By Hillary Raphael.
An extract from Backpacker New York, Seoul, Phnom Penh, Sapporo, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Mexico City, Maputto, Tokyo, Mon Amour.
best garments i’ve ever had on
a black nylon dress with a steel belt buckle attached
a pair of fake brand-name sneakers with clear air bubbles in the soles
a navy blue leather blazer
a t-shirt with a drawing of a capsule on the front
grey wool herringbone tights
a tiny beige sweater with one huge snowflake knitted into it
a sunshine yellow moto-racing jacket
a white shearling coat
a silver velvet dress embossed to look like lizard
a dark-blue and medium-blue striped bikini
a white paper hospital gown
a pair of scuffed leather boots with four strips of velcro and two zippers
a commando sweater
a fuschia silk scarf covered with french obscenities
a backless leotard
a book a fruit farmer gave me and a crucial memory
A Handbook of Ecstasy [18th c.]
The concept of meditation includes two elements. One is contemplating a thing, while the other is getting at it at length. To contemplate something means to grasp its essence and understand it fully. Contemplation therefore only pertains to the depth of understanding derived from itself. At first thought, one may think that contemplation is the depth of knowledge. This is not true, however, since the depth of knowledge is only like a vessel with which one arrives at the depth of a concept.
Wisdom is the concept of nothingness in an idea, the state in which it exists before it comes to the level of points that can be grasped by understanding. Just as there is depth, breadth, and length to Understanding, which is called Somethingness, so there is depth, breadth, and length in Wisdom, which is called Nothingness.
Wisdom consists of a new concept that enters the mind like a flash of lightning. Its place of origin is its hidden depth, which is its primary intrinsic nature and innermost essence. This is the depth of the concept Understanding, which when understood, is experienced as an aspect of Somethingness. The concept can then be revealed so that it can be explained.
I can’t leave one thing untold about the times on the dance-slash-farming collective on the outskirts of Sapporo that we called the Lavish Future. This is before Kenzo was killed. Kenzo went with his sisters to a family funeral, by bullet train, and came back to the farm the next night. It was the first, last, and only time I’d ever seen him in a suit. He actually wore one: light wool of dark charcoal gray, a crisp blinding white shirt, and flat black tie. He didn’t look at all like a salaryman, but only like a dancer in a formal outfit. Very exquisite. Stumbling drunk out of a taxi at the farm’s gate, he was weaving his way down the path towards the Bathing Room. So unbelievably drunk, he could barely stand. I was slightly scared of him because I didn’t know what to say, so I just watched. I thought he would tear off his clothes and jump into the tub, maybe even without washing first. Instead, he sank to the ground, sitting on the dirt, leaning against the side of the building. He pulled out his cigarettes and this metal lighter he had with a huge H on it. H for Helena, which he used constantly, which I can’t believe Steve never mentioned, as it was his trademark accessory. Kenzo sat there, smoking quietly, looking up at the sky. There were a lot of stars, but no moon, and it was chilly. I started to worry he would catch cold, so I lost my fear of him, and just imagined him as the little asthmatic bullied kid he once was before I knew him. I decided to bring him in somewhere, but not necessarily to the Sleeping Room because his body suggested not wanting to see other people. My chest was hurting, I felt a mix of so many things watching him, being separate from him, but not because he was on stage or in the field, but because his head was somewhere else. I stomped out into the path, and he saw me. His eyes tracked me through a mosquito netting of drunkenness. I hoped he wouldn’t throw up.
“Hey, Kenzo. Welcome home,” I told him in Japanese, even though he often made fun of my accent and said I spoke like a Christian missionary or escort service girl. He stood up, bobbed and weaved further down the path toward where I stood. I tried to smile, but my face felt detached, like a sore muscle numbed by an ice pack. He charged at me, grabbed me by my upper arm, and steered me, not gently, into the Bathing Room. Then, super-gently, he pushed me down to sit on the wooden step next to the tub. The air was damp and warm, as though it were midday inside while it was midnight outside. He carefully folded my legs for me, so that I was sitting cross-legged. I could smell the shochu coming off his skin. He looked at me and nodded. Then Kenzo pulled off his stiff-leather men’s shoes and damp thin socks, but left his jacket and tie intact, and lay down in my lap, and he curled his body around me so tight he might have been able to levitate over me– every muscle was engaged, every fiber of his suited body was participating in being wrapped around me and laying in my lap. He cried and cried, wetting my lap for about five minutes, then fell asleep. I backed up a few inches, so I could prop myself against the wall, and I let him sleep. I watched him breathing, dreaming. I stared at him a long time, and I catalogued every hair on his head, his fingernails, his toenails, his slight twitching while he slept, his eyelashes, his knuckles, his belt buckle, a hole that had healed shut on his earlobe. Amazing, I thought, really amazing. At that moment, he darted up, out of my lap, like a sleek missile of male energy.
