Readers' Submissions

On Our Desire to Defy Gravity

  • Written by Anonymous
  • January 3rd, 2008
  • 32 min read



I see an orange horizon through the cheap diaphanous curtains of the hourly hotel. A few scattered clouds float like white silk in the Saigon sky. Motorbikes sputter four stories below. The morning traffic has begun. My chest aches. My face hurts. I want to cry but do not.

Nhi nestles in the curve of my chest. Her head presses against my throat. I stare down her forehead, her eyes softly angling, her cheeks high and sharp, her nose small and beautiful. It is our last morning together. In the evening I will board the plane for San Francisco. I will leave her behind.

My chest heaves painfully. My face aches as memories flood into my sleepless mind. It is not Nhi I will miss. It is her, the invisible woman who does not sleep beside me anymore, Tuyen, who I have not seen in 8 months. Nhi is sweet but new, an antidote to Tuyen. She served my need until this morning, as the traffic noise reached my ear and I thought for a moment I was sleeping beside Tuyen again.

For 3 years I slept beside Tuyen when I traveled to Vietnam. I thought of her as my Asian wife. At most I saw her six weeks a year in 7 day increments. But after the first year, we lived like husband and wife. We spent time with her family and friends. We traveled on holiday to Dalat and Hue and Hao Long Bay.

But I always returned to San Francisco and my American wife and family. I wondered why. I enjoyed Tuyen and her family more than my own. There was congeniality between us, even in our silences. Maybe it was the force of gravity pulling me back to the West Coast.

I never meant to dabble in the Asian demimonde. And I certainly never meant to have a girl friend on the other side of the world. I was happily married. 17 years and two children seemed fulfilling. It was what I wanted. I had seen the ladies in hotel bars on my trips to Asia. They offered little appeal. I had home and hearth. That was real. They were illusion.

One evening in Hanoi a business partner asked me to join some friends and him at a karaoke bar. I had no interest in karaoke. Who wanted to sit in a bar with a bunch of strangers and make an ass of oneself drinking too much and singing off-key. But they were business partners so I went with them.

We exited the cabs in front of an office building not a bar. I was puzzled. We took an elevator to the third floor where we were escorted into a private room. Drink orders were taken and the karaoke equipment was set up. The door opened and twenty young women entered. My partner asked me who I would like. I said a little desperately “I don’t want anyone.” My head throbbed. I thought of my wife. He shrugged. “I’ll pick one for you.”

A slender young woman walked my way. I felt a mixture of emotions – curiosity, moral revulsion, pity, fear – as she sat beside me. “Drink?” she asked. She handed me the beer I had ordered. I sipped it. She picked up a few peanuts and put them in my mouth. She giggled as one fell from my mouth to the floor.

I sat back in the heavily padded couch. She sat back with me. Her hand touched my arm. I felt my throat tingle and my head go light. I wanted to pull my arm away and also not pull it away. Not much happened for the next two hours other than sips of beer and her caressing my arm. At one point she asked if I wanted sex with her. In a moment of strange chivalry, I said “no” apologetically, eyebrows raised sheepishly. I did not want her to think I considered her unattractive.

I couldn’t sleep that night. My stomach was in knots. My head was light. One thought countered the flood of self-recriminations: I had forgotten the pleasure of a woman touching me. I had forgotten how soft a woman’s skin could be; how the slow caressing of finger on skin relaxed me, put me into a warm, meditative state. The most horrifying and seductive of all my thoughts was this: I had been without any sensual pleasure for a very long time.

I had forgotten about these things. I had accepted a married life that revolved around children and family obligations. My wife and I had been very much in love the first few years. But our first child ended regular sex. After our second child my wife didn’t want me to touch her for many months. One evening I put my arm around. She gingerly lifted it off her shoulder and placed it back onto my lap. Our routines became a succession of obligations and requirements. Life became work.

I assumed love, romance, sensuality, even the carefree moments with my wife were only meant for a brief part of our lives. We had received our allotment and used it up. Now came the work that was really life. We lived for our communities, our children and their futures. It was their time to grow and enjoy. Maybe later we could relax again but not now.

The evening in the karaoke bar jarred my world. There was a gap, a doorway through which I could walk and briefly find moments of pleasure. I could defy the gravity that pulled me back to my obligations. I had no idea of a “next move” after the karaoke bar but I longed for another evening of just being with someone attentive.

