It’s been a while since my last confession.
My sister came to visit me during the month of January. When she was born and I was a measly six years old my Dad said to me:
“Friends will come and go but she will be with you for life”
It’s always stuck with me. We’ve always been close, but the responsibilities of adult life and the physical distance between us have inevitably made us more distant.
I love her, but the distance makes me sad.
In Hoi An we saw a beggar lady. The beggar lady was, at a guess, 85 years old. A western lady tried to take a photo of her. The western lady was, at a guess, 35 years old.
I stood up, and tried to take a picture of the Western lady. I felt that a picture of a rich woman trying to take a picture of a poor woman said more than the picture of a poor woman taken by a rich woman ever could.
The rich woman asked what I was doing, so I explained. She seemed annoyed, although she’d never asked permission of the beggar lady to be included in a photo.
My sister understood, and I love that about my sister. My sister is nicer than I’ll ever be able to convey in words to her.
The rich lady and the beggar lady probably went back to their lives. My sister definitely went back to hers. I carried on my haphazard carry ons too.
I went to my friends place, P & Y. They live in the cosiest hole I’ve ever been in since I spent nine months in a womb. A one bedroom apartment, tiny and cramped, walls covered in their art, bed covered with a parachute and floors hidden by paint brushes, cuddly toys and nick nacks.
Together, we had a pleasant little mix of delightful drugs. With no windows, time bled meaninglessly by. I painted, and missed G.
I still miss G.
She popped into my life all too briefly, like a water nymph, decorating my edges with dazzling colours before kissing my cheek and diving back down under the waves. Exactly like the movie “Splash!” but without the happy ending.
And if she were here, oh if she were here.
Instead, I’m alone typing. I miss my sister and I miss G. My existence continues in the same erratic, libertine, directionless mess. Lovely but lonely.
Into this blog, some self-pity has fallen.
If I didn’t care for fun and such,
I’d probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
~ Dorothy Parker ~
If you’d gone down to the woods last night, you’d have been sure of a big surprise. Assuming they were woods in Vietnam and you’d had the misfortune of running into my naked friend P.
You would have seen me also, because I was sitting in those woods too. I was in the middle of an almost circle of 14 friends. If you’d been half hidden behind a tree you would have seen us, surrounded by discarded empty bottles and heavenly-cherished full ones.
You’d have seen me happy too. In front of me was just about everything I generally ever need. A glass of something alcoholic, a cigarette and a i-pod with a fairly decent speaker attached.
From your hiding place, you wouldn’t have heard me. I sat listening mostly. I don’t wish to be the centre of attention, don’t like to tell long stories. I prefer to sit, and listen and lose myself a little.
Also, the music was really loud.
It was because of me. I was the amateur DJ. It isn’t easy to pick songs to please 13 people, but as someone with a sometimes crippling need to please, I did my best.
I kept it eclectic. Some Desmond Dekker , Beirut, Ernie K-Doe, Metronomy. Some classics – Lou Reed, The Kinks, Curtis Mayfield and some crowd pleasers, Elbow, Dizzee Rascal. Oh, and always, always Azealia Banks.
Every so often someone would break from their conversation to shout out to me, “Oh, I love this one!” or “This is really good, who is it?” And I would smile and realise how simply and easily I can be made to feel happy.
As I got happily, quietly drunk our friend P sank himself to new depths. Notorious for his alcohol induced idiocy, last night he went too far.
It was fine when we swam in the river during the day, and he perched his ample frame upon a rock in mermaid pose. Less Copenhagen, more coping badly. But by evening he had drank too much, and was refusing to stop. He became maudlin, and then aggressive, all the time demanding of attention.
And then he accidentally fell through one of the tents. Twice.
Having insulted several, he blundered off into the woods. As genuine and kind-hearted as he is while sober, you would have recoiled at the sight of him.
Three of us set off in pursuit, and for 3 hours we wandered around, blindly calling his name. We didn’t find him, and it wasn’t until five in the morning that he returned, naked, and accompanied by two German shepherds.
