Falling Through Doors

Nov
20

Double Tank Road

 

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I’ve only been in India for a week so far but I’m already losing touch with basic things about myself like how I talk to doctors and what I like to eat. When the doctor asks me which cereals I usually consume I’m not sure why I say none, and I don’t even think of it as a weird thing to say until he asks me why and I am unable to answer. He looks at me like I’m insolent and perhaps not very smart and so I play the part and sink down in my chair and say, “I mean, I eat bread and things like bread.”

I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here, but I’m getting used to this feeling that has been following me for the years I’ve been traveling. I know what I’m doing in Mysore, but not necessarily the clinic. I’m here mostly because I need somewhere to stay, and this is a nice place. From my room on the second floor I can see the sun rising red, and from the common veranda I can sit and watch it in the evening, orange and slipping beneath a horizon of palm fronds and the two reservoir towers on Double Tank Road. I checked myself in yesterday and this is already my third time sitting in this office. The windows are guarded by broad leaves and so the room is dim and seems cool compared to the South Indian scorch that’s surely mounting upon the day beyond them. The doctor’s desk and the arms of the chair I’m sitting in are a dark wood with worn varnish that somehow makes the room familiar. I sit up straight again and the backs of my thighs make a squeaking sound against the vinyl seat. Yesterday he took my pulse and told me I should avoid onion, garlic, chili and hot weather. Today he takes my pulse and asks how I feel. I tell him nauseous and he smiles because that’s normal. He says they’ll bring me food when I feel hungry but not before and that he’ll see me again tomorrow morning. When I stand up to leave I stub my toe on the desk and hurry out of the room like it didn’t hurt.

I came to Mysore to stay with my brother, Michael, for a couple of weeks before travelling around India, which I will do for the next five months. He lives here with his partner, Sanjay, an Australian from the suburbs of Melbourne whom I hadn’t yet met. They moved here to study yoga, and that’s what they do each day. Before I arrived Michael told be they’d bought a small countertop oven and had put on, to an inconclusive level of success, small bake sales outside the studio where they practise. Michael and I haven’t seen much of each other over the past few years. The truth about why I’m no longer staying with them is sensitive, not because of anything embarrassing for me such as needing rehabilitation or being on the run or the fact that I’ve been travelling in search of something only to encounter a perpetual sense of being lost, as in a sense of having lost everything, as in the big things, like myself, all of which are true and not true in varying degrees. It’s sensitive because to my foreign eyes they seem to be unravelling, because my brother seems like a different person, because of a deep sadness, though at this point in time it’s not my place to say.

There are only two others staying here at the clinic. One is a skeletal middle aged man who spends most of his time in his room, or else pacing up and down the upstairs hallway moaning and out of breath. There is also belching. I take this to mean that he is nearing the end of his stay and understand that I have this to look forward to. The other is a female Swami who arrived the day before me. I am shy and have mostly been avoiding her, although we watched the sunset together last night and I have noticed that she likes to read. There is a possibility that she doesn’t like to read all that much, it’s just that the days here are long. I don’t necessarily like to watch television but I’ve been watching the tiny one mounted on the wall above my bed because what else can I do when I’m waiting to get hungry, besides read and ignore my nausea and avoid the Swami so I don’t say anything to embarrass myself, which I’ve already done each morning so far with the doctor. I also wait for Michael to visit, which he said he’ll try and do most days. So I go up to my room from the doctor’s office and sit on my bed. The ghee that I drank this morning before the idols of Hindu gods is heavy in my stomach and I can tell it wants out. The amount will increase daily for the first half of my stay here, and will then be replaced by morning massage and steam treatments, which sound so much better to me, especially because I like ghee, and there’s no way I can know at this point that after I leave here it will be years before I can even smell it again.

My shirodhara treatment is at three. I try to look forward to it because it’s meant to be relaxing, lying swaddled in a linen loin cloth on a table in a warm room, even though I know the smell of hot buttermilk running over my forehead and filling my ears for twenty minutes will make me gag. I know my hair will continue hold its sour scent and when I try to fall asleep I will smell it on my pillow and feel sickish and frustrated. Afterwards, they’ll rub me down with oil and the soles of my feet will be so slick that I will face danger when I stand. Then I will steam in a wooden box with a hole cut in the top from which my neck and head will protrude, and I’ll spend the entire thirty minutes imagining the possibly real spider crawling through the dark quarters within.

*

My first night in India was spent in Bangalore. Michael and Sanjay met me at the airport and we stayed a night in a guesthouse. I rose before dawn covered in itching, weeping welts. In the morning we were served a breakfast of rice and curries on a leaf at a communal table and the boys showed me how to do it, how to scoop with the fingers of my right hand only, to push with my thumb, to not let my fingers into my mouth in the process. We ate a pizza with paneer on it for lunch at a Pizza Hut in a shopping centre. We returned to their apartment in Mysore in a hired car, and it would turn out to be one of very few pleasant transit experiences I would have during my months backpacking around the south. In two weeks’ time I will buy two seats side-by-side on an overnight bus to Ernakulam because I’ve been told this is a good way to avoid violation, and will wake in the night to discover a man in the seat beside me, leaning over me and staring. In ten weeks’ time I will travel in a third-class sleeper car to Mumbai, curled around my backpack on a top bunk, my bag chained and locked to the railing. I will not be able to sleep, and at one point when I turn around in the night I will discover a man leering next to me, his feet on the edge of the lower bunk, his head hovering and glowing somehow in the moonlight that enters through the barred windows. He will sheen from sweat, and I too will be sweaty as I realize that he is attempting to reach up the hem of my cutoffs, and in that moment I will feel exposed and remote, not homesick but homeless, as though it’s been an immeasurable amount of time since I’ve slept somewhere where this hasn’t been a possibility.

They made their spare room for me: plumeria, fresh papaya, a six-mantra chanting box, Nag Champa, and crisp violet bedding folded taut into a pallet on the floor. They were on the second floor of a walkup and had two bedrooms, a narrow kitchen, a wet bathroom, and a large living area decorated with flowers, candles, and cushions tastefully strewn about the floor to make a kind of sitting area. Walking into their house I had the feeling I’d interrupted a long conversation. There was some tension, and my closeness with my brother seemed to drive a wedge into an already forming rift. I felt both welcome and not. I fell asleep to the muted sounds of an argument, words meeting the night with the same dull thud of a boxing glove on a bag.

