Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Love Lies Bleeding

What we don't understand, we explain, probably because words help to distract us from the pain of a raw encounter with the "blooming buzzing confusion," William James's description of the world. Sometimes I reach for song lyrics to help me find my way. From the dustbin of my mind comes Bernie Taupin's lyrics to an Elton John tune, a cry of despair over lost love.
The roses in the window box
Have tilted to one side
Everything about this house
Was born to grow and die...
And love lies bleeding in my hand
Even more to the point is Nashville writer Boudleux Bryant's classic poem of pain, "Love Hurts," where he cries that "love is just a lie made to make you blue." It's been recorded by everyone from the Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons and Emmylous Harris, Roy Orbison, and Jennifer Warnes, to the rock group Nazareth.
Love hurts, love scars,
Love wounds, and mars any heart
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain
Love hurts......ooh, ooh love hurts
When Pim returned from Kalasin after the holiday weekend, I sensed that something was wrong. Early in the morning, after I'd gotten angry at her withdrawn silence, it came out in a rush of tears: "Willie, I have something to tell you. We must separate. It's too hard. I lie every day. You want to know why I pray? So I can stop. But I pray and lie, lie and pray. I haven't been able to sleep for the last three nights." I've written before about the shame she feels that her lover is an old man, and her fear of losing face if her friends find out about me. She has introduced me to two of her coworkers at the P.O. But although I've met her sister, and her mother and I have greeted each other by web cam, she feels she cannot say anything to the rest of her relatives and her friends here in Bangkok and back home.

I was crushed, but I understood. Face (reputation, esteem) is very important in Thai culure, and who am I to say that truth should trump? Unlike the bar girl I romanced a year and a half ago on Koh Samui, Pim has never asked me to marry her, although I've let her know I want to do whatever it takes to spend the rest of my life (which will be considerably shorter than hers) with her. A few months ago I noticed a subtle shift; she started suggesting that I marry her mother (who'd just divorced Pim's step-father)! It would only be a cover, she indicated, but I found the idea appalling.

But all of these words cannot convey the chaos into which I fell when confronted with the possibility of separation. My resistance to falling seriously in love with a girl younger than my daughter ended after returning from India in January. We have been building a life together while sharing an apartment for the past six months . After Pim left for work, I spent hours staring out of the window at the clouds while trying to imagine how to create an alternative future. Should I return to the U.S. (my return flight ticket is good for two more weeks) or retreat to a beach on an island in the south seas? Suddenly the new apartment in Pinklao and the job teaching monks English were unimportant.

So, as is usual in these cases, I got stupid. I left the house in the afternoon before Pim came home from work, hoping to hurt her with my absence. I ate a late lunch at the Central food court where a bird had flown inside and was frantically pecking at the wall of windows hoping to get out. I felt a sympathetic connection. Then I went to see the new Batman film (Heath is a scary villain but the plot had way too many implausibles for me to follow easily). When I got out of the theater, there was no message from Pim on my phone asking where I was. At home I discovered she had come and gone, leaving alot of washing to dry on the balcony. So I drank two gin and tonics and fell asleep. At 1 in the morning I awoke to find her still missing. She failed to return my upset text message. For several agitated hours, I tried unsuccessfully to sleep. At 4 I sent another text and she answered. I was angry, she was somewhat repentant. She finally returned at 9 am looking as awful as I felt. When I hadn't come home the evening before, she went out to see a friend, had too many drinks, and stayed at her place. She did not think I wanted to see her, she explained.

Pim stayed home from work yesterday and we talked and slept, slept and talked. She told me her mother wanted her to get married, but avoided my question about whether her mother had told her to leave me. We talked about her desire for a child, and I reminded her that I could not help, nor would her mother get a grandchildren if I stayed in the picture. When she asked if I believed she loved me, and I said no, tears came again. If she loved me, I asked, why could she not tell everyone? Their criticism is their problem, not ours (going against the cultural grain, however, is not a winning proposition). In the evening she invited Boy and Na from the PO to join us at MK for a sukiyaki (DIY soup) dinner. She held my hand on the street, and she said later that after our talk she was not ashamed to be seen in public with me.

The storm has passed but clouds remain on the horizon. Jerry listened to my pain and confusion on the phone and told me it had always been a long shot. A friend in California advised me to hold onto the good and not try to make it last forever. It seems to me that Pim has a choice between two alternatives: tell the world about us and marry me, or separate. She asked for a week to make a decision. If I were stronger I would make it for her and ask her to leave so she could find a younger man who would give her children. But I'm leaving it up to her.

There is no owner's manual for this life, and certainly one would probably not include what an elderly expat should do when falling in love with a young native girl. At least Gauguin had his paints. Song lyrics can only go so far in explaining what it's all about (Alfie). There is no substitute for endurance.

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