We didn't sleep at all, of course. And then, it was ridiculous--I had to go. I had to go back to my house stupidly early the next morning because I had a date to meet my friend Yudhi. He and I had long ago planned that this was the very week we were going to leave on a big cross-Balinese road trip together. This was an idea we'd come up with one evening at my house when Yudhi said that, aside from his wife and Manhattan, what he most missed about America was driving--just taking off with a car and some friends and
going on an adventure across those great distances, on all those fabulous interstate highways. I told him, "OK, so we'll go on a road trip here in Bali together, American- style."
This had struck us both as irresistibly comic--there's no way you can do an American- style road trip in Bali. There are no great distances, first of all, on an island the size of Delaware. And the "highways" are horrible, made surreally dangerous by the dense, mad prevalence of Bali's version of the American family minivan--a small motorcycle with five people crowded on it, the father driving with one hand while holding the newborn infant with the other (football-like) while Mom sits sidesaddle behind him in her tight sarong with a basket balanced on her head, encouraging her twin toddlers not to fall off the speeding motorbike, which is probably traveling on the wrong side of the road and has no headlight. Helmets are rarely worn but are frequently--and I never did find out why-- carried. Imagine scores of these heavily laden motorcycles, all speeding recklessly, all weaving and dodging across each other like some kind of crazy motorized maypole dance, and you have life on the Balinese highways. I don't know why every single Balinese person hasn't been killed already in a road accident.
But Yudhi and I decided to do it anyway, to take off for a week, rent a car and drive all over this tiny island, pretending that we are in America and that both of us are free. The idea charmed me when we came up with it last month, but the timing of it now--as I am lying in bed with Felipe and he's kissing my fingertips and forearms and shoulders, encouraging me to linger--seems unfortunate. But I have to go. And in a way, I do want to go. Not only to spend a week with my friend Yudhi, but also as a repose after my big night with Felipe, to get my head around the new reality that, as they say in the novels: I have taken a lover.
So Felipe drops me off at my house with one last passionate embrace and I have just enough time to shower and pull myself together when Yudhi arrives with our rental car. He takes one look at me and says, "Dude--what time'd you get home last night?"
I say, "Dude--I didn't get home last night."
He says, "Duuuuuuude," and starts laughing, probably remembering the conversation we'd had only about two weeks earlier wherein I'd seriously posited that I might never, actually, have sex again for the rest of my life, ever. He says, "So you gave in, huh?" "Yudhi," I replied, "let me tell you a story. Last summer, right before I left the States, I went to visit my grandparents in upstate New York. My grandfather's wife--his second wife--is this really nice lady named Gale, in her eighties now. She hauled out this old photo album and showed me pictures from the 1930s, when she was eighteen years old and went on a trip to Europe for a year with her two best friends and a guardian. She's flipping through these pages, showing me these amazing old photographs of Italy, and suddenly we get to this picture of this really cute young Italian guy, in Venice. I go,
'Gale--who's the hottie?' She goes, 'That's the son of the people who owned the hotel where we stayed in Venice. He was my boyfriend.' I go, 'Your boyfriend?' And my grandfather's sweet wife looks at me all sly and her eyes get all sexy like Bette Davis, and she goes, 'I was tired of looking at churches, Liz.' "
Yudhi gives me a high five. "Rock on, dude."
We set off for our fake American road trip across Bali, me and this cool young Indonesian musical genius in exile, the back of our car filled with guitars and beer and the Balinese equivalent of American road trip food--fried rice crackers and dreadfully flavored indigenous candies. The details of our journey are a bit blurry to me now, smudged over my distracting thoughts of Felipe and by the weird haziness that always accompanies a road trip in any country of the world. What I do remember is that Yudhi and I speak American the entire time--a language I hadn't spoken in so long. I'd been speaking
English a lot during this year, of course, but not American, and definitely not the sort of hip-hop American Yudhi likes. So we just indulge it, turning ourselves into MTV- watching adolescents as we drive along, razzing each other like teenagers in Hoboken, calling each other dude and man and sometimes--with great tenderness-- homo. A lot of our dialogue revolves around affectionate insults to each other's mothers.
"Dude, what'd you do with the map?"
"Why don't you ask your mother what I did with the map?" "I would, man, but she's too fat."
And so forth.
We don't even penetrate the interior of Bali; we just drive along the coast, and it's beaches, beaches, beaches for a whole week. Sometimes we take a little fishing boat out to an island, see what's going on out there. There are so many kinds of beaches in Bali. We hang out one day along the long southern California-style groovy white sand surf of Kuta, then head up to the sinister black rocky beauty of the west coast, then we pass that invisible Balinese dividing line over which regular tourists never seem to go, up to the wild beaches of the north coast where only the surfers dare to tread (and only the crazy ones, at that). We sit on the beach and watch the dangerous waves, watch the lean brown and white Indonesian and Western surf-cats slice across the water like zippers ripping open the backs of the ocean's blue party dress. We watch the surfers wipe out with bone- breaking hubris against the coral and rocks, only to go back out again to surf another wave, and we gasp and say, "Dude, that is totally MESSED UP."
