It’s dark and the sound of frogs on the fish pond is deafening. All around me, cool dew is settling on the wild banana trees, the coffee bushes, my rose garden and the surrounding jungle.
I sit on the teak boards of the veranda, my leg trussed up in front of me. I have a glass of white wine in my hand and the salami is just out of reach. I stretch with my fingertips, and can just grasp the plastic packaging. I pull. I know there’s a 50/50 chance the packaging will be upside down and the salami will slide out onto the veranda; I pull, sure enough the salami slides out onto the veranda. I don’t even care. At least now I can reach it. I scoop it up and nibble it.
A few days ago, salami on the floor would have made me cry, but today I am home – in my little house in the little village on the mountain in Thailand – and everything is okay.
My leg is starting to feel like part of my body again, sensation gradually returning to my shin after they sliced around in there for the surgery. The meniscus repair must be coming along nicely because I can gently bear weight without pain, and that means I can hobble (just little) without a crutch. This is the difference between having to drink your coffee while holding onto the kitchen bench, and actually being able to carry your coffee across the room. If that’s not independence, I don’t know what is. Heady stuff.
* * *
I was on the road for years, thirsty for the sensations of life; wandering tracks and jungles and cities in search of experiences and people; I was a woman in search of a destination. It turns out that the destination is an old teakwood garage filled with enduro bikes, and climbing roses by my window.
I am going to be frank with you and admit that I was actually quite depressed for a few weeks there, after the surgery. I really hit the skids when my doctor told me I would be off motorcycles for six months. Mentally, I’d been prepared for a four month recovery period – only just – but six months floored me.
We were in the physical therapy section of the hospital, surrounded by wailing toddlers, and I tried to smile when I told the doctor: I know how they feel. I was trying to make a joke but on some level the revised timeframe caught me out, and I just got sad for a while.
I was horrible to be around, irritable, tearful, and devoid of joy. Even when I tried to cheer up and have a nice time, I didn’t. Rationally, I understood that this was a temporary set back; emotionally, I just felt horrible. So I can only express my gratitude to those who treated me with compassion and sympathy.
When I had just gotten out of the hospital in Saigon and was convalescing in the hourly rental hotel room with the sex couch I couldn’t bear to touch, I received kind messages from a total stranger. After a brush with death from dengue in a Vietnamese hospital years earlier, he understood the desolation. He invited me to drink coffee and brought me a care package of – oh, sweet blessings – bread and cheese! Proper cheese, blue cheese, and a baguette to die for; an imported apple, sweet and crispy; carrot cake, soft and buttery.
He understood the comfort of familiarity – the food, the language. We told stories about motorcycles and I will be forever grateful.
At the same time, my friend far away in England gave me wonderful advice on how to recover from ACL surgery, such as: even once you don’t need your crutches to walk, carry one around in public to swat people away from your injured leg. Such words of wisdom: Nonie’s Law says that inattentive adults and overexcited children will be drawn to an injured limb like moths to the flame.
Through all of this, ultimate credit goes to P’Lah who graduated from dirt biking partner to nurse without a murmur of complaint, and merely a request for seafood.
* * *
Never fear, however, I’m back!
It’s a brand new year because Songkran, the Thai New Year, falls in the middle of April.
We landed back in Chiang Mai on the first day of the celebration to forty degree heat and the city brewing with energy like a summer storm.
I hobbled to my room, miserable, but the next day P’Lah came back with the necessities of a Thai new year: bright new clothes and a necklace of flowers.
I put them on, feeling sour and crusty, but the sweet scent of the blossoms on the necklace is unavoidable, just like the traditional blessing of being soaked by water. Yes, if you dare to go out, or ride, or drive, or simply exist, someone will douse you with water.
You can’t beat them, which is just as well, because it’s so much fun to join them.
First we went out to eat with our friends and drink Chang’s special edition Songkran beer. They call it champagne and it comes in a magnum bottle, and has absolutely nothing to do with champagne. It’s great fun.
Yes, finally, I was over being miserable. I called up my friends and enlisted them to join me in the great Songkran water war. Super soakers? Check. Esky full of beer? Check. Dedicated driver willing to enter the hours long traffic jam? Check.
I wedged myself in place, leg akimbo, and we peeled off into the giant waterfighting melee that surrounds Chiang Mai’s Old City. It was wild. Imagine a whole city simultaneously involved in a party, a traffic jam and a waterfight. That’s Songkran.
As the hours went by, the steady drenchings gradually dissolved the glue behind the padding on my knee brace, but I just tightened the straps and we partied on.
And oh how sweet it was. For two long years, Songkran was entirely canceled under the shadows of Covid. Water throwing was illegal, beer was banned, and the city sweltered quietly into its new year without its blessings. That was 2020 and 2021. In 2022 I was getting doused in water and talcum powder by kids in Cambodia as I reclaimed the 690 Enduro from her covid cobwebs. In 2019, I’d been drunk with some ex-monks in front of a temple in Luang Prabang. As you do.
And so I felt a deep gratitude as finally, I saw the new year rolling into Chiang Mai in all of its drenched glory.
Time to start again, with joy and water and flowers.