author / writer

“Fear can break us or stretch us

ultimately, it’s our choice.

When everything falls apart,

doors we never saw before start opening,

and it’s up to us to walk through them and see what we can find,

not on the familiar path,

but on the path our entire life has been leading us to.”

-Rosemary Rawlins

All My Silent Years

Historical Fiction
The Story Behind The Story
a note from the author

Each one of us is inextricably affected by our birthplace, time in history, and environmental conditions, and how we remember our past is influenced by these variables. So it was with a close friend of mine. She grew up in Cambodia on a farm, and I grew up in America—two countries embroiled in a geopolitical war that would change the course of millions of lives. My parents lived into old age as I was educated, held white-collar jobs, married, and had children. She worked in forced labor camps and fled her birth country on foot to live in a refugee camp in Thailand before immigrating to America. I had many choices growing up; she had few. Most of her childhood and adolescence was dictated by circumstance or custom.

Years later, we met in a suburban hair salon. She was my hairdresser, and because she wishes to remain anonymous, I’ll call her Sokha.

One day, as Sokha snipped my hair, I asked about her family and birth country. She hesitated. “If I tell you, will you write it down for my children?” she asked. “I’ve never told them any details about my past, and it’s not a pretty story.”

I agreed to do it, and we began a series of interviews in our homes, in coffee shops, and in the hair salon. Her children finally learned about her past through the discussions I documented, so the promise I made to her was fulfilled years ago, but I kept thinking about what people must have gone through during “the Pol Pot time.” I once asked her how she remained so calm while telling her children and me about her experiences. “If I started crying, I might never stop,” she said.

Before I met Sokha and her family, I knew almost nothing about the central role Cambodia played in the Vietnam War, and I wanted to know more. So over the course of five years, as our friendship continued through our children’s graduations, through new jobs, and a period of family caregiving, I kept reading other stories about survivors of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnam War, and America’s involvement in Cambodia. And I kept visiting Sokha as a friend. We remained friends even after I moved from Richmond, VA to Nags Head, NC in 2015.

My breakthrough for this novel came in 2019 when she invited me on a trip to her ancestral homeland with her daughter where we toured the cities, countryside, and the Killing Fields. Finally, I was able to see, hear, smell, and taste the Cambodia of her childhood, and I was able to create a fictional story about a pivotal time in history. With the exception of historical figures and some of the experiences of Sokha, the characters in this book are fictional.

The title, All My Silent Years, actually refers to Sokha’s decision to open up and tell her children about a past she kept hidden from them—to protect them—until they were of age and could fully comprehend and understand her traumatic history. Of course, in the novel, the book title has a different meaning altogether.

My friendship with Sokha has taught me that the human spirit is both fragile and unbreakable, and although the world is harsh, beauty remains. I also learned that when two strangers with different backgrounds and almost nothing in common listen to each other empathetically and open-mindedly, deep friendship is possible, and we grow in ways we never could if we had stayed in our comfortable corners.

Learning by Accident (Skyhorse Publishing)

Memoir

Rosemary’s first book was a memoir, Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope, an inspirational memoir about learning and growing through adversity. When Rosemary’s husband suffered a severe traumatic brain injury after a car hit him on his bike, she struggled for two years to bring him back home and back to himself, and when he was finally better, she fell apart. Rosemary has eight years experience as a full-time caregiver for loved ones with brain injury, dementia, and COPD, and a keen understanding of caregiver stress.

Rosemary and her husband Hugh were featured in the 2013 Bronze Telly Award-winning video about Relationships after TBI. Rosemary and Hugh were also featured on the front page of the New York Times Science Section in January 2012.

Rosemary’s writing has been featured in the TBI Today VCU Model Systems newsletter and  Brain Injury Journey magazine published by Lash and Associates.Her book is also available at Audible.com.

Former Editor/Blogger for WETA’s BrainLine.org

As former Editor of BrainLine Blogs, Rosemary has contributed eighty blog posts to this award-winning WETA multimedia site. You can find Rosemary’s Caregiving blog at BrainLine.org and subscribe by RSS or email.