Chapter 6 Re-United
About 3 years ago I submitted a story called Pattaya Diary. I have received about 150 emails from around the world
re "What happened next?" The attached is the start of "What Happened Next?"
11:00 PM Thai Time
I’ve changed clothes in Korea. I’m looking sharp in black slacks, black shirt, black socks and black leather shoes. I have a splitting headache picked up just after takeoff, a three-day growth and bulging red eyes. No amount of Visine will get the red out. The $7 shower at the Inchon airport has worn off. I smell bad.
It doesn’t matter.
When I walk through customs and round the corner into the arrival area I scan the crowd for her face. Will I recognize her after all this time? Will she recognize me? I’ve lost 90 pounds, cut my hair. I have the briefest panic that she won’t be here, that it’s all a mirage…
She’s absolutely beautiful. A vision in purple Thai silk. She’s in a formal dress, long, straight, sexy as hell. Black hair straight, head tilted slightly to the right, smile as wide as her head. As I remember, she smells incredible. A mixture of perfume and Thailand. We are shy, but we touch and hug briefly. We can’t stop looking at each other. I’m finally realizing a piece of the dream. I’m here again. With her.
As we walk to the parking garage she looks at me repeatedly, touches me, a soft smile on her face, eyes bright with tears. “Not dream”, she says. “No telephone. No internet.”
In the truck in the garage we finally hug and kiss. She kisses me long and deep. I still can’t believe I’m holding her, touching her, smelling her and smelling Thailand again. My heart is pounding. I’m alive again, with Som. I can conquer the world.
The smell of her truck is intoxicating, a combination of Som’s perfume and the flowers she has on the dash and hanging from the rear view mirror. She also has five statuettes on the dash, a traveling Buddha shrine.
We hold hands shyly, like teenagers. She has to let go to shift. I conveniently ignore the fact that she’s driving a $ 25,000, 4 door, extended cab, metallic silver, mag-wheeled truck. The Isuzu D-Max.
I can’t stop looking at her. She as well glances repeatedly at me as we drive away from the airport into a piece of “real” Thailand. She lives in Muang Thong Thani, a satellite city about 25 minutes outside Bangkok. It is raining softly. The night is moist, cool and verdant.
We stop in Nonthaburi, 5 minutes from her home. She has a food shop on Chang Wattana in front of a 7-11. Everybody seemingly has a food shop in front of a 7-11 in Thailand. According to the 7-11 website there are 489 7-11 food stores in the United States. In Thailand there are 2,397 7-11 food stores. A lot of dried squid, flimsy condoms and Sawasdee ka’s.
I meet two of her brothers, Noi and Baum. They smile, we shake hands, they wai me. I’m never sure how to use the wai. I’m pretty sure I muck it up every time. The brothers spoon out some rice and soup. Do I need a royal taster? I obligingly sit to eat. Som ties an apron over her silk dress and proceeds to pound the mortar and pestle, preparing som tum for me.
“Want make for you.”
It’s incredible. The best I’ve had, or ever will, I think. While we ate at all manner of restaurants and shops when I knew her in Pattaya, this is the first food she has prepared for me. I realize over the course of my time with her that Som is an amazing cook.
I’m sitting on the sidewalk, on a blue, plastic, four legged stool at a burnished metal folding table. Chang Wattana is alive. Hundreds? Thousands? of people walk up and down the street. Food stalls are ubiquitous. Rain patters softly on the metal awning.
The doorbell of 7-11 rings continually. The sound reassures me. I had heard it thousands of times in our phone conversations, talking to Som while she worked.
A fat stray dog, engorged tits scraping the sidewalk, waddles up to the shop. Som smiles, tosses her some chicken bones.
“Dog love me. All Thailand love me.”
She smiles at me, laughs out loud.
“You love me, yes?”
She smiles that almost mocking smile. I, of course, agree with her.
“Sure, why not. Little bit.”
“Only little bit? Tonight you stay where?”
I laugh with her, hold my arms far apart.
“Better more. Can stay.”
We laugh again. This is great. One hour back in the country. We seem to be getting along well so far. The true test will come when we are alone.
