby and had not been seen since. My husband tried to console me and told me not to speak loudly or to worry. That night, Phat, the chief of the economic support unit, ordered my husband to go out and reinforce the dam. My husband, who had not even changed out of his old clothes, took a spade and followed the militiamen.
He came back a moment later, kissed his children, and said I should not wait for him. He then walked out of the house and glanced back one more time. That night, I dreamed that he came to see us, but his body was headless.
Later, Ky, one of the militiaman who took my husband away, tried to rape me. He failed because I cut his arm and he fell from the house. The next morning some cadres came to the house, telling me to bring my children to the elders because they were taking me with them. I begged them to let me bring the children with me, and they consented. They took us to the pagoda by horse cart. There I saw comrade Ky sitting beside a man named Sak, who accused me of being a spy and the wife of a CIA operative. Then militiamen tied my arms behind my back and took me to a security office, where a district cadre beat me.
A week later, the Angkar sent me to a large prison at Sa-ang Mountain. I was shackled, but my children were not. The prisoners there were skeletal. Every night, the guards took three or four of them out. I only heard the groans of pain on the wind.
On November 20, 1978, I heard faint sounds of gunfire. Suddenly a child appeared with keys to open the gate for us. Crying for of joy, I carried my children and ran out of the prison. Only 13 of the prisoners at Sa-ang were still alive. Along the roads, I heard the liberating army appealing to people to return to their homes.
One day, I went to collect rice from the barn in the village where I was staying and heard a voice calling me. When I turned around, I was taken aback see my former fiancé. We had been engaged in 1969, but after his mother wanted me to live with her in another province, my parents would not give their consent for us to marry. He asked me to stay with him and promised to take good care of my children.
This story is based on an essay sent to the 2004 Khmer Rouge History Preservation Forum competition, sponsored by the Khmer Writers Association and the Documentation Center of Cambodia