A few months later I was in Saigon. I had eaten dinner and was walking on a side street of Dong Khoi Avenue. A young woman bounded out of a bar and said merrily, “come into my bar”. It wasn’t one of the girly bars. And she did not look like one of those bar girls. She was sweet looking and attractive – actually quite beautiful. She was nicely dressed in jeans and a yellow top not in a too-tight cocktail dress with a face overloaded with makeup.

I went into her bar. It was just a bar. It allowed a few freelancers to mingle discreetly with the customers but some customers were middle aged couples chatting with the female bartenders and others were groups of men just in for a drink. My new friend was clearly a freelancer. Her English was okay so we talked for an hour in halting phrases, laughing at our disconnects. She was full of energy and smiles. She eventually asked if I wanted to go with her to a hotel. I said “yes.”

We hopped into a cab and went several blocks to a local hotel between Ben Thanh market and the river. I can never recall its location exactly although I have looked for it several times. I paid the front desk clerk for two hours. We climbed the steep concrete steps to a 3rd floor room. We kissed for a while. We showered and then made love. It was very sweet, lasting a half hour. Instead of rising to dress she stayed with me under the covers chatting. We talked until the phone rang from the front desk. Our two hours were up.

I came back the second night. She was surprised to see me. We went off again to the hotel. On the way I gave her a silver bracelet I had purchased that day. She was very pleased and kissed me. We followed the same routine, kissing, love making but mostly talking as we cuddled beneath the covers. The third night I paid for an entire evening. We slept together until early morning. We rose and left each other on the curb, she hopping onto a mototaxi and me getting into a cab.

The fourth evening was my last in Saigon. I was heading back to the US. She came to my hotel room this time, as they allowed guests until 10 pm. We made love and then talked. I ordered room service. We ate together, she in a hotel bathrobe, her hair wet, eating Thai food and commenting on its differences with Vietnamese cuisine. I sat beside her happy.

We emailed each other the next couple of months. I knew she worked the bars and so would ask how things went. The monsoons kept customers away, she said, so things were slow. She told me things were getting better in the fall as the monsoons subsided. In October I sent her a note saying I would be back in a month. She seemed very happy.

We spent the week at one of the high-end hotels in District 1. We were like a little married couple. She would go home to her family during the day. I would work. She would rejoin me at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We would dine, go to clubs or just lay in bed watching American movies. She found them fascinating, quizzing me on habits and customs that were unfamiliar to her.

We parted after a week together. It was one of the happiest weeks of my life. On the way to the airport, I wanted to cry. She had tears in her eyes. She pulled away from me at one point saying she would cry if I touched her. She did not like crying. Later I would understand why.

My plane stopped in Narita. I disembarked for a 4 hour layover. I made my way to the bathroom and shut myself in a stall. I cried for 15 minutes. I could not understand why. We hardly knew each other. We lived half a world apart. I had a family. Still, I wanted to return to Vietnam not the US.

Over the next two and half years we started a pattern of seeing each other every few months for a week or two at a time. My work with a large financial consulting firm gave me substantial leeway planning my travel, but I still needed a purpose to my visits. I worked like a demon courting clients in Southeast Asia so I could go back legitimately.

Tuyen and I had known each other for almost 8 months before the topic of money came up. I had not heard from her in a month. My emails went unanswered. Her phone was turned off. I grew frantic. A month passed. I called one day, assuming I would get the annoying fire engine sound you get when a Vietnamese mobile line has gone dead.

But this time the phone rang. Tuyen answered. She was surprised to hear my voice. She started to cry. I asked her what why she was upset. She hesitated but finally told me after coaxing her with assurances that whatever happened did not matter to me. I only cared about her well-being. She had gone to Singapore to freelance. The police picked her up and kept her in jail for 3 weeks. She had been home only a few days. She was clearly shaken.

I offered to support her if she would get out of the business. She seemed eager to exit and do something different. She sent me a budget – $500 a month would cover her own expenses, her obligations to her family and care for her 2 year old son. I knew enough about Saigon economics to know this was a very good monthly sum but not completely unreasonable.

I became her lover and benefactor. The money was of no consequence to me. I did very well in my firm. I also received a substantial bonus each year. I gave a portion to her for cosmetology school one year, a motorbike another year and some fun things another year. If she was happy, I was happy.

As time passed I grew comfortable with our relationship. I sometimes paused and wondered why I never felt any guilt. I certainly did not want my wife to find out. Barring that I could care less about any moral implications of my relationship with Tuyen. This doubly puzzled me as I was not just a family man but also a good church going man. What was this all about?

