Phuket, Thailand, June, 1995
Maybe you don’t remember me,
though I suspect that memories of my boyish,
22-year-old smile remain with you
just as your lingering downcast expression
when I turned to walk away
from our last night together
remains tangled within my fitful dreams.
Maybe I was just another
nameless face in the crowd
even when what we shared
cannot be tied to some trite label.
Maybe I imagined the bond and we were
nothing more than customer and patron,
even as you rested your head in your hands,
staring into me
when you should’ve been bussing tables and
flirting with paying customers
with greater resources than me.
Maybe you’re just a ghost now,
wandering the tropical scene of your regrets.
I sincerely hope not.
I hope and pray for your health and happiness,
though I’m woefully out of practice
on my hoping and praying.
I should’ve paid more attention when you lit incense
and paid respects to your grandfather’s spirit,
though I find it hard to believe
I could’ve possibly been more attuned to you
than I was way back then.
I can still hear your voice ringing in resonance
and almost perfect English; your command
of your second language, even better
than my shaky grasp of my first one.
I don’t know a single Thai word or phrase,
except for your name, which means
“beauty and goodness of the moon”
(I googled it).
I pray you haven’t joined your grandfather too early
and that the song of your voice,
that your beauty and goodness
still rings true and full in this world.
I cannot recall the moon’s phases those four nights,
but I know how light and shadow paid homage
to every angle of your presence.
I still recall the blank slate
of the first of our four nights together,
just before you served the first of my many beers.
You moved as if you guided the respite of cool breezes
to kiss the heat from my brow; your laughter,
both contagious and addictive.
I watched you flitter from table to table,
pollinating sailors with good vibes,
helping them to temporary relief
from being so far from home with a wink
and well-timed joke.
Maybe I imagined the whole thing,
but I could’ve sworn you paid special attention to me,
playfully teasing me out of my shyness.
Maybe my passive nature put you at ease with me,
but I suspect that the extra beat in my heart
was the gestation of something special that
only you and I could detect or comprehend.
I noticed a sailor or two leaving the bar
with some of the other servers.
Curiosity got the best of me,
leading me to ask you how it worked.
The transaction, that is.
You told me
what amount of money
equated to certain quantities of alone time,
including overnight visits.
You gave me this information
as if it were as plain and common a question as
where’s the bathroom or
how much for a round of Tiger beers.
You shared this information with a similar
sing-song teasing you did to get me to
break from my shyness and crack a smile.
You shared this information
as if I couldn’t possibly want to
commune with the moon,
to ask her if she was as lonely as I was,
to possibly bathe in moonbeams.
But you had to know; our tides
were already synched by then, I felt it.
You were a few years older than me,
but not much older. Still, maybe
your game was that much more refined
to win over my naïveté so quickly.
I’m probably overselling my naiveté, but
I certainly wasn’t the crusty cynic I am now.
Maybe your game was just that tight,
even though as I saw your peers pouring themselves
onto my shipmates, you never even hinted
that I should buy time with you.
Maybe you knew I would ask to buy time with you,
even though you seemed
genuinely surprised by my suggestion.
I was probably never in control of that situation,
though you implicitly gave me the illusion
that I was.
You probably inferred from my initial passiveness
that harmony mattered a great deal to me, so
you made a big deal of taking my hand and
offering your company
after I asked for you.
Maybe you were gaming me,
but you couldn’t possibly
fake all the tenderness and intimacy we shared.
Perhaps I was a bit naive,
but not so much that
I didn’t know the difference between
a genuine embrace
and a purchased one.
Yes, they were one and the same,
but the connection was real.
Two broken people
don’t readily expose their jagged,
missing pieces the way you and I did
without having our grey ash spill over
into technicolor vibrancy.
You were my second lover ever in life,
but I often wish you were my first
because embracing you
was like listening to music
for the first time.
Our bashful waltz metamorphized into
a baltering wish for time to stand still,
allowing us to live within that moment
for an eternity.
But as I’m sure you know,
time stands still for no one,
especially us mortals.
I had done plenty of living before meeting you
and had already filled my cup with various flavors
of heartbreak and sorrow.
But though far from innocent,
I was still criminally ignorant
to the world beyond my horizon,
the nature of exploitation,
of what I am certain now, was your exploitation.
It never dawned on me, then, to ask you
if you had chosen your life, or why.
During our short time together,
a courtship duration that makes mayflies envious,
I soon found that you spent time living between worlds;
your life at the seaside bar resort in Phuket,
and your village,
where you helped pay for your family’s lodging
and your education.
No wonder your English was better than mine.
I listened intently,
inhaling your story along with
your lavender and jasmine.
If I could go back in time,
I would ask more thoughtful questions.
But perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t.
My one burning question;
would you stay with me that one night, knowing
I lacked the means of adequate compensation.
You didn’t answer,
but you giggled quite a bit.
My face burned with shame for daring to ask,
but you kissed me and pulled me close.
I remain grateful for your patience and gentile spirit.
No one taught me
to breathe or to swim with the current of fate,
but there you were,
enveloping me within our moment,
buoyant and enduring; mindful.
I flailed, gleefully floundering in our silly
kiss-and-chase-and kiss again games
through the night that lasted
through the zodiacal glow of false dawn,
until actual dawn,
We spent one night together,
but I visited you at the bar for
the three remaining nights I was ashore.
I barely had money for beer,
but if I was hindering business,
you never showed it.
Your face always resembled my heart
when you saw me coming; beaming.
The lady in charge would halfheartedly
shoo you back into bussing tables and serving drinks,
but you mostly wasted your time talking with me.
Wasted sounds too harsh;
you shared your time
talking with me, and
I greedily smiled into your smiles and
soaked up your moonbeams until that final day,
when smiling was a difficult feat.
I gave you my ranking insignia and some award ribbons.
Worthless trinkets, but I had little of value to give,
and I wanted to leave something behind with you,
as proof that I existed; that we existed.
You tied a red friendship bracelet to my right wrist
that I would’ve cherished forever
had I not lost it after two months.
The sound of your voice,
your ringing song of laughter
was the next to go,
slowly fading from memory,
blending into the long flickering Phuket shadows.
Memories of the warmth of
your hands clasping mine,
your smile dancing in candlelight
keep you buoyantly framed within me,
and I smile, knowing that you existed.
That we existed.
Moments before parting,
you told me that I was a good man.
Frankly, I just didn’t see it. To be honest, I still don’t.
The old cynic in me can’t possibly see how
you managed to come to that conclusion so quickly.
But I suppose that isn’t fair. After all,
you were a good woman. A good woman
living her best life, reflecting her best light,
circumstances be damned.
You are probably still a good woman, I hope.
A good woman
that I knew I loved
after less than four days,
knowing there would be others,
knowing that no other would ever share
what you and I shared the way we shared.
We stood at the bar, hands clasped.
There was only that moment.
There would be no more for us.
You blew out the candle to hide your face.
The moon betrayed your tears,
though you smiled anyway.
When I let go,
you warned me not to look back,
but I did, and to this day,
the stars and zodiacal glow
are still jealous of you.
Maybe I was just another face in the crowd.
Maybe you don’t remember me,
but I will always remember you.
I hope and pray that you have found happiness
and are enjoying all the beauty and goodness
of the moon.