Six-sided battle against PTSD (PART 1)
The dice began to tumble in Emma's eye as a possible path to walk. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
LITTLE pieces on the floor, frantically trying to gather them all up, conscious that I could miss something… a jigsaw without all the pieces will never be complete. Who am I kidding some of those pieces have been lost forever leaving permanent vacant spaces that I don’t know will ever be filled again. Fractured parts of my conscious that are often too broken up to make much sense. Can I live with that? Is it okay to have gaps and not fill them in or do I need to find what has been lost? What if it never happens? What if this is as good as it will ever get again? Why today have the pieces fallen apart again, what was the catalyst?
Despite having spent almost two and a half years flitting between crushed, furious and broken, and working hard on myself, this still has not left me. What is it they say about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – some people recover, others cope. Somehow, I think I am the latter. For too long I have had to make too many decisions that really counted – do I ring and ask him what he wants for dinner and make him angry or do I guess, almost certainly get it wrong, and make him angry? Whatever I do, I have to chose quickly, weigh things up, balance the potential consequences and chose the least worst option. Now that need to panic is no longer real (note it hasn’t gone despite him going) I don’t seem to be able to make a decision and I just end up bumbling through days like a feather being blown in the wind: no direction, no purpose and no goal. How do I make decisions? With depression, I really don’t care about the outcome, or the choices. I have no preferences. I'm happy to be swept along.
Faced with nearly eight weeks off of work, I feel lost. What the fuck do I do with myself? I find planning a holiday stressful, in fact I find holidays stressful. Too many decisions that are all pretty much unknowns – so why make a conscious decision, they all have equal weighting. So, yes, I don’t like holidays as such, but I don’t want to work for the whole break, which is my default setting. All I know is that I want to be ready for next year at work – time to prove my worth after two really rocky years of a divorce, stalkers, accidents, depression, hospitals, breakdowns, inappropriate behavior... sounds like an interesting time, not that I remember most of it now.
Two weeks into the holiday, I am randomly swiping to the left or the right on the hookup/dating app Tinder in an attempt to join real society. I come across an interesting looking guy – expat, journalist, climber. I swipe right. Randomly the 'you have both liked each other' pops up. Hmm... wasn’t expecting that. Do I send a message? Why the fuck not? After all, that is kinda why I downloaded the app.
“How’s trix?” I write. Why I wrote that, I don’t know. My index finger hovers over the send button, fuck it – sent.
My previous experience on this app has not been very favorable, as the norm seems to be an instant torrent of sexual-based messages that just make me want to laugh or cry or hide or all three. If I just wanted a fuck I would go to the local collection of bars and clubs that are full of tourists and pull some random guy. Does no-one know how to have a conversation any more? Not that I am against random fucks – they are what they are: no further expectations, unleashed I am never going to see you again behavior ;-) But after the last few years, I am not sure I can do that anymore: I am too different, too messed up, too scared of falling apart.
A day goes by, then my phone makes an unfamiliar noise, all apps have their own specific notification tone, this is one I don't know well. Picking up my phone I see I have a message on Tinder. Hmmmm, I think raising my right eyebrow and opening the message. It is the climber guy. Answering with a non-I-just-want-to-fuck-you message. I respond and soon find myself exchanging some random banter... then I stop and so does he. Aah well.
The following day, I think about sending him a message, do I or don’t I? Why am I thinking about this so much?
Send a message.
I do and later get a response, which leads to more random banter. Isaac (the climber dude) is writing, he mentions maybe stopping for coffee, somehow this leads to me getting on my motorbike and riding 35 minutes into the middle of the city to have a cup of coffee at 5pm.
I arrive and realize I've gotten the name of the coffee shop a bit wrong. However, I figure that he has a brain and can work it out. I look across the road and see a new coffee shop; balls, that one looks nicer, but it wasn’t there the last time I was in this part of the city. Fuck it. I go inside, order a coffee and go to sit outside, as this is my favorite people watching place. I pull a cigarette packet out of my bag and start digging around for a lighter.
At this point, I would like to point out that while that makes me sound like a typical female with a handbag the size of a small horse filled with everything you and your friends might ever need, it is not the case.