I concluded this: I was owed this pleasure. I had devoted my life to wife and family. I gave up my hobbies, many of my friends and all my free time to support my family and be with them. If my wife wanted me to clean the house or cook, I did that. If I was tired and my kids needed me, I spent it with them, not asleep on the couch. Everything went to them.

Very little came back to me. Routine sex stopped after our first child. Affection went out the window with the second. And life became work. When I walked in the door in the evenings, there were no smiles for me. Only complaints from my wife about how hard the day was and bickering between my children. As soon as dinner was finished, it was the evening bitch session to get them to do their homework.

The weekends followed a similar dismal path. Chores, grocery shopping, soccer games, and the never ending parental taxi service, hauling kids from play date to birthday party to sleepover. This was the 90s and early 00s. We parents told ourselves we lived for our children’s well being. We joked about how grim our lives seemed at times. But it was worth it, we said, nodding together, smiling on cue.

Now I don’t want you to think that I am going to descend into one of those rants about “feminazis” and western women having no soft inner core. I care about my wife. She is a good person. For whatever reason though, American culture is not about kindness and giving. It is about work and obligation. My wife took that message to heart. She spent her days fixing every problem, managing each crisis until it subsided, and looking for anything left undone. She had no time for me or herself, for that matter. There was always too much to do even when there wasn’t. It was not her fault. She was only doing what our culture asked.

I think also we are victims of our biology. I look at the cycle of Western romance – teen infatuation, dating, “serious” relationships, marriage, children – as a biological imperative, not really a choice. When I met my wife, I assumed I was choosing to be with her. Something more was at work. I had an innate desire for something greater than just me and a woman for that moment. I wanted permanence, stability, and legacy. I was a salmon swimming upstream to mate.

Recently I’ve noticed a number of professional women divorcing their husbands after they’ve had their children. I said to a colleague who had recently shed hers, “it seems to me that women marry just to have kids.” She gave me a point-blank stare and replied dryly, “you’re just figuring that out?” Actually, I was just figuring it out.

We should not take this personally. We go into marriage with the best intentions. But biology is not about good intentions. It is about procreation. It wants us to continue the species, not have a good time. It gives us a good time, indeed, but only so we will continue the species. Once that happens, we have a diminishing value to the greater natural order.

So my wife’s lack of romantic or physical attention was just a part of a greater plan that she had no control over. I too had bought into it completely until that fateful night in a Vietnamese karaoke bar. Had I never entered it, I would still be a somnambulist. The karaoke bar awakened something in me primal and atavistic. Once ignited, I could not go back to my natural state of forgetting.

And so I wanted to be with Tuyen – all the time and always. I fell asleep at night thinking of her. I imagined us living on the coast of Vietnam in Cau Mei or Hoi An, biding our time in romantic bliss. I would not care about career or family or the future. But gravity pulled me back. Why?

Maybe Tuyen was only a dream. Maybe the power of being with her was that I could return in an emotional time machine to my youth where teenage infatuation met adult sexual fulfillment with hints of happily ever after. She was the conflation of all things good about love and sex. I imagined a life of eternal bliss with her as I had with my wife 20 years prior. But Tuyen in our brief moments gave me greater bliss than I had ever felt with my wife or other Western women.

Maybe the Asian woman plays somehow into Western man’s fantasies most perfectly. The doting, the physical affection, the little things like her feeding me as if I were a child when we ate together, fueled an affection towards her I had never felt for anyone else. That she put me ahead of her made me put her ahead of me. It was a race to see who could dote on the other more perfectly. It made me dizzy.

With her I could defy gravity. I could ascend into an aureate sky of affection and caring. The common place problems vanished and there was only my beloved. I never grew angry with her. I only wanted to solve her problems. She wanted I gave. She grew quiet I held her. She smiled I was happy.

I spent time with her and her family, that is, what was now her family. She lost both parents within a year of each other when she was 11. Her older sister was hit and killed by a motorbike when Tuyen was 14. At 17 she married but her husband left her after their daughter was born. So she lived with her uncle and aunt and their 4 children.

They were a working class family in Tan Binh District near the airport. They lived off an ally in a house owned by their one adult son. Her aunt – her mother’s younger sister – runs a Pho stand in the alley. Her uncle is a maintenance worker at a new office building in District 1. Tuyen and I spent much of our time there eating meals and just hanging out. We went to the beach with her family and once took a two day trip to the Mekong to visit relatives.

