A Mirror

*Artwork by the very talented Noel Young 

Very rarely are we given the opportunity to see ourselves through another pair of eyes. A birds-eye view of our own life. A first impression. A last impression.  I received word of this piece and wanted to share. I met this writer in Vietnam. Then he wrote about me. 

****

Saigon. It’s 9 am and I’m nursing an ick dastardly hangover. I’m staying at the Red Dragon Hotel, and I’ve navigated my way downstairs for the free breakfast. I do not want to be disturbed from my private pain.

“Are you enjoying that book?”

Oh god. Someone’s talking to me. To make matters worse, with an American accent. I look across the dining room through my sunken eyelids and make out a girl with big eyes and bigger brown hair. Go on then…

I’ll call her Cake. It’s 3 hours later and we’re in the Vietnamese History of War museum, making conversation over genocide and war. Amidst the gore, and through the emergence of my stupor, I realise that this girl is oddly beautiful. Initially, she hadn’t really struck a chord with me, possibly due to what seemed like my impending death, but as the day wore on I grew more than accustomed to her unkempt, wild hair, large green eyes, dark olive skin and big, red pouting lips. We make friendly chit chat as we leave the museum.

Actually, this is no girl. She is 30 years old, and has just fled the States to leave behind her fiancé, her family, and the doldrums of Milwaukee life. As it’s my last night she kindly offers to come and join me for one beer in Saigon town before she retires for the evening.

2 hours and 16 shots of whisky later and we are in a Vietnamese brothel. The more we drink the more her mid west American drawl surfaces, and the more passionate she becomes – about writing, about travel, about saving these poor Vietnamese women from the clutches of these exploitative Westerners. She confronts Western tourists with her brash nature – a strong, confident American woman making conversation with a sex tourist inevitably ends with them making their excuses and leaving the bar. She’s fun. In a ‘I wouldn’t want to take her home to meet the parents’ kind of way.

Oh, and she has fake breasts. I’m a man – it’d be rude of me to leave such a detail out. On leaving the States she went to Thailand for her operation, recovered, then flew to Vietnam. Now, some people have their reservations on silicone busts, but as a debutant in this area, I thought they were bloody great. Not aggressively large, but bigger than a handful and beautifully pert.

The next day I leave her, and Vietnam. Eventually. Despite my own concerns about having to pack, catch my flights, and all those boring pre-flight administrative tasks, she wouldn’t stop chewing my ear – she was anxious about her life, her lack of long-term relationship history, her nomadic existence etcetera etcetera… sadly at that point I had neither the time nor the inclination to be her stand in therapist. It’s not like I was going to ever see her again, right?

Wrong. 2 months later I receive an email – she’s coming to London for a weekend to commence her sojourn around Europe. Turned out to be the longest weekend of my life. 4 weeks long, to be precise. She was a great asset to the house to be fair – she engaged well with my friends, was always fun to go out with and she was up for anything and down with everything. She was however, also a massive liability. I think I slept the sum total of 17 hours during the month she was in London. She didn’t seem to comprehend that I had a life with responsibilities… and I let the wicked devil have her way as we’d meander the streets of London chain-smoking until stupid o’clock drinking whisky and wine.

The manic, insane, alcohol fuelled side of this woman represents only one aspect of her nature. It is easy to forget sometimes how sweet she can be. She likes people, and people like her in return. She buys gifts for my housemate and my brother. She consoles my friends. It takes her an incredibly short time to open her soul to a stranger and to make them comfortable in her presence, as if they’re old friends. This is a skill so few possess. It must be to do with her work. She is a writer. She is creative, articulate and analytical. Some might say she can manipulate people the way she manipulates her words. I don’t buy that though. She lives in the moment, and in that moment if she cares for you, she truly gives herself to you.

Sadly, those moments don’t seem to linger in her as long as they would in others.

So, yes, she likes to talk to people. But wow, does she love to talk about herself. Seriously. It became boring hearing about her obsessions with her past relationships, her constant self-analysis, her opinions of herself. Despite staying with me for a month she still thinks I’m a banker. Within 30 minutes of meeting my friend, he would be able to tell you how she split up from her fiancé, how torn she felt in her life, how she questioned her existence, ended up sleeping in her car, and then everything started to make more sense after reading “The Vindication of Love” by some author who wouldn’t be out of place on the Vagina Monologues.

She is the epicentre of her universe, and everyone else is merely a supporting actor in the film that is her life. It was frustrating. I regularly lent my therapeutic ear to listen to her past misdemeanours, her insecurities, her life… yet she never really cared enough to ask questions of me or of other people. Now believe it or not, I do consider myself to be an interesting person with a catalogue of amusing/bemusing  stories. Did she bother to ask? Nope…. Was she interested when I decided it was my turn to take some of the limelight? Nope. I know, I know, women like to talk – but this much? Really?!

She isn’t selfish though, oddly. In fact she can be amusingly considerate at times. In conversation once I (half) jokingly said how when I find my next girlfriend I want, nay, expect, her to allocate 25% of every meal we had together to me. Lo and behold, next time we are in a restaurant I notice her cut a quarter of her steak and put it to one side, with an acknowledging look in my direction. At that moment, I definitely loved her. The steak was delicious – sirloin steak in béarnaise sauce, so tender it was like cutting through butter.

She was smart too. If you measure intelligence by vocabulary, at least. And she’d make sure you knew that she could use words such as “Dionysian”, “Avuncular”, and “Quixotic”. I particularly enjoyed her own appreciation of such words too – “Hey, didn’t you like the way I described myself as a Dionysian fairy?”

And she was always late. As if people’s time doesn’t matter, and they relish the prospect of standing on a street corner wiling away their time, twiddling their thumbs. On one occasion she was over 40 minutes late. Her excuse was that she had overslept. It was 8pm. How the life of a nomad is encumbered with such tribulations.

On the plus side she is an extremely sexy woman. Very confident in her body and charged with so many emotions. I do wish she’d look after her nails a bit more though.

Cake was a woman riddled with inconsistencies. She could be cold, distant and sometimes untrustworthy. On the flip side however she could be incredibly sweet, forgiving and caring. She was an independent woman who travelled the world on her own, refusing to rely on anyone for anything, be it material subsistence, or emotional dependence. But then in those intimate moments she would betray herself. It became obvious that sometimes she really needed a man, someone who would just take care of her, let her feel loved and take her in their arms.

Although I had a debaucherous and hedonistic month with this nutjob, I do value my sanity. In the words of William Blake, “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, for we can never know what is enough until we have had more than enough.” I might have had more than enough of this woman. Her departure from my life, my house and from England resonated with my entire experience with this her – bittersweet. After she left my close friend and flatmate said to me he didn’t know if I really liked or disliked her. But of course I liked her. She riled me, but she also excited me. She was the kind of girl that you felt needed a good slap, followed by a good cuddle. Although I was sad to see her go, it’s nice to be a normal person again. For now.

 

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