A balloon just popped. That’s how I’ll start.
A balloon just popped, and jazzy music is playing from the speaker overhead. A Thai woman chatters in Thai, and somewhere behind me, and hammer is hammering.
Today is wedding day. Damien and Rebecca’s wedding day, though since they are British, it is more proper to say “Dames and Bec’s Wedding Day!” Endearing yet annoying at the same time. Those damned Brits. Always weasling their way into our hearts despite their annoying vernacular. Ah well.
Okay, so today is wedding day. I woke up on my side of the beach to the most intriguing sound of drums coming across the water. It was only 8:30 in the morning, far too early for the Had Tien hippies to have started up a drum circle, or some such madness. It went on a bit longer before I realized, Ah hah! It must be for the wedding!
I sat up slowly, saw the glorious sea through a bit of window that was not covered by the gaudy satin curtain, and wiped my eyes. Okay, time to get up.
Eventually I made my way down onto the beach. I had been intending to eat breakfast and write at my little restaurant, the one perched high on the rocks, but the music of the drums lured me away, to the other end of the beach. I walked across the bright sand, sheltering my eyes from the sun. I judged the source of the music to be coming from a jaunty green boat docked just off the shore. It was festooned with balloons, fresh flowers, and brightly colored ribbons. People moved off and onto it, taking the hand of an old friend of mine, a questionable Thai kid named Gang, in order to steady themselves. I saw Gang just as he saw me, and we smiled at each other, years of gossip, scandal, and memories between us. He looked great, vibrant and healthy, his black hair pulled back in a tight knot, his skin dark. I walked over to a rock and perched on it. I wanted to watch the festivities.
I don’t know the groom, but my sister does. I feel like I’ve known him for years though, for all of the stories I have heard and pictures I have seen. Damien conjures up images of a darkly tanned Brit with wild dreadlocks arranged in clown-like pigtails at the sides of his smiling face. He and Brigitte have been friends for years, and more recently, he and my brother John also became close. But for some peculiar reason, I have never been in the same place at the same time as Damien. So until now, I have only stories to familiarize myself with him.
I sat on the beach and watched the people on the boat. The shore was alive around me. A cluster of people stood to one side, brightly dressed and chattering happily. They were obviously guests. I had a vague sense that the people in the restaurants behind me were also watching, taken in by the festive scene on the beach.
(The music is distracting me now. They are playing every song I’ve ever loved, chill music, beach music, but it’s distracting me. I will try to write, anyway.)
I tried to take in the scene, every element of it- the particular laughter of an English woman wearing a straw hat, the way Gang put his cigarette in his mouth and reached out both hands to help another woman off the boat. I wanted to tell the story to you, but I also wanted to be completely present, to absorb it all. That’s the best way to tell a story, anyway. Be completely present, because when you go to recollect it later, sitting at your computer, it all comes rushing back in vivid detail.
So I sat there, taking it all in, but photographing it as well. And I decided that, while a picture is worth a thousand words, even a photograph cannot capture a scene such as this effectively. The photograph misses the breeze across my face, the delicacy of it. But my words could never capture every grain of sand, pink in the morning sun.
Such a scene doesn’t want to be captured, it is ethereal. That is the nature of life, of people, of scenes, and that reality has been coming home to me hard in the last few weeks. This scene was not to be “captured”.
So I settle for this: a story or a photograph, second-hand things that they are, are never the same. They are a new thing, a knock-off, a piece of art in between what actually happened and what you are now experiencing. But they are legitimate nonetheless. They are their own creation, a new bit of being that now exists in the world. Let me continue.
(Another gorgeous song has come on… So wait, let me wait…)
I realize that I fell in love with this music here. Thievery Corporation, Air, when heard on the beach, with a breeze in your hair and a curious heart, are stirring, unsettling, arousing.
Okay, I will try to continue.
So. I realized long before all of this that the drums were coming from a hut up on the rocks. In the shadows, I could see five or six Thai men sitting in there, drumming out a steady beat that eventually worked its way into your heart and quickened it. Then a plaintive wail would come out from the shadows and your heart would reach a new pitch, higher, holding it there. It almost hurt, but it was divine. I wanted to hold it there forever, be pinned on it, let you hear it, too. Then, ahhh, deflate, exhale… the drums have returned. From time to time the music would putter out. A clanking would be heard, a hammering that hadn’t been audible before. The Thai men would laugh, a cigarette would be lit, a drum laid aside. Humanity returned, divinity receded. Beach chatter resumed, and I wondered if anyone else felt as struck as I did, at the sudden ability of human beings to drop their tools, their pens, their instruments, and become human again. Where had the wailing gone, the transcendent sound? How could they be men again, so easily, when moments before they were making the music of the gods? No one else seemed as jarred as I was, but I wonder now if they were, on a subconscious level, in their hearts? Was some part of their anatomy reaching for that music again, straining to hear it pick up? As the English women carried on conversation, were their inner ears tuned in the direction of that hut, urging the music-makers to go on? I wonder.
Ahhh. Then it struck up again, equally painful and stirring. Things like that are always both. I don’t know when one crosses over into the next, when desire becomes pain, and a bruise becomes transcendent. That music had an effect on my heart that was liquefying and colorful all at once. It was a rainbow of sliding colors, moving and responding, entirely out of my control. I thought of you, of them, of everyone then, and wished you could be here with me, in me, a part of me. You are.
I finally got up and walked towards the footpath that ran along the rocks, high above the sea. I wanted breakfast. As I approached the hut of the Thai men, I saw a colorfully adorned drum sitting in front of me. It was perched in the sunshine, with ribbons wrapped around it. Beside it was a bright green plant, a cross between aloe and jungle grass. Beneath my feet was solid stone. It was a hand-wrapped photograph, ripe for the picking. It was just asking to be taken. But just then I looked up and saw one of the Thai men looking down at me. I couldn’t do it. The plant, the drum, the hut, the music- it was all too sacred to touch.