I thought I was defying gravity. We did normal things together, family things. Yet we still adored each other. We were each other’s best friend and lover. At times I wondered if this would continue should I ever move to Vietnam and marry Tuyen. Or would we find ourselves in the same slow death spiral I found my current marriage?

The last time I saw Tuyen was winter 2007. I managed to plan a business trip with two meetings a week a part. Tet sat between them. Tuyen and I visited her friends. We handed out lucky money. We took meals with her family. In the evenings we went to restaurants and discos. She gave me a 100,000 Dong note as her gift of lucky money to me. It still sits in my wallet.

Our departure was the same – painful, verging on tears, a quick hug and then on her way. I wanted to get my boarding ticket and hit the lounge, as lingering was more painful than leaving by that point. I had plans to be back in the spring and then summer. It would not come soon enough.

But work complications interfered with my trips to Southeast Asia. I had to go to Europe instead. My company had new clients there and I, being the expert in my little niche, was needed to seal the new relationships. I wrote long apologetic notes to Tuyen. She seemed to understand.

At one point in the summer she sent a teasing email saying maybe she would marry someone else because I never came around anymore. I sent an overly apologetic note and she comforted me saying she was joking. I called her and we talked for an hour. She said “let’s IM”, something we had never done before. It was fun, a good way to spend a Saturday morning at work.

Finally, I had a trip to Vietnam planned in November. I sent her a note. She seemed excited to see me. It had nearly been 9 months, far too long. I sent her my itinerary but did not hear back for 5 days. I called. Her phone was turned off. I emailed frantically. I heard nothing. The phone remained off, that damn fire engine sound blaring each time I called her number.

I had feared all year she would give up on me. Although our time together had been good, I was married and would remain married as long as the kids were in the house. I knew she was terrified of people leaving her, as her parents and sister and husband had. Maybe my reassurances and money were not enough.

Doubling my fears was her friend Susu. Another bar girl, a real party girl igniting a disco with her laugher, she was the most mercenary I had ever met. She had recently married an older Italian man and moved with him to Italy. She had allowed him to marry her after a long review of her list of European suitors. I was certain she was counseling Tuyen to give up on me and marry one of her husband’s friends or even one of her old boyfriends. Maybe that was what happened.

I landed in Saigon at 6:30 pm on a Monday evening. Within two hours I was in the bar where we had met. Tuyen had stayed in touch with the owner. We even dropped by on occasion for drinks. I entered the bar. The owner and I exchanged a polite hello but I chatted with the bartenders for a couple of hours. It would take some time before it was appropriate to ask the owner any questions.

She eventually sat beside me. I asked her, “Remember me? I am a friend of Tuyen.” She smiled and nodded sympathetically. “Yes”, she said. I asked about Tuyen. She said softly but without pause that Tuyen was married. I was not surprised but it still hurt. I asked when. She said in the summer. I asked who, she said a foreigner, someone who spoke good English, but that she was not good judging nationalities since her English was not good. I asked if he was a good person. She said yes, very good, a young man maybe 35.

I went to my hotel that night and cried. I slept little, waking up to cry some more. I went to the bar the next three nights and heard more and got much sympathy. The owner said Tuyen did not want to leave me but that she did not see a future with me. The last year had been very hard for her. Many bad things had happened. I asked “what” but she would not elaborate. She met her husband in July and was married a few weeks later.

I remembered the email Tuyen sent, joking about getting married. It was sent in late June. I went to my Gmail account at the Internet café, re-reading the email. After the “joke” about getting married she said:

Before I die my heart still have u and will think about u before one minute I go to die. I really miss u and I hope Apuda (Buddha) gave me keep ur in touch forever never lost u. I know u very good with me that why I never can forget one man same u. U number one in my heart. Don’t have man can be with u.”

It was her farewell to me. I did not understand at the time. It said what I was now hearing. I was good to her. We had been good together and it would be nice if we could continue. But I wasn’t enough. She needed more than a part-time boyfriend.

I remembered another bar owner – Khee – who once had a bar in the backpacker section of District 1. Tuyen had worked for her and also been friends. I decided to look up Khee. Her bar was closed but I assumed people in the neighborhood would know of her. I spread the word. They passed it along. That evening Khee arrived at a local coffee bar. We sat down for drinks.

She said she would never tell me about Tuyen when we were together. She wanted to but felt loyalty to Tuyen. Now that she was married and gone, she would tell me all. She thought it the only decent thing to do for me, as I had been faithful to Tuyen for 3 years. She warned me that there was much I did not know.

She said that Tuyen never stopped working the bars. I had come to suspect so much. Her cosmetology classes never led to graduation or job. Although her arrest in Singapore in early 2005 led to a one year ban, she freelanced at the high-end hotel bars and western discos in Saigon. As soon as the year ban was up she went back to Singapore every few months.

Tuyen always did extremely well, better than most bar girls in Saigon. By my calculations she grossed $40 -$50,000 a year, $10,000 coming from me. But she was always desperate for money, spending it as fast as she made it. She once came back from a two week trip to Singapore with $6,000. It was gone in a week.

Khee said that Tuyen drank heavily. She would do okay for a while but start feeling desperate about life. She would ruminate about her losses and then go off for days on drinking binges. The last year was a particularly hard year. She fell in with a very trendy crowd at the discos and started smoking heroin. On occasion she mainlined, disappearing for days at a time into the slums of Saigon.

At the start of 2007, Tan, a friend of Khee’s, hired Tuyen to work in her bar at the far end of the backpacker section of District 1, where the street narrows and traffic thins out. Some days Tuyen did well, entertaining the customers and finding one she liked enough to go off with. At times she would fail to show up for work, binging and drugging for a week or more. And then some days she got drunk in the bar and into fights with the other bar girls and even customers. Tan fired her twice but always hired her back. Once when sober and reflective, Tuyen confided in Khee that she did not see a future. She saw the end coming.

The end did come but in a much different form. One evening in late May he walked into the bar. He was 28, handsome and American. He was a bit scruffy, having missed a shave for the last 3 days, busing about central Vietnam. Between jobs in Vietnam, he had decided to play backpacker for the summer. He fell for her immediately. They spent the week together. And then he asked her to go on holiday with him to Laos and Cambodia to visit temples. Although neither country interested her, she was curious about the temples being a devout Buddhist and curious about him. When they returned a month later they were engaged. They were married within a week.

Khee said Tuyen liked him but did not love him. He was a good man with a good heart and loved her dearly. He was also young and handsome, softer on the eye and better in bed than most of her customers, I am sure better than me. Tuyen pushed for a quick marriage, fearing he had other girl friends and would have second thoughts if left alone for a few weeks.

Tuyen told Khee she would try to make her marriage work. If so – so much the better. If not she would be no worse off. They married in late June. No one seemed to know where they lived. Some said they went to the countryside of Vietnam. Others said they went to Singapore. Wherever they went, it was not Saigon. Tuyen had had enough of Saigon. It held many bad memories and many temptations.

Khee said forget Tuyen. She liked me and enjoyed me but could never love me or anyone for that matter. She is too desperate a person to love. Everything is about today and what she can get now. I heard Khee’s words and wanted to agree but could not completely. I have always been a good judge of character. I have been very successful in business living by my intuitions about people. How could I be so wrong about Tuyen?

But I had had enough tears in Saigon. Maybe it would be best to forget Tuyen. I would never hear from her again anyway. I would sort this out later. I kept thinking of the Marlene Dietrich movie, The Blue Max, where a middle aged professor falls for Dietrich, a young, beautiful cabaret singer. He makes a public fool of himself and eventually destroys his reputation over Dietrich. This could be me. I’d best go home.

To feel better I wrote three long emails to Tuyen, not expecting them to be read. In one I said that I understood why she married. I could not be there for her. I sent another that was harsh, criticizing her for not telling me about her marriage, lying to me about working in the bars, and letting me send her money after she was married. I then sent a short final email saying being with her had been truly wonderful. I didn’t care about the lies and deception. All was forgiven. I wished her well.

The last email was the truth. Whatever lies there had been, there had also been joy. That could not be erased. She is a very beautiful woman who lights up a room. She can pick and choose who she is with. For some reason she picked me. Why I do not know. But it wasn’t initially about money. That came 8 months into the relationship at my suggestion.

I went home sad and resigned but seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. My marriage was still intact. No one was the wiser. And I would have $500 a month to play around with. Besides I had made a friend in Khee. We had planned to get together on my next trip.

I sat doing emails late one evening after the family had gone to bed. I had not checked my Gmail account in several days. This is the account I used only with Tuyen. I typed in my password and logon ID. It opened. There in bold was an address line with her name. I was stunned. She had sent me an email.

It was deeply apologetic. She admitted it was wrong to not tell me about her marriage. It was wrong to ask for money. She was sorry. Over and over again she apologized. She said she would never ask for money again from me. She simply wanted to stay in touch.

