Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Monday, February 04, 2013

Road Trip

In which I ponder what qualifies a 10 year old soul part from Thailand to jump in on a Norwegian Sami solstice ceremony.

Road Trip

The drive down the dead straight I-5 was so monotonous that it usually took an audio book, a bag of jugee fruits and a nap to manage the three hours spent on it, but this time I just sat with my own thoughts undistracted by my now habitual checking in to Facebook, that had become my entire social life since Catherine became housebound during her chemo treatment. 

I had left her in her brother's care, though she was so tired, this being only a week out from her last treatment, that she near passed out at breakfast two days running. That morning she felt confident that she was only fatigued and not seriously ill so I was able to take my leave after a rush of last minute chores.

I was headed down to LA and then to San Bernardino to clean up our rental property after yet another set of failed renters. This time it had only taken less than a year for the couple in question to fall apart. He turned abusive; she left him and I was left holding the bag for half the rent. I gave him two months for the price of one to get us through the holidays and he had kept his word about leaving. A good space clearing was clearly in order I could see.

On the I-5 my thoughts turned to the confident, take-charge 10 year old soul part who had, it seemed, been the one who replaced me in the solstice ceremony, thus leaving me with no memory of it. A 10 year old who is already trained to appear before royal patronage was perfectly capable of representing the Spirit of the Dark, I surmised. I had, after all, called her the Queen of the Dark in an update to Facebook.

Appearing before Thai royalty was a skill that my Khun Ya (as I called my Thai grandmother) had trained into me from the age of five. I knew how to use the language of honorifics and how to properly bow from the floor to any figure who required this level of respect. She took every opportunity to present me to as many high ranking figures as she had access to and by the time I was ten had taken me to the Prime Minister's house where I amused him by declaring, very politely, that his dark house reminded me of Dracula's. 

At age five it was the children's annual fashion show event that would command an audience with mid-level royalty at the palace across the street from our compound. For that happening, my entire kindergarten class had been recruited. (I was attending a tiny private school that Khun Ya had approved before my mother rescued me from her high society ambitions.) We went in pairs holding hands down the raised catwalk. The next year I was to walk the catwalk by myself like a real grown-up model.

A solo performance was serious stuff for a 6 year old at a royal garden party. In the one rehearsal before the show, I was shown how to pause and make the turn at each of the two corners of the walkway, foot placed at an angle to show off the dress. I was very excited about those turns.

It was a substantial walk on the raised catwalk through a sea of admiring eyes from all the tables set around the garden, their white tablecloths gleaming. The event lit for the evening with numerous footlights. But at the last minute, half an hour before the show was to start my Khun Ya introduced me to a VIP, the daughter of the ambassador to France. 

She had with her, her two daughters in matching outfits. I could see that the trendy European styling, involving vinyl vests with pockets and ruffled shirts underneath, outclassed my more traditional pink, little-girl dress. 

Her eldest would very much like to be in the fashion show, she told me. Would I mind taking her with me? I could see my Khun Ya smiling with pride at the very idea that I would be asked. It became imperative that I say yes though I felt it was totally unfair, seeing as this girl who was maybe four, had not even been to the rehearsal. And she would know nothing about the pause in those marvelous turns. Not to mention that our outfits did not even go together. But take her I did.

So Near Yet So Far

The first question I had, once I had confirmed that I had indeed made it to the Solstice Ceremony and likely participated in it, was if I had fulfilled my obligation to represent the Queen of the Dark and, in turn, my obligations to Lenore. 

"Did it go as planned?" I asked Lenore before I knew that my ten year old missing soul part had hijacked my role in it. I so wanted to ask more, but I couldn't seem to.

"Yes," she said without any further elaboration.

One of the few things I thought I remembered from the solstice ceremony was the lighting in the ceremonial hall, low near our feet. Now that I knew who had done the ceremony, I wondered, affectionately, if there were any turns involved in my ten year old's embodying of the Spirit of the Dark.

There was another more pressing question I had of my ten year old soul part. She had been in my orbit for a long time now and yet had not reintegrated, nor had she wanted to. Usually missing soul parts are scattered to far off parts of the spiritual kingdom. Lenore had told me that the reason that soul parts are found so close to oneself is because of work already done that has brought the soul part closer to home. 

And I had worked hard to reintegrate this 10 year old. It had taken me five years of writing my memoir Diamonds In My Pocket to make this happen. By the end of that first draft I felt as if the book had created me and told me who I was. So much of the emotional life that I had lost when I no longer spoke Thai regularly, had been duly translated and stored in that book. As had my extended family and the support it had offered me.

I was also struck by the words I had used in the dramatic climax of the book as I came to realize, when we moved into our new home in the States, "that houses did not come with people". 

