Disclaimer: This post contains slightly graphic language (throughout) and images (at the bottom) that some readers may find…unpleasant. Please proceed carefully.
It hasn’t been an easy ride since I got to this small town in northern Thailand. But I was holding it together, I had yet to really feel the weight or magnitude of how my life had changed. There had been culture shock of course, but I was managing just fine thank you very much. Unfortunately, that changed yesterday. I fell off the horse. Hard. Onto the rocky, dusty pavement of the road I take to school. However, it wasn’t actually a horse, obviously. It was my motorcycle. The same motorcycle that had I had been riding when I first found that wonderful, quiet solitude in the middle of nowhere that I had so desperately been needing. And then all of a sudden it was on top of me instead of the other way around.
It happened not 100 yards after I left school on Wednesday. I was riding calmly along like every other day when in a moment of supreme, avoidable stupidity I lost control of the vehicle. I was taken by surprise and skidded maybe five or ten feet to a halt. I lay there for a second taking stock quickly. My first thought was “Well sh*t I ruined my best pair of pants, sorry mom,” as I looked down at the now torn, bloody and filthy dress pants. I quickly noted the shirt was ruined as well before turning my attention to the damage on my body. My knuckles got it the worst. The blood was running freely through the torn skin and dirt and I swore I could see straight to the bone. Next I noticed my waist as I tried to separate the torn fabric from my skin. After that I did the same with my knee and finally unbuttoned and rolled up my sleeves calmly to assess my elbow. “Could be worse,” I thought to myself before remembering my helmet was still, thankfully might I add, covering my head. I removed it and felt my chin which had received a slight abrasion during the fall. I was picking myself up when the first parent arrived on his way to pick up his child from school. He urgently spoke to me in Thai at which I tried to give him a thumbs up and say I was okay. He helped me move my bike off the road and kept attempting to ask questions. I told him I really just needed water and I would be on my way, with every intention of driving back to my apartment and cleaning myself up. He sped off to the school. Not long after a hoard of teachers descended on the scene and started looking after me. I tried to assure them I was fine but quickly a decision was made that I would go to the hospital. I suppose in retrospect that was a good thing. The hospital staff very efficiently cleaned and bandaged my wounds and sent me on my way with a tetanus booster (which I in fact did not need), an antibiotic, and a painkiller. It was clearly nothing new to them to see a stupid farang that had fallen off a bike. The other Thai teachers, seemingly everyone I had met until that point, crowded the hospital and asked me how I was, telling me I could choose to stay home the next day. I assured them I was fine and would see them the next day bright and early. They laughed at that, saying it may not hurt now but it would later. One of my co-workers then drove me home and the incident was over.
The really bad part
As it turns out, the accident shook me a little more than I would ever admit to my new friends and coworkers here. I think the relatively minor incident – believe me I am grateful it was not worse – acted as a catalyst which bought all the feelings of being lost in this new world and being homesick to the forefront of my consciousness. Later that night, for the first time ever while I was abroad, I felt like crying. Right in the middle of my dinner. For the second time in one day I was taken completely by surprise in the worst way possible. At the same time, I learned what people mean when they say Thai people could see through a fake smile in an instant. Almost all at once I could feel the entire restaurant staring as if they sensed my distress. I imagine many of them did with a single glance despite my feigned smiles. But here I was, in the middle of Thailand trying to process relatively new feelings, and meanwhile everyone around me could tell. I know it doesn’t always make sense, but it there is one thing I really hate it’s being pitied. I know everyone messes up and that I’m only human, but for the last several years I’ve always been able to cope with anything by counting my blessings and practicing gratitude. When life throws a challenge my way, which it has an annoying habit of doing to everyone, I’ve always been able to step back, breathe and remind myself that I am stronger than the challenge. So being in public, hardly able to breathe with tears threatening to pour down my face as I was surrounded by the locals who all knew who I was and what happened, was an intensely low point for me. Not a low point in Thailand, a low point in my life such that I hadn’t experienced since middle school.
I left rather abruptly and made it back to my room where I let myself panic for a few moments. Sometimes a person needs to let out their tension. After calming down I did what I am very fortunate to have the option of doing. I called or messaged friends and family. Despite the time difference, I was able to get in touch with several different people. Just by being able to talk to the people across the world who loved and cared about me did what I was unable to do myself this time. I was finally able to rediscover that inner peace I prize so dearly. Everyone needs help sometimes, and talking to my family reminded me that I am not exception. I was reminded the importance of gratitude again. I had been helped by complete strangers, people I’ve known less than two weeks and long-time friends and family members throughout the course of the day. And with that help, I knew I would be able to weather this storm as well.
Getting back on the horse
The next morning, although I was well on my way to emotional recovery, was extremely painful. Having been unable to sleep in my accustomed position, and with pillows as thin and cardboard, my neck was sore and stiff. I slowly peeled myself off my bed sheets, where blood and skin was left behind in places, and went to wash my abrasions. It was sometime around this point where I realized my right arm could not stretch entirely without causing me significant pain. This unforeseen affliction, along with the inconveniently places scrapes on my belt-line, made getting dressed a major tribulation. Finally dressed, albeit poorly, I set out to fulfill my promise of being in school at the normal time. I then faced the biggest obstacle yet. I had no other way of getting to school aside from the very bike that had failed me just 14 hours earlier. I hadn’t felt it yesterday, but the fall had shaken my confidence. My motorcycle had let me down after giving me such a euphoria originally. Steeling myself both mentally and physically – boy did it hurt to bend my knee – I got on the bike and rode to school. I was slow and careful and in a lot of pain the entire ride. The same bike that had felt so sturdy before felt shakier. I’d like to think it was all in my head but the thought that the bike had suffered damage gnawed at me as well. But I knew this was the best way to get my confidence back. I had to keep riding or I would only slip back into those feelings of being stuck that had plagued my arrival. The other challenge was seeing my students. Such is the nature of a small town that when the farang falls everyone will know about it. Everyone from the students I would never teach to the lady that served me lunch. Their sympathy and, at other times, unconcealed laughter, was both uplifting and devastating. On the one hand the kids making light of the incident was exactly what I needed, on the other the stern, “told you so” stares from the staff were worse than trying to write with my limited arm and deeply wounded knuckles. But I’m happy I went despite having the option to take a much needed rest. I think by facing issues that come our way with the support of your friends behind you makes the recover quicker and less painful. It’s the difference between pulling the band-aid off in one swift motion or waiting as long as possible and doing so slowly. I’m getting back into things after a minor accident and a major moment of despair. I’m remembering why I am here and counting my blessing even through the intense pain of waking up. So look out Thailand (because there’s a corny statement coming). James is back in the saddle and here to stay!