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9. A Long Walk Home
                                                               *
I watched my mom from across the kitchen table turn the calendar
to November over the stove. The trees had now changed color and
their orange and yellow leaves were dancing outside in the wind
like swarms of newly hatched butterflies. It was a week until
my birthday and three weeks until Wendy would give birth to
Nathaniel Lee. I wrote and told Ta about him a month ago. She
still hadn't replied. But before beating myself up trying to
figure out what she was thinking, I noticed a couple of
squirrels invading the bird feeder hanging from a tree a good
reach from the outside barbecuing deck so I ran upstairs to get
my camera to catch them closeup in their play.
     Before I could change the lense and load up the film, I
heard the door bell ring. Walking down the stairs ready for some
action shots, I saw my mom at the front door signing for a
special delivery letter. I'd almost made it back to the kitchen
and squirrels before she said, "Tommy, the letter is for you."
     My mom watched as I set my camera down and opened the
letter. She knew it was from Thailand. She knew I had told Ta
about Wendy and the baby. I opened it thinking she wasn't going
to want to see me again. My mom put her hand to her lips
wondering what Ta might say. It was a plane ticket for the
first of next month- Northwest Orient, business class, 11:40am
flying out of JFK. After nine years of waiting I could finally
go home.
     "Tommy, I'm happy for you but what are you going to do
about Wendy and Nat?" she asked.
     "Well since she said she was on the pill and decided to
have the baby over my objections anyway. And now won't even
talk to me or tell me where she is going to have him. What do
you think I am going to do?" I said.
     My mom waited for an answer.
     "When I get settled and start working I'll just send money
to dad every month to give to her and she'll just think you are
doding grand parents," I said.
     "Don't you want her to know it is coming from you?" she
asked.
     "Mom, you really think she would believe it? Trust me. The
girl is nutty. This is the easiest way," I said.
     My mom had a confused look on her face.                       ***195
     "She thought I would pick her over Ta. When I didn't she
just flipped out and said she would do it on her own; that she
didn't want anything from me," I said.
     My mom just sighed shaking her head and walked back into
the downstairs bathroom to finish her morning laundry.
                                                               *
     Then on November 19th at 9:23am Wendy's father called. He
didn't want to talk to me. He wanted to talk to my dad and
congratulate him on a 7.6 pound baby boy. They now were
grandparents.
     After that the telephone calls from different child support
firms didn't stop. I told them I was leaving the country and if
I was a jerk I could get off without paying a penny. Just give
me some time and I'd get back to work and send money back on my
own. But that wasn't good enough for them. They wanted money
now.
     It was so easy for Wendy to change her stripes but she
chose how she wanted to play this game, now it was her turn to
wait.
                                                               *
     The night before I was scheduled to fly, after packing my
bags, I was down in the garage waxing my car thinking maybe in a
month I could send for it when I got a call from my dad's club.
They needed one more player for the evening volley ball
tournament. Did I have time? Could I make it?
     I wasn't thinking about what Ta's fortune teller had said.
The one with all his star charts, statistics, and times of birth
who said I'd die in a car crash before I ever made it back to
Thailand to live with the one I loved again. I just rolled the
car out of the garage. I had ten minutes to go eight miles. I
was late.
     Up a hill in third gear just a mile away from the club the
speedometer read sixty. I wasn't wearing a seatbelt. The sunroof
was open. A car came around from the other side of the hill in
the wrong lane and I swerved towards the shoulder and slid off
an enbankment and into the air. After a thirty foot drop landed
my car on its nose throwing me out, it continued to do multiple
flips until in a dust cloud it was out of sight. I landed 80
feet away in the grass on my knees. I couldn't feel anything.
                                                               *
     There must have been an ambulance. I had heard a siren. I
must of made it to the hospital twenty miles away since I had   
felt the evenly spaced bumps in the road of the bridge leading  ***196
into New Haven. I knew someone had made a mistake when they said
I was gone, my nose still cringed at the scent of alcohol. Then 
it went dark and quiet and I knew it was time for me to wake up
remembering I had a morning flight to Thailand to catch. With my
eyelids still packed with and itching from dirt I heard my mom
scream when I grabbed at her skirt. She pulled away sobbing
threatening to disown me if I ever pulled a stunt like this
again.
     The doctor pivoted looking shocked that after calling it
three minutes ago and consoling my parents I was back. After
getting an oxygen mask and taking a deep soothing breath I
don't know what happened next just a bunch of doctor type
chatter as I dozed off again wondering if they would hold my
flight.
