I submitted my travels plans eleven days prior, with a letter from Songpol detailing an assignment to report on Thai sex workers in Singapore. Though, he denies it now, I remember Pattnapong signing off on the request, and Ronnachai had to deliver it to the court. There still was no word a few days before my scheduled departure, but I couldn’t worry too much about that, as there was so much to do. I packed, shipped boxes, and worried about my baggage—it had to look like I was on a four-day work trip. I’d go to the office and gradually clear documents from my computer, take valuables from my desk, prepare to leave without it looking like I was leaving. I left my desk messy, like it always was, a tottering pile of papers, payslips, press manuals, notepads, complimentary mousepads, and calendars from UN agencies.
Finally, I got approval from the courts on Friday afternoon, July 9, seventeen hours before my flight. A relief, but not without one last complication. The embassy had called earlier in the day to inform me officials there had scheduled a meeting for me with Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I would have to reveal my intent to leave the country to go to school, but they would argue that I should be allowed to do so. A famous Russian pianist accused of raping a fourteen-year-old Thai boy earlier in the week had been bailed out and allowed to travel to Russia the day before, so the embassy folks thought I could use that as leverage.
I spent the afternoon calling various lawyers I had gotten to know through this ordeal, who all agreed I should not take the meeting and leave as planned. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not the Ministry of Justice, they reasoned, and there was no guarantee the lobbying effort would work anyway. Plus, I’d have to come back in November for the trial, which could lead to an even trickier predicament.
So I left. I had a big dinner of Thai yums—all the best Thai salads too obscure to be found here—and was dropped off at the airport with my small suitcase early the next morning. I was worried about immigration, and my story being scrutinized as I went through the procedure of presenting my court documents and proof that I would be back in three days. While the immigration officers pored over by papers, I spent five long minutes in a plastic, child-sized chair answering their questions, trying not to cry. They waved me through.
I had expected to feel relief—I’m not exactly sure when; once I had cleared immigration, or boarded the plane, certainly by the time I had landed in Singapore—but I didn’t. I cried all they way there and decided on the plane that I had to go back, take the meeting with the foreign affairs ministry. If it didn’t work out, then I could always, as the one lawyer suggested, jump in the back of a truck to Cambodia.
This was judged as a terrible idea by everyone I spoke with when I got to Singapore, and so, twelve hours later, I was Iowa-bound.
I arrived at my parents’ house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the night of July 11, and was greeted by half the neighborhood. They had festooned the front of our house with balloons and a huge black-and-gold banner that read, “ERIKA’S BACK!!!” It was touching and I was happy to be home, but again, I felt less relieved than sad, ashamed, and guilty, given my parents’ elation and the stress I had caused them.
I sent my letter of resignation to the Post a couple of days later. They were not happy—and rather shocked that I had been so cunning to have, as one colleague put it, “flown the coop”—and told me I needed to come back and face the charges. I soon got notice that a warrant had been issued for my arrest, and the fact that the Post had seized the money in my investment fund in exchange for what owed them for my bail.
In August, I started school and tried to put the matter out of mind. I would occasionally hear from Wyn Ellis, who usually sent troubling news—on his way to court one day, a large rock had been thrown through his car’s back window, for instance.