My first morning with them I woke early and listened to each mantra in the chanting box before rising and going to the living room. It glowed pink from the rising sun, and the air out the window smelled of wood smoke and garbage fires. A cow ambled up the road and when it reached our building it turned toward me and approached the window. A calf hung close to its side, its high pitched moo tentative and heartwarming. The cows and I were watching each other when Michael entered. I saw a man no longer in his early twenties, baby fat given way to angles and sinew, grey hair planting flags in the turf behind his ears. I saw my age in him, too, the small streak forming at my crown, my forearms too tanned and ropey. He asked me if I wanted to feed them and showed me the way they tipped the food waste out the window, how the cow and her calf came moseying over to moo at us and eat the scraps. I asked if he was all right and he shrugged and his glassy blue eyes said he didn’t know, so I asked him to take me to the shop. We bought mangosteen, pomegranate, pineapple, yogurt, badam milk. We sang our songs from childhood. We felt, together, something like home. On the way back to the apartment, crossing Double Tank Road, Michael picked up a terrified puppy and carried it across safely, and the dog was so frightened it tremored in his hands and peed all over the place before Michael put it down again and it scampered away.

We were cutting the fruit for breakfast when Sanjay got up and came into the kitchen, which was barely big enough for two. I saw a look, saw their disappearance into the other room, heard hard whispers. Sanjay came back to the kitchen and told me it was time to go to the market, that it was an amazing market, that I could pick out some new things to try. I covered the fruit plate and put it in the fridge and we hailed a rickshaw to Devaraja. On the way all Sanjay said was, “I feel like getting fresh coconut.”

Walking under the colourful canopies of Devaraja Market I saw mountains of limes and mangoes, starbursts of plantain, spires of spices and incense. I saw hibiscus and lotus and oils and soaps, teas packaged in elegant fabrics. I saw my brother trying to placate a tight-lipped man, I saw his need to please, I saw that somehow my arrival had surfaced something. I said to Sanjay, “I see them.” There was an old man sitting under an umbrella, flanked by mounds of coconuts. When he didn’t respond I said, “Michael, remember that guy at the market in Malacca with the gnarled fingers? Sanjay, did Michael ever tell you about the man at the night market when we were in Malaysia who was trying to prove his healing serum worked by ramming his finger through coconut shells? He asked for a volunteer from the audience and Michael went up there with him and neither of us knew what he was saying and I was so frightened that Michael would have to jam his finger into the coconut, too.” Michael and I laughed, and Sanjay said, “No, he never told me about that,” and Michael said, “Yes I did,” and we all walked right past the coconut vendor and deeper into the market until we were enveloped by the spicy fermenting fug. I stopped and bought some Jasmine and held it close to my face and when Michael looked at me I smiled and held it up to his, long enough for him to take a few breaths.

*

The day after the market Sanjay drove me here to the clinic on the back of his scooter and we said goodbye at the front door. I needed to be somewhere else; it was too much to for me see my brother reduced in a way I’d never seen, to see him bend in ways that made him look like someone else completely. Before driving away, Sanjay told me that a panchakarma cleanse is a great thing to do while in India, that it’s like a rebirth. He warned me that the last day of the cleanse would be spent pacing and moaning and trying not to vomit, and then on the toilet with one of the twenty something bowel movements I’ll have that day. “I’m serious,” he told me. “You shit all day.” Good, I thought. I wondered if this meant I would go home and tell everyone I had found what I was looking for, if this was what people mean when they talk about finding themselves. Just in case, I will check into an ashram in Kerala in about a month from now, earning my room and board by cleaning the rooms and working in the kitchen and, later, tending the vegetable gardens. I will dress in white and meditate in the mornings and evenings under a mango tree. I will stay for weeks until I wake up one day and realize I feel more like a tourist than a disciple, and that the presence of the gift shop grates on my nerves, and will pack my bags, leaving only a note for my roommate, Anat, with whom I will work in the gardens, and who will teach me how most tenderly to relate to the plants. My first night there she and I will be woken by a storm, and we’ll sit up together for hours on the small balcony, sticking our feet through the railing until they are drenched and cool. I will ask why she’s here, and she will tell me she doesn’t know. Anat and I will rescue a baby owl the day before my departure. We will place the owl in a small box with water and an old towel, and leave the box outside our room. In the morning, when I leave, I will find the box is empty, and I will allow myself to feel optimistic.

My room here makes me feel not like a tourist but more like a monk, which somewhere deep down authenticates the whole experience, although the concepts of the authenticity and cultural consumerism will not become a concern I discuss with others for a few years still. The austerity and ascetic lack of comfort make me feel close to the ground and open to anything, but—as will turn out in later conversations with friends about authenticity and travel—these are not conditions that will help my future self feel any more virtuous.

There is a single bed against a single window. A plain brown curtain gathers at one side, waiting to block out the dark once night falls and envelops the coconut palm and elephant ear fronds, the curry tree with its inky gemlike berries. Even when I open the window the sounds of human life outside are obscured by the depth of the foliage and birdsong. There is a desk behind the head of the bed with a simple green desk lamp that is plugged into an outlet on the wall, where I have also plugged in my chanting box so I can listen, each morning and evening, to the gayatri mantra, which has become my favourite. The desk is also where I will begin to discover small silver pinch bowls filled with rock sugar crystals, placed there during my absences. They are for me to suck on to keep at bay the mixture of low energy and nausea that will invariably mount until late in the evenings, when, around nine o’clock, the nausea will subside and I am allowed a meal. The meal will arrive not long after I alert the staff that I am no longer feeling sick, and will consist of plain chapatti, a glass of water and a simple, nourishing dhal. I find the appearance of the crystals to be quaint until I discover how heavily I will come to rely on them.

I only watch the small television when I’m at my most nauseous and therefore in the greatest need of distraction. This applies to all nausea except that of the final day, which will prove too extreme for the television and will drive me out into the common area to pace in agony for the hours before the purge.

Attached to my room is a wet bathroom. I will continue to view it as a luxury rather than a necessity until, again, the final day. There is a toilet with a padded seat, a small basin, and a hand-held shower head hooked high on the wall. Each day two small disposable shampoo packets are replenished, and because of this, and the buttermilk hair, I use them. The shampoo is black, and each morning I wonder what it would do, if anything, to a blonde.

Out my bedroom door is the only indoor common area. There are two tables with four chairs each and an uncomfortable wooden settee with hard worn and faded upholstery up against one of the walls. In the corner near the window is a single cubicle. It is nicked and warped and oddly corporate, a hand-me-down from a local office space perhaps. The chair, too, once ergonomic, is stained and tired, and though it still spins it is stuck in its lowest position and the casters are missing. It is at this desk that I will negotiate the power outages and slow dial-up to email friends, scattered still in different countries, the messages of which will, unbeknownst to me, form the bedrock of the very memories from which I will draw when I think back to this moment, this day, this experience, and write about it.