We get some interesting looks as we lug my suitcase and gym bag up the stairs to her apartment in building T-9. I am conscious of the fact that another man has stayed with her numerous times in the past nine months. As she unlocks the door to her room I hope that I’m not too late.
I had no idea what to expect when I thought of her apartment. I knew it was one room, I knew that quite often up to eight people lived and slept there. It is very simple. One room. Mattress on the linoleum floor. A refrigerator, a small CD player, a small television, and an air-conditioning unit on the wall. An attached bathroom with a shower head, toilet and sink.
And of course, no Thai home is complete without a large framed photo of an English man’s mother on the wall. A red-faced, gray-haired woman who will never pass for Thai. I notice on the floor, along the wall, two more framed blowups of Som with him. I ask her to put them away somewhere, anywhere out of sight. She obliges with no resistance.
Are they in sight on purpose? Of course they are. She’s had nine months to deal with it. From minute one, the competition is on. I decide to put these thoughts on the back burner and take a cue from Thai behavior. I decide to live in the moment.
When she has another man’s mother’s photo on the wall you are at best number twelve.
She unpacks my suitcase, putting my clothes in her free-standing closet with her clothes. She places my shoes next to the door with hers.
“Now you stay me.”
She starts a Morlum CD on the stereo, turns the volume low, begins to undress. She removes her Buddha necklace, places it on the shrine on a folding table by the bed. She unzips her dress, hangs it in her closet. She turns down the light and walks to me, mesmerizing in her black panties and bra. She smiles the “bad girl” smile I remember from Pattaya.
We hug and kiss. We hold each other, swaying slightly with the music. I smell her, inhale her. She holds me tight, again whispering, “Not dream. Not dream.”
She undresses me, takes off her panties and bra. She is stunning. 35 years old, flat stomach, perfect, small, round breasts, beautifully curved ass. I see anew the scar that starts at her navel and ends just above her pubic bone. It is a jagged testament to her strength and ability to survive. I kiss her scar; kiss her face, her eyes, her mouth.
“I love you Jeff.”
We make love on and off for several hours, at first quickly, with the passion of renewal, then slowly, tenderly, getting reacquainted.
She remarks repeatedly, “You so slim.”
Losing 90 pounds does have its benefits.
I fall asleep with Som’s head on my chest. She is lying atop me.
“Miss my bed. Love my bed.”
She owns me.
Up with the roosters. Disguised as jackhammers. A shop on the ground floor, conveniently located directly beneath Som’s room, is renovating. They started yesterday. My timing is always impeccable.
I look at her face, peaceful and lax in sleep. She is not only very pretty, but very cute as well. Wide eyes and broad nose, full lips, dark black hair askew on the pillow and my shoulder. I like to wake before her and just look at her, marveling at my good fortune to wake beside this woman.
Palm trees rise past her second story window. One wall of her apartment is a sliding window, facing a large communal courtyard, complete with a small swing-set and jungle gym, crawling with small, laughing children. Laundry hangs outside dozens of windows, destined not to dry on this overcast, rainy day. I hear only spoken Thai. I feel incredibly alone, exhilarated by my novelty status.
She makes me breakfast.
Green tea, yogurt, fresh orange juice and bananas. She feeds me, hugs me, touches me constantly. Her smile is full, sexy. I’m still high on the experience. Our first morning together outside of a hotel. I’m in her home. It’s real. It’s exciting. I have a chubby. After sex we shower.
Today will be only us, the onslaught of family put off for a short time. She tells me they are curious, even more so now that the brothers have met me.
Muang Thong Thani in the daylight. I get bored looks from the security men at the lobby desk as we leave the building. I’m stunned by how many cars must double park just so they fit into the cramped lots.
Muang Thong Thani is a collection of mid-rise apartment buildings abutting a thriving food canteen, news shops, ATMs, a large fresh food market, several small sit-down restaurants and at least three 7-11 food stores.
Thousands of people mill about, tending to morning business. We walk to the car about two feet apart from each other.
We are in a long boat on the way to Koh Kret, a small river island off Pak Kret, near her home. There are small shops, a temple…and no people. It’s raining, it’s early, and it’s off-season.
My first experience with the long boat.
The long, thin, wobbly long boat.
Royal pain in the ass boat.
