When I think about the past I feel lonely. I feel lonely and small. I feel brittle, like a frozen corpse floating in space. I feel like a pinprick could send me to shatters. I feel like I want to grab my past self and shake him until his blue eyes turn white with knowing. I want to slap him and tell him to make things better. To smile at the people who smile at him and to love the people that love him and to let the light in but I know there is a sonic boom living in his chest and it deafens him. I know the winds howl and reach out for him, I know he lets them pull him lets them drag him into the pit where he will lose himself. I know he cries some nights but mostly just stares at the corners and coaxes the dust. I know he stares at his hands too and wishes they were bigger or that his arms were longer so he could hold himself up but he’s wickless and the wax is cold so nothing burns or thaws him.
The nights are long there and they are deep and sometimes I get lost there and when I think about how lost I can still feel after all this time it’s easy to feel lonely and so small.
is cold and so like
Of all the promised
seeds, so few cracked
I have lost myself
too many times to the calls
of wayward things.
There is an aching
and it hollows
The red gravel road stretches before me. I have in my pockets a book of matches and two old photographs. The sun is a beer-gutted old man tonight and he winks at me. I feel his hot, thin eyelashes against my cheek. I feel his hands on my ass as he bends over his own waist to fish for a shiny nickel he thinks he sees under a table leg. He sinks and slips and the thin-ringed promise of a new moon rises. I step onto the gravel road.
As I walk, I light the matches one by one.
Bangkok days, intro
In Bangkok, I lived on the 9th floor of a hotel called the Krik Thai Mansion. When our program directors emailed us a month before our arrival telling us we’d be staying at a place called the Krik Thai Mansion for orientation, I assumed we’d be staying at some swanky place in the heart of the city. I was on a prestigious government program and figured they’d be sparing no expense to set us up with cushy digs. I envisioned terry-cloth bathrobes and thick down comforters, massive flower arrangements engulfing a spacious lobby. Little did I know that every other hotel, regardless of quality, you walk by in Thailand manages to incorporate one or several of the following words into its name: mansion, orchid, paradise, river, mountain, valley, good, view. It became a running shtick later, as we sat around drinking in random hotel rooms throughout the country, to come up with ridiculous hotel names (Orchid Valley River Paradise or River Mountain Good View). We’d laugh especially hard if, upon further research, these hotels turned out to be real. Many of them were.
The Krik Thai Mansion, then, is no mansion, but rather a large, simple, cement box of a building located on the edge of the Silom shopping district. It faces Rama 1, a major road that cuts east through much of touristy Bangkok. Running above the road is the BTS sky train, an above ground rail system with two lines that extend as far as the Chatuchak weekend market to the north and to the Chao Phraya river to the west, from whose banks ferries shuttle large groups of tourists to wonder at the golden temples Wat Arun and Wat Pho. Across from the Mansion on the opposite side of Rama 1 lies National Stadium, a collection of buildings and fields where groups of high school students gather to play football and practice cheer routines in the steamy heat left over from afternoon thunderstorms. We’d see them on our way back from Chulalongkorn University, where we took classes on Thai language and culture. The students would stare at us and we would stare at them, both groups perhaps thinking the other strange and foreign. There was no secret to the way we took each other in, but still it left me feeling unsettled, as if I were both the fish in the bowl and the person outside the bowl tapping fervently upon the glass.
Down the road from the mansion and National stadium sprawls the major complexes of the Silom shopping area: MBK mall and Siam Paragon. MBK, within spitting distance of the mansion, is a typical mall with a variety of stores, bowling alleys and a Cineplex. To its food court we were again and again directed when asking for food suggestions and so again and again we bent over plates of Pad Thai on the always full fifth floor MBK Food court, feeling comforted but a bit disappointed in our lack of innovation or adventure. It was in the Starbucks on the second floor of the mall where I would spend my Sunday mornings drinking coffee, reading books and, generally, feeling sorry for myself. To have travelled this far and to find such solace in a Starbucks made me feel small, yet it was a routine that stuck throughout my time in Bangkok and helped me to shake some of the blue out of my soul.
Further on Rama 1, away from the mansion and the cheerleaders and MBK, sits the Siam Complex, a collection of malls and other venues full of luxury cars, luxury clothes, luxury food and beautiful luxury people. One of the most instagrammed places in the world, the main mall in the complex, Siam Paragon, is the great lantern of the capital, attracting farang tourists and Thai alike to bask in its expensive fluorescence. To walk on these streets is to feel like every movement is a pull, an invisible tug—one moves through Silom like a moth, drawn without much thought to the light of store-front windows or the pulsing pink neon of a movie marquee.
For that first month in Bangkok, I, too, moved like a moth. Because of its newness, everything seemed to roar: the tuk-tuk engines, the aromas of grilled pork and fish, the lights of the football field at National Stadium. When I would make an excursion out of the mansion, I never really had a purpose unless I was going to Chula for one of our orientation classes or trying to scrounge up some cheap eats from the 7/11 or a nearby food stand. Often, I’d step into the current of the roar and let it sweep me up and drag me wherever it wanted. I’d follow the sound of a guitar down an alleyway or the clamor of people disembarking the water taxi along the river. I was desperate to figure out the geography of this new life and thought it best to navigate it with my eyes, my nose, my reaching hands.
The last time I’d lived in a foreign country was during my college semester abroad in Madrid. Then, the roar had crashed into me much the same, but I came equipped with the language, with a meek and rudimentary understanding of Spanish history, music and art. I found my rhythm on the cobblestone streets quickly enough and was able to read maps and maneuver my way around swindlers and prostitutes within a matter of weeks. There was a certain boldness to the impermanent nature of the program—whatever mistakes I made would matter little in four months’ time, when I’d hop on a plane and cross the Atlantic and land safely in the bosom of my wintery college home. Madrid was not a life in as much as it was a detour, an electric dance with a stranger whose midnight hands slipped out of my own at dawn. An imprint on the heart, but one whose pressure, though significant, was light.
As I walked the streets of Bangkok, I realized that whatever imprint Thailand would leave on me, it would not be light. I’d knowingly (willingly, enthusiastically) agreed to work and live in Thailand for a year, a time that felt, and still feels, both long and short. Short in that, in the grand mysterious timeline of my life, one year was nothing, a single thread in the tapestry, a small slice of the pie, a miniscule part of some other comforting cliché. Short in that the months would be easy to count down. Short in that I wouldn’t have enough time to acquire fluency in Thai. Short in the ironic truism of leaving a place right as one is beginning to feel at home there. But long in missing Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Homecoming, Easter, countless birthdays, concerts, gay pride parades, graduations and hundreds of other unknown things. Long in longing. Long in the dull gnaw of homesickness. But also long with travel, long with getting to experience the rich diversity of this country, long with discovery.
Such were my thoughts as I stood on the 9th floor of the mansion staring at the BTS train as it pummeled right outside our hallway’s window. I’d watch the train and think about time and re-convince myself that I’d made the right decision to come to Thailand. When I wasn’t actively engaged in conversation with one of the other teachers or miming interest and attention at one of our classes, I would lose myself in an endless cycle of mental pep-talks: You committed to doing this, there’s no turning back now! It’s only a year, you’ll be back home in no time! It’s a year, think of all the things you’ll get to see! I was never fully swayed by any of my mind’s best intentions, but learned to settle into the gray uncertainty of my decisions and find some semblance of peace there with which I lived my Bangkok days.
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 :)
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.