Every day Michael walks down Double Tank Road to visit me. We sit and read aloud together, and on my last day he will show up with a new book, as if our short time together weren’t about to abruptly end in the following days, as if the time between us were as it was when we were children: endless and yawning around us, always more of it to inhabit together. The book we are reading is by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, grown siblings learning the world over again. On my last day, though, we won’t read. He will find me upstairs walking in circles, doing my best to forget the nausea. In the morning I will have eaten a generous helping of herbal laxative paste administered by the doctor, and will be under strict instructions to keep it down, no matter how badly it wants out. Michael will stay with me all day, will help me tally my bathroom trips—twenty-two—and will be there still when I am empty and exhausted and served my final meal: plain rice gruel. After I eat we will sit in the dusk together. I will have decided by then to head south, and will say to him, “You can come. Come with me.” He will only smile and say, “You can’t leave tomorrow. You’ll still be too weak.” I will tell him I plan to leave the day after, by train, that I’ll pass back through on my way north in however many weeks it takes me to return. “I don’t want to go,” I will say. “I’m comfortable here.” And we will sit side by side, looking out at the palm fronds and the two tanks, now twin silhouettes against an inky sky.

 

Oct
29

America’s Best BBQ Ribs

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It is Nick who notices it first, a small sailboat thrashing in the surf about fifty metres from shore. The winds have been mounting slowly throughout the day, the further we drive from Waikoloa in the hills, the further north along the coast toward Hawi, where we have to go to get the pearl bracelet. Gwyneth is in the bush somewhere behind the outhouse, and so he and I stand near the cliff’s edge and watch the boat in silence. It looks like a toy down there. A toy some celestial older sibling is bent on destroying.

“Do you think anyone’s in there?” I say. I picture a lone man pitching around in the cramped cabin below deck, his meagre belongings strewn across the floor, puke in places. The waves are dramatic. I look left and right along the cliffs, slashed, carved and pocked, perfect and imperfect as faces. The waves did this, and now they’ve gone to work on the boat. It rolls so far starboard that it looks like it will flip.

“I hope not,” he says.

“But there could be.”

“Yes,” he says, “I guess there could be.”

Gwyneth comes out from behind the mint green Porta Potty, not quite still pulling up her shorts, but almost still pulling up her shorts. She tugs the hem of her t-shirt down over her hips as she walks towards us. “Those things are disgusting,” she says. “Give me a squat in a bush any day.”

Now that it’s our third day together we’re all a lot more relaxed and therefore able to say things like squat in a bush. She comes and stands beside us. “What do you guys see down there?” she says. And then: “Holy Hanna. Now why on god’s green would he anchor so close to the shore?” As soon as she says it, it becomes clear that of course it didn’t anchor there, but had been dragged in.

The boat’s bow dips under, and a wave crashes down on top of it.

“I’ve never seen him here before,” she says. “We’re gonna have to tell someone.”

*

It wasn’t until our flight landed in Kona three days earlier that I realized I had no idea what she looked like. It was two in the afternoon and there was no one around and Nick looked at me and said, “What does she look like?”

“I don’t really know anymore,” I said, and Nick said, “Oh.”

I attempted to conjure what I could of her in my memory as we waited. There was a blonde fringe, there were worn-through Reebok high tops, there were freckles perhaps. I am old enough to know that these memories can not be trusted. The last time I saw Gwyneth I was eight and she was forty. That was twenty-four years ago. Back then I would have imagined any sixty-four-year-old woman to be a sweet grey-haired granny carrying a crochet-project-in-progress everywhere she went, and the fact that I no longer do so is another testament to the fact that I have officially embraced my thirties.

An old black soft top Cabriolet swerved into view. It lurched to a stop in the middle of the lane and a woman leaned toward the passenger window, her torso jerking with the effort of rolling it down.

“Gwyneth?” I said.

“Alison,” she said. “Mahalo!” And I could see her in there, behind giant sunglasses and khaki shorts, behind the striped cotton t-shirt. The blonde fringe remained, and I had been right about the freckles. Her skin was a rich nut brown.

She got out and we looked at each other, her door wide open and creaking on its hinge. “Look at you,” she said. I introduced Nick and we threw our bags in the back.

A parking attendant came over. “Excuse me, ma’am. Your car is blocking one of the lanes. You have to pull it over.”

Gwyneth stopped and looked at him. “I do?” she said.

“Yes ma’am. Your open door here is also a hazard to other vehicles.” Gwyneth looked around at the deserted roadway and sidewalks. “Someone could hit it,” he said.

“We don’t want that,” said Gwyneth as she looked up at him, shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun. “I just had this sucker detailed.”

*

We abandon the boat and drive on through the wind. The rest of the way to Hawi the road is strewn with fallen trees. Five minutes before we get there, Gwyneth downs the last sip of what she calls cheesy white, wedging the tall empty glass back between her seat and the handbrake, the withered remnants of ice cubes melting miserably in the bottom of the glass. Soon we approach a small strip of tourist shops and Gwyneth pulls off the road. I’m hoping for a restaurant. We haven’t eaten since breakfast, not counting our stop at the macadamia nut factory where tourists could taste, then buy. We tasted at least ten flavours of nuts, as well as shards of brittle and drams of locally grown and roasted coffee, all served in thimble-sized paper cups. We left with a hundred-gram pouch of lightly salted macadamias, three caffeine buzzes and bits of garlic flavoured nuts mashed between our molars.

The reason we are now pulled over on the side of the road in Hawi on a day so windy there’s a charge in the air, is that my mother came here with Gwyneth the last time she visited. She bought a bracelet—a single smoky grey pearl on a thin silver band—which I saw on her wrist and admired, and which she said she’d originally bought for me and then decided to keep. She had asked Gwyneth to take us up here so I could get one of my own with money she’d given me for that purpose.

The shop brims. I pick up a children’s toy made from aloha shirt fabric: a bright orange gecko with jumping marlins all over its back which I find difficult to reconcile. Gwyneth asks the woman behind the counter if she can use the phone to make a call about a stranded boat. The woman’s hair is eighties hair and her eye makeup is blue, but she’s dressed in flowing paisley bamboo-derived fabrics. She stands behind the counter rearranging pearl necklaces in the jewellery case.

“The phones are out,” says the woman. “This wind!” She then asks if she can help us with anything else and Gwyneth tells her that I’m looking for a specific bracelet with a single smoky grey pearl. The woman leads me to a display in the middle of the store and says, “Here you go.” There is an array of them, identical, all lined up and delicately hanging from a small repurposed branch. “As you can see,” she says, “each pearl is different.” As she sashays away, paisley flowing and tea tree wafting in her wake, I run my eyes over the orderly row of identical smoky spheres. The more I look at them, the more I begin to think that maybe the woman is right, maybe they are each unique, and by the time she returns and asks how I’m doing, I’ve narrowed it down to three.

