My new project

Hello lovelies. I know I’ve been a mess about updating this blog but I promise I’ve been working on many things: a short story collection, an essay collection about my time in Thailand. I’ve been doing a lot of writing but nothing I felt like I could share, but I figured I’d give yall a little snippet of something! Enjoy and, as always, thanks for reading :)

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I left for Thailand with suitcases full of sunscreen and bug spray, gallon Ziploc bags filled with allergy medicine and malaria pills. I’d made checklists and poured hundreds of my family’s dollars into procuring the correct vaccinations and the correct linen shirts that would keep me cool in the tropical heat. I bought stickers and scrabble for my classroom, researched ESOL games and watched lectures on “empowering teaching methods” on YouTube. I wrote in my journal of the things I hoped to achieve during my first year of teaching: Deep relationships with my students, A better sense of my strengths and weaknesses, An appreciation and understanding of Thai culture. I read my small province’s Wikipedia page daily, stared at road maps, scrolled through travel forums that talked about bus routes and van routes and where the best places were to grab a drink. I numbed my fear and anxiety by over-preparing, hoping that if I did enough things I would be able to construct an image of my future that wasn’t completely terrifying and unknown.

I slept little in the weeks leading up to my departure from DFW to Bangkok. My biggest worries had little to do with acclimating to the new culture but were rather about how I would fill my days in my village: would I have friends would I be alone what would I do at night after school who would I see who would I be in this small place where no one spoke my language? I was three months out of college at that point and felt like I knew who I was. After four years of misfires and experimentation, I’d finally surrounded myself with wildly creative and hilarious people who loved me as much as I loved them. I wore whatever clothes I wanted and pierced my ear, I only drank the drinks I wanted to drink and only kissed the people I wanted to kiss. I’d completed the largest creative writing project of my life and my dreams of being a writer and somebody people wanted to spend time with didn’t feel as farfetched as they’d once felt. I graduated strong and rode the wave through the summer, rolling onto the shore only in my final days in America.

On shore, I found myself squinting at the brightness of this new sun. What had felt like a brave choice, abandoning actual job applications and interviews for a year spent teaching English in Thailand, suddenly felt like a dumb choice, an escapist’s choice. I stood on the shore and watched my friends, my wild creative baubles, begin their lives: working for startups in Manhattan, teaching elementary school, working as staffers on the Hill. I watched them leave the ocean and walk across the shore and into the thicket of reality. They moved gracefully and confidently and I envied them. I sat in my home in Dallas packing my bags and taking my medications and tracing print-outs of a foreign country’s rural North with a dark red pen and envied my friends who were moving forward. Because I was moving sideways or backwards or diagonally. I was moving in a direction whose trajectory I could not predict. I felt foolish and small and though people were quick to congratulate me and express their joy for my journey, few voiced any desire to take my place.

Several times I thought of declining my offer, of gathering up my humility and heading to New York where I would wear thick sweaters and get an internship at a publishing house and a night-time gig waiting tables. I fantasized about the small apartment I’d share with my friends and the adventures we’d have together. I thought of the writing I’d do and the people I’d fall in love with. I thought of Fall and I thought of snow and I thought of strong coffee and Christmas fires. I was arrested by the nostalgia of a time that had never existed. I felt stupid and irrational but, in retrospect, it seems only natural that I would have wanted to cling to the only kind of future I could then envision for myself. And not only a future, but a clear path whose steps I had carefully studied throughout my college career. I knew the moves to make I knew the people to talk to or at least I felt like I did. I could be graceful and forward-moving too, but I had chosen differently and felt that choice like a stinging pain between my eyes.

On the last night before I left I didn’t sleep. I laid in bed alert until two in the morning. I fumbled through the chest of drawers beside my bed and found one lone Marlboro Red in an old pack. I headed downstairs and filled up a large glass with the boxed wine my parents had bought the week before for a party. I went into the backyard and sat on the porch and smoked the cigarette and drank the wine and watched planes as they crisscrossed the night sky. I softly sang to myself and practiced what I’d say to all the new people I’d be meeting in the upcoming week. Hi, my name’s Cody Gohl. I’m from Dallas, went to school in Vermont. Yeah, I’m so excited!! But a little nervous, but mostly just anxious to get the whole thing started! You know, I’m not exactly sure why I chose Thailand, no, I guess I just wanted something different. I hate small talk and so I like to practice what I’m going to say before entering an unfamiliar space: a party, a class, a country. I practice different scenarios and try out different witty remarks. If I can control nothing else, at least I can control my language.

I took deep drags and the cigarette burnt out quickly. I drank the wine slower and tried to memorize everything about the moment: the glow of the pool’s light, the yellow grass, the inky trees gently swaying in the summer breeze, a dog’s bark floating somewhere near the horizon. I wish I could say this brought me peace, but all it brought me was a new sadness for the things I would soon lose. I thought of my mother and father sleeping in the house and how they would miss me more than I would miss them and I felt guilty until I thought of the people I would miss more than they would miss me and it all sort of felt balanced.  I thought of how people are always missing someone no matter where they are and this thought brought me more piece of mind than anything had in the past week.

