I told the prostitute to dance naked at the foot of the bed while I propped myself up on some pillows and fondled myself and watched MTV Asia. I’d taken too much diazepam and I couldn’t get hard.
Even though I wasn’t meant to smoke in the hotel room I lit a cigarette and hummed along to the k-pop song on the TV. Lately, I’d come to like a certain boy band that sang a song about heartbreak and I asked the prostitute to sing along but she didn’t know what I was talking about.
Disappointed, I asked her to leave. I threw some money in her direction and watched as she had to bend over to pick it up. Out, out, I screamed at her and then leapt from the bed and chased her from the room, her clothes clutched to her chest.
Afterwards I leant my forehead against door and tried to catch my breath. Just go to bed, I told myself, fucking go to bed.
When I woke up there was ash in the bed and all the lights were on and the TV was turned up so loud it was like a band playing in my head. I felt like screaming but I turned it down and took the last of the diazepam and imagined I was in some kind of space capsule floating high above Saigon, all the lights flickering like countless candles beneath me.
Later I dreamt I was on TV and people were cheering my name and women were reaching out with stretched fingers trying to touch me. If they touched me everything in their lives would be perfect.
When I wake up I feel like someone with talent and purpose. Before this feeling disappears for good I try to memorize it, I try to cup it in the palms of my hands and hold it close to my heart.
In a bar packed with old white men I try to remember that feeling, to summon it back to me, but I have forgotten. All traces of that feeling have gone. And I am sitting alone in a bar in Saigon drinking beer and staring at the tits of a waitress as she leans over the bar to ask me a question and I feel like I’ve lost something.
In a Karaoke bar I watch as a Vietnamese girl is pulled into a room by her hair, screaming. My Vietnamese friends tell me that it is nothing to worry about.
Upstairs in our private room we chose our women and mine sits in my lap and feeds me because I don’t know how to use chopsticks or am just too drunk to use them. The girls had lined up in front of the four us sprawled out on the U shaped sofa and I was told to choose first. The girls stood there looking bored and I chose the girl I’d seen being pulled into the room earlier.
She was smiling but her eyes were red from crying and I chose her out of some kind of pity. When she squirmed on my lap and nuzzled her face into my neck I felt a pleasant stirring in my jeans.
I sang ‘Born in the USA’ because it was one of the only songs in English I knew well enough to sing, but mostly I just sat there drinking Heineken in big glasses filled with ice. I sat and listened to the others sing sad love songs in a language I couldn’t understand. I let the girl on my lap feed me and light my smokes. And when she stuck her tongue in my mouth I sucked it like an exotic fruit.
All my friends laughed and clapped their hands. They encouraged me to take her back to the hotel but the girl had sad eyes and I said no. I thought this was the right thing to do but when I said no the girl started crying again. I gave her two million Dong and kissed her on the forehead and she stopped crying and was happy.
A year ago my wife died and whenever another woman was in my bed I couldn’t get hard and I felt something great and terrible approaching. A huge wall of fear rushing towards me. I was thirty-one and I believed my sex life was over and done with.
Back at the hotel I tried to think about how it felt having that girl on my lap and how her tongue felt in my mouth and I tried to masturbate while thinking about these things. But in the end all I could think about was that girl being pulled into that room and the way her eyes lit up when I put the money in her hand and in the end my dick is soft and I am just moving my arm for the sake of moving it and I’m crying and it’s late and my wife is dead and I can’t get more diazepam until the morning.
They found her body in an abandoned mineshaft stuffed in a barrel. This is not something I’m likely to stop thinking about any time soon.
They say I will stop thinking about it or that at some point I will stop thinking about it as much. But, really, fuck them. It’s not the kind of revelation easily digested by anyone. I will not wake up one future morning and not think this – my high school girlfriend went out jogging and, two weeks later, was found stuffed in a barrel. I will not go a week without thinking about it and then, on realizing I haven’t thought about it, think – oh wow, I forgot my high school girlfriend was raped, murdered and then stuffed in barrel.
I do not think these are possible conclusions. Trust me, it’s never going to happen. Not ever. But, on the off chance something like that does happen, if I do forget for a week, even a day, I will not raise my arms towards the sky and rejoice, I will not be overcome with relief, I will not think – it is good I have forgotten these things. I will think – shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.
When I failed out of senior year she had been dead six-months. My parents said – you can’t let this terrible thing that happened to you destroy your entire life. They said – you have a great future ahead of you, don’t let this terrible thing ruin that.
I told them that no terrible thing had happened to me but that, in fact, the terrible thing had occurred to her and that if they stopped to think about this, if for just a second they considered the facts, thought about how it might feel to be raped and murdered and stuffed in a barrel they might want to rethink the things they were saying.
But you can’t dwell on this, they said, you can’t let this consume you!
