We only had two weeks in Cambodia before you were hers again.
Cambodia was overwhelming from the second I stepped off the plane. I was already anxious about seeing Alex again, and the oppressive heat and shouts of, “Hey lady, buy phone, need tuk tuk!” did not help.
I had met Alex in New Zealand near the end of my two years living there, and the weeks we spent together were lovely; we talked about everything and he cooked me dinner every night. I even moved into his room in the hostel we were living in. It was intense but simple. Easy because of the knowledge I was leaving soon. Now, six weeks later, I was living in Thailand and he had come to Cambodia to travel for two weeks before heading home. I decided to fly over, see the country, and spend ten more days with him. I was excited to see him but worried about traveling with him, worried that it had been too long and that we wouldn't get along in quite the same way.
He also had a girlfriend back home. Although, he said when they're not living in the same place, they're not together. He’d been kinder and more attentive to me than any boyfriend I have ever had, but they still texted every day and they were still going to be back together when he returned home. I hadn't thought it bothered me much, but in the week before meeting up with him, I had the same dream several times: I'm meeting him at the airport, she shows up, and he pretends to not know me.
After getting overcharged by the taxi to the hotel, and then a serious communication breakdown at the hotel trying to explain that my friend had already checked in, he opened the door and I fell into him. It was such a relief to see him again. I shouldn't have worried.
We traveled around the country over the next ten days. Took a minibus to Siem Reap – passing houses on stilts, perched at the edge of the water, sitting next to a monk. Alex was cramped, trying to contort his 6’3” frame into a seat designed for much smaller people.
In Siem Reap we found a little restaurant with amazing Khmer food and delicious shakes where we ate every night we were there. We held hands walking down the street, kissed in front of monuments, and had sex 14 times in the first four days in the country.
We took a miserable night bus to Sihanoukville, a town on the beach. At 5:45 am we were woken up and let off the bus and had to wait for two hours before packing onto another bouncy uncomfortable bus, not being able to sleep with Khmer music blaring the entire five hours. The beach was like heaven after that. We checked into a thatched roof bungalow not fifteen yards from the ocean. Alex slept early that night, in bed by 4 pm, so I got dinner on my own and spent the evening chatting with Patricia, a lovely Dutch woman. We talked about travel and love. Tommy, an aging hippie from San Diego, wandered over and recounted a story about Bondi Beach back in the 80s, how women weren't allowed in the bars and everyone was looking for a fight.
The next morning Alex announced he didn't want to come back to Phnom Penh with me, as we had planned. It was where I had to return to pick up a visa in a couple days before returning to Thailand. I was sore from the amount of sex we'd been having, and as a result, we hadn't fucked in two days. I felt like maybe he had gotten all the sex he wanted out of me and wanted to move on now. I knew this was probably a ridiculous assumption, but I was upset. So I made an excuse and went to a cafe, wanting to be hurt on my own instead of being hurt in front of him.
Fifteen minutes later, he texted and said he would come to Phnom Penh and that today we should go to Koh Rong, an island paradise Patricia had raved about. When I came back, he asked if I was done being a little bitch and crying. As we were booking our ferry tickets, he complained about the price. When I said we don't have to go, he said, “Well I have to go now or never. I lose either way.”
There were a lot of English dickheads on the boat to Koh Rong. The place was billed as paradise found, but it was teeming with backpacker bars and, at first glance, was not the idyllic island paradise we expected. We did, however, find a guesthouse for only $8 per night. The electricity didn't turn on until dark and the walls stopped a few feet shy of the ceiling but it was cheap and friendly.
We checked in and, after he rebuffed my attempt to initiate sex with a few cold remarks that had me in tears, we ended up talking about everything. In a hushed voice, so the rest of the guesthouse couldn't hear, he explained he was just upset that he tried to make me happy all the time and I was just being selfish about wanting him to come to Phnom Penh. Which I was, and I knew I was, but I was hurt he didn't want to spend the extra two days with me. He said he wanted to come to Cambodia to see Cambodia, not to see me, and I knew that, but put so bluntly it hurt even more.
I said, “Well, I will be miserable if you're not there; but if you're there and miserable, I will be miserable too. You should just do what will make you happy.” Those were like the magic words for him. He said, “Of course I'm coming to Phnom Penh with you,” he just wanted to hear me say that he should be the one to decide, and to show that I cared about his feelings. “If you're miserable and I'm not there, I can't do anything about it, but if I am there, I can at least try.” Though that was sweet, I was still upset by the rest of the conversation, and the fact it seemed he had been hurting me to make a point. “Can we have makeup sex now?” he asked, and I didn't feel made up but didn't tell him that.
That night we went skinny dipping for my first time ever in the deliciously warm water of the Gulf of Thailand. Everything else disappeared for a moment, and I felt amazing and free and happy. We fucked in the water though neither of us came.
We kayaked out to a little island the next day. Alex dropped my sunglasses in the ocean so we decided that was the spot to go snorkeling and pulled up our kayak onto the rocky shore. He, somewhat incredibly, found my glasses on the sea floor. I almost had a panic attack when I started snorkeling, but he talked me through it until I got the hang of it. We stayed in the water until our fingers were pale and puckered, then moved on to a deserted yellow beach. It was shallow enough to stand for hundreds of feet out from shore, so we just walked out and floated in the crystal clear turquoise water under that boiling Southeast Asian sun. We took off our suits again, fucked in the water again, before other kayakers came into view and we composed ourselves. I burnt myself to a brilliant lobster red across my shoulders, but left the island satisfied and happy. My backpack hurt to carry, so Alex was kind enough to drag it around for me as we headed back to Phnom Penh.
We spent the next day hitting all the touristy attractions, including a shooting range that offered an assortment of automatic weapons. Although I am evidently a poor shot, Alex managed to get his target right through the heart. For dinner, we found a Khmer restaurant without an English menu and ordered a variety of seafood that had both of us running for the toilet the next morning. But, in the moment, it was delicious.
And, finally, the last day. I was leaving Cambodia and Alex was returning to the beach. We had a lazy morning in bed and went out to play a couple rounds of pool. I ended up playing against #1 Lady Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh, who turned out to be a butch 28 year-old lesbian who was complaining of a hangover. I am not a great pool player, but I held my own reasonably well, and ended up winning on a technicality. At which #1 Lady Tuk Tuk Driver and I both doubled over with laughter.
Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came on at the bar. It's a song I fell in love with my last year of college that always seems to be playing whenever I leave any place, or anyone, that I am sad to be leaving. Always. I thought I was going to hold it together until I looked at Alex, who had never heard the song until a moment in New Zealand months earlier when I had explained my love for it. A flash of recognition shot across his face and I burst into tears. Sat on his lap. #1 Lady Tuk Tuk driver asked why I was crying, Alex explained and the waitress switched the song, while #1 Lady Tuk Tuk driver said she understood, and missed her girlfriend, and put her arms around Alex and me while I cried. She asked how long we had been together. I looked at Alex, then at the floor, trying to figure out a way to explain a casual sex arrangement to a Cambodian, a way to explain that I am not the real girlfriend. Alex just said, “about 2 months.”
Then it was back to Thailand, feeling strange, lost, and empty.
Image via Flickr.