“Don’t stare at me.”
I was too weirded out to answer. The coolness of the air, and the darkness made me just want to cling to him and stare some more, until he’d metabolized all the cheap domestic vodka and would be right again.
“I’m serious, Helena, don’t stare at me.”
“I’m not.” I said it softly so he’d realize that I’d stayed up waiting for him to get back.”How was your cousin’s funeral?”
“It was fine. Next time you should come with me, see my village. Ok?”
“Ok.” I knew I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. We had never discussed life outside the farm together before.
“Helena, I’m serious. I’m not drunk anymore.”
“Ok, Kenzo. Got it.” I could feel the earth shifting us together, toward real life. I knew I was ready to radically fuse with another creature.
“I want to live there with you. In a small house. But we won’t tell anyone until the last minute. They’ll be too jealous.”
“Yeah. Too jealous.” I was bathed in happiness. Happiness pulsed through me in sluices of light. I was floating, glowing from within, bobbing in golden breezes. When I looked at him, it was like viewing him from across a sunlit lake.
“Helena, please forgive me for something.”
“I went to a love hotel with a funeral person.”
Continuing confusion. “What?”
“An office lady from my uncle’s company.”
“You fucked an OL?” My bowels were loosening swiftly.
“It wasn’t the first time. I fucked several older OLs when I was in high school.”
Moodkiller, moodkiller! I couldn’t have regretted more waiting up for him. “Wow, Kenzo, you’re a real superstar. What do you want me to do, start crying?”
“No, don’t cry. I just want to give you her love note. As proof that I don’t love her. I have all of yours in a Milky Cookie tin, with a couple of fruit jellies.”
“Fine, asshole, give it to me.” Kenzo bowed to me, for real, not playing, keeping his head down for ten seconds or even more. I took the folded peach paper. “Get up, get up, don’t grovel, this isn’t boy’s kendo camp.”
It was written all phonetically. Was this little slut a retard? I bit my inside lip, tasted blood, then bit more as I read:
i have to open my heart to you, no matter the cost to my pride. when you touched me for the first time, my whole body cried with happiness. your hands, your mouth, your skin are intoxicating — more than alcohol or any drug. your whispers in my ear make me come even if i try to hold back. you are so different from any man i’ve known.
let me whisper back to you. i need to tell you of my love for you. this will never die. our night together gave me hope to continue in this life. you have battled, and defeated my tendency to despise life and want to end it.
you came from the heavens to enrich my life and fill my heart with passionate goodwill. let me be with you! i need to know that my life has a central meaning — and that is curling up again into the muscles of your arms and lapsing into an orgasmic slumber.
below is my cellular phone number.
i love you, you know.
Just thinking about what he must’ve done to her to inspire her to write this drivel made me fantastically jealous. I was tempted to call the number just to tell her that she had better erase whatever masturbatory fantasies she was harboring because he signed them over to me, but I resisted doing that. Let her remember whatever she wants to, I figured, it’ll be worse to never relive it.
most satisfying sex binges
piazza duomo, firenze, italy/ male nurse ginza business hotel, tokyo, japan/ female nurse kruger national park tent, south africa/ jeep driver rice farming collective, guilin, china/ farmer residential tower, new york, usa/ consul general of denmark ramon crater, negev desert, israel/ rescue helicopter pilot roman coliseum, el jem, tunisia/ dog sledder las pirámides, lake atitlán, guatemala/ vision quest guide desert suites, las vegas, nevada, usa/ mc donald’s cashier hut, tromso norway/ interpreter
What can be said to spread ecstasy from one person to another? It’s a lost detail, a subtle movement at the center of a million coarse ones. It’s a vibrating wave connecting seemingly unrelated instants in thematically-linked compartments. It’s stepping onto the metro in a new city and eavesdropping on a conversation about someone you know, and remembering the vague miracle of meeting anyone, ever. Ecstasy is recalling something precious lost and not minding at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hillary Raphael is the author of the cult classic I [Heart] Lord Buddha, and the forthcoming Backpacker (both Creation Books). She travels around the world constantly.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 10th, 2005.