I am blindly rooting about; I look in my bag: a cows tooth (I forgot about that), multiple pens, random lists and notes, dog biscuits and one sock (even I am confused about that one, as I haven’t worn socks in months). Anyway, not only do I find a lighter, I find two lighters. I smile to myself and light my cigarette.
I watch as a westerner walks across the road from the coffee shop opposite of Black Canyon Coffee. He’s cute, is that him?
Don’t think too hard; it makes you frown and look grumpy. The cute guy walks past me and into the coffee shop.
I guess not.
About a minute later, he appears on my other side holding about five menus. We start with the usual small talk about how long we have both lived in Thailand, what we do and so on. Then, as we are talking, I spot two girls dressed in identical outfits. One looks amazing: the outfit fits her well and makes her look good, whereas the other one is not so lucky and seems to know it from the look on her face.
Isaac realizes that I am not listening to him anymore and looks in the direction of my gaze. I start making up a random scenario. We had been talking about decision fatigue, oddly, and I decided that the more beautiful of the girls decided which outfit they wore today and has made the other one wear the same and walk two paces behind her with a look of defeat on her face.
I sort of expect Isaac to think I am a dick, but he joins in, and the banter begins. Two hours later, we are still chatting, Isaac looks at his watch.
“Shit, I really do have work I have to do tonight,” he says.
We part ways, agreeing to maybe hangout the next day.
I jump on my bike and ride home in record time, annoy the dog for a few hours and remember there is Magic Land, an all-day magic show situated just out of Chiang Mai. I text Isaac, as he is into magic. Immediately, he replies saying that he is up for a magic show tomorrow.
I wake up at 5am, like clockwork. I have stopped getting annoyed about it; I just start my day super early now. One of the remnants of HIM. I know this, so why fight it, try to change it and get upset when I can’t do anything?
So, I have learned to love early mornings and have claimed them for myself. That time when things are just starting to stir, quiet, with a certain type of feeling to it.
This used to be the time I hated, as I was roughly woken from too little sleep to the uncertainty of what the day was going to be like. There was the habit of not opening my eyes as soon as I wake up so I could try and assess the situation around me. Is he awake? In the room? Angry? Asleep? I knew that no matter what the answer to all these questions I would have to bite my tongue to get through the few hours before work without an argument, at the least. I guess this is one of the pieces I can’t seem to find. Do I need it? Does it matter? Okay, too much thinking. Now, mornings are mine. I do them my way. Coffee and a book... another one of the pieces, but this time one I lost and retrieved. I love reading and losing myself in a book. He hated that – to be ignored as he put it – to not be the most important thing in the room. It took two years after leaving him before I could read my first book.
I sit in bed, reading a book and drinking coffee. For some reason I decide to offer Isaac a place to stay for the night. Now this might sound random, but he is doing a project called Dice Travels. I don’t need to go into it as I am pretty sure you know how it goes: he has a limited budget, a motorbike and dice. He's on his way to Myanmar.
I decide to do a good turn and offer him a free bed for the night. I have a spare room and could do with some more random banter. Later on, I text him with the proposition. He explains he would have to work and that would make him a shit house guest. I explain that I have stuff to do and I would have to go out at one point, making me a shit host. We agree it is a good idea. Isaac goes out to meet his friend for breakfast, packs, checks out of his hostel and heads over this way.
As I wait, I go through a colorful merry-go-round of shit. What if my judgment was wrong? No, shut up! What if he is just pretending to want to come here? Okay, now you are being stupid what would be the purpose of that? That is what you thought before and you were so wrong. Several too many cigarettes later, I manage to calm down after repeatedly reminding myself that not everyone is like that.
He arrives shortly after 1pm and it looks like he just threw everything on the bike and bungeed it all down. Turns out that was about the sum of it. He asks if he can unpack.
Make yourself at home I say, genuinely meaning it.
Coffee? I ask.
Sure, he says, as he heads back to the bike to grab more stuff. I make coffee while he unpacks and puts stuff on to charge. It looks like a backpacker has exploded in my guest bedroom. Thank fuck, I think, he might not think I am a totally untidy tramp. We head upstairs to my lounge with coffee. As we drink, the banter starts again and before I know it I am laughing like I haven’t laughed in a really long time. I smile to myself reflecting on my crazy thoughts. You can’t question banter that good.Eventually, we sort ourselves out and leave for Magic Land. I have no idea what it is like but, the same as with most of the tourist attractions in the area, I haven’t been but, I am intrigued.
