Take away the clatter of the motorbikes, the honking, the motobike drivers beckoning you, pull out the chatter, and the street vendors, and then when it all goes quiet, for a second, when you sit there on a cool stone bench, by a small lake, in the middle of Hanoi, in the middle of the day, your life rushes through you.
Not by you or around but from beneath and through you, flying up and disappearing in the smoky Hanoi sky.
A life lived doesn’t just flash in front of the dying. You can sit back and watch it go by when you are living if you work hard enough, are alone enough, are far enough away. And when you’re living, well, that’s the worst time to see your life flash by, because when the film runs out and the screen goes black, you open your eyes. You’re still alive with all that past, all that life, fresh once again, front and center.
But you don’t have a choice, so you sit there as the show begins, a slide show of your past – it starts to click by you as if the button got stuck on forward. The images start going faster and faster, the cuts deeper, the laughter louder, the points of contact more vivid.
When you lay bare what you are and then watch it go by you, there is no comfort on the journey because the good moments pass by smoothly but the losses linger, they cut and hold on and rip the flesh and the blood inside.
The woman you loved in college, now you know her love was pure, perfect. The old Scottish gentleman you played golf with.
You try and stop the show to ask, wait, she loved me so, we made love so many times, so many times, surely we can make love one more time, surely we can connect and sleep after intertwined in a single bed in her dorm room? Surely, just one more time after all those times?
Can we play one more hole, on a Scottish morning, with a breeze at our back? You see we played so many rounds together, and I know he is gone, ashes, dust, bones, relics somewhere in a grave in St. Andrews, but please just one more hole? Let me walk one more fairway with him, watch him make one last putt, what’s the harm in that?
But there is no one to answer, no one to grant your wish, no one is running the picture show, no one at the controls, the show pushes on, even as you try and pause to ask, to ponder, to be sick at what you lost, thankful for what you had, as you want to consider the moments, they simply will not stop coming.
The volume increases. Isn’t this what therapy is for? You pay a buck sixty an hour to tear yourself apart and then get put back together again? To explain what happened and tell how you feel, how you feel.
You feel beat up, worked over, pissed on, tossed out and thrown away. You feel like you messed up, screwed up, stayed when you should have gone, gone when you should have stayed. You want one more night with her, one more hole with him, you want to stop the picture show, have the chance to say good-bye, you just want it to stop.
So they come faster now.
These bits of you aren’t just snap shots, stagnant and two-dimensional memories you can hold in your hand and remember as you wish. But moments, complete with snips of sound and action; there are hundreds of them, thousands, disconnected three-dimensional remnants of your life, tumbling by, sharing something, meaning something, meaning, you don’t quite know, you just react to each one.
Rhodri, old boy, how are you? I can hear your chortle here by the lake.
Haber, remember losing our car at the Atlanta Airport?
Spencer hitting an eight iron at a telephone pole, coaxing the ball towards its target.
Huddling up with your high school football team on a fall New England day. Hearing Jake yell.
You hear your childhood dog barking, your mother’s last words, your Grandfather’s voice.
The big moments, the birth of a child, death, those float on the surface, open and reachable — the other pieces that float further down, below the tops of the waves, that’s what’s flying by you – the wind, or the current or the tide doesn’t unleash them quite the oppositve, it’s the calm, the distance, the solitude.
The pieces start to force themselves into you. Friends’ voices, lover’s voices, the feeling of a hand held. It becomes a physical sensation as your life emerging from the cracked earth below, demons, terrors, fears, life lived and love lost. You wonder if those around you can see this, can hear the sounds cracking within you.
You sit there, wanting to close the lid, holding your hand out when no one is there, closing your eyes, holding on, letting go, exhausted.
You realize that you are desperately alone, totally and completely alone, in this city, in this world. You know you have to start walking back to the hotel, so you can get online, Skype, GChat, so you can connect with the people that make your world up, support you, love you.
You need to hold onto someone, somehow, from the distance, you’ll go through the list of women, friends, connecting somehow with someone in your present. Someone you can make a difference, someone alive now, who can give you that second chance.
You get up to walk and then stop. Here it’s the middle of the afternoon, here the world buzzes around you.
But where everything else is now, where your friends are, your children, lovers, partners, where they all are, it’s yesterday. As the earth spins and turns and twists, somewhere it’s always yesterday, somewhere it’s always the past.
Taking the moment, the time to gaze into the water and see what’s there, sift through the good and the bad, it’s not easy, or painless, or always enjoyable, but you do see — it’s your life, there’s as much, or more ahead as there is in the past.
What floats beneath you, you need to understand just a little better before you get up and start walking again. From your bench, into your life.
But you have to do it alone. Painfully, horribly, completely alone. The bench is built for one, no one can be there with you.
So you hold onto the cool stone, you breathe deeper, you grab tighter and let it wash all over you, you stop pushing them back down, into the water, like when you try and hold a float under the sea, you give up and let them rise up, through you, around, you, a torrent.
You understand it’s easier to live life layering layers over layers, going forward, never peeling them back. You understand if you kept working, stayed at the job, stayed back there, you never would have ended up here, sweating, aching, shaking, in the Southeast Asian heat. But that’s not your journey right now, the easy way out, isn’t.
The voices start to cut, the longing envelopes you, the rawness emerges supreme, the wounds unheal, the scars break open, the moments sparkle clear perfect again for you to pass by one more time, one more time. She comes back again, and again, all these years later, how is that possible, but there she is.
But those sleeping, those who are there, yesterday, little do they know what is happening right now, little do they understand what you are going through.
They are sleeping, alarms set, coffee makers at the ready, they are sleeping, waiting to get back up, to go back to work, to go to school, to be the wife, the husband, they have already been all these years, they don’t know what it takes to sit on a stone bench, and hold on with all your strength, all your weakness, all of you.
Perhaps they are the fortunate ones.