Letter From Phoenix
Today the birds are singing very brightly as they jump from branch to branch on the trees in the courtyard. This is my favorite time of the day; mid-morning with the sun low and the temperature still moderate, even though we are in the middle of a huge desert. As I watch the small yet wonderful spectacle, I forget about who I am and where I live and just enjoy being alive. For what seems like a very long time, I linger here in the courtyard oblivious to all the other activities around me. That is, until my friend in the yellow smock returns to wheel me into the cafeteria where I will eat my lunch with all my other friends. Their names escape me for now but I remember their faces and all the stories they tell me again and again every time I meet them. Afterwards, I will return to my room for a nap, dinner afterwards, and then watch television while sitting in the one chair in my room. At some point, I fall asleep there but strangely, I always wake up in my bed with my friend in the yellow smock saying good morning to me. She helps me bath and then brings me a small breakfast. After that, my daily routine starts again. Sometimes, people with friendly faces come to visit me. They look familiar but I can’t remember their names. They only stay a short while and then I am not sure where I am in my routine. I ask my friend in the yellow smock for help and she tells who just visited, but I never remember. It doesn’t matter; soon I will eat and soon after that I will fall asleep and dream of strange lands and strange people. I wish I could remember these dreams when I wake up.
I should say now that there are some things I do remember. I remember that I am now quite old and living in some sort of home. I am not sure how I got here. I believe I have a son who helped me move in here but the details are not clear. I believe I was living in Thailand in a place called Pattaya, or was that a story I read? No, that was real; I lived in a condo near the beach and I used to go to this restaurant for lunch where I knew the owner. He was an American like me and we used to exchange news of our old homeland. And some nights, there was this bar I used to go to with the prettiest girls. I would ask them to come home with me and they would take their tops off and give me a hand job. They were really nice girls so I always gave them a good tip. Some days I would walk along the beach talking to the vendors. Every few months I would see young men in the town with very short haircuts. They were mostly servicemen from America so I would buy them beers and tell them the best places to go. Outside of these encounters, I had few friends so I read a lot of books and tried to stay out of trouble. It was a good life until one day I blacked out in the kitchen and woke up on the floor. For some reason, I couldn’t move or call out. I lay there for what seemed an eternity until my neighbor walked in and got me to the hospital. It was all very confusing there. Then one day I awoke in the hospital and talked to a nice young man about going back to America. So, here I am now.
What is funny about my life now is that I cannot remember recent events but things that happened long ago are crystal clear in my mind. For example, I remember the day I told my parents I wanted to be called by my middle name when I was five years old. I remember all of grade school through high school, all the teachers and classmates, especially the girls. I even clearly remember my first fuck; she was older than I and very horny. The same with college, marriage, children, and then the divorce; it is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. Not today’s yesterday but the yesterdays when I was younger. But the clearest images I have are of all the wonderful girls I was with years ago when I used to travel the world on business and take my pleasures when I could get them. Not all the girls are clear, mind you, but the ones who seemed to genuinely enjoy being with me. These women are always a short thought away from my consciousness and appear to me in my dreams early in the mornings before I awake and discover myself in this old and decrepit body. How I long for their smiles, the touch of their flesh, and sweet cooing after we had made love. Afterwards, they would entwine themselves around my body for an embrace that made me feel totally human and alive with the world. If I could find a way to make that happen today, I would pay whatever amount of money I could afford; even if it were only for one night. What slow torture it is to die alone.
Some nights, when my mind drifts back to those days; I wonder “what if”. What if I had decided to forego my worldwide position and I had settled down with one of the nicer girls I had met on my travels? After the divorce, I had decided that all I wanted was to make money and enjoy sexual pleasure without any commitments. When I was healthy, that decision seemed like the right one. Now that I am older, I depend much more on the good graces of strangers. But what if they weren’t strangers? What if one of them was now my loving wife and I’m now surrounded by doting family members, willing to make my last years worth living?
But who could have made that happen? Was it the girl in Beijing? Would I now be surrounded with loud Chinese grandchildren and squabbling nieces in some small Chinese city? Or maybe Ana from Mumbai, who came from a good family? Or even the street walker from Capetown? All she wanted was to get off the streets and enjoy life. Could I now be dying in a small township outside of Capetown near the beautiful waters of the Indian Ocean? But as my mind wanders through the passageways of my memory and I see all their lovely faces, I most clearly remember Da from Bangkok. Her heart was the truest of them all yet I discarded her just like all the others before her.
Now seeing her clearly, I re-imagine how my life would be different after that first night we met. I would have expressed my love to her and given her enough money to wait for me for a couple of months. Back in America, I would have convinced our Asia-Pacific managing director to hire me locally in Bangkok to service our SEA customers. After another month of packing and good-byes, I would be living in Bangkok, probably Sanam Pao, where seeing farang men with decent Thai women is not that unusual. I would send Da to school for business or hairdressing and I would help what was left of her family as well. We would start a family and as the years passed and our child was ready for university, I would retire to small town outside of Surat Thani near where Da grew up. I would insist we live near the water but close to the city so Da could continue working if she wanted to. I would tend to the trees on our property and sell fruit to local vendors. In the evenings I would drink my beer while listening to Da tell me of her day and all the local gossip. At night, we would sleep entwined just as we had that first night together. When I became sick, she would hire local friends to care for me and make sure I was never unattended. Instead, as the dream fades, I realize I am here alone with strangers for friends.
Why did I choose to spend the last third of my life the way I did? After I met Da, I continued working at my stressful worldwide job, which guaranteed I had few friends at home and more adventures with working girls. But my life became stale; the work was routine and the girls’ faces started to blur almost as soon as they left my hotel room. When I finally thought I had enough savings, I retired to Pattaya. I met a few friends in the ex-pat community but they weren’t really friends, just drinking buddies. A few of the girls I took home seemed very nice and I was tempted to ask one of them to move in with me, but I was now comfortable living alone and it would have been awkward at best. Anyway, I was now too old to change my ways so I settled into a routine of housework, reading, emails, drinking, and girls. With each year I enjoyed it less but I had convinced myself this was the better way to live; not confined by family and with freedom I never really exercised. It wasn’t until my fall that I realized people, even loners like me, are not designed to live alone. In my time of need there was no one there. I had been a fool but now time had run out.
Oh well, you cannot change time so I will be content with visiting my bird friends every day, and watching that game show I always like so much. What’s the name of it? Where is my nurse? When’s dinner?
There are so many paths to choose in life. Whatever choice you make, I often think it is best to look forward, and not back. Regret has few benefits.