Absent furniture, broken wine glasses, sweaters eaten by wool-crazed kittens - these all become inconsequential, especially when I'm informed today that my father has discovered that he's no longer the only surviving sibling. His sister has been found, after an absence of twenty-three years.
Missing since the Khmer Rouge's bloody brief tyranny, my aunt has been living in a remote part of the country, unable to finance a search for her relatives. Though small, true, Cambodia's an impoverished country, with badly maintained, mine-infested roads; mobility is a luxury. Barely imaginable to someone who has spent most of her childhood afternoons and early mornings in the backseat of a Toyota pickup, squinting at a novel or tabloid magazine as Daddy shuttled us back and forth between San Diego and Santa Ana, between Mummy and house.
Sometimes feeding yourself is more urgent than reunion, that nearly impossible reconciliation with the past. However, the ones left behind - the ones separated from the disappeared by the political machinations of the past regime – can't help but remember and long, long hard. One day, on the radio, she heard my aunt, looking for her missing niece, and called.
Can you imagine it? I am the one who has been missing for twenty-three years.
. . .
Unfortunately, twenty-three years have become too many years for my grandmother, who died last fall.
. . .
Now my aunt lives in Phnom Penh, with her children; her husband died in 1983, when he stepped on a landmine. I heard wonder in my father's voice as he told me these details. Once upon a time, it had been unimaginable that the missing girl would age.
Unimaginable that her body would become heavy with child, engendered with a man who would die a violent death, its nature the indiscriminate legacy of state terror. Unimaginable that the missing girl would continue to live, twenty-three years past that moment when she became disappeared, missing in a land dismembered by extremist ideology. Once upon a time, it had been unimaginable that she would be found. That she would call and say, I am the one who has been missing for twenty-three years. Unimaginable until now.