Nick comes over from where he’s been looking at a carved wooden turtle, and by looking I mean absently running his fingers over the grooves of its shell, petting it. I ask him which one he likes best, and he tells me he doesn’t know. He looks at the bracelets, each a copy of its neighbour, and says, “They’re all so different.”

*

That first day as we drove back from the Kona airport, I sat up front and Nick took the back and when the road opened before us I found myself at ease, not like I was in a car with a woman I didn’t know, but rather with a woman I’d always known. She was relaxed, and this relaxed me, even though she had one index finger hooked around six o’clock, the other hand pointing out landmarks and scenery, only coming to the rescue when the car slipped out of third, which happened on the inclines. There was a large drinking glass perilously wedged between the driver’s seat and the handbrake. It was half full of a nearly clear liquid, several much depleted ice cubes still bobbing around at it surface, holding on.

Gwyneth pointed out resorts, hillsides, the directions to the other islands, everything whipping through my vision in a blur as she sped along the highway. She began talking about the volcano, which was nearly directly behind us, and I tried not to let myself be too startled by the fact that she was looking back at it as she described it to us. She sensed each time the car drifted into the oncoming lane and turned around just in time to get us back on track. We passed a roadside memorial: hibiscus, frangipani, a crooked cross. I glanced back at Nick who looked as though he’d stopped breathing.

The landscape was moonlike: black lava rock baked onto the land in all directions, the occasional scraggly tree and tufts of dry grasses created the only breaks in the rolling mineral-scape. The resorts popped up on the horizon, verdant strips of perfect landscaping leading from the highway down the slope to the shoreline, lush palms arcing the entrances, welcoming. Desert mirages. Gwyneth named each one as we passed them, looking out to the left of the car describing to us what was down there.

“Ok so you see those palm trees down near the water? Can you see the one that’s leaning a little more to the left, right near the centre of the second cluster of palm trees from the right? One of the places I landscape is just down there.”

After half an hour we turned left off the long straight road from Kona, and began up the hill towards Waikoloa. Coming out of the turn, her glass slipped from its spot and the contents spilled out into the foot well. The smell of white wine filled the car.

“Holy Hanna,” said Gwyneth. “Now that’s a damn shame.”

The road continued up, cutting through the black land.

*

Outside the police station in Kapaau I want to wander. Gwyneth is trying to get in touch with an officer about the boat, but the door is locked and so she’s talking into a courtesy phone attached to the building. There is a statue of King Kamehameha that I am curious about because I saw some people taking photos of it as we drove in, and also because I need to stretch my legs. Nick recommends we stay where we are, standing beside the Cabriolet in an empty parking lot. I protest but I see he has a point: the path to the statue is strewn with fallen fronds and coconuts. Up above, king palms bend and slash, threatening the ground below, their grip on their branches tenuous and suddenly uncertain. The sky is deep and blue, too swift for clouds to linger. The air is a vessel today, transports the ocean breeze a little further, carries eerie distant sounds out from the forests. In the car from Hawi, after I bought the pearl bracelet, the smell of barbecue had hypnotised us as we drove past a falling down roadside shack with a spray-painted sign claiming America’s Best BBQ Ribs, fragrant smoke twisting from its roof up into the wind. Now, in the parking lot, we’re thinking about it.

“Do you think they just have fries?” Nick says.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe.” My hunger has somehow moved out of my stomach. It has metastasised, colonising the rest of my body, spreading throughout my limbs. It threatens my vegetarianism. It owns me now, which is probably why I say, “You know, we could just get ribs.”

“You could get them, I don’t mind.”

His composure and level thinking in the face of starvation brings me back to my senses. I say, “Let’s go back after and see if they have fries.”

I don’t want this to forever be the day that I ate meat, a day that becomes lore and features in anecdotes that come out at dinner parties and begin with something like, We were so hungry and nothing was open, and Alison just couldn’t help herself. I don’t feel like adding to his arsenal of secret truths that potentially comes out years down the road while in some sad conversation after a fight late into the night, in which couples bargain for happiness. When I say this to Nick he says I’m being crazy, that the hunger is eating my brain, but I tell him he should take it as a compliment that I see us bargaining for happiness in the future. “That’s real intimacy,” I tell him, and he just stares at me until he says, “We need to get you some food.”

*

Forty minutes after Gwyneth picked us up from the airport we pulled into her driveway. When I asked her if she’d like me to lock the car she said, “No just leave it.” I noticed that all the windows were still down and the keys were in the ignition. When we walked in the house it was unlocked as well.

“I figure,” Gwyneth said to us later, “that if you’re good to the universe, the universe will be good to you. I try to give kindness, and I tend to get it back.”

“You two will be sleeping in Lily’s room,” she said as we walked inside. I spent several puzzled moments trying to work this out—I was sure she lived alone—until I realized that Lily was one of the cats. There were fourteen in total, four that lived in the house, and several which came inside for meal times, and a number of other rescues that were still pretty feral and looked mangy and hissed as well. They all ate fresh sushi-grade fish. That night looked like yellow fin tuna.

Lily was by far the largest, and when she was done eating her sushi as well as several of the other cats’ sushi she sauntered out the side door to watch the koi pond. After some time, I noticed her come back in, jump onto the couch and lie down directly on top of another cat and fall asleep there. The cat underneath was named Puhi. Gwyneth told us her name meant freshwater eel, and that she was deaf. I felt nervous to be taking Lily’s room.

Gwyneth cooked us snapper on the grill, wrapped in thick broad leaves. We made an exception. She offered us wine.

“It’s nothing special,” she said, brandishing a litre bottle of generic white I recognized from Costco, “but I like it just fine. I call it my cheesy white.”

She gave each of us a wine glass but poured her own in a glass just like the one in the car. She added ice to her glass, and we toasted.

We ate and filled each other in. She was curious about my life and seemed fascinated by it. She was very complimentary of Nick, telling me I found a real keeper, telling him how handsome he was.

“Nick,” she said, “So you’re a musician.”

“I am,” said Nick. “I play mainly blues.”

“No kidding,” said Gwyneth.

“He brought his harmonicas,” I said, and Gwyneth said she would love to hear him play. She also talked about her ex, Tim, whom she’d been with during my childhood, and about his wife and daughter, both of whom she didn’t seem to care for. She talked about how Tim, too, used to play harmonica. “We still talk a lot,” she said, but I knew that it had been years since she last saw him.

Later, after dinner and well into the second litre of cheesy white, Nick played harmonica in the living room. All the cats fled in the first two bars except for the deaf one, who slept on. He played Delta blues for us, his entire body entering the instrument hidden in his hands, his eyes closed, his breath circular and perplexing. I looked at Gwyneth and her expression was trance-like, the mirth unearthed by the first few minutes replaced gradually by memories. She looked at him as if she had known him forever. She studied him, retreating somewhere as the music moved around her. I had heard this one a million times, so I looked at the cat and stroked her in time with the rhythm. She purred softly from within her silent world.