In college I was an athlete, putting the shot and throwing the hammer and discus, known for my footwork, graceful bear in the ring. At the age of thirty-nine I am not a graceful man. 25% smaller than a year ago, still I weigh 250 pounds.
The operator merely smiles and watches me with detached amusement. Som hovers, hopeful I won’t capsize us into the Chao Praya, the river that runs through Bangkok.
I am dressed in black, pinstripe slacks, long sleeve black shirt, dress shoes. I think she’s determined to take me places that require nice clothes. I clean up nice, but left to my own devices I’m somewhere south of casual. Of course, I’m sweating and it’s raining.
I have an enormous grin on my face as we steam across the river. I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.
My fat ass is about three inches above the river line. The spray leaves a fine mist of fetid water on my nice shirt and face. Having boated and water skied on the Potomac river, soaking up the luxuriant spray of legendary toxicity; having swum in the cesspool that is Mission Bay in San Diego; having bodysurfed with full, steaming diapers in Rosarito, Mexico, I feel I am inoculated against the ravages of 20th century Thai pollution. Som appears to move about in a bubble. She is neither sweating, nor wet from spray.
We’re sitting riverside and talking. She is trying to tell me of the history of the island. Language, as per usual, is a barrier. She is game, I am game. We patiently chat, repeat, change words, try again.
The day is lazy; fish jump in the river, cicadas buzz in the trees, a six pack of dogs wanders by, sniffs us, and shambles away. We feed the fish with small pellets. The air is thick with the fertility unique to the tropics. I breathe deep, feeling the moment throughout my being.
We are not in a hurry for one of the few times in our short life together.
A small, disheveled Thai man comes by to talk. He speaks briefly with Som in Thai, addresses me in English. He wants to practice his English, he says. I get an odd feeling from him, an undercurrent of hostility mixed with his open hospitality. Am I just a paranoid westerner?
We talk briefly, he makes a joke about Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He spies the gold ring and bracelet Som wears. He makes a joke about her being “Hi-So” (High Society). He smiles after the joke.
“Only joking. Only funny.”
Som is silent. She does not laugh.
He is not a stupid man. He can see from her skin and facial features where she is from. He sees her with a white westerner. He has effectively called her a whore.
The conversation deteriorates rapidly. We politely say our goodbyes and walk away. The moment is gone.
We’re at the movies in Pak Kret. My second favorite thing to do indoors with Som. We’re going to see the Hollywood movie Paycheck with Ben Affleck. In Thai. With no subtitles.
Movies with Som are great. We both love them, myself to the point of obsession. She’s not obsessed but is more than happy to go to the mall and watch movies. It means ice cream and shopping and time alone together with no expectations. Every time we go to see a movie ice cream is part of the ritual. All couples have their habits and customs. Movies allow us to very quickly establish a shared history.
After parking we immediately find the nearest bathroom for Som. It becomes one of our stupid private jokes. Next is wandering whatever mall or shopping area abuts the movie theatre. She always finds a way to spend about 500 baht on small necessary items like toothpaste, soap or shampoo or skin cream. Small enough to fit in her purse.
Ice cream at Swenson’s (she loves fruit flavors with chocolate and peanut butter) and then the bathroom again for Som. At the ticket window we ask a few qualifying questions of each other. Thai movie? Hollywood movie? Japanese or Korean horror movie? Which subtitles?
We always sit in the same seat if possible because I always choose the seats. Second tier, Rows E, F or G, seats 4 and 5. Left side of the theatre. She sits in seat 5, I sit in seat 4. Row E is best in Thailand because you have about ten feet of legroom in front of you in many theatres. It’s like the emergency aisle in the airplane. Anything for more breathing room.
I choose these seats for three reasons. One, I’m extremely anal retentive about certain things in my life. Two, I like to look slightly to the right when I watch a movie. We’re not too high, not too low. Even sight line. Very easy to see the movie from these seats. Three, and most important, I want something that is easily us, something that is a tradition. Something built upon small moments, the kind of moments that cement a relationship.
Because we are so relaxed in our movie rhythm we can open up and talk about almost anything. As I get to really know Som I appreciate more her simple wisdom, intelligence, humor, insight and genuine empathy. She’s romantic, yet is also the most pragmatic person I know.
