When I was roughly 11 years old, give or take some months, we took a trip to Malaysia, specifically the island of Penang. We stayed with an old friend of my mother's who was, at the time, in an open marriage with an obviously (even to me, then) gay man and she was obviously (even to me, then) a lesbian. Why they insisted on being married, I cannot understand now, but this odd discrepancy also seemed acceptable and obvious to me, then.
During this trip, our hosts took us on the Penang Hiking Trails; we mostly just trooped along the ridges enjoying the view. I believe this was my first mountain hike,
At night we would visit a food stall area popular with tourists that was well known for every stall being named Chez whoever owned it: Chez Joe; Chez Ahmed, etc.
Our hosts ordered for me a pile of hot steaming noodles covered in a melange of fresh seafood. My stomach was not sophisticated enough to eat more than a few bites, but I made note of that image and have spent the rest of my life drooling over the memory of that neglected meal.
One morning we visited a beach cafe and I sat with my mother and brother (who was 7-ish) eating eggs for breakfast. On a nearby table a young, brooding, Adonis-like, man sat alone, drinking coffee, looking at no one. His long hair, and delicate hands, screamed "sensual artist", even to my pre-pubescent self. I hated the humility of being there with my family, and supposed if I were alone, then we would surely meet and have a torrid love affair, the details of which I'm sure I hadn't quite figured out. This was my first taste of Lust; and to be honest, my M.O in men has never changed.
Later we visited the Kek Lok Si Temple, to take a magical tour of gigantic golden and stone Buddha statues set in caves; this was my first experience of religion on such a grandiose scale. This was my first sense of the Sacred Spirit.
Raindrops keep fallin on my head
And just like the guy-
whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothing seems to fit.....
This was my first experience of Karaoke; I have loved it ever since, along with that song which I try to find and sing in every karaoke bar I have ever been too. I felt sad for the lonely, drunk, man then but think of him fondly today. I understand, now, the look of a man who was proudly fearless, even in his sorrow. The quintessential Cowboy.
Our hosts lived just a short walk away from the water and one afternoon I confidently left the house and made this walk, inspired by the calling of the wild ocean tides-I was growing up; I was weary of my mother's skirts. I sat on the small cliffs and looked out into the sea, captivated. I must have been quite caught up because I don't remember the men approaching me. One minute I was alone, the next minute two fat, shirtless, hairy, sweaty white men had gathered around me. They must have been in their forties, their language delineated them as Eastern Europeans. They cackled and cajoled (at me? how would I know what they were saying?); then one man came next to me and put his arm tight around my shoulders pulling me into his sweaty naked flesh; the other stood before us and pointed a video camera at us; they continued their garbled, rough speaking; the one man kept grinning and pulling me tighter-I think they wanted me to smile, but they never spoke to me; I was a thing. I scrambled away and disappeared back to the house.
I sat on the steps outside the front door, until I was sure my bright shame was tucked down, deep inside. Nothing to get worked up about, right? Doesn't even make it on the radar of possible happenings to young girls alone in the company of men, right? Except from that day on, long before I had developed a sexual identity, I knew what it was like to be a sexual object.
Last week I decided to become more proactive about this weight loss thing. I always envy the young men who, ritualistically, come to the shore of any beach in Dar or Zanzibar, at sundown, and begin a casual regiment of the most fierce and disciplined calisthenics and exercise routine I have ever seen outside of a military setting. It is an awe-inspiring ritual, but it seems reserved for boys and men only. But still, I thought, what could be the harm in taking a walk on the beach? (This question ruminated in my mind for at least two weeks, so I suppose, somewhere, deep inside, there was an answer).
I made one circuit round the beach then scrambled for a cliff top, where there were some Muslim school girls sitting, I came and sat close to them (for some reason this made me feel safe) and took in the view, allowed my shoulders to relax from the tension I didn't know I was holding. I saw him approach out of the corner of my eye but still thought nothing of it, until the sweaty, stupid, shameless man was sitting so close to me I could feel his hot breath. His leering eyes looked through me (why ME? I wanted to shout, go for the Muslim girls then! I am NOT A PRETTY YOUNG THING!!!) It was the way he greeted me, like my response or reaction was predetermined, like pressing power on a computer screen and just assuming it will light up; I was expected to respond, I was expected to greet him for the SOLE REASON that he had greeted me (Why do men DO THIS??? Why is this SUCH a constant in my life?? Would it make me so sick if it wasn't for the echoes in my head, the tucked away memories?)
I jumped up so fast he reacted like he thought I meant to push him off the cliff; he jumped up too and dashed off, but I was already out past the parking lot, crossing the street.
I had walked half a kilometer before I could unclench my hands and quiet my throbbing heart; the ocean view long out of sight; even the sound of the tide rushing was overwhelmed by the echoes of those fat, sweaty, laughing, men.....
Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes-
will soon be turnin red
Cryin's not for me, cause
I'm never gonna stop the rain-