The phone rang before the song was finished and Gwyneth stood up.

“Hello,” she said into the receiver, and then, “Holy Hannah!” She covered the mouthpiece with her hand and grinned at us, her eyes glassy from joy and wine. “You’ll never believe this,” she said in a not-quite whisper. “It’s Tim!”

*

After finding no one at the police station, we get in the car and head to the fire station. I think of the sailboat in peril, perhaps by now dragged even further in. I imagine the man in the cabin again, by now in hopeless tears, looking at a photo of someone he loves, crossing himself. We pass the barbecue place again and Nick says, “Alison wants ribs.” I shoot him a death stare and he smirks at me, but before I can feign protest Gwyneth pulls over and says, “Me too. We’ll get ’em to go.”

There is a line to get to the counter, which is a flap where the shack opens. We stand in gravel looking at the menu. There are no fries here. When it’s our turn to order, the woman in the shack tells us they’re closed. Her eyes are crazed and I decide she is either affected by the wind or, once I take note of her mullet and missing teeth, a crack pipe. Gwyneth folds her arms on the exposed two-by-four where the transactions happen in this place, and leans in toward the woman.

“Really?” she says. “You just sold some half racks to the group in front of us, and now you’re closed?”

“I meant we’re out of meat,” the woman says, her eyes darting, her face sheening. “There’s nothing else open on account of the wind. Power’s out. We been so busy we sold out.”

A man appears from the section of the shed where the magic must happen.

“What is it y’all are after?” he says to Gwyneth. The smell of the meat is both good and evil, right and wrong. The woman fidgets.

“Some ribs to go,” says Gwyneth, “although we’ve been led to believe you guys are fresh out.”

The man sighs. “Chelsea, you gotta stop telling people we’re out of meat,” he says. “Now pull it together and serve these nice people.” He smiles at us, tells us it’ll just be a few minutes, and retreats back out of sight.

“Sorry,” says Chelsea. “We just been so busy today. We’re the only place open.” She offers the sheepish and holey smile of a toddler. “I guess I just kinda keep losing my shit.” She emits a nervous laugh, takes a deep breath in and out and rolls her shoulders once. “That’ll be twelve fifty.”

In the car, the sweet metallic smell of the meat energizes me and I feel rebellious.

“Mainlanders,” Gwyneth says, disdain creeping around the edges of the word. She puts the car in reverse, slips the shoulder strap of her seatbelt over her left shoulder like she’s putting on a small backpack, like it’s going to fool anyone, and speaks to the rear view mirror. “They think they’ll move to Hawaii and that life will be a certain way, but you know, it isn’t always that way, and that back there?” She indicates with a pointed thumb shaking lazily in the direction of the shack. “That’s how a lot of them end up.”

It’s not clear whether she means a bit crazy, or selling meat on the side of the road, or addicted to drugs, or getting mullet cuts for three bucks in the kitchen of their neighbour’s trailer, draped in an old bed sheet and smoking cigarettes. Maybe she means all of those things, or maybe none of them.

Yesterday Gwyneth took us down into one of the resorts she had pointed out from the speeding Cabriolet on the day of the airport. I think now of the Nintendo and Toyota houses she took us to, the gardens of the inordinately wealthy that Gwyneth keeps perfectly manicured year round, the houses and landscapes sitting picturesque in anticipation of the few weeks a year they’re used. Around the side of the first house I saw a tiny pineapple growing from the centre of a starburst of fronds and thought: If a pineapple grows alone in a garden and there’s no one around to eat it, is it still a pineapple?

I wonder what anyone expects when they move here.

Gwyneth asks me to pass her a Bud, so I unzip the cooler bag next to me in the back seat, open one can of beer and then another, pouring the contents evenly among three brightly coloured plastic juice cups, also from the cooler bag. For the third day in a row we’ve left the house fully stocked with cans of Budweiser, a jar of pineapple juice and a small stack of incognito cups, dubbed thus by Nick. Gwyneth had looked at him with admiration when he first said it, and laughed for nearly a kilometre. When she looks at him it’s like she’s looking at someone else, as if she’s searching him for another man in another place and time. Because of this he is forthcoming and generous with his humour.

We bump along the twisting roads sharing the ribs, drinking the Bud, wiping our sticky hands on our bare thighs. If there’s a way to break vegetarianism, this is the way to do it. Everywhere we go Gwyneth names the flora. We stop when we see a fallen tree up ahead lying across the road, cops redirecting traffic. We hold our incognito cups down near our feet and Gwyneth turns the car around to find a different route.

*

The fire station is open, and when Gwyneth goes inside Nick and I shuffle around outside, full bellies and beer buzzes.

“Regrets?” I say.

“Never,” he says.

Gwyneth comes out with two firemen who are rushing toward their truck. She is still speaking as they climb into the cab and buckle up.

“It’s just so windy down there,” she is saying, “and I guessed it was just some guy who didn’t know what he was doing, or just got swept up in the wind or something. I’ve never seen him there before. You should see the waves. I kept thinking he was going to flip.”

One of the firemen says, “Thanks again, ma’am,” out the window and the truck starts and drives away. I watch them go and wonder what their plan is, how they’re going to get out there and help that poor man, who by now has achieved a state of calm resignation and is meditating on the trajectory of his adult life.

Gwyneth says, “You two ready to head home? By the time we get there it’ll be time to feed my kitties.”

We all get in the car and Nick says, “I’m glad we were able to finally find someone to go help that poor guy.”

Gwyneth loops her seatbelt and starts the car. “No no,” she says. “They’re headed somewhere else. Apparently there’s a small house fire down the way.” Nick and I look at each other in the mirror. When we’re back on the road she says, “Yeah so I guess that boat is just always there. Those guys say it’s been there for ages.”

“Huh,” I say.

Nick says nothing.

“Yeah, exactly, who knew right?”

We head back to Waikoloa a different way, not via the coast road but up into the hills, completing a loop. Nick pours more beer. The air cools as we climb, the poor old Cabriolet keeps dropping third, and the rolling green landscape makes me feel as though we’ve somehow transported somewhere else. That place of black lava, of sporadic palms, tufts of fountain grass, of teal beaches down below, Maui in the distance—it could be somewhere else entirely.

