I felt like I was dead when people around me laughed, and their smiles only made me feel more isolated and unhappy. I carried a weight as heavy as the earth. Anger boiled inside me and made me wonder if I was losing my mind. Sanity could not exist as long as I held onto the desire for vengeance against those who had taken my childhood. Trapped by my mental confusion, I blamed myself for what I was feeling, and lashed out at everyone around me

Now I realize that the gigantic void created within me when I was young wasn't my fault. There was nothing I could have done. The emotions I held onto for so long only kept me from interacting with my new countrymen. I could not reach out in a friendly way or through humor because I lived in a fog of rage.

I'm finally making friends and adapting to my new country. When my friend Adam took me to a football game, the sound and smell of the halftime fireworks brought back bad memories and made me dizzy, but he understood and I managed to stay for the whole game. I drive a car, work as a medical-records clerk at Kaiser Hospital, attend college and even have a cell phone—a convenience I deeply appreciate. There was no way to call 911 years ago on that terrible walk.

I can't identify an exact turning point in my emotions, and I'm still struggling. However, I've found that speaking about my experiences at schools and community organizations and writing my memoir have helped. Sharing my feelings has lessened the burning inside me.

I do worry that when the American soldiers return from Iraq, even without cultural differences to deal with, they, too, will find that happiness in others can feel insensitive. At a time when they need it most, they may find it difficult to reconnect emotionally with their families and friends. Writer Jose Narosky said, "In war, there are no unwounded soldiers." I would add that there are no women, children or animals who escape unscathed.

Still, I know it is possible to move on. For all those years I lived with revenge on my mind. Now I'm a man with the seeds of love, dignity and hope in his heart.

Deng lives in La Mesa, Calif.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.




Copyright 2005 Public Affairs Books.