By the time I left the backyard, the sky had started to lighten from black to purple. I would be leaving in a few hours, so I moved back up to my room to lay alert and waiting. I thought of calling a friend but decided to start weaning myself off of the easy comfort. I thought it would make me feel tough but I just felt lonely lying in my room watching the sun rise through the slits in the blinds. I watched the light and felt like I was watching one of those time lapse videos that National Geographic sometimes puts together to show a forest waking up or a rose blossom as it closes at night. The sun crawled up the wall opposite the window. In the moment it seemed like I’d never paid attention to anything as intensely as I paid attention to that damn light as it crawled onwards and upwards until the whole room was swallowed by it.

I went to the airport, got on a plane and stayed there until Tokyo where I got on another plane heading to Bangkok. It was all too surreal, dizzying that moving forward a day in time. I’d never done anything like that before and, if I’d been better hydrated, I probably would’ve celebrated it in a grander fashion than staring wistfully out the window while occasionally training my eyes on the Star Trek movie unfolding before me on the small chair-mounted screen. I don’t remember much of the flight but I remember the thirst and how itchy my new linen shirt and pants were. I remember the odd stretches of sleeping and the endless boxes of airplane food. I remember meeting the other people on my program and I remember feeling like I had to hug them so I did and I remember how weird I felt afterward. I remember boarding the plane in Tokyo for Bangkok and then I remember waking up and peering over three people’s shoulders at the midnight blaze of the capital below.

I remember the landing and I remember how suddenly it came to be that I was in Thailand.

I tossed an echo across the river and watched it fall at your feet. You scooped it up with your small hands and pressed it against your ear. It was a whisper of yours I’d saved from years ago My darling if I love you let me love you. I watched you quiver at the croak in your voice, watched you place the echo into the river, watched you watching the echo as it slipped around the bend.

Between us it was

not love, but it was sweet

and I am thankful.

She opened her palm

and found the ink

still there, some dying

gasp darkened

and seeping.  

The cats violin their screeches into the night. I am both afraid and sad for them but the fear always wins and so I do not leave my bedroom to hold them or offer them dishes of warm milk. Who even knows if these jungle cats like milk I’ve only ever seen them suck at the pits of the magenta colored fruit that falls in my yard. There is rain enough for the thirstiest cats but hunger tightens their skin and dull orange stripes of fur run parallel to protruding ribs. I pass them as I walk to class. Once, I made the mistake of offering a slice of mango and now dozens of them follow me desperate for another act of accidental kindness. I lead them like a stony messiah who neither loves or abhors them enough to show them much attention. They follow me all the same, scattering at the forest’s edge, so silent that it is only in turning back that I even notice they are gone. 

This morning, my bathroom walls were covered in ants. They’d crawled in through a small hole by the toilet. And even as the breathing mosaic hanging against the wall had swollen to what must have been thousands, a small thread of straggling ants could still be seen moving through the hole, desperate to join the others.

First fear, then marvel. I closed the door and stood in the center of the room. It felt like I was standing inside a heartbeat. The ants were in constant motion, but even as I strained to hear the stomping of their feet, I found silence, disturbed only by my heavy breathing.

Why had they come here? Why today, not yesterday or any number of days before? Did they send scouts was there some Lewis or Clark amongst their ranks? Was this new place what they’d hoped it would be? Did they know I was there and did they know I would soon kill them? What language does an ant speak to another ant when it realizes it will die?

I thought about these things as I went in search of the forest bug spray I’d packed before moving to Thailand. I’d hardly used it, finding no desire to poison the random ants and moths and beetles I’d previously found in my home. Kindness like that is easy and requires little of us—the moth hardly bothers and the handful of ants is easy to step around. But something like a wall of ants requires a type of mercy that is inconvenient and difficult to offer. Since first seeing them even as I thought they were beautiful, I knew that I would have to kill them.

When I finally did kill them, I expected they’d topple from the walls, that their bodies would unravel like loose string. But not a one fell. They stuck to the walls and nothing had changed except now the room felt like it was holding its breath. After a beat, I grabbed the shower head and sprayed them until they fell, rolling slowly into the drain. After cleaning up, I left, and couldn’t shake the realization that I was now someone who had killed thousands of things.

I wanted to skip stones like the other kids but never learned the soullessness of inanimate objects so I tucked them into my coat pockets instead thinking they’d be warmer there. In those days, I couldn’t kill flies either or not sleep with all my stuffed animals for fear of leaving someone out. I knew what it meant to hurt deeply and assumed that all other things knew what this felt like, too.

Once, I saw a boy scoop up a fallen baby bird and put it in a stranger’s mailbox. He and his friends walked away pretending not to hear its crying but I knew they heard it. I saw them each turn back once, twice and I could see the remorse in their eyes. I watched the mother zoom across the yard, calling to the lost part of herself.

I knew what it felt like to drown at the hands of a force whose language you could not interpret,so I stood transfixed, understanding. But I could not help and left in tears.

I wonder if at night you still feel the small hook of me digging into your wrists like I feel the small hook of you. I feel your tossings and I feel your turnings and I wonder if they aren’t just calls across the deep beckoning me back to you. I wonder if social grace is the only thing keeping my wrists at my side when so clearly they long to be pulled into whatever sphere you might this night be occupying.

In dreaming, the sun
is just a bloom in an old
woman’s garden.

This is certainly a throwback.