If I had thought returning to the UK from just a few months of dossing round Thailand would be straightforward, I was very much mistaken. Once the UK spits you out like a lump of gristle from a Cornish Pasty, there’s very little you can do to get back amongst the mince, peas and carrots of normality.
I had made a mistake also in dismissing my travel adventures as mere tourism and the Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, gained despite great drunkenness in Phuket, as just something to do for a month or so with no real intention of using. I would come to use it just as much as it would use me, its TEFL methodology gradually possessing my soul to the point of not being able to tell people things without turning it into a running dictation or a dictogloss.
– – –
The TEFL had been surprisingly wild; an American girl on the course took a shine to me and insisted on shagging me senseless each and every night, way past the point of us running out of positions, holes and clean towels.
Her name was Miss Harms, but the only ‘harm’ she ever actually caused me was chafing.
For my part, I rewarded her with low-level passive aggression and a pregnancy scare courtesy of a split condom. This was a situation that I handled in a decidedly ungentlemanly fashion by insisting that, as it wasn’t me at risk of becoming babyfied, I didn’t see why I should go to the chemist for the morning-after pill.
What an arsehole I was.
To her immense credit, she saw this as no biggie and didn’t suddenly hate me, although there was a slight frostiness when we met up after, which my offer of paying for the pill did little to dispel.
“Let me at least go halves on dissolving the little tadpole, eh?” I said, proffering her a hundred baht note. “It’s the least I can do.”
“No, no, that’s fine, Rick,” she replied, waving it away. “Get me a beer or something.”
Feel immense sympathy for Miss Harms then, having landed a cad such as myself. Boo me in my blithe irresponsibility and casual misogyny.
I know I have done. Over and over.
– – –
The course was coming to its end and Miss Harms wanted to spend a couple of days longer in Phuket, hanging with our course mates. It was Christmas and they all wanted to have a bit of time saying goodbye to each other. I, however, wanted to get straight out of there and back to Koh Phangan so I could take an enormous quantity of drugs and merge myself with the techno singularity. This would be way more fun than being with our fairly straight-laced fellow teaching newbies, I thought. Spending Christmas Day with Miss Harms was barely even a consideration.
So we arranged to meet each other on Koh Phangan a few days hence, and then I was out of there and ‘on one’ on Hat Rin Beach (back when it was cool, obviously) in no time.
– – –
Miss Harms emailed me a few days later to say she was on Koh Phangan and did I want to visit her at the quiet beach she was staying at. She also said she had met up with some friends from the States.
I took a songthaew to the place she was staying in a somewhat fragile state. I had a case of paranoid psychosis from sleeplessness, too many mushrooms and a fuck load of amphetamines. I had been smoking bongs all day like you wouldn’t believe, trying to dampen down the horrors. It didn’t work, of course.
When I arrived, dusk was falling in a semi-hallucinatory manner. Seven or eight figures were sitting around an open fire. Was she one of them?
Closer, I could see that yes, she was.
Miss Harms was sat in an otherwise all-male group of her Californian peers.
They were, without fail, sickeningly enthusiastic, toned and ripped. All were virtuoso musicians, playing guitars, bongos and harmonising like the sodding Beach Boys.
Miss Harms whispered “Hi!” to me as I joined them. Apart from that, she pretty much ignored me, sitting in the firelight with a look of rapture on her face as these surfer dudes jammed endlessly. They only stopped to say things like, “Hey, do you guys know this one by Hootie and the Blowfish?” and so on.
How I cursed having sold my own guitar five years previously. The only song I could remember had a mere three chords and I wasn’t even sure about the order they went in. It would be unlikely to impress, in any case.
Two hours later, with barely a word exchanged between Miss Harms and myself, I decided to stumble off to bed. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
– – –
I woke late morning to an empty bed. Whether Miss Harms had joined me in the night was a moot point. She hadn’t bothered to rouse me if she had. Which made a change.
Blinking in the harsh sunshine, I grumbled my way to the restaurant for coffee, wondering where Miss Harms could be.
Finally, I made my way onto the beach.
She was with her Californian friends once more and, though I’d like to suggest I saw her kissing one of them or something to justify my hostility, I didn’t. Just the sight of them all laughing and splashing around caused me nothing but pain.
How could they be so carefree? Didn’t they know the World Trade Center had just collapsed? Didn’t they care?
Miss Harms eventually got tired of throwing a beach ball around, gracefully shook the water out of her matted dreads and walked towards me wrapped in a sarong.
Irrationally, I still felt angry jealousy.
“Hi,” I said. “I gotta go back to Hat Rin.”
“Oh, ok,” she said, a little nonplussed. “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.”
“Right. Fine. I’ll just do that then,” I snapped, pointlessly.
I might have been able to recover things conversationally had her Californian surfer dude friends not suddenly appeared.
“Rick’s just leaving,” she said.
“Oh that’s a shame,” one said: a little insincerely, I thought.
At that, I was off.
– – –
I mean: what the fuck?
– – –
A week later, I randomly bumped into Miss Harms on Khao San Road in Bangkok. She was waiting for a visa to Vietnam and I was about to head to Laos. She was pleased to see me. I was kind of thrown by the significance of our meeting again. Clearly, it was fate- or was it?
And at that point, I could have just changed my plans- told her I wanted to head to Vietnam with her and make a life there. And whether we had actually then stayed together or not wouldn’t have really mattered as Vietnam was, at the time, the very epitome of Rock and Roll.
The fact that I didn’t is one of those ‘decision points’, as George W Bush so elegantly coined in his ghostwritten autobiography. But whereas Dubya dropped bombs all over the Middle East, I merely stuttered my way through various ‘indecision points’ that led, finally, to the Middle East after getting bombed on various substances.
I hold my sister at least partly responsible. I called her from an internet cafe on Khao San while Miss Harms was slurping noodles. I genuinely didn’t know what to do. Maybe Big Sis could assist.
“Oh my GOD, you’re not going out with an American, are you?” she hissed down the phone.
That sealed it.
And now I sit, a solitary figure crying into the hot, dusty air; occasionally jerking off over what once was and what might have been, all the while sobbing in a self-pitying semenal shower of shame.
– – –
I’d like to end this section on a particularly literary note with a poem I dedicate to Miss Harms, wherever she may be: