Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pack Rat: The Sleeper Train Journey to New Jalpaiguri

“In the end it is not the words of my enemies, but the silence of my friends.” - Martin Luther King
They say nothing lasts forever, but I’m trying to disagree. I hold to things that most people see no value in way past the expiration date. A pair of skates I had in third grade, a paper mache marionette from kindergarten, that sort. Most people just throw things away when they become old or soiled. I understand. It’s just not me.
It used to drive my mother nuts. She’d come into the pantry, and I’d be digging through the garbage. “But this Lucky Charms box is important. Look, if I collect ten more tops I can mail them in for a rabbit’s foot.” Mom would stand there with her arms crossed shaking her head. I can’t help it. I’m a pack rat.
I’ve made strides, coming to Taiwan was huge, just boxing up all my junk. It felt good minimalizing, but that’s hard to do in other areas. Take experiences for example. I don’t want my experiences to get smaller, I only want them to expand. Love is another. Discarding feelings I have for people because it hurts too much that they are alive in the world and I can’t be with them. That’s very hard for me. Just when I want to build memories with them they are walking away. People are not countries you can pass through, market areas or museums to peruse. They’re people, and for me saying goodbye is like a slow death.
The overnight train from Varanasi to New Jalpaiguri was a good example. I’ve been thinking a lot about the lives people live here and what exactly am I supposed to understand from their existence. The man in the market who sits in a 5 by 8 box all day selling eggs. The farmer working the fields returning to his dirt home. The backpacker on holiday taking in sites and sounds before returning to their dreaded office job. What is this supposed to show me? My mind is open, teach me, fill me, let me take your story with me to tell others. But most people are closed, hearts cold, and I am left in deafening silence as people turn their back and walk away.
I slept rough last night on my little cramped train bed in the curtained compartment with a Bengali man snoring like a drunken bear next to me and an old woman giving me the evil eye in the dark. The rumble of the train, and worse than anything, I am lost in my insomniatic thoughts. I am my own worst enemy. My tortured brain like a curse. Often I feel like one of the hundreds of Tibetan refugees I keep meeting and passing in the streets. Someone without a country or home, still wrapped in the traditional garb and robes from years gone by, unable to shake off the past. I want to still remember, still hold on, but it’s folly.
So I’ve decided there is nothing I can do but just live. Most days I am sick and angry and so frustrated by the world. I see people I know or love and how they are so far from me it is like they are gone or dead and so to stave off that pain I isolate myself in words and scribbles and sketches in notebooks and journals and scratches on the wall. I wish I were more. I wish I were stronger. I wish I were made of sterner stuff, but I break so easy. So living in my own mind is the only place I have left to sift through and scower for meaning. Still collecting memories from the inside, still sorting them out. I know I’ll get there. I know I’ll find that lucky rabbit’s foot, that decoder pendant, that Rosetta Stone in someone, someplace, someday, and then they’ll be all mine.

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