My mom is a Cambodian refugee. She was in a concentration camp for three years as a teenager during the Khmer Rouge genocide. She has a lot of hard to hear stories. Not usually the fun type of scary. Some genuinely make me ill, most are just very very sad. Despite that, I do have a favorite. I’m even writing a book inspired by it and with events based on that and her other experiences.

Later on in the Khmer Rouge occupation, my mom was sent to gather firewood for dinner (a few grains of rice and water basically). There wasn’t much dead wood around the rice fields as most people long had the same idea and the area was pretty bare of usable brush. She eventually found a thorn bush and got to work breaking it apart, cutting her hands a little. She heard a cowbell in the distance, which was weird but she didn’t think about it much even if she didn’t see any cows. She pulled at the bush harder and she hears it again, but closer. She wasn’t freaked out at all, but it was weird as she looked around and still didn’t see any cows.

She made progress on the bush and a few roots gave away. She hears what sounds like a low, pained moan. She STILL wasn’t scared. Somehow. Just incredibly confused. Then she remembered.

When someone died and the ground was too hard to dig a proper, deep enough grave, then mourners would place a thorn bush on top of a grave to keep coyotes/wild dogs from digging up the body for food. My mom looked closer. It was a grave. She was out of there. She ran back to the camp as fast as she could. I don’t know if anyone ever got the firewood. I’ll call her and ask tomorrow.

This story is the inspiration for my creative thesis project for the 2019 Aggie Creative Collective program.

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