"I wanted to stamp and scream into eternity," I wrote of my response to the utter emptiness of my new life. That was what my ten year old had been reacting to. And so she had. Stamped off into the spirit world. Curious the use of the word "eternity". 

This grief stricken loneliness, I would later learn, was typical of Third Culture Kids. The phenomena of unrecognized grief had spawned a whole new niche of psychological study, as more children were included in a globalized economy of mobile families.

As I imagined trying to tell this story of a ten year old in the throes of high society Thailand at a royal garden party and how it might have anything to do with a shamanic solstice ceremony I felt like I was going to blow a fuse. And that was precisely why I had not been able to close the gap with that soul part.

I looked out at the flat fields of fruit trees, bisected by the four lane highway, for solace. No one was going to judge me yet out here. My destination lay dead straight ahead until I reached the mountains. 

The problem I realized now was that I was a Leftist and so was Lenore. That's why I trusted her. But now I was describing a heritage that included royalty for crying out loud. I felt my identity compromised in this new community with Lenore. There was no place in America for a child dedicated to royal patronage. This was the nation that refused to bow to any foreign dignitaries and by the time I grew up I had so rejected the part that couldn't be assimilated that I could find no new allegiances. I could not trust in any formalized system whether it was academic, spiritual or community based. The only people I could really hang with were entrepreneurs, self-made people, traveling tinkers, the circus, Mad Max and Tina Turner, lawless bounty hunters, rebels with and without a cause and the Force. 

Any organization taking itself too seriously I felt compelled to unmask rather than embrace, leaving me ambiguous about where my loyalties lay. Not belonging anywhere was my comfort zone. Enemies becoming unlikely allies when a new situation developed. Friends becoming enemies at any given moment and back again to friends further down the line. It happened all the time. It was mostly an asset this perspective, but it wasn't a path to leadership.

But I did have my power animals now; I believed in their love and loyalty; that they would never harm me. And now that there were three we were a counsel. We could ask that 10 year old what was up with the hijacking thing. I was curious enough to try.

The Counsel

The first opportunity I would have to journey would not be until I arrived at the Best Western in San Bernardino, a block from the Home Depot which I would frequent daily in my role as landlord. No one would disturb me in my hotel room.

Under the call of the drum, I rode Bear the same route into the jungle as before and in the clearing on that flat rock, my three power animals and I assembled ourselves behind Leopard. We gazed quietly at the edge of the jungle until the 10 year old appeared.

"Hello my sweet," said Leopard gently, "we'd like to ask you a question." Leopard's tone let her know that she had not been called because she was in trouble. "Can you tell us, my lovely, why you took on the solstice ceremony?"

"For fun," she said sassily. "And because she called me by a nobility name" she added feeling more explanation was needed. She was referring to the rehearsal interview with the Spirit of the Dark in which I had been called Alicia. In Thai, honorifics and nicknames called out the relationship and the role one is to play with another. At ten I had many names already, including an honorific. 

"And I was owed it," she said, "because I had to share with the ambassador's granddaughter that one time." And I felt again the indignity of my ten year old self having that child swinging around the turns like we were on the playground. I had barely managed to keep her from flying off the catwalk at the second turn.

Leopard spoke again. "But what about your later appearance in the ballet which was presented to the Queen herself. Wasn't that enough?" 

I'd forgotten about that event. It had been a cross cultural collaboration between a Thai dancing company and a ballet troupe, put together by Khun Ya's alumni association. The dream sequence had flipped from one culture's dance art to the other (and from male gender to female gender). And it was realized, at the last minute, that the ballet corps was missing a flag bearer. Khun Ya had provided that flag bearer.

"That was even worse," said the 10 year old. "All I did was stand there and I didn't even have a real costume." Someone had made, for me, a sequined sash to wear over my black ballet leotard and tights. But the real sore point was that I had seen what a pivotal role the flag bearer played in the corresponding Thai sequence. He was splendid leaping about with a huge flag. The 10 year old seemed to take comfort in telling this story and the counsel gave it a respectful moment.

"Did you know my sweet," said Leopard again, "that you would be leaving Amanda without memory of the solstice ceremony?"

"No," said the 10 year old looking at her feet, showing remorse for the first time.

"Was there someone else involved?" said Leopard.

"Yes," she said, "the 19 year old. She wanted her story told."

So the plot thickens. I wasn't sure whether to believe this 10 year old or this pieced together story that she had conveniently confirmed. We humans would rather have any story than none at all. But it was likely true that the 19 year old wanted her story told; everyone wants their story told. And I had denied it to her many times, even quite recently.

What would be the point I had said. What purpose would it serve?

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