False Dawn

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Image source: dulichanviet.com

False Dawn

 

Phuket, Thailand, June, 1995

Dear Pensri,

 

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,

and then,

sunrise.

 

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.

14 thoughts on “False Dawn

  1. A very moving personal share Barry ~ False dawn it maybe, but during that period of time, it was eternity, with time standing still ~

    And congrats on the new blog !!!! Love the color scheme ~

    Like

  2. What a story…and we’ll never know what her experience and feelings meant to her. Does she still think of him? Too, it made me wonder how often this scenario gets played out when people are far from home and craving connection. I loved this so much. Thank you, Barry.
    Gayle ~

    Like

  3. Barry, again I am speechless. This is the quintessential goodness artists search for in other artists. That you wrote it, I’m in awe as the reader. That you shared it, I envy you as a Writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your story captured me, and the grace and eloquence with which you told it is remarkable. We are often changed by the lives we touch along our journey. I am sure you linger in her memory as she in yours. Thank you for sharing this very personal story!

    Liked by 1 person

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