She said her husband was a good man but she missed me. She said she would have married me but knew it would break my children’s hearts if I left them and my wife for her. She prayed that we would stay in touch.

I receive emails each week from her now, always on Mondays at about noon. I suspect this is when her husband is at work He probably works 9 -5 job. She told me where she is living in Vietnam. It is not Saigon. It is a small picturesque town far away, deep in the Mekong near the Cambodian border.

I have checked out the town online. Her husband probably teaches English as it is about the only job an ex-pat would do there. Tuyen said he does not make much money. Although English teachers do very well by Vietnamese standards, they make far less than she did at her peak.

On a recent trip I heard through my Saigon grapevine she may be pregnant. I feel sad in way. It will take her further from me. The emails may stop. Maybe it is her way of cementing her relationship with her husband. A baby will bind them together in a way that love can never manage. I know. Children are a glue of sorts. We will do nearly anything for them, including stay with spouses when the fire is gone.

I am left wondering what she got from me. Maybe I too was fantasy, a conflation of all things good that she could not get in reality. She seldom drank around me. We could spend days together with only a few glasses of wine for dinner. She was never wild around me, delightfully boisterous, yes, but never obstreperous. What was I to her?

I know this much – we always engaged each other. I understood the ironies of life as did she. We would tease each other about them, joke endlessly, but always about things that mattered. Our jokes let us talk about reality without it coming close and searing us.

I had a youth similar to hers – full of trauma and drugs – but I survived and matured. I was calm, not angry anymore. I was philosophical, not turbulent. I think she liked that. She could be calm with me. I doubt I was a great sexual attraction for her, but I was charming and engaging and calming in a way she hadn’t known for a very long time. I was an anchor. She could see a different side of life. Maybe that is why she married the man she did – she had seen stability and liked it. She knew it could be a way out.

Our emails to each other are filled with affection for one another. On my last trip to Vietnam, she wanted to see me but lives too far away. I wanted to see her too but admitted it was probably a bad idea. I always end my emails urging her to be kind to her husband as she was with me. Kindness can be a pathway to love. It would be okay by me if she learned to love him. Love is our only safe harbor. Her happiness is my happiness.

And so nearly a year has passed since we were last were together. But it seems like we are still together. I can not leave her. She can not leave me. I believe we were meant somehow to be together, although not as lovers or husband and wife, and not necessarily in each other’s presence. There is an intersection of our souls that will not be broken.

Maybe Tuyen was right. Buddha watches over us. He brought us together briefly to help each other. She re-animated my sensual side, resurrected tenderness and affection, showed me longing and hope. For her, I think I pointed back to a time before her losses when her life was good. She did not need to wash her life down the sewer with a cocktail of alcohol and heroin.

I think about her husband too. In a way he is like me 20 years ago. Everyone who met him told me he is good and kind and earnest, like I was once. He dotes on her. She is his center. I was once this way with my wife. Although he is not her center, she must see that goodness is a reasonable harbor to anchor in for a while. If love can grow, it might become the permanent harbor she could not find in the middle part of her current life.

I think about this too: she could have picked any number of Westerners in Saigon. She is beautiful and tantalizing, a brilliant light even in the brightest of rooms. Some of her customers were rich, taking her on holiday to expensive resorts, buying her expensive gifts that gave her temporary relief. But she picked a kind, earnest, modestly paid American, who took her from the bustle of Saigon to the slow, tidal rhythms of the lower Mekong. She will carry his child soon if not already. Maybe the value of the commonplace was my gift to her.

And so I lay with Nhi, this painful tear-filled morning. The motorbikes, the rhythm of Saigon, pelt the air with their staccato sounds. The sun now pierces the diaphanous curtains, hurting my eyes. I look at Nhi’s body curled against mine. She is sweet and affectionate. She is youth and newness. She won’t let go of me even in her sleep. I want her very badly. But I also feel Tuyen near me like a phantom.

Gravity will pull me back to San Francisco once more. I will get on the plane tonight and cry again in the stall of the men’s room in Narita airport come the morning. I do not know why I do this. It would be easier to slink back into my old life, to forget there ever was youth or love or affection. I risk too much with these forays into the Asian heart. I risk too much but I also lose too much of me when I let gravity have its way. So I struggle to rise into sky, to defy gravity even though I will crash back down sooner than I wish.

Stickman's thoughts:

Very, very touching indeed.