Just as intended, we forget for long hours (purely for Yudhi's benefit) that we are in Indonesia at all as we tool around in this rented car, eating junk food and singing American songs, having pizza everywhere we can find it. When we are overcome by evidence of the Bali-ness of our surroundings, we try to ignore it and pretend we're back in America. I'll ask, "What's the best route to get past this volcano?" and Yudhi will say, "I think we should take I-95," and I'll counter, "But that'll take us right through Boston in the middle of rush-hour traffic . . ." It's just a game, but it sort of works.
Sometimes we discover calm stretches of blue ocean and we swim all day, permitting each other to start drinking beer at 10:00 AM ("Dude--it's medicinal"). We make friends with everyone we encounter. Yudhi is the kind of guy who--when he's walking down the beach and he sees a man building a boat--will stop and say, "Wow! Are you building a boat?" And his curiosity is so perfectly winning that the next thing you know we've been invited to come live with the boat-builder's family for a year.
Weird things happen in the evenings. We stumble on mysterious temple rituals in the middle of nowhere, let ourselves get hypnotized by the chorus of voices, drums and gamelan. We find one small seaside town where all the locals have gathered in a darkened street for a birthday ceremony; Yudhi and I are both pulled out of the crowd (honored strangers) and invited to dance with the prettiest girl in the village. (She's enveloped in gold and jewels and incense and Egyptian-looking makeup; she's probably thirteen years old but moves her hips with the soft, sensual faith of a creature who knows she could seduce any god she wanted.) The next day we find a strange family restaurant in the same village where the Balinese proprietor announces that he's a great chef of Thai food, which he decidedly is not, but we spend the whole day there anyhow, drinking icy Cokes and eating greasy pad thai and playing Milton Bradley board games with the owner's elegantly effeminate teenage son. (It occurs to us only later that this pretty teenage boy could well have been the beautiful female dancer from the night before; the Balinese are masters of ritual transvestism.)
Every day I call Felipe from whatever outback phone I can find, and he asks, "How many more sleeps until you come back to me?" He tells me, "I'm enjoying falling in love with you, darling. It feels so natural, like it's something I experience every second week, but actually I haven't felt this way about anyone in nearly thirty years."
Not there yet, not yet to that place of a free fall into love, I make hesitant noises, little reminders that I am leaving in a few months. Felipe is unconcerned. He says, "Maybe this is just some stupid romantic South American idea, but I need you to understand--darling, for you, I am even willing to suffer. Whatever pain happens to us in the future, I accept it already, just for the pleasure of being with you now. Let's enjoy this time. It's marvelous." I tell him, "You know--it's funny, but I'd been seriously thinking before I met you that I might be alone and celibate forever. I was thinking maybe I would live the life of a spiritual contemplative."
He says, "Contemplate this, darling . . . ," and then proceeds to detail with careful specificity the first, second, third, fourth and fifth things he is planning to do with my body when he gets me alone in his bed again. I wobble away from the phone call a little woozy in the knees, amused and bamboozled by all this new passion.
The last day of our road trip, Yudhi and I lounge on a beach someplace for hours, and--as often happens with us--we start talking about New York City again, how great it is, how much we love it. Yudhi misses the city, he says, almost as much as he misses his wife--as if New York is a person, a relative, whom he has lost since he got deported. As we're
talking, Yudhi brushes off a nice clean patch of white sand between our towels and draws a map of Manhattan. He says, "Let's try to fill in everything we can remember about the city." We use our fingertips to draw in all the avenues, the major cross-streets, the mess that Broadway makes as it leans crookedly across the island, the rivers, the Village, Central Park. We choose a thin, pretty seashell to stand for the Empire State Building, and another shell is the Chrysler Building. Out of respect, we take two sticks and put the
Twin Towers back at the base of the island, back where they belong.
We use this sandy map to show each other our favorite spots in New York. This is where Yudhi bought the sunglasses he's wearing right now; this is where I bought the sandals I'm wearing. This is where I first had dinner with my ex-husband; this is where Yudhi met his wife. This is the best Vietnamese food in the city, this is the best bagel, this is the best noodle shop ("No way, homo--this is the best noodle shop"). I sketch out my old
Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and Yudhi says, "I know a good diner up there." "Tick-Tock, Cheyenne or Starlight?" I ask.
"Ever try the egg creams at Tick-Tock?" He moans, "Oh my God, I know . . ."
I feel his longing for New York so deeply that for a moment I mistake it for my own. His homesickness infects me so completely that I forget for an instant that I am actually free to go back to Manhattan someday, though he is not. He fiddles a bit with the two sticks of the Twin Towers, anchors them more solidly in the sand, then looks out at the hushed, blue ocean and says, "I know it's beautiful here . . . but do you think I'll ever see America again?"
What can I tell him?
We slump into silence. Then he pops out of his mouth the yucky Indonesian hard candy he's been sucking on for the last hour and says, "Dude, this candy tastes like ass. Where'd you get it?"
"From your mother, dude," I say. "From your mother."