A melter to get wrapped up in.
It’s finally happened. After week upon week of me elaborating on how I’m done for, had hit a wall, been finally finished off by my equal if not more heavy handed pursuit of the hedonistic over the spiritual — I truly and completely feel it’s actually happened.
Was going to do a post along the lines of “and then ______ slayed the mighty dragon” — but now is not the time to be remotely creative or even exhaust what limited forms of cleverness I have. Tonight, I had two beautiful girls laying in my lap begging me to head out and with them, while the group of guys I had been hanging with looked collectively like they wanted to throw me down a pit — and all I could think of was how I wanted a bed, sobriety, and nothing more. I told this to everyone and did the typical parlaying responses to the disingenuous dismay of the boys while telling the prettier of the two that she’s welcome to stop by later if she wanted company, while secretly hoping she wouldn’t.
This is the kind of situation where if I believed in a greater force or a higher being, I’d say was a prompt lesson in excess. I wouldn’t go that far but will heartily admit this is a lesson in some regard.
I leave in the morning and ache for nothing more than a simple, boring room in a beautiful place away from the typical backpacker scene. I want to drink strong coffee, eat reasonably good food, and finish a large chunk of my writings before my alcohol swollen brain gives way. As I type this, a heavy, nearly angry rain has descended upon Vang Vieng. I noticed hours before locals had setup tarps in anticipation while backpackers seemed indifferent to the blips of lightning in the far background of the mountains. Now lightning goes off, shaking the thing walls of every building here and sounding like God himself is unloading is 12-gauge at the shooting range. And it is again the local workers that will have to deal with the repercussions — innumerable footprints, an extra heavy hand of the injured for the night, and the reverberations of the even louder drunk — just add water for more decibels.
Fully aware of my own hypocrisy here but I stand by mother nature in this circumstance. I loved it here, but god damn, wash it all away.
Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top.
At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles — a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other — that kept me going.
Yesterday I badly burned my legs sitting out in a beach chair reading a book. Today I’m posted underneath a wooden hut, waiting out a pouring of mid-afternoon torrential rain. Chickens huddle and constantly scatter as a rogue spot-eyed puppy embraces its developing canine instincts — this subdued version of fight or flight taking place beneath an old Toyota Camry owned by a more privileged Khmer family eating next to me. There are 3 roosters in this flock. Isn’t that not suppose to work? Shouldn’t they be more protective over their girls and me, the fortunate observer to an impromptu cock fight?
I try to imagine what the local girls on holiday from Phnom Penh are doing now. Just two hours ago they had called me over trying to guess my ethnicity. We sat on the sand, sharing some beer and squid while trying to communicate via limited means.
As I wait, the fruit lady from the day before gets dropped off by what I believe is her son. He wordlessly helps her off his bike, a tenderness to his actions usually reserved for family, or to those with big hearts. It becomes hard to tell. That’s the thing here, in Cambodia everyone is somewhat like that. Each other’s countryman is a family member, and you always help a brother or sister in need. I saw this first hand when our tuk-tuk ran out of gas and a father with his children stopped to let our driver use their bike to find fuel. Father, son, little girl, and us — everyone calmly waiting, the air representing a natural ebb and flow to life out here.
I remember this fruit lady because she’s older than the girls who typically run the sands here. Her face is strong, carrying lines of obvious burdens from a past which I will never fully comprehend. People of this age, you don’t see much in Cambodia. They are survivors, relics for a generation beyond, and for whatever reason this woman must tirelessly work to make a means, probably until she physically no longer can.
She meticulously arranges the fruit — an assortment of mangoes, pineapples, bananas, and pomelos — necessary as it is the only way she can balance the weight of the basket that sits on her head. From this point forward she will with a straight posture walk up and down the beach for hours. At most, she carries $20 worth of fruit, and usually, she will sell closer to $10 — a number which I figure is still significantly more than the daily Cambodian wage but enough to make me hesitate thinking back to a recent bar tab.
Yesterday, while sitting on the beach near my $12 a night bungalow, drinking my $1 beer, after a $5 lunch meal, reading off my $90 Kindle — my legs got mildly sunburned. I saw an old lady selling fruit to a bunch of bald-headed Brits who were bad mouthing her because she got a little sand on their chairs. They complain about her openly, showing more care to the stray dog next to them. She quietly peels the mango with deft hands, an invisible specter on the beach. I silently mutter a prayer for the Brits to drown and tell myself I’ll buy fruit from her when I next see her.
I cringe at my helpless sense of charity. I need another beer.