bar in Phnom Penh—“not so glorious, really”—a young Brit next to me
said, “I guess you didn’t grow up on Star Wars. And the Vikings! Every-
body always wants to conquer everybody else.”
I wondered what the Khmer Rouge had grown up on. There were
probably people I could’ve asked.
“I’m a leftist,” I said. “I’m against rapacious conquest.”
The guy looked at me as if I had just said something in Finnish.
“What?” he said.
Rachel would have laughed herself silly at someone invoking Star
Wars in a moral argument. I missed her quite a lot just then.
I moved my lodgings pretty often—three apartments in four years.
Condo construction took over the cheaper neighborhoods near work,
until I landed in Toul Tom Pong, a district with great shopping, by the
Russian Market—named in the ’80s when its goods and customers came
from the USSR. Another empire gone.
In my cozy apartment I watched CNN on TV with a very pretty
woman named Clarice, who was much too young for me and had talked
herself into being smitten with me as the dean of local lore (my Khmer
had gotten better). It was the winter of 2016, when Republicans were
fighting to be nominated—Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina—who
even were these people? A reporter interviewed a Tea Party spokesman,
who went on about American “exceptionalism” and our natural dominance as “the shining city on the hill” (phrases I knew). Bald, with a cleft
chin. Did I know this guy? Why did I think so? I waited for the name. It
was Will! My friend from elementary school!
“I used to race toy cars with that guy!” I told Clarice. “He was my best
friend till I was twelve.”
“I guess he’s changed a bit.”
“No,” I said. And I had to explain how we were raised, the two of us.
“I can’t imagine having parents like that,” she said. “They must’ve
been really pretty crazy. People like that shouldn’t be around children. I
“They weren’t crazy,” I said. “They took care of us. You have it wrong.”
“Excuse me?” she said. “I can have an opinion.”
“You’re talking about my parents,” I said.
I hated her, I noticed. A growing outrage was coursing hotly under
my skin. I could not believe the sheer effrontery of her. Life is full of