                                                               *    
     Ta called the next morning asking where I was; what had
happened. My mom wasn't in the mood she just said I was in the
ICU; now it was Ta's turn to wait.
     Mom wanted Ta to wait but I couldn't. In two days I was   
staggering out of the ICU leaning on my IV pole for support
telling anyone that would listen that I wanted to go home until
I lost my balance, stumbled, and fell.
     "Mr. Tom. You broke your collar bone and have a gash in
your side. Your knees have gone through a great trauma. It will
take you at least three months after therapy before you can walk
again," the nurse said after she had rushed over to help me up.
      I looked up with tears in my eyes at that wrinkled
comforting face, "I don't have three months. I need to start
walking now."
     "Okay, if that's what you want," she dared now letting go
of my elbow and crossing her arms as her face changed to an
impatient frown.
     It took me a couple of minutes but I crawled up the IV pole
sweating staring into her eyes," It's not what I want. It's what
I need to do."
     She didn't comment. Instead she just walked me back to my
room.
                                                               *    
     It wasn't until my sister Patty came for a visit that
evening that the nurses understood my story. She told them about
Ta. She told them about how long I had waited. She told them
about what the other day was supposed to have been. By the time ***197
she got to me with her flowers and boyfriend in the ICU she had
started to cry. But if there was anyone I loved more than Ta it
was my little sister. I asked her to walk with me down the ward.
     "Tommy, you can't walk," she said.
     "Come here and give your favorite big brother a hug," I
said as I pulled alongside my IV walking cane and detached the
heart monitor.
     "Tommy, what are you doing?" she said looking back and
forth at the nursing station as if what I was doing was going to
get me in trouble.
     "Showing you I'm fine. Now shut up and help me get out of
bed," I said.
     We walked down the hall together. I know I left marks on  
her arm holding on for support but she was happy to see I was
all right.                                                           
     "Now go home. I'll see you soon," I said.
     "Don't you want me to help you walk back?" she asked.
     "Damn girl, what do you think all these cute nurses are
for?" I asked as I winked at her boyfriend.
                                                               *
     The hospital personnel were still baffled as to how I had
survived and couldn't figure out how I had been able to start
walking again in just a week. Good thing I didn't tell them
about the giant spiders crawling down the walls in my room. If
they knew anything about those space invading creatures they
would have never let me leave. So keeping my secret made the
ride in a wheel chair down to my mom's car past well-wishing
doctors and nurses seem like a victory lap through a gaunlet of
good luck. I just wished that the ten minutes it took to get
into the front passenger side seat hadn't ruined the moment by
being accompanied by ten minutes of contorting pain making me
wonder how after getting home I would ever find a way to
painlessly get out.
                                                               *
     But that would be the least of my worries considering the
challenges I was about to face because being able to walk again
by New Year's day wasn't going to be an easy task. It was going
to take a lot of work; there would be a lot of pain; but as
opposed to the emotional, the physical I could stand. I had been
away from Ta too long; I needed to get back. 
                                                               *
     After conquering the fourteen steps of stairs from the      ***198     
first to the second floor in less than a week, I needed two     
extra days to confidently be able to walk back down. That was
before I made the mistake of mumbling about seeing giant spiders
while climbing Mount Everest during a nap on the family room
couch within earshot of my mom. She insisted that my eyes had
been open and immediately carted me off to see the neurologist
thinking it wasn't just my knees I landed on in the accident but
probably also my head.
     She didn't want to waste time watching me slowly struggle
down the slate steps to the car on my own. I might have brain
damage and that would take too long. Instead she pulled the car
right up across the front lawn to the front door. And finally
with me safely buckled in she sped off with her foot to the
floor.
                                                               *
     After a regimen of prodding and prying in my eyes with a
pen light, the doctor had me do a number of coordination
exercises similar to what a cop might do while accessing a
possible DUI before telling my mom that I was fine assuring her
repeatedly that I probably had just been dreaming.
     And me not wanting to waste a trip of being tortured
getting into and out of her car, I asked her since it was
nearby could we go to the scrap yard. There were some insurance
papers in my wreck I wanted to look for.
                                                               *    
     Walking onto the lot still using my crutches to ease the
pain in my knees while my mom waited patiently in the car, I
approached the owner who in his grease stained jeans,
Caterpillar cap, and workman's gloves took a bit of convincing
that the flattened out Mazda was my car and that I had been the
one that had survived the crash.
     Looking at my car I could understand the old man's
skepticism. The car had been crushed by the impact of the crash
until it was now no more than a foot tall. I was lucky I hadn't
been wearing a seatbelt and that the sunroof had been open
because having been thrown out