She’s a damn decent human being. And she’s also damn funny. With me she has a piercing wit, an economy of words and gestures that often puts me in my place. She has a very deep intelligence that belies her 11th grade education. It’s beyond street smarts. She is wary of her intelligence, not always trusting her brain. She has been told for so many years that she is worthless that she almost believes it.
In Pattaya we saw 6 movies in 22 days. In Bangkok we see about sixty movies in 90 days.
INTERLUDE –BANGKOK INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
I am the most cosmopolitan motherfucker I know. I’m at the Bangkok International Fucking Film Festival. I am hip as hell. There are about fifteen of us in the theatre. We are the vanguard of cinema going humans in Krung Thep. It is the last day
of the festival. We make a marathon of it.
The night before we had gone to the internet shop to order tickets online. I make a leap of faith and enter my credit card number in front of Som. She doesn’t care. I am paranoid no longer. I continually underestimate this woman to my detriment. I realize for the hundredth time that I am not in her league.
One movie in particular is comically memorable.
SPARTAN (USA) : Val Kilmer saves the day, and the President’s daughter, from a smuggling ring. This movie is notable because Som finally understands the flexibility of the word Fuck. It is used as an adjective, an adverb, a noun, a verb, the subject, the predicate. She can’t not stop laughing throughout the movie. Tears flowed freely she laughed so hard.
But first, today…a nap in the truck in the parking garage.
Sitting in the truck, holding hands, faces inches from each other. I feel slightly ridiculous, but give in to the moment. I’m still in the amazement phase, ecstatic to be in Thailand for at least three months, living with Som, selling myself to her and her family. My chance, my shot. It’s all I’ve thought about or wanted for the last nine months.
The movie sucks. Doesn’t matter. Sitting in the dark, frigid theater with Som is priceless. We behave like teenagers, only quieter. Occasionally we kiss, we hold hands, she laughs at my stupid little jokes about the movie. I think I’m in heaven. I’m scoring big points. Just give me a chance.
I blew my chance. I didn’t come back soon enough.
We are in bed talking after sex. I know I should leave well enough alone, wait at least a week before prying into her other life. I can’t. It’s an itch I need to scratch.
She has made no secret of the fact that the English man wants to marry her. I am aware of her relationship with him. I told her repeatedly that I would never tell her what to do or give her an ultimatum. Her life is her choice and must remain so. I could not, nor did not, expect her to put her life totally on hold for me.
So she didn’t.
In November she said yes to marriage with the English man.
I’m staggered. It’s a heart punch.
“Why am I here?”
I scream that at her as I leap out of bed. Naked, I have no dignity for my anger. I throw on a pair of shorts. This much indignation demands at least some clothing.
“Why the fuck did you bring me here? Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”
“Me think difficult for you.”
“And this is fucking easy?”
I stalk the apartment, seething. I only wanted a chance. I never had one.
“Why am I here Som? Why the fuck am I here?”
“I love you.”
I stop and stare at her.
I have never hated anyone more than I do her right now.
“This is how you show love? What the fuck?”
I can’t stand still. I have never hit a woman. I want nothing more than to hurt her.
I do nothing except pace the apartment. She lights a cigarette. I give her shit.
“Good choice. Kill yourself and smell like shit.”
She starts to retch. She runs to the bathroom and vomits repeatedly. She is scared to death of me, shaking and eying me from the bathroom doorway. Wary, she re-enters the room. I lay into her again.
“Fuck you. Fuck this.”
I throw some clothes into my suitcase. She sits naked on the bed, wedged against the wall, tears streaming, cigarette in her hand.
“You don’t come back.”
I am floored. The air leaves my body. She is right. I try to maintain my momentum, my anger.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She explodes, lays into me.
“I love you Jeff. Why you don’t come back? Always I think, now, okay, you come. After you change day. Always change day. I think, Again Jeff. You don’t come back. Why you don’t come back? Why Jeff? You tell you love. Why you don’t come back? Why Jeff?”
I have no answer. Why indeed. I have failed her, failed myself, failed us. I have sadly underestimated the depth of her life and our relationship. It has not been “real” to me. I am a boy, not a man.