Jul
13

Current Status: It couldn’t be less complicated

IMG_1154I’m not sure what it says about me that I sat down today to write a post about marriage, nor that it was inspired by my recent discovery of the phrase shredding for the wedding. Ok, so I do know what it says about me. But whatever. (FYI I’m currently eating something called Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter straight from the jar, so…)

Eight months ago I had been living in Melbourne for four years and had no concrete intention of leaving: I had an apartment in my favourite part of town; a contract in an air-conditioned cubicle with a view; a musician boyfriend, Nick, with whom I shared a bed, a Volvo, and household duties; and a temperamental tabby kitten we’d rescued from a storm drain and named after a fictional gangster. I called my mother fortnightly, and used words like fortnightly.

“So Mum, I was wondering: Is it important for you – I mean, in terms of you feeling complete with regards to the gamut of possible and even likely life experiences – to experience one of your kids getting married? What I mean is: Is it important to you and Dad that I get married and that you get to experience the wedding that would inevitably take place in such a scenario?”

“Are you getting married?”

“No.”

“Then no. Weddings are overrated, and really, Alison, who needs a husband?”

I was reminded of the day in the sixth grade – when I was eleven years old – that Darren Richardson walked up to me at recess and asked if I would like to start going out with someone called Shaun Downey. He pointed across the foyer to a blonde boy eating string cheese and looking down at the untied laces of his Reebok Pumps. It was my first week out of elementary school and I knew neither of these boys. I told Darren to tell Shaun that I would have to think about it. When I got home and explained the situation to my mother, she said: “Alison, tell him no thank you. You’re eleven years old! You’ve got better things to do.” At school the next day I walked up to Shaun and told him, “No thank you. I’ve got better things to do.” Shaun and I would continue at the same schools for the next five years and would never speak again.

“Right. Good,” I said to my mother. “Good to know. I just thought I’d ask, just in case.”

One day, two cubicles down, a young woman got engaged. The girls in the office bombed her desk: streamers, sweets, balloons defaced with wobbly Sharpie sentiments like He put a ring on it and Mrs Man’s-name Man’s-surname. Environmentally irresponsible, I said under my breath to the expanse of my glorious view. The woman was ecstatic, and I was happy for her. She dined out on the proposal details for weeks. She began looking at shoes and dresses and she talked about them, too. One day, she jokingly threw around a phrase that made me cringe, one that had to do with achieving an ideal weight and figure before exchanging vows. That evening I called my mother and rolled out the above overwrought line of questioning.

Earlier today I was staring at my reflection – red faced and panting – as I ran intervals on a treadmill with an incline of 2.0 in a windowless fitness facility, my engagement ring refracting a pleasing spectrum from the overhead fluorescent tube lighting. I took it off and slipped it into the secret pocket in the waistband of my shorts, the one meant for house keys and primary-coloured electrolyte gels.

Six months ago I knew I would be leaving Melbourne. My contract with the view was going to be cut short, and it was time to renew my visa, the cost of which was so heartbreakingly astronomical that Nick, Furio, and I looked into what it would cost to move to Canada.

“Do you think we’ll get married?” It was January and 42ºC and Nick and I were side by side, melting into the sofa we would soon sell to our friend Tito. It would be one of last things to go, its disappearance the first in a series of events that would spin nine-month-old Furio into an existential conundrum.

It has never been something I saw myself doing. As evidenced by the above dialogue, my mother stressed to me from a young age that a woman doesn’t need a man, and that it’s better to be happy and alone than with someone and unhappy. Through my twenties I was often single, often for years at a time, and while I embraced a life of spontaneity, adventure, selfishness, and self reliance, I always felt I would end up alone, and this always seemed like a bad thing, especially as more and more friends moved in with their partners, got hitched, and even had – gulp – babies.

“Yes,” Nick said. “I always thought we would I guess. Do you want to?”

Packing up the first home you make with someone is an astoundingly intimate act. So intimate, in fact, that you end up wanting to marry the person.

“I think so. Yes.”

My mother’s reaction when I told her about the sofa conversation was understandably abrupt.

“So you are getting married?”

“I think so. Yes.”

Once we got to Canada, Nick took me for a French meal in downtown Victoria, then to Dallas Road at sunset where he began with, “Well, we’ve known each other a long time…” My parents gave us their engagement ring. It’s beautiful and they chose it in 1979 and split the cost, and the continuity of it is meaningful to me. I’m almost used to wearing it now, almost used to saying “Yes, I’m engaged,” and almost used to removing it before showers, washing dishes, and going to the gym. For cookie butter, however, I keep that sucker on.

Jul
06

The Paralysis of Home

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In late 2008, I returned to Canada briefly from South Korea where I’d been living and working for a year. I rented a place on the Plateau in Montreal in the depths of winter and the global financial crisis, and after shivering through November, December, a rapidly depleting bank account, and an onslaught of professional rejections, the new year came and I moved out west to stay with my mother and father on Vancouver Island while I waited for yet another visa to be processed, this time for India. Then in February 2009, my Oma, my father’s mother, passed away. I was twenty-six.

Here’s something true: there are moments throughout adulthood that reduce us, repeatedly, to children. These are moments in which everything around us grows burly and imposing and suddenly becomes unreadable. These moments are different from those that spirit us to childhood, the ones in which we see things again through the veil of wonder and innocence and innate selfishness through which we once saw all things; rather, they’re host to the phenomenon of everything we’ve practised for falling out from under us, leaving us in that navy blue one-piece ski suit we wore on the bunny hill for the winters of ’86 and ’87, and which was difficult to get off in a hurry without help, and to which we once succumbed in a snowbank, and in which, as a result, we peed. These are the moments that make us feel insecure, terrified, cold, and wet.

A major catalyst for such regressive moments is visiting parents, as is well known to most grown people who have moved away from home and are well on their journey to building an adult life in which they make decisions for themselves and are capable of deciphering scarf weather from t-shirt weather, indoor voices from outdoor voices, and which pronged household items should and should not be inserted into electrical outlets. Some of us care for pets, raise one or more children of our own, are capable – even fond – of cooking nutritious and occasionally adventurous meals for our friends and families, and can keep our apartments clean. And yet: after the first two days of a stint back home, something that lurks in the shadows descends upon an otherwise perfectly – or at least somewhat – adjusted cluster of adults. This is when, despite the aforementioned capabilities and good habits, you forget how to be your adult self and things begin to play out how they did twenty years ago. You feel insolence, you feel frustration, you feel embarrassment and even sometimes voiceless. You suddenly crave approval. And your parents? They’ll be sucked into the pantomime, too, and dammit, they’ll insist you mind your manners.

Another source of such regression is grief, either confronting one’s own or seeing the raw pulsating face of someone else’s. This is something we never get better at. It is disarming and perplexing and causes the dreaded sensation of a spreading, dampening, humiliating chill. There is never the right way to articulate what you feel, and never the right thing to say to someone facing loss. Words become nonsense.