By which I mean the breed of dog, not a couple of professional sheep handlers from Munich.
P collapsed into sleep and the dogs ran off. At some point, while we cleaned up, he must have woken and left.
His nocturnal misadventures remain largely unknown, although a couple of our friends did find the women’s shower had been used as a toilet.
He’s done similar things before, but always remembers nothing. Too often in retelling him we’ve treated his antics as a joke, as amusing anecdotes.
He knows he is bad, but he doesn’t know how much. As a group of friends we’ve decided to tell P exactly what he did and that it was not funny. That he has a problem that needs to be fixed. That he cannot drink. It’s the harder thing to do, but we wouldn’t be friends if we didn’t do it.
And I came home to a message from G. She’s flown again and landed in my hometown in the UK, my hometown being not so far from hers. And I feel sad that she isn’t here. And I’m finding life harder without her presence. But life, like rivers and German shepherds, has to run on.
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”
~ Anne Frank ~
“How old are you?” one of my 14 year old students asked. 33, I replied. “And do you have a wife?”. I said no. She asked why.
I haven’t found her yet, I said, smiling. Her expression didn’t change but she said with some conviction “And you never, ever will…”
Kids. Bless them.
And I’m hung over but this is fine as, in one of the few examples where I am right and the world is wrong, I don’t work mondays.
It’s also fine because I have my own little hang over routine. It involves ice coffee and water and cigarettes and music and the merest splash of red wine. And I know when I’m feeling better because that’s when I start to dance.
Nothing you’d confuse with anything professional of course. Much more of a distant cousin 4 times removed from dancing. Swaying’s nephew, perhaps.
And I know I look silly but it makes me smile.
Today, I haven’t danced yet. And I don’t know that I will. Because I’ve been sharing hangovers with G, but G’s not here now. The ice coffee and water and cigarettes and music and overflowing red wine and dancing we’ve shared together.
And I know I looked silly but it made her smile.
“Without music life would be a mistake”
Her stuff isn’t strewn around my room anymore. There are exactly 50% less ciggy butts in the ashtray, and one less glass of wine. It’s been a disgraceful, debauched and deeply lovely week.
But now it’s quiet, and empty because G is gone.
More than things, she isn’t here, and I’m even emptier than the room.
She left yesterday. Our friend P came to the airport too. He was picking up a new teacher, so the taxi on the way was free. G and me both share the benevolent luck of coming by freebies easily.
She left, and I won’t be hearing laters, taters anymore. I waved and turned and walked away and felt the physical distance grow. In the taxi back I glanced up at the sky, hoping, like a fool, to see a plane.
I filled my evening with friends and filled myself with drink. Somehow, still emptily.
And she talked of coming back, and she might, but I think it was meant to make our parting easier. I think that I know that it’s over.
It was intense and it was beautiful. Days spent entirely in this now empty room.
We talked each other inside out. Made the most of every moment. We did, for this last week, what people so often forget to do: We lived.
Her wry smile, wit and eloquence are far, far away. And it hurts that I might not see her again, to amuse and be amused, be awed and to kiss. But I’m stronger because of her. And I’ll remember when she said:
You’re gorgeous and you’re perfect.
Not true. But she thought it, and the thought was so big and uncontainable that she said it. Here in my empty room I’ll always be able to think of her and smile.
“If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know it’s almost impossible to succeed… but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt”
Celine, “Before Sunrise”
We met outside a bar in a shiny neon night. There were motorbikes and street hawkers and noise and dirt and we talked alone together in a group. My friend L was there, and she sent me a text. The text said something that only a kind and caring friend could send. The text said this:
Body language signs good. Don’t fuck this up, dick.
She – G – has been the best person I could meet. You don’t see yourself with someone else when you’ve been hurt, and broken, and damaged. I didn’t.
And whisper this, but I didn’t think someone would want me. That’s the sort of thing that you really shouldn’t say. And I didn’t, but I thought it. I pushed it down but it was there.
And then I met her, and she was damaged too. Damaged, just like me. The same exact experience, though all of the names had been changed. And is there anything more blissful and reassuring than to meet another human being who understands you?
Meeting another human being who understands you, and likes you. And you like and understand them too.
Isn’t that everything that anybody has ever wanted, ever?
Now, she’s leaving. And she should go, she should. I don’t want her to go. I don’t.
It makes sense for her to leave. She hasn’t taken to ‘Nam, and a cosy little role has popped up elsewhere. But my heart is like a child that just doesn’t quite understand. And I don’t want to tell it the truth.
The worst thing I could do is fall in love with you
And I should have said, “Do it”. Because it would have spoken of our natures. Impulsive and Reckless. A bit fucked in the head. And it would have made her giggle, and I like that sound. And it would have told her how I feel. Again, I feel.
I didn’t say “Do it”. I didn’t think of those words. I lay in the bed and looked at her, and she looked at me too. I think she was thinking what I was thinking and what I was thinking was this:
Stop time, remember the now.
But memory is hard to hold. I don’t even remember what words came next. The moment, like all the other moments, was gone.
I like listening to her. She chooses her words carefully, but with seemingly no effort at all. She makes me think differently about things. She smiles, even when she’s sad.
She’s lackadaisical or passionate but never in between. There’s no concrete plan, she doesn’t know where she’ll be but she wants to learn to trapeze and she will. She floats through life like me. She’s unfazeable. She’s witty. We do silly things together every time we meet. She plays poker. I fancy the pants off her.
But we’ve been damaged, and I don’t think she wants to be damaged again. We’ve met at the right time and the wrong time too.
And she should go.
And she will go.
When she goes, I’ll think this:
Would I wish that things were different when I know all things must pass? I wouldn’t. Who would?
“And I will always wonder how it would be if we never had met,
Life would be easier though dull, I suspect,
And I’d never claim you were mine.
Just if we were words, we would rhyme.”
~ Gruff Rhys ~
After four months of WordPress being blocked – the downside of living under a Communist regime – WordPress has miraculously returned, and so have I. Vietnam is still home for the time being, with travelling and teaching taking up most of my time.
Life has been good. I’ve even stumbled upon two women who, despite possessing ample good taste and intelligence in all other affairs, managed to fall for what could laughably be described as “my charms”.
The first of these two encounters was good for me. It was almost ten years since my lips had touched the lips of anyone other than M, and at the risk of sounding hopelessly pathetic it was a relief to find someone who wished to be intimate with me. Infidelity is a crushing blow, and it did crush me. I don’t think I’d realized quite how much.
I won’t go into details, obviously, other than to say I have never been with a woman who didn’t have the common decency to fake it. Am I getting to grips with the whole bragging thing yet?
The second woman, lets call her G, is an ongoing relationship. The same age as me, married within a month of me, unmarried at almost the same time, and with the same insane notion of fleeing her home Country to teach in Southeast Asia. So we have a few things in common.
We aren’t together together. Devastatingly atrocious endings to marriages tends to put you off the couple thing, but we do some of the things together that couples like to do.
She’s interesting, and laid-back, funny and good to talk to. She has good stories, and a laconic, dry way of telling them.
Like the Japanese couple in Indonesia, who complained very politely of a lizard in their room. The receptionist explained that geckos were everywhere, that they got into rooms and that little could be done to stop them but in any case, they were quite harmless. The couple listened, nodded, meekly returned to their room.
Only after they checked out next day did the cleaner discover the Komodo dragon in the bathroom.
I’ve had no contact with M, other than one picture of her on Facebook, on her birthday, in a restaurant. She’s sat next to a man I don’t know. A colleague? Lover? I don’t know. More importantly, I don’t particularly care.
I want to hope it is a boyfriend and that she’s happy and well, and in time I will. But for the moment, not caring is progress. I’m getting over her. Odd, but good.
Which, on a good day, is probably the best review I can expect from a woman with whom I’ve been intimate.
(Forgive my macho boasting).
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”