We pull into an empty parking lot. In front of us there is a magical looking building with cards, top hats and white rabbits outside. I doesn’t look very open. I slightly rotund Thai guy appears with that common look of “oh-fuck, westerners… I don’t speak English”. Instantly, I forget which Thai word is open and which is closed. I hedge my bets and say both. The Thai guy, understandably, looks pretty confused and starts talking to me in Thai. Luckily, my listening is better than my memory. He says the Magic Show has closed and moved to near the big new convention center in Chiang Mai. Then he adds something I don’t understand. I nod and wai.
Khopkun kha, I say.
Okay to the city or to the Erotic garden, Isaac asks. Without hesitating I reply: lets go erotic.
Isaac apologetically takes an obligatory photo. Glad I'm not the only expat who feels weird taking photos here. We head toward the Erotic Garden.
When we arrive, they look closed. And they are, but the owner comes out and opens up for us. If you are here I am open, she says, as she turns on the coffee machine and offers us a seat.
As she makes our drinks, she begins to talk about the garden and how it became. Not long after this, her husband Joe arrives. Joe's an older westerner who is clearly a bit conversation deprived as he launches into an interesting torrent of stories, almost without breathing. He moves from his tangential subjects to talking about the garden and his wife’s vision.
To be honest I would have preferred her telling it but there you go.
Following Joe's monologue turns out to not be the easiest thing to do as he skips from one story to another, tantalizing us with regular interjections of ‘oh but that’s another story’. Isaac and I are unable to get more than an appreciative remark in. I look at Isaac and silently signal with my eyes that my brain might explode. Finally, we're able to make our excuses and slip out. We leave with the promise of returning in the morning for erotic coffee and a garden full of cocks.
At home, I mull the day over. There was an ease to making decisions that seems to have been quite prevalent throughout the day. Is it because I have Dice in my head or am I just imagining this feeling of less pressure. Something is different. This is the first time in over a year that I have happily gone somewhere, had candid conversations and fun without even a hint of panic. Is this a turning point in my recovery?
Next morning, as we prepare to leave for erotic coffee and a wander through some cocks, I asked Isaac if he has a specific time by which he wants to be out of there. We agree on 11am, two hours should be more than enough time. As we arrive, Joe comes out to greet us and starts telling us that we are late and that Kataya (his wife) has to go out soon.
First, however, she makes us what she calls erotic coffee. What exactly was erotic about it still remains to be seen. I was expecting a cock on my cappuccino, but nothing like that materialize. Eventually, we manage to steer Joe into the garden and he insists on showing us around.
We start at the penis fountains where he begins to explain an argument he and his wife are having about it. He says it is a replica, she insists it is merely inspired by. Not sure I care.
Joe stops us at a large scene of naked breasted women. He starts to tell us the rather long story of how it came to be in the garden. Then he turns to me and says, I am sorry there is nothing for you here, Emma.
You are making some big assumptions there Joe, I say with a smile.
He stutters and carries on walking.
Past the scene, there is an array of cocks randomly scattered about. This was meant to be the forest of cocks, but it is more of a small gathering, or, as Joe puts it, huddle. I ask him if huddle is in fact the official collective noun for a group of penises. A little bemused, he carries on. This banter carries on all around the garden. At one point, he stops to talk, allowing his little finger to lightly hang over the erect nipple of a woman coming out of a wall. I am trying to work out it he is conscious that he is doing it or if his hands naturally gravitate towards nipples.
After taking some drone footage and enduring a little more Joe time, we are back on our bikes. Isaac stops briefly and just says, food. I nod and indicate for him to follow me. I like the fact that we can communicate with minimal use of language and the message is understood.
Food eaten, we buy amazing cookies and head back to mine where Isaac starts to slowly unpack in order to repack. There is some precision required in this process due to the sheer quantity of stuff he has with him. He hands me a camping stove and fuel bottle, telling me he can’t find the fuel anywhere so it is useless to him. I wobble about on a fit ball while he packs and the banter continues. It is eventually time for him to leave and I am a little sad to see him drive away. The first person in several years who has made me feel like me: the banter, the laughing and all that jazz.