When Oma died it was not sudden or unexpected, just very sad. She lived in Villach, Austria, and had been cared for by my dad’s sister and a rotation of two live-in care workers through her later stages of Alzheimer’s. My father visited fairly regularly. From the time I arrived out west, it felt as though we were simply waiting. It’s a horrible thing to be waiting for, and everything felt paused; we knew when it happened we would need to be ready to go.

One morning, early, the phone rang. I didn’t answer it; I knew who would be calling. As a child, I was terrified of answering the phone at home in the early mornings and late evenings because there was always a possibility it would be a member of the Austrian contingent (nine hours ahead), who would speak to me in German while I panicked, gripping the portable phone and running through the house to find my father. It’s not that I couldn’t understand my Oma or my Tante; it’s that I was crippled by the fear of being misunderstood myself, or of suddenly being at a loss for words, or forgetting the word for something and standing dumbly, breathing into the receiver. It made me feel like a baby. This particular morning, early and cold and February, I listened to the phone ring twice, and then stop. It was around five o’clock and I knew at that moment that my father had answered it and I knew which words he was hearing. I knew he would be trying to brace himself with the justification that he had known it was coming. I knew he’d be finding himself surprised at how impossible that was.

My mother happened to be out of town and for a minute or two I resented her absence. It was her job to be here for him, not mine. I was ill equipped for this. My father’s grief was not something I felt grown up enough to deal with. I suspect no one ever grows up that much. I lay frozen in the spare bedroom – the room in which my mother’s father had passed away twenty years earlier – feeling like I was holding a phone to my ear, my father on the other end, and choking on my own silence.

I got up. I pulled a hoodie on over my nightshirt. I went into the hallway and stopped at the top of the stairs to turn the furnace on. As a child, lying awake in my basement room, the low rumble of the furnace springing to life had always seemed an indication of the day itself coming alive, an indication that my father was up and the world wasn’t as still and empty as winter mornings let on.

I stood near his bedroom and listened, and when I walked in the phone was on his nightstand and he was lying curled up on the far edge of the bed, his back to the doorway. I said, “Dad,” and he stayed still and said nothing. The room was that early morning grey–blue. The furnace hummed. My father, who stands six-foot-three, looked small. I sat down on Mum’s side the bed. He cried very quietly and I felt a quiet despair, not just at the death of my grandmother – my last remaining grandparent – but also at his pain, his loss, and my complete inability to know what to do in this situation. Signs were slipping, becoming unreadable. How do you truly comfort a parent? After a minute he turned to face me and rested his head on my knee. He was just as unprepared for his grief as I was. I grew uncomfortable, even disturbed, by the wrongness of the moment, given rise to by his tears, by the fact that my mother had gone away overnight, by my incomplete arsenal of emotional mechanisms. I had stepped out of my space, my framework. After a minute the situation became unbearable for me, and I stood up and said, “I’ll call Mum.”

Throughout the day I did my best to atone for having cowered in the shadow of the circumstance by doing things I knew how to do. I called my mother. I called my brother, who was living in India at the time, and told him I’d book him a flight to Austria. I called British Airways and negotiated bereavement fares. I made arrangements for pet sitting and cancelled the Island Farms dairy delivery (I have no idea why the little slice of heaven known as the Saanich Peninsula, in 2009, was still serviced by what we called The Milkman, even though we knew his name was Dave). When it came to the admin of flying to Europe for my Oma’s funeral, I seemed to know what I was doing.

I also held it together several days later at the actual funeral, a ceremony that unexpectedly left my brother completely unwound (it might have been the requisite Catholic drama of the whole thing, the rose-covered casket disappearing gracefully behind a sweeping velvet curtain to the tune of Con te partirò). I was moved by my brother’s show of emotion; there was something theatrical and heartbreaking about him weeping to Andrea Bocelli. Maybe it was because I could picture how my Oma looked when she listened to that song, which was one of her favourites: her eyes closing as she leaned back, the corners of her mouth curling into a slight smile, her small hands swaying on the armrests of her chair, conducting a tiny orchestra.

After the funeral and a week with relatives, I flew from Austria to Bangalore with my brother and spent the next six months traveling in India, Nepal, and Oman, figuring out my next move. The paralysis of the unknown, it turned out, would always be a passing, fleeting thing. The paralysis of home, however, lingers, and the memory of that morning, of my weeping father and lack of words, continues, years later, to disarm me.

Jun
23

For Bonnie, Who Went to Bali

FullSizeRender 3When you’re a teenager in a place like Canada, a place like Bali is the epitome of exotic[1]. The first time I ever thought of Bali as a place rather than an abstract concept[2] somewhere near the other side of the world, I was in a remedial[3] math class at Victoria High School in Victoria, BC, sitting opposite my friend Bonnie – the one thing that made Math 11A tolerable – who told me she’d be away for two weeks because her grandmother was taking her to Bali[4].

Bali seemed impossibly far, and impossibly glamorous, and impossibly unlike a place I thought one would go with one’s grandmother[5]. In my head it was the promised land of travel. You could get no further away. It wasn’t Honolulu or Cabo or Anaheim or Fort Lauderdale where other people went at Christmas break to shed the cold of Canadian winter and pretend for a week that resort life was real life[6]. Either way, Bonnie went away and I skipped Math for two weeks.

Then, thirteen years later, I went to Bali. I was no longer a teenager; I was twenty-eight years old, and at that point had travelled for various lengths of time throughout a smattering of countries in Asia and the Middle East[7]. I was living in Australia at that point, which is also a country on the other side of the world from the one in which I grew up, and which is not far from Bali at all. And what that means is that Bali is to Australians what Acapulco is to Americans; that is to say, it is teeming with Australian holiday makers, some there to get a bit of sun, others to get a bit of culture.

My brother and brother-in-law were renting a villa[8] just outside Ubud and asked me to join them for a week or so over Christmas. Since I’d just gone through an ugly breakup[9], the timing was perfect. And so I went and joined them and we did Bali things. We went to the monkey temple and fed tiny bananas to tiny aggressive primates. We rode rented scooters around without helmets, our hair floating dangerously in the breeze. We drank Bintang and cooked with tempeh and snake beans. We had regular massages. We took cooking classes, learning to make delicacies we were all so certain we would make again. We swam in pools and lay and read in the sun. I got so into the spirit of Bali, in fact, that J–, my brother-in-law, and I decided to go together one day[10] to see a spiritual healer.

