Old Memories: A Golden Key

I will dedicate a separate section in my blog to the stories that should remain untold were they not some of the best memories I have…

In Brazil, we have a saying and while it isn’t difficult to translate, the translation itself, naturally, doesn’t have the same effect. In any case, when we say “fechamos com chave de ouro,” it literally means that we locked it– or wrapped up– the experience with a golden key. I first learned of this phrase in Brazil when I had lived there for almost a year, just after finishing high school. Before I divulge what caused that phrase to be uttered to me at the end of a long night in the interior of São Paolo, I’ll provide some background.

The city was São José do Rio Preto. It was, by no means, a huge city but neither was it a small one. That month was noted by rolling blackouts throughout the entire city; it was surreal. I had never experience a big city in absolute darkness. Since my father’s apartment building was smack in the middle of the city, at one of it’s busiest intersections, Avenida Alberto Andalo, I would pass the time sitting on the veranda watching and waiting for the often daily car accidents; the sounds always heard first. For many reasons that year was a special year. But, considering the day I just had in Don Det, Laos, the phrase popped up in my head and since I have never written about this experience before I figure I might as well this space as an introduction to my Don Det experience.

That year (2010?) I spent a lot of time with a friend of mine, Guido, nicknamed Jelly because he used to have blue or pink hair (I forget). More commonly, since shedding the colored hair, he went by Blondie because he was light-skinned and blonde (in Portuguese: ‘Geléia’ and ‘Loirinho’). Guido came from what some might call a broken home. He lived with his father in a modest apartment in the same complex as mine. We often hung out, played soccer, and talked more than anything. Occasionally, we’d go out drinking. That same month, for example, he took me and my then-girlfriend out for drinks on the main strip. Indicative of his character, he offered to pay for everything. Wanting to decline knowing that he worked hard for a lot less than I, I chose to accept; to decline would be rude, plain and simple. He wanted to show me a good time– me, a Brazilian-Gringo hybrid; in Brazil, I was often referred to as ‘Americano’ among friends outside the family.

So, here we are: live music, absinthe, whiskey, beer, singing. This was at least 5 years ago and by now I know the problem with the end of that last sentence: mixing different types of alcohol. Well, actually, maybe mixing anything with absinthe is a bad idea– a flawed design, conceptually ugly. But, I did it. We’ve all had that realization on a night out where the drinks were flowing…that “oh shit, I’m too drunk already” realization but it’s still early. I could moderate with liquor, but moderating with beer was never my strong-suite. Til this day, I blame it on beer temperature: the longer it sits there, the warmer it gets. I, like most Latinos, will refuse to drink warm beer. Although, in Asia, where refrigeration in remote areas is substandard, I’m getting better about being a snob regarding near-frozen beer temperatures. Anyways, I’m stalling– I was wasted. The last thing I remember was talking to some Argentinians at the table next to us. Well, I wasn’t saying much. On my end, there was much more listening and blank staring interspersed among efforts of composure. The last thing I remember is that the Argentinians took interest in my girlfriend. Guido could already tell I was wasted. I leaned over to him and asked him if shit was about to go down. Like the G that he is he told me to chill the fuck out and, when the Argentinians asked who she was with, responded that she was with him. That was a smart move. As I stubbornly kept drinking my beers, I became lost in a sea of blank stares, people singing along to national songs I couldn’t keep track of nor knew the lyrics to. Oh, and alcohol.

Thinking back on it, that was the second time I blacked out from drinking. According to witness reports, aka my girlfriend and Guido, I tried to jump a cactus or some other type of plant after leaving the bar. Mind you, when I get very drunk I get ridiculously silly, like a child, and laugh at everything and often run away from people– literally. I imagine I am a royal pain in the ass. However, I find solace in the fact that I am a happy drunk. I jumped over the plant but didn’t make it. Instead, I over-shot it, landing on something and falling forward, head-first onto the side of the curb. After being unconscious for at least a minute, my friends escorted me along the 1-km route back home as I laughed too much for own good while bleeding from a gash on my forehead. In Brazil, all apartment complexes have security guards at the entrance. It just happened that my father was managing the buildings that year, helping out. I recall being held outside by my friends for a while, not far from the entrance but away from view of the guards; were the guards to see me bloody, they would’ve for sure called my father, which nobody wanted. I don’t think I was in a state to care much. I don’t know if I just kept walking towards home, or if they decided it was time to just go and risk it. In any case, we reached the gate. While I don’t remember this part, I assume they took one look at me and dialed the three-digit extension to my father’s apartment.

