My neighbor is leaving tomorrow for Vietnam and Cambodia, then he is headed for the continental expanse that is China. This is the same generous soul who has gifted me with two good sized pots of rare bamboo. The same one who flagged me down on our small street to share Howard Zinn’s You Can’t Stay Neutral on a Moving Train. A People’s History of the United States. Rare footage of Hendrix and Woodstock. A photo CD of his last journey to Cambodia. I share bananas. Tangerines. Massage his injured leg. We feel familiar to one another, as though we are siblings.
This is the third time he has departed for Asian shores since I’ve known him, and three times ago, it was the first he had journeyed there since the ‘sixties. This man is strong and vulnerable all at once – complex in his demeanor, straight-up in his motivation. A man of secrets – and Lord knows there are more than a few he doubtless has good reason to keep – he is a trustworthy soul and one I am honored to know.
Once a soldier, my friend has physical conditions brought about by endlessly tromping through the wet jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. As with so many war-related conditions, there is no cure, only endless frustrating forays to the VA. Yet he felt drawn to those faraway shores, once again – as if healing would transpire on that ground and nowhere else. Each time he returns, it is with renewed vigor and greater light in his eyes. His love for the people and the place is obvious. About my age, he is done with the bullshit. Death is in his sights, as it resides in mine at this life juncture. No time for waffling, we do what we must because a sense of urgency compels us.
He is glowing while relating his plans for departure. I’ve known him for five years and he’s never looked so radiant. I’m on my bicycle when we meet in the middle of the road, as folks do around here. Stop. “Talk story.” I peer inside the cab of his small truck. To my utter amazement, the strangled purple of stagnant blood in his lower legs has drained into a lovely neutral, matching the rest of his skin. And though he is presently unwilling to expatriate himself completely, this trip will be nine months’ duration – each span of away time is more prolonged than that which came before. Nine months allotted to birth the upcoming transformation that is no doubt impending.