I know what you’re thinking, and it’s probably something like: groan. There are blog posts a-plenty on my unique and humbling experience getting healed (or finding myself, or finding enlightenment, or being moved by something I don’t quite understand, or finding some kind of truth) in Indonesia (or India, or Thailand, or Tibet). As travellers from the Global North[11], we love this stuff. We love that all we need to do to find spirituality or a life-enriching experience is to leave where we’re from and visit the Global South; countries both cheap and rich in spirituality. As Australian writer Helen Razer eloquently puts it: “It’s not only atheism that disinclines me to this twaddle. It’s the darn assumption that wisdom is as easily and as cheaply acquired in Bali as a knock-off Hermès bag.”[12]

Anyway, the healer. Tjokorda Gde Rai is a Balian/shaman – a traditional Balinese healer. He is in his mid-eighties. He is the grandson of the last king of Ubud. He has been practicing for more than forty years, a period over which he has developed his own technique of first reading a person’s body–mind condition by placing his fingertips on various points on his or her head, followed by a diagnostic assessment via the use of meridians in the feet.[13]

The name Tjokorda Gde Rai floats around Ubud like the rising scent of SPF50 from the shoulders of tourists, and by the time I joined the guys they’d heard his name enough times from travelers and locals and know-it-alls about town that they were more than a little bit curious. Everyone said he was meant to be the best and we viewed this as a good thing, even though we had zero point of reference. Everyone said he doesn’t take appointments, that we’d just have to wait. We went by taxi earlyish one morning to Puri Negari, the royal compound from which he works.

I will give minimal details here[14], and they follow:

We sat and waited. The compound was beautiful and leafy and I saw a kitten I fantasized about pocketing. There was a group of tourists finishing up ahead of us. When it was my turn, I sat on the floor, my legs straight out before me and my back resting against the healer’s legs. He touched points on my head. Some felt fine while others yielded a searing pain[15]. As per his instructions, I then went to sit on a mat. He sat before me, and with a short wooden stick began to apply pressure to points on and between my toes. Again, the pain[16]. I’m not sure if it was the emergence of my inner cynic or the persistence of my physical pain, but I began to grow irritated, telling myself that this was just a show for the white girl; she paid her fee and after a bit of pain she’ll feel like she got her money’s worth. I was feeling pretty over it when he asked me to lie down and, using the same stick, began to trace lines and patterns over my abdomen. He manipulated my hands, interweaved my fingers, pressed my knuckles together. He spoke of a disconnect between my mind and my body. He said the smile thing. I sat up again, and he pressed the stick into the same spots on my feet. No pain. He touched the same parts of my head. No pain. Ta-da! Something had taken place that I didn’t understand. Did this mean I was healed? I was pretty cranky by now, and walked away from him not knowing what to think. I thanked him emphatically and sat down again, irritated. It was J–’s turn. The process began again.

We sat in a cafe afterward, waiting for my brother to pick us up. I asked J– if he felt different. He said he didn’t know, and I said same here. We didn’t speak much to each other, because we couldn’t. I drank some tea and my frustration began to subside.

In the car, my brother asked if we felt different. We bumped along the road, and as I stared out the window and the day approached noon, I began to cry. Heavy, heaving crying. I looked across and J– and he was doing the same, his shoulders shuddering, his cheeks glistening. We sat together in the minivan and cried all the way home. We cried for hours and afterward spent most of the day wordless and aimless, able neither to concentrate nor move with any kind of speed or urgency, showing and feeling no emotion.

I’m not saying that what we experienced was spiritual or profound, but I’m not saying that it wasn’t. Something happened that was outside of our realm of knowledge or experience, and really it was one of two things: he did some massage and release and said a few catch-type phrases, or he did some healing. Either way, we got what we had gone looking for.

 


[1] And since there is no way to use a term like ‘exotic’ without addressing western hegemony and the condemnation of the term in Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), I will address it by saying that I was a white, middle class teenager and Bali was super far away and, for what it’s worth, it was the nineties. While the ‘exotic’ and post-colonial western ‘othering’ have come to sit heavy on my shoulders throughout a decade of travel, I was a teenager and had only ever travelled to the states and to see family in Western (oops, there’s that word again!) Europe.

[2]  Possibly a palm tree–shaped island?

[3] They didn’t use that term.

[4] I think the only reason I remember Bonnie’s name, as well as where this conversation took place, was that either shortly before or shortly after she told me this, I coughed unexpectedly and launched a tiny globule of phlegm onto the table between us before I even had a chance to cover my mouth, and Bonnie started laughing like crazy, which in retrospect was extremely generous of her.

[5] My grandmother liked to take me to church, to view her friend Joan’s rose garden, and once a month to the symphony.

[6] I think of an episode of The Office (US) in which Michael Scott, after returning from a holiday at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica, conflates his resort experience with actual Jamaican culture (“I got to see how Jamaicans live. It is great. You know, they just relax, they party all the time”). This, for many, is travel. And if we’re being honest, most voluntary travel represents some form of this very delusion. The cringe is real.

[7] Please pardon the Eurocentric term, but as far as I know there’s no better one yet.

[8] Because in Bali, you can.

[9] On account of me having fallen in love with someone else.

[10] After our morning smoothies.

[11] Including, for now, the Western antipodes.

[12] I recently sent a link to Razer’s article to a friend of mine whom I met and became close friends with while studying in Melbourne. She is originally from India, and one of her biggest pet hates is hearing white people gushing about their life-changing spirit-finding experience during their Panchakarma cleanse or while participating in Holi. The accompanying note I wrote went like: This made me think of you and one of our frequent conversation topics [upside-down smiley face]! She wrote the following back to me: Ha! what a coincidence, I just read this and thought of you [winky smiley face with tongue sticking out]! On a side note: have you thought why you visited India a few years back? As in, I know why, but considering there is so much literature to suggest that most white folks travel to ‘spiritualize’ their lives in India, I wonder what about the genuine ones? Where is their voice? This is where the Messenger thread has been left dangling for nearly two months. I can’t answer. I have no answer. What is ‘genuine’ travel? Simply because I am aware of the grossness of the colonial behavior exhibited by Global North citizens who eat-pray-love throughout South- and South-East Asian countries, does this mean I’m not guilty of it? Why did I travel through India (or, as in this article, Bali)? Maybe I wasn’t fetishizing spirituality, but was I fetishizing something? I didn’t go during Holi, but I did do a cleanse. Is saying it was for “life experience” or “something to write about down the road” any better, really?

[13] Body–mind condition refers to matters of the lymphatic system, memory, anxiety, focus and sense of direction. Through the meridians he can address skeletal condition, vital organs, hormones and matters of the heart.

[14] This is because all you have to do, really, is spend five minutes looking on personal my-healing-journey-type travel posts to get identical accounts of Tjokorda Rai’s process, right down to the thing he seems to tell everyone, the tenuous poignancy of which seems to blow everyone’s mind – the thing about smiling, about taking your smile, about putting your smile in your mouth and about swallowing your smile.

[15] To be clear, this was a contorting of the face, yelling aloud level of pain.

[16] Kicking of legs, gnashing of teeth, pounding of fists, etc.