Pheng, 45
Pheng, 45

“Took But Never Taken” 

Just as lightning strikes and dances across the dark skies, so too is this life I will live. In a jungle a world away, a war not of my own making, I lost my father and eldest sister in a cloud of thundering smoke. BOOM!  POOF! They are gone forever. At the same time, I was ducking and dodging bullets and bombs in a body not my own, my mother’s. 

Afraid, my mother prayed to heaven and ancestral spirits all around. She prayed not for what Death just took but for what was not taken, her unborn child. True to her fears, her child was born before it was time. I came rearing into this world to the drowning sound of silence. A stillborn baby; dead, cold and blue like the river that caressed me. Mother, understanding her plight, surrendered my body to the Mekong River. As I was being carried away, it was then I opened my eyes to a billion falling tears of angels and demons alike, the pouring monsoon rain. With a thundering cry, I alerted my mother and she swam after me. Now safely in her arms, she whispered, “you are a constant pain and worry for me. I will call you ‘Pheej’” [Pheng], meaning ‘constantly’ in a language soon to be forgotten like this people. My first act as a human being was theft, or so I chose to believe. Took, but not taken.  

Three years old, my first home and house-made out of bamboo trees tied together, surrounded by shit, piss and dirt; barbed wires and machine gun towers, a refugee camp. Near dying from hunger and thirst, Death came for what I stole. “No!” I yelled. This life I took cannot be taken. Through an act of grace and a miracle, my family and I were saved. America, here we come. Took, but not taken. 

At 7 years old, I lost my innocence to torturous beatings from my uncle for taking a toy car from a store. Only the torture lasted for 5 more years. By 12, I was ashamed and numb from beatings, humiliated by being bullied, I joined a gang. Fifteen years old, in and out of juvenile hall, I became bold. One night, POP! POP! POP! Five shots to my body from the gang I called my family as I was left to die by the side of a road; all because I didn’t do as I was told. My vision is static like an old TV out of picture and focus. Death came calling yet again. Deja Vous it said, then silence.  took, but not taken. 

I awoke to the sound of beeping machines and a voice of a crying angel, my mother’s. How right she was, those friends of mine she warned me about, failed to uphold what on the streets we call “The Code”. Not wanting to understand or forgive, driven by anger and hate, I became a wicked being. I gave birth to death and destruction by forming my own gang out for revenge. Took, but not taken. 

At 17, I was walking with a limp from shackles and waist chain handcuffs. I stepped out of darkness into a room filled with lights, a courtroom. Guilty of murders decreed the judge, then yelling “Life in Prison!” well hell, here I come, your newborn son. Took, but not taken. 

Eighteen years old, before the sun went down, I found myself kissing the cold concrete floor of my prison cell. With hate and menace in his voice, my cellmate whispered in my ear, “If you don’t like to make love to concrete and steel, you best do the taking.” so I did, selling my soul to the devil for the next 23 years doing the taking, destroyer of lives. Took, but not taken. 

My how time flew by, I’m now 39, some would say I had it made. Truth be told, the only thing I’ve made were enemies amongst friends. As fate has it, a flash flood of blood poured out from 6 holes in my chest. My body was being torn to shreds by those friends with whom I broke bread. Betrayal of the worse kind brings darkness to my eyes. Finally, death and I are one at last. Took, but not taken. 

From darkness to light, I heard a new voice echo in my mind. Arise my son and open your newborn eyes. I did. For the first time, I can see clearly how foolish I was to have ever believed, my life’s theft, my destiny’s pain. This life was a gift given me, not stolen, but from love and sacrifice. Now, a new fire burns every ounce of my soul with a desire to lift others up higher than even they thought possible to achieve. It is said, “The 3rd time’s a charm.” so I am alive today to say, “Don’t give in to anger, don’t follow hate. Instead, take this gift of life given you and create a future for the family awaiting your arrival. Persevere and you will achieve.”  Took, but Never Taken.