The Killing Fields of Cheong Ek
At the hospital, everyone is moving or walking around in a small space. My khaki pants and shirt are wrinkled. I have a lighter in one hand and my cell phone in the other. When they let me in Nate’s room, the first thing I tell him is that I’ve decided to be more organized and focused.
“You dumb fuck,” he says.
But I’m serious. My ex-lover once said, “You’re not organized. Try to focus for once. Try to pay attention to other people around you.”
I sit in the chair next to Nate’s bed and we talk about motorcycles and music. He tells me again about the time he backpacked across Southeast Asia after college.
“People were bludgeoned,” he says. “Bones and skulls everywhere. Nobody killed with bullets.”
“They were all bludgeoned,” I say.
He laughs weakly. He tells me he hates the pudding in this place. He says he’d like to fuck the nurse.
“I’ll buzz for her,” he says. “Just wait. Her name’s Sweetbread, after a mushroom. Half black. No shit.”
I can’t bring myself to laugh with him.
When Sweetbread comes in he claims he suffers from a severe case of hypnagogia, which he says causes him to hear voices.
“It’s a female voice I keep hearing,” he says. “She keeps telling me to pick up prostitutes. Plus I’m having seizures.”
Sweetbread is writing something down on a clipboard, but she’s smiling.
“Try to get some sleep,” she tells Nate.
“In biblical times,” he says, “seizures were confused for demonic possession.”
We once rode our Harleys to New Orleans and stayed in a hostel for a week. The trip was supposed to keep me from being depressed. To cheer me up. We shared a room upstairs with three guys from Austin. At night we rode over to the French Quarter, then came back and sat in the backyard and got drunk with some of the others who were staying there. An old guy named Paolo played guitar and his girlfriend sang. At four in the morning we walked down the street to buy cigarettes and towels. The girl who worked the cash register looked like a gypsy.
“You guys look sad,” she said.
“I’m bi-polar,” I told her. “No meds. I’ve been up four days straight.”
She didn’t laugh or say anything. We invited her to stop by the hostel but she never showed. We walked back and got high and watched “Car 54, Where Are You?” and I fell asleep sitting on the couch with my head resting against Nate’s shoulder.
Nate is telling Sweetbread about Cheong Ek. “You should see the killing fields,” he says. “Ride twenty hours in a bus, get out and see bones all over the place.”
“And skulls,” I say.
“That’s too depressing,” she says. “I’d be miserable.”
“I’m not really suicidal,” Nate says. “I just overmedicate.”
After she leaves, Nate says: “What’s the best thing I ever did for you?”
I try to think of something to say.
Back home I can’t sleep. I take my dog out for a walk downtown, past the bus station and corner shops. Behind La Cachette Bistro I share a joint with my friend Anthony, a cook who’s on break. We always talk motorcycles.
“You should get loud pipes,” he says. “You should get Samsons or some loud shit.”
“I want to ride somewhere,” I say. “Colorado or New Mexico.”
“You look sick,” he says.
Back home, I call Nate’s room.
“What the fuck is wrong with you,” he says.
“Nothing. I don’t know.”
It’s three in the morning. He says he hasn’t been sleeping but his voice is hoarse. He sounds tired. “Just come by in the morning,” he says. “They’re letting me leave soon maybe. Maybe I’m going backpacking in Southeast Asia. They need me there. The mountains in Laos are giant and dark green.”
I want to tell him he isn’t sick. One would think this would be the thing to do.