Meanwhile, over on St. 63 …
It was five of the A.M. in the city of Phnom Penh and I was crawling home. My hands were darkened by dust, by dirt, by the debris of urban peasantry, by scattered piles of garbage and shattered downtown detritus. The sky was on the verge of turning light, very nearly softly glowing, though the sun was not yet showing.
I wondered if I’d find myself on all fours in the midst of the morning rush, inching along amongst crowds of incredulous Khmer. What would they do? Stop, stare, and snicker? Laugh and point? Roll their eyes or avert them? Help me up or kick me when I was down? Help, it would seem, was unlikely in the extreme; the Truth about this place, in my mind now most sinister, could be found in the fangs hidden behind the smile on any Khmer’s face.
This had been impressed upon me most violently. There were the impressions of their fists borne by my eyes, and the impressions of their footprints walking a bruised path across my back, and the impression that my life had been afforded to me as a matter of expedience and not charity; the convenience in my being ambulatory was manifest if you saw me as just a mess, nothing more, most easily cleaned up by being shown the door.
Who were these “they,” anyway? They who laid me low? Who were those “thems” that thrashed me? Was there a reason? I don’t know.
I began the evening meeting personally with people that, online, I’d “met” with previously. That was my first mistake, though they can’t be burdened or blamed by me for their mere inactivity as it was I who marched headlong into disaster; it was I who drank the drinks and in so drinking did decide to make decisions that would ultimately wound my ribs as well as my pride.
They seemed nice enough: in person, that is. Online they seemed like a bunch of assholes. But don’t we all? No, the mistake was that I, a casual drinker for certain, tried to keep up with a starving pack of booze swilling wolves as they hunted and howled their way through a city unfamiliar to me. Was it their fault for leaving me behind, or my fault for not keeping up? I could have gone home earlier, but why go home when you’re having fun? I should have gone home earlier, but it’s hard to go home when there’s drinking to be done. I would have gone home earlier … but I didn’t, so now I crawl home in a slow race to avoid the rising sun.
Where’s my money? Where’s my phone?
A girl. There was a girl. A woman, definitely. Definitely a beauty. Definitely possible that she was. Maybe? Possibly. Was she? A beauty? Now it came to me, slowly, as I stared down at the concrete scenery, hand over hand and too sick to stand, I crawled towards a realization as I struggled towards salvation.
What happened was, put simply, she robbed me. She rolled me. At the guesthouse. I met her on St. 51, alias Pasteur, in Phnom Penh’s Heart of Darkness, both literal and metaphorical, both old hardcore and tourist horrible, sometimes tragic and deplorable. It is a place of unbound irony, where innumerable infections have found their potent genesis on a street named for their righteous nemesis. That’s where I met her.
Later, at the guesthouse, I emerged from the shower, still talking absently, a nervous noise contingency, about the death of god, the birth of Man, and matters of general philosophy. It was not for her and more for me, speaking as I was on subjects she would not understand nor care about to any degree. Not even in America, unlikely, at least not at her age. What was her age? She said twenty-three? Or twenty-five? Twenty-five is old in a town with little life expectancy. Twenty-five is withered with so little to expect from life.
What the hell was with that beat down?
It must have been about the bill. Had to be the money. Did I storm out? Try to sneak out? Was I angry? Acting funny? It was all so blurry and so brutal, my resistance being futile, I took a swing, maybe two, hopelessly half-hearted haymakers and somehow the second struck. My bad luck. One second later I landed on the floor under a flurry of kicks, covering my head was a necessity but it left all else exposed most painfully, and I suffered there on St. 63.
Drunken blackouts are imbued with a juvenile and ugly artistry, a reckless collage of paste smeared glossy pages, clipped from magazines with liquor ads, sex advice, supermodel faces. Hints of a chronology, glued together wearily, happenstance and in a drunk tank disarray, missing time and mysterious bruises, and no one can tell you what the truth is, but if it’s as bad as you suspect? Then there will be hell to pay.
There are moments when a memory returns to you in a burst, like flash photography, all lit up, alive and briefly bright but with the fading light they become forlorn lonely monuments to last night’s revelries, the happy faces locked in place reveal terror as they’re frozen. These small moments that your brain has chosen, fragile and defiant, are memory’s melting ice sculptures, scattered amongst the lost hours, in the blackness of your mostly missing night.
Just be glad you made it home – alive … if not alright.
Ned is on twitter as @NedKelly