She stands at the open window, smoking and seething, shaking. Her brown skin has turned almost white. She stares out the window at the slow, soft rain. The courtyard is deserted, black and silent save for the patter of rain on palm leaves. The cigarette looks foreign in her hand, out of place, orange tip dancing with her nerves.
She looks at me with red, teary eyes.
Money. Pure and simple. When I met her I had none. I hadn’t saved a nickel my entire life. When I had enough to stay for three months and look for work, I came back. Not enough. I could not compete with a forty-year savings account and pension.
Right now, tonight, I don’t have the capacity to think all this through. I also don’t want to get a taxi in the rain. I approach her slowly.
“I’m sorry I scared you. Please don’t smoke. Cigarettes have killed many people in my family.”
She wipes her eyes, stubs her smoke on the sill and tosses it into the humid night.
She takes two hesitant steps toward me. I close the gap and we hug.
“I’m sorry Som. I’m sorry. I love you…I only wanted a chance…”
She sniffles into my shoulder.
“Why? Why? I love you Jeff.”
We sit and then lay on the bed. I can’t calm down. I get up, kick my suitcase, anger unfocused and dissipating. I glare at her.
“I should fucking leave now. Get a fucking hotel. Why am I here?”
“You scare me. I afraid you. Talk big. Talk loud.” I look down at a woman I barely know. A woman I have mortgaged my entire future to be with. A woman I love so much my chest hurts. A woman I want to kick in the head. A woman I will never harm. A woman who owns me. A woman I want to fight for.
I don’t fight fair.
“I’m sorry. I won’t hurt you.”
I look down at her, arms crossed, face still full of hate.
“Are you married now?”
“No. Change name. Have old name Mama. No have name papa Aing Em.”
“Are you married now?”
“No. Can waiting. Have Jeff.”
“Are you married now?”
If she’s lying I am sure as shit going to make her do it several times.
She looks me in the eye, holds my hand.
“No married Jeff.”
We hug, hold. Enough tears for two. I’m pretty sure she’s married.
“No more talk. We can talk tomorrow.”
“Where you stay?”
“Hold me Jeff.”
I wake and look at her. My first instinct is to pack my shit and leave. Instead I watch her as she sleeps. God help me, I still love this woman. The hate is slowly leaching out of my body, leaving an emptiness. Can she really be out of my life as soon as she’s in it? I make a ridiculous vow to myself. As long as she claims she is unmarried I will pursue her. As long as she says maybe, I will pursue her. I’m an idiot.
We are in Nongkam, about to meet her sister Yong. We’re going to an elephant show. I don’t recall asking to see an elephant show, but I do love elephants, so why not? I get out of the truck in front of a temple and call Yong’s name. She hasn’t seen me yet. At the sound of my voice she turns, screams my name and bearhugs me. Several Thai people give her an amused look.
We have a nice time at the show, Yong is easy to be with. She continually hugs me, laughing and patting my stomach. I had seen her a couple of times in Pattaya and Bangkok so she was aware of my physical change.
We eventually end up by the river, feeding fish. We seem to feed a lot of animals.
At her shop, eating. It’s almost surreal. Two days ago I was on a plane, full of hope. Now I’m on the sidewalk in Thailand, eating incredibly spicy, delicious food and I’m bitter as hell. Fuck it though. The multiple-entry Visa is paid for, the plane ticket is good for 90 days, the food is great and plentiful, the sex is great and plentiful and the lodging is free.
Okay, of course it’s not free, because I end up paying the rent. In hindsight a hotel room would have been the better choice.
And as I sit there surrounded by her siblings, I decide that no matter what, I’m going to get mine. Cynical and small-minded. I don’t care at this point. I’m not proud, but that is the truth of my thoughts. I start to do the math.
How many times do I need to have sex to amortize my expenses? The number is staggering. Solve for X.
Then I look at her laughing with her sister, scolding her brothers, bullshitting with customers, cooking food and pounding som tum. She is a lovely woman, doing the best she can for her family. She has never been anyone but who she is, never hid her life from me. This is her “real” life. We are in a different world from Pattaya.
Fuck self-pity. I need to step up my game. There is too much I don’t understand
This is a messed up story… I didn't feel inclined to go back and read the first part…but hell, she was straight with you, what could you expect?