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Finally, I’m on my way home, somewhere between Seoul and Detroit, sitting comfortably in a Delta One Pod, gazing out the window. You can see for miles and all that is below me are pure white puffs of white, the sun cascading off of them and gazing back at me, highlighting the tanned fingers that type on this keyboard. It is so hard to imagine that I am here above the clouds when I have been in the depths of hell for so long. This is different from sleeping on the floor in a Cambodian prison. I thought that being on the way home would bring a sense of freedom to my realm, yet I am wiping away the tears of pain, hurt, and everything else that came with these past 16 months. It wasn’t too long ago that I thought my head would be resting on these clouds, using them as my pillow but now all appear to be different.

I sat there gazing out the window, dreaming of all that was, all that was still ahead of me, thinking what now. Deep, lost in my thoughts when out of nowhere I heard a voice, “Would you like some more wine.” I was startled shitless and jumped a mile high bringing a whole new meaning to the mile-high club. The attendant was just as startled by my reaction, but we both got a laugh out of it. This will be my life now, being startled by the slightest noise, voice, or sighting. I slunk back into my seat, watching my fingers move across the keyboard, effortlessly recording the thoughts running through my brain. I did take some time out to notice that the attendant did give me a very healthy pour, and for that, I am more than grateful. On the journey back, not even sure what that means anymore, I am leaving my Cambodian home to find time to recover and right this old sea-worn ship. I had no sooner found myself and it is now in need of some repair. At least I have a bag of bones that can be mended, unlike one or two people I know.

My friends are asking me how I feel now that I have started the journey back and I can best explain it like this. The physical journey will be an easy one; I got on this plane and will be back with family and friends in a matter of 20-plus hours. The mental and emotional journey will take a lot of time; time to adjust to the trauma, treatment, and time to come to terms with how the person you loved so much could betray you. So, this journey will not be a Sunday walk in the park but more like a mountaineering expedition. We have only so much control over life, if you want to live life to the fullest you must accept that there may be a shit storm now and again. I just happened to find the shit storm to end all shit storms.

Even now, as I begin my journey back, such positive experiences begin to happen, mostly the most mundane having such an impact on me. I will begin last evening, which in itself seems like an eternity ago. I was waiting for my taxi to pick me up from the hotel when I ran into the British Ambassador, a lovely lady. During my time in Cambodia, we became acquaintances. I dare say friends when a very dear friend of ours passed away. She was a guest in my hotel, the hotel where we had the wake. It was just the beginning of the Era of Covid and meeting her, at the wake, all brought a sense of life to such a dire situation, it was death, after all, that is probably the direst of situations to ever be encountered. Though we had only met that one time she has been there through my entire ordeal. Anyway, she knew that I was leaving and heading home, and she stated that she would like to keep in touch, genuinely. It wasn’t empty words coming from her lips but heartfelt sentiment. Christ this is a good pour of very good wine, I’m waiting for the fasten seatbelt sign to illuminate. The second impact happened when I was going through immigration, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. It took a few minutes and some phone calls, probably to make sure that my exit Visa was in order and that I truly was free from prison and able to leave the country. Each one of the agents at immigration treated me with the utmost respect and I knew they read the charges, Blackmail and Sex Trafficking. By their looks and demeanor, I could tell that they knew the charges were false and I was a victim of the common yet not-so-common scam. Those who partake in illegal activities are cunning to have others who are innocent take the fall. It was when I was walking away that the one agent looked me in the eyes, saying “Good Luck to you.” Generally, I would just chalk this up to his being nice but the smile on his face and the look in his eyes were real, you could see the emotion in his eyes, the sense of caring, and the sense of knowing. These times have been so difficult for me, to be accused of a crime so hideous and disgusting is still so unbearable. To know through the actions above or messages I receive from friends, messages of encouragement, friends, family, and acquaintances, reassuring me that everyone knows the truth and who was behind this. This goes a long, long way. Perhaps the most touching happened this morning when I was chatting with my friend, legal advisor, and confidant, Jonathon. He said that the effect my situation has had on others is indescribable. He was telling me how it brought people together, to rally for me during this unbearable time of Covid. People not being able to interact or have contact with others, yet they were all coming together and, in the process, forming friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have been formed. Jonathon shared with me the feeling that I had. I had these same feelings when I was in prison. I met and am now friends with some great people that I wouldn’t have met if this incident hadn’t happened to me.

I am still looking out upon the sea of white, little mountains of cotton and though I am flying to a new place, I know I wouldn’t want to change anything that has happened to me. What I have learned these past many months I would never have learned if this hadn’t been done to me. How lucky am I? You have the worst possible accusation made about you, you spend time in a third-world prison, and you live through the most unimaginable living conditions, yet I have no remorse, hate, maybe a little contempt and I despise a certain ex-pat, but after all I am human. Even now, I truly believe I am a better person than I was before. This experience has provided me with the opportunity to create a new dream, a new fight for justice, and a new life to live. The dreams and nightmares won’t go away overnight, the struggle will still be there but in time, maybe I can begin again.

At the age of 53 and after 31 years in banking it was time for John to retire and follow his dream of owning a hotel in Southeast Asia. This led to many new experiences enabling John to see the world through a different lens, leading him to write his story through essays, poetry, and a yet unpublished memoir. John’s work has appeared in Native Skin, Runamok Books/Growerly, Post Roe Alternatives, Empyrean Literary Magazine, OMQ, OpenDoor Magazine, and others. Nothing is as it seems, and experiences are meant to shape us not define us. There is hope, truth, and adventure in life, all leading to stories that need to be written and told.

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