You hear things like that and you get this breathless feeling, this kind of amazed sense like – how on earth can you be saying these words, how, how, how? Where are these words even coming from? Why are you using these words? Why is not god striking you down?
These people – my parents, teachers – they’d talk to me and they’d be saying these things, these stupid, idiotic things about the future and all I could think about was a mineshaft and at the bottom of the mineshaft, down in the pitch black darkness was a barrel and in the barrel in an even blacker darkness was the broken body of my girlfriend.
Around this time I started saying things like – Fuck you for saying that or I don’t give a shit about the future. Don’t you dare talk to me about the fucking future. Fuck you, I’d say, fuck you. I’d say something like that and then just stare them in the eye until they looked at the ground or the ceiling or over my shoulder and I’d know they knew that what they were saying was wrong.
Because when something like this happens and you start not caring and you drop out of school and you spend all your time getting high and telling people to go fuck themselves, people don’t really understand what’s happening to you. They look for answers and they try to come up with solutions but there aren’t any ways to fix what’s happened. And they can’t see that you are looking for answers and trying to fix things too.
But you can’t. Some things just don’t fix, you know?
The problem is this – people want the old you back. But the old me didn’t have a girlfriend in a barrel. The old me didn’t have to think about how she fit in a barrel, how they got her in there, what they did to her before they put her in a barrel. The old me didn’t think these things.
He doesn’t exist anymore.
This is what happens when you hear something like that – they found her in a mineshaft stuffed into a barrel – when you hear that, there’s a part of you that just winks out of existence. And it’s never coming back. It’s gone. The rest of you? Well it kind of feels like you’re down in a mineshaft too. And you’re in the darkness all bent in over yourself and you keep looking up towards this little fragment of light, but you can’t focus on it, or find a way out, you’re down there forever, trying to find your way out.
She doesn’t mean to hurt me. I reassure myself with thoughts like this. But the kitten is growing by the day and she waits for me around corners and behind things. She jumps out at me and bites hard with white teeth and cuts deep with her clear claws.
She waits for me.
In black spots, just out of my vision. She knows when to make her move. It’s in her nature. It’s who she is.
She is only little. She doesn’t mean to draw blood. She is playing. This is all a game to her. It is something to pass the time. Get her little heart pumping.
And I think about how, if she were a tiger, she would play the same games and when she killed me, finally, it would all be accident. It would not be on purpose. My gushing throat would confuse her. My still body would not respond to her touch and maybe she would feel some kind of regret.
Of course, nothing would stop her from licking up the warm blood from the tiles or chewing on my flesh when no one came to feed her. She is in an animal after all.
We have an understanding.
In my dream I saw a forest fire. A great blaze in the northern sky. I was driving on an empty road towards it, great pines on either side of me. The smell of burning wood filled my nose. It was everywhere. In everything.
It looked like the whole world was ablaze. The sky was dark with smoke and it glowed orange as far as I could see. I felt the heat of the fire through the glass and my skin grew tight on my skull.
I am driving, but I don’t know where. It is far and it won’t be good when I get there. I know this. I feel it the same way I feel the fire through the glass. It is just a fact. I watch the road and the night is alive with fire and embers rise towards the sky, towards the stars I can’t see and the fire is everywhere.
Someone is waiting for me. They are saying my name over and over. And I am rushing towards them, but the fire is everywhere. The whole world is burning.
When she takes the fork out of the boiling water and places it against my bare back and I scream out in pain she does not mean to do this. It is an accident. It is just something she does without thinking.
There are so many accidents these days.
I never know when it is coming. It is always unexpected and I haven’t learnt to anticipate. My guard is always down and the pain always comes out of nowhere. It is always a surprise.
She is always sorry.
I’m sorry, she says, I’m sorry.
Around here, someone is always sorry.
My back is burning and she is sorry and it was an accident and she didn’t mean to do it, but it is in her nature and she is punishing me for something I haven’t done yet. She is sure I’m going to do something and I have to pay for it in advance.
I am always paying.
There is always something owed. A debt. Something that needs to be cleared up. We are never on equal ground and I am never up to date.
When she bites me so hard my skin breaks and I bleed, I am paying for something. I am being punished. And somehow I am the one who ends up comforting her. I am the one who ends up telling her that it’s okay.
It’s okay, I tell her, It’s okay.
It is always okay.
I could get angry. I am bigger than her and I could throw things around the apartment and I could throw her around the apartment. But I will do none of this because I am being punished and, even though I haven’t done anything, there is a part of me that deserves to be punished. There is a part of me in need of punishing.
I’m sorry, she tells me and I believe her because I am sorry also. Sorry for all of the things that I cannot even begin to name. I am in need of forgiveness.
I am paying for something.
There is a debt owed.