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Experiences From ‘The Flow’ (5) – The Stray
“She put up with five years of infidelity, mental abuse and beatings; but the rape of her little sister was the last straw. She finally left him… and ended up in my house.”
“Prosperity: The eternal flow of all that is good in life…”
*Below is the fifth installment in a series of real events experienced by the author. The only deviations from the truth can be the names of people and places.
– Open House –
We (my “adopted” sister, her husband and I) have an “open house” policy.
If a friend falls on hard times and needs a place to stay, all he/she has to do is call, or just walk in. During the past two years, we have taken in countless “strays” and helped them as much as possible. we could
Whether it was a battered wife, an abused girlfriend/boyfriend, an abandoned child, or a delinquent teenager; my home became the most popular refuge in our “Mubon” (Thai: village) and “Soi” (Thai: street), a warm and safe place to go when there were no other options.
The visitors stayed long enough to overcome their individual, temporary crisis – now two weeks, now two months. After they got back on their feet (emotionally, physically and financially), we said a heartfelt goodbye; wishing them all the best for a better life.
The kindness was always repaid – not with money, but with much-needed help.
Like Falang in Thailand, the simplest things tend to be frustratingly difficult to accomplish. Many times when I needed help doing mundane, but essential, tasks (eg, ordering food, buying a motorcycle, getting directions, traveling by taxi or bus, changing currency, etc.); I could trust the people I helped in the past.
Asians have very long memories, indeed. It is not uncommon to return to a place many years later and find that casual acquaintances still remember your name, the things you did, and the things you like or dislike.
– Number one –
Her name was Nueng (Thai: Number one). In any other country, she would be described as quite attractive: smooth, brown skin; slim, athletic figure; long, dark brown hair that cascaded down her back, and an exotic face that held a beautiful smile and attractive eyes.
But by Thai standards, she was “over the hill” at 24.
In her younger years (from ages 16 through 21), she was considered very beautiful, being the object of desire of all the local men in her village. Unfortunately, she ended up with the local Bad Boy and spent most of her “baby years” in an abusive relationship.
Due to personal pride and family/public pressure, Nueng stubbornly tolerated years of infidelity, lies and physical abuse from her longtime boyfriend. But the rape of her little sister was the last straw. She finally left him… and, through my sister, ended up in my house.
– Nueng Who? –
Nueng arrived on Friday afternoon while I was still working. My sister already asked me if it was okay for Nueng to stay with us, saying, “You met her last year at the ‘Moo Kra Ta’ (Thai: BBQ), remember?”
I said, “No (I don’t remember), but if she needs a place to live, yes, of course, that’s all right with me.”
When I saw Nueng, I immediately remembered who she was.
During a birthday party at a local Moo Kra Ta for a friend last year, Nueng and I met and spoke briefly. I also remember that the woman who accompanied me to the party was very jealous of Nueng – mainly because Nueng was, as the girlfriend said, “too friendly” with me.
It also pissed off my date that Nueng wasn’t the usual “terrified of speaking English” (especially to a foreigner) Thai woman. On the contrary, Nueng was a good sport. She was not afraid to speak (and touch) the English language. I reciprocated by hitting the Thai language right, having a lot of fun trying to make sounds that have no English equivalent! No exaggeration – sometimes I think it takes an extra tongue (or at least a spare epiglottis) to speak Thai!
I also remember telling my sister that Nueng reminded me of a girlfriend I had in Hawaii (many years ago).
– That First Night –
During the first night with me, I could clearly see that Nueng was in pain. Being Thai, she forced herself to smile whenever I looked at her, but her eyes could not hide her true feelings.
Her beautiful brown, Asian eyes showed a sad expression – that sad expression seen in people with no one (and no place) to call their own. Of course, there were also countless other reasons for her unhappiness (shock, rage, loss, grief, heartbreak, uncertainty – and the list goes on).
Recently overcoming heartbreak, I really empathized with Nueng, trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible – and failing miserably. My clumsy attempts at hospitality only widened the cultural gap between us, reinforcing the fact that, yes, I am a “Phalang” (Thai: foreigner) in Thailand.
Unfortunately, Phalanges in Thailand do not have the greatest reputation for being respectable or trustworthy.
Since I couldn’t communicate well with Nueng, I could only imagine what she was going through. Maybe she was struggling with the idea of going back to her abusive boyfriend? Statistics show that recidivism (repeating a bad habit or returning to an abusive situation) is high among abused girlfriends and spouses. Inside, I deeply hoped that she would be strong enough to do what was best for her life (and safety).
– To pity, or not to pity? –
I wanted to reach out to Nueng and tell her that things would only get better.
But I personally knew that during the post-breakup shock and blues period, words don’t really help much. Good people, kind actions, and a different, supportive environment ease emotional wounds better than listening to cliché-sounding advice.
I wasn’t sure if she was ready to talk about her situation.
I wanted to tell her how I deeply understood what she was feeling right now. I wanted to tell her that abuse is not just a “women’s problem”, it happens to men too. If she heard about my recent experiences of infidelity, lies, mental abuse, financial recklessness and eventual breakup with the ex, would it help?
Maybe it would plunge her deeper into sadness? Was it the right time, or even an appropriate topic to talk about? To pity, or not to pity – that is the question.
Using my bilingual sister as a translator, I told Nueng to relax and make himself at home.
“You can stay as long as you need,” I said.
“Kop khun kaa, Khun JC, kop khun kaa maak (Thank you, Mr. JC, thank you very much.),” she said, with a respectful “Wai” (a Thai gesture that is made by folding the hands together, prayerfully, and touching the thumbs to the chin).
“If you want to stay here you have to call me plain ole’ JC Not ‘Sir’ please. It makes me feel a lot older than I am,” I said.
After the translation, Nueng’s face lit up with a bright smile.
Then I heard her laugh for the first time since she arrived. It was an amazing sound…
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