The night ended with my father coming and getting a good kick out my drunken self. I remember my brother telling me in the morning (and laughing his ass off while saying it)that when my father put me in the bathroom to undress and shower all the blood off me, telling me to “wash my head,” I responded by asking him “which head?” Writing about it now makes me laugh just as hard…and I’m literally sitting here alone. Okay, not alone, I have a beer. Honestly, I think my family and friends had more fun witnessing me in my “state” that I had drinking. At least I hope so.

Fast forward to what must have been no more than two weeks later. There was a massive black out. Guido and I took that opportunity to “borrow” bikes from the complex’s parking structure. The way I view it, the tires were flat and we walked them to the gas station, filled them up, and rode them until returning them; if anything, we did the owners a service. However, they noticed the bikes were gone and asked for security to review the camera footage. Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I get to the whole “being caught red-handed” shenanigans, I have to tell you what we did with the bikes. Naturally, after filling up the tires, we rode to the “represa,” which is a man-made lake, sort of like a damn. We rolled a joint, which in Brazil is easier said than done; the weed comes in bricks, packed together. To break it apart, people use a key, giving the phrase “chavecar,” which literally translates to “key-ing” something. Disclaimer: I swear I didn’t intend for the double key reference, but just go with it– it works. After rolling this joint, several kilometers from home, and smoking it while fucking with the capibaras (which are like big, coarse-haired pigs with weird faces), we continued our way across town.

Mind you, Guido was bustin’ wheelies for the majority of the time, whether downhill, uphill, or weaving through traffic with one hand in the air and the other on his seat. To this day I still don’t understand it how he managed that, stoned nonetheless. I was riding the bike like a normal human. Well, as normal as I could while enjoying the adrenaline (and high) as I weaved through traffic. We were on our way to the favelas (slums) to pick up weed. This is a part of town that my other friends would never go to for fear of whatever there is to fear there, which I guess is plenty: gangsters, guns, drugs, etc. We show up to this guys house, who Guido knows personally. We get off our bikes, ask him for some weed. He doesn’t even respond, just goes right back in the house. Guido seemed confused. I probably seemed nervous; I was. The guy reappears after a few minutes, walks up to us with his Nike hat and hands Guido a handful of weed. My friend motions to give him money and the guy declines: “Don’t worry about it, Loirinho.” He walks away without awaiting a response.

Like two kinds in a candy shop, we roll our bikes over to a nearby corner bar, roll a joint just outside of it. As we roll it, the monkeys come out and start harassing us, which turned out to be a great way to pass the hour. Thirsty, we walk over to the bar and ask for two cokes. Minding our own, just talking and going over the day, and how great it was, someone who must have been the bar owner walks up to us and asks us if we do cocaine. “No,” replied Guido, which was probably the more appropriate answer to a stranger we didn’t know in a sketchy part of town. Thinking back on it, his street smarts outweighed mine. Without thinking much, I replied in the affirmative: a simple “yes.” I knew Guido did cocaine. I had seen him do it and had even done it with him for my first time. In Brazil it doesn’t come in baggies, it comes in those little plastic things a florist puts on a rose, filled with water, kind of like a capsule. One gram costs 10$R, which is about 3$US. Promptly, this guy invites us to the bathroom, where he had what I think was a kid’s elementary school workbook on the top of the ceramic toilet cover. On the notebook, he had the biggest line of cocaine I had ever seen. For about five minutes we struggled to finish it. In the end, we had to request for the guy to come in and finish it off. Higher than before, we took off, laughing our asses off along the way as I fucked around and spoke of the day, reveling in the crazy shit we had done while he continuously pulled the gnarliest wheelies.

Riding the several kilometers back home was the first time I had heard the phrase, uttered to me as we pulled up to the security gate. We quickly learned that the owner of the bikes was pissed. He was even more pissed to find out that it was the complex manager’s son who had taken his own son’s bike. Arguments and (minor) trouble notwithstanding, we truly did wrap up that night with a golden key.

Now that I have spilled digital ink on this story of years past, I can continue on to the present. However, two-thousand words later, I am sure you will all thank me for committing it to a second, separate post.

I just couldn’t resist relating this ‘day in a life’…you never know what memories disappear, are taken over by fresher memories. I have so many of these memories that are absolutely worth telling yet, at the same time, are also the ones which you don’t– or shouldn’t– tell. Honestly though, I really don’t care who wants to judge me. I lived my life and I hope you lived yours (whatever that means to you).

Do you have any of these, from years past, that you want to share or perhaps simply can’t help share? Come on, I know you do. I am not the only one…

That Land of Half-Truths

A stranger that I have only known for two days noticed the sadness that I carried with me tonight and approached me as I straddled the ledge of the hostel’s fifth floor, overlooking the center of Patze, Laos. With a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and an inexplicable sadness in my eyes, I automatically responded with a fake smile: “I just get like this sometimes. But don’t worry, I wont jump. I am not depressed or anything.” We both kind of laughed and she made an enlightening comment about how the fall wouldn’t do much anyways, I would just bounce off the aluminum roof below or get caught in the wires. We laughed and she left. I finished my beer and felt like crying.

Despite having so much time to myself in an environment that facilitates positive emotions– I mean, come on, backpacking for an undefined length of time is a dream for many, and it has been exactly that for me, for years– I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home. That melancholic weight that just seems to yank me towards the ground persists; like gravity, but so much stronger. And so much more invasive. Tonight was just one of those nights. Those closest to me have seen me in these “bouts,” if I can call them that. My response has been typically to drink, preferably alone, and reflect while listening to a bunch of sad fucking music. I can’t say that it helps the feeling, or that I feel even remotely better, but there is a release that occurs in those moments. In the morning, I wake up and everything is (usually) back to normal.

In secret, I have seen a therapist. That was a load of shit; the first two meetings were purely introductory, the “tell me about yourself” shit, which leads me down a diatribe of self-pity and mopiness. Nobody wants to hear it and I sure as hell don’t want to repeat it. Naturally, I stopped going. My remedy since has not changed much. Maybe, at most, I surround myself with others. That just results in people telling me that I look or feel sad, down, depressed, or just plain weird; thanks, for the reminder. Fuck off.

But now things are different: I don’t have a job, I don’t own much (neither here nor back in America), nothing and nobody is tying me down to anything. Yet, here I stand, in Pakze, Laos, half-way across the world sometimes feeling the same as I did back home. Honestly, I don’t believe myself to be depressed. Searching around me, here in Asia, I find no cause for it. The cause is not external, it is interior. I finally realize (and actually believe) something that someone close to me told me years ago: I lead a life of small, half-truths because I am not honest with myself.

These half-truths affect others, but they are not malicious and I don’t even intend for them to exist. I guess that is usually the case with others, though.

These half-truths, or lies, are lies to myself; unfortunately, they just sort of leak onto others oozing like the clear puss from a scab. You only notice it when you touch it, often by mistake in the midst of haphazard movements.  The irony is that I have always considered myself so aware; about other people, their feelings, and their problems. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with myself, with my feelings, and my problems. This must have happened long ago. So now, here sits an the overly aware but miserably unaware person. Perhaps, as a collective, we are all so incredibly aware and knowledgeable about this or that, yet hopelessly unaware of the very essence of ourselves and of each other. Or, perhaps it really is just me.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t mopiness, like the introductory-therapy-session type of sappy talk I engaged in with my two-time therapist years ago. This is progress. I feel some weight being lifted. In a way it’s more like “promissory weight,” as in a future weight being lifted. But that weight is so heavy, that despite being in the future, I already feel ripples as they travel backwards in time. It’s a reverse-drip, the water-droplet coming up and into the faucet; the neurotransmitters flowing up-stream, which they almost never do.

I will transform this land of half-truths into a land of authenticity, both with myself and with others. Reading Clarice Lispecter’s novels, wherein she deals with the dilemma of how to say things that shouldn’t be said (for a variety of reasons), I internalized that dilemma. Yet, unlike her characters, I never let those scenarios play out as they should have; I stopped short. I am not as strong or determined like her characters. I know what I have to do. I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

I think these next couple of months will be challenging in many ways but not in the way I thought they would. I (hope) they will uplift me and take away the weight that I feel when I lay in bed awake at night, thinking, thinking, thinking, not sleeping. I hope, too, that they will lessen the weight on those affected by my land of half-truths.

As I walked past my friend, after writing this, words were exchanged: “You don’t look so sad anymore.” I responded by insinuating that it must be the beer(s). As I looked away, again caught in a moment of vulnerability and surprise, there was a pause and a response: “No, I see it in your eyes.”