Luang Prabang, Laos. November, 2000.
Two days on a boat down the Mekong from Huay Yai on the Thai border. Forty of us sat on bare boards and rice sacks slaloming through jutting rocks on the long slow boat. We stopped occasionally to drop off some cargo or to pick up some locals. I didn’t mind the loud gas chugging behemoth engine or clapboard latrine at the stern of the vessel with small triangle hole in the floor. I was squished next to a betty kiwi named Liz. Sixteen hours on a boat smashed next to a person is an inevitable way to kindle a bond. Liz was escaping a broken relationship spawned in the fashion world of London. We were uncomfortable at first, two bodies so close, we were silent and we could only hear the thumps of our hearts volleying a beat. The garden of freckles under her eyes grew in the midday sun and it only took a few adjusted elbows to each other to agree to be friends. We laughed at the prospect and as the moon began to rise in green shadow valley of the Mekong, she told me that she would be getting off in the morning to hit the Plain of Jars. We stopped for the night in Pakbeng and Liz wasn’t on the boat in the morning.
My sore ass was numb and bewildered. When I stepped on the shores of Luang Prabang, a pair of locals were butchering a young sow. The squeals crunched me and I stepped up onto a street. By this time, everyone on the boat had ample time to sort out accommodations and we all had the gist of our lives. I was the only American citizen. I sorted out a room with a bloke from London and another from Sydney. For five US dollars a night the three of us had beds and a hot shower.
The next day I went to the bank and exchanged a c-note traveler check for 819,000 kip. The largest denomination of kip is the 5000 note. I was near a millionaire. Let me put it into perspective:
- Beer = 5,000 Kip
- sandwich bag of grass = 10,000 Kip
- rolling papers with gum = 25,000 Kip
- rolling papers without gum = 500 Kip
- pack of smokes = 2,500 Kip
- Entrance to museum or Wat = 5,000 Kip
- coffee shake = 3,000 kip
- baguette sandwich with pate, cilantro and cucumber = 3,000 kip
- ten 10 milligram tablets of Valium = 8,000 kip
- Accommodations with loud rooster that crows at the butt crack of dawn = 9,000 kip per person
I was rich. The dollar was almost as strong as the pound against the kip.
What everybody else didn’t know is that the Larium was beginning to have serious effects on the psychology of my actions. The dreams at night lingered an ominous sixth sense feeling and I was certain that I was linking into the repressed events of my lost childhood. I had always been awkward and small but the dreams I was having littered my boisterous outgoing persona with flotsam from the tide of abuse and neglect.
I wondered and woke under mosquito nets of still nights hearing buzzing and wondering about the holes.
I dreamed that I was a little boy in first grade and the vice principal kept inviting me down to his office and he gave me shiny stickers for being “good” and that I was hiding in the fold out accordion closet of his office looking through the shutter like blinds. He told me that my parents would hate me if I told. He told me that he was my friend and that he would take me to McDonalds.
Ed Grayson lived across the street from school. He drove one of those Eagle Scout wood paneled station wagons in the early eighties. He was about thirty-five years old. He wore glasses and was balding. I lived a block away and he would drive by in his car and wave out the window at my friends and I and we would wave back. He wrote a book studying handwriting. My best friend, Chris lived two houses away, and one afternoon he had been invited to play in the gym after school with a handful of other boys. My. Grayson insisted that they all take a shower after. Chris refused and Mr. Grayson said he would tell his mother.
”Go ahead.” Chris replied. He was always braver than me. My mother said that as kids growing up, that Chris never lied to her. He never lied to me either. When he told me the story, I was jealous. I wondered why my friend Mr. Grayson hadn’t asked me to go to the gym after school. Chris' mom started to sleuth and Mr. Grayson was let go the following year. He got a job at a Catholic school a mile away. I forgot most of the touching and bad feelings he gave me, but inside, I wreaked up and took it out on my family.
I suppose that my parents always knew something was wrong, but I never gave it a thought. I was only seven years old. I hadn’t a semblance of accusation or courage. I just knew that the threat was gone.
On the boat, Liz and I shared our most awful and wonderful events of life. When I told her about my dream about Mr. Grayson, she told me about a neighbor kid that took her virginity when she was seven. I’d never uttered a word until then and neither had she. We had known one another for six hours.
Minneapolis, Minnesota. May 2005.
I had an awful dream and awoke all sweaty under the down blanket. I thought there was a bat in the house, but it was just my heart beating. I dreamt about Grayson again and started to wonder if he was still alive. As I drifted to sleep I manifested scenarios where I would find and kill him for doing what he did to me. I would not be pious.
I chalked it all up to my brain and crazy thoughts for a while after that, until I read an article about sexual abuse victims. I read some tests and took them mentally and found that I’d scored nine out of ten. I’m not much for statistics, but I got that gut feeling that sinks you after I took it and I wondered how long I could fool myself.
My mom calls me every Sunday and Wednesday night. We usually shoot the small talk. Tonight we shot it the same. I hung up and smoked a pinchie. The phone rang again.
“I forgot to tell you”
”I was reading the Oak Leaves today and it says that Ed Grayson got arrested for misconduct with children in Oak Brook”
“Yeah, that guy is bad” I swallow hard. I am mad that he is still alive.
”It’s a go-go-go od thing he got caught. I always wondered why na-na-no-oo one came forward and got him sent to jail.”
I want to tell her what he did to me and that I’m angry that she should have been the one to stand up. That she was too busy drinking and ignoring me and not making me tell her like a real parent should. I want to yell and cry but my façade of the past makes me crump the tears and pretend that I’m not.
My mother starts to stutter again, she catches her breath and begins,
”The Oak Park police are looking f-f-f-for any individuals abused by Mr. Grayson to come forward and testify” I can tell she knows and is sorry and that she wants me to be happy. She needs me to tell her that I was abused. She wants a reason for all the resentment I’ve harbored toward her and all the soliloquized report I’ve only voiced in my head. I can’t blame her for wanting to know me and love me.
”I thought he was dead?” I say.
”Okay, I just thought you’d like to know. Bye. I love you.”
I am angry that she never protected me and that this molester freak has ruined many other lives after mine. I could testify a remnant of recollection to a district attorney, scrutinized beyond forget and a life lived. I won’t. I figure that an awful past left behind is just that. I want to tell my lover because I trust her mostly and love her with her love for me, but I’m embarrassed just the same.
I had left Luang Prabang after four days and hopped a bus to Vang Vieng. Liz was there after I got off the bus with this Polish girl, Aneta. I got our bags and felt two hands over my eyes from the back,
”Take a hike.” Liz said to Aneta. Aneta looked at me with her big eyes and I handed her over to a Canuck we’d been hanging with. They walked ahead. Liz looked at me and smiled and I was happy to see her. She hugged me real close and held on way too long. Liz wriggled her fingers under my shirt and backpack and pinched the small of my back. Her trip to the Plain of Jars ended abruptly with guns in her face.
Liz reached down to a flower growing out of a crack in the street and plucked it. She held it up to her nose and breathed in deep. A butterfly landed atop the flower and Liz used her fingers to pin the wings. Then she ripped the wings off.
“When you’re eva backed into a corner Bob, never turn around. Ever again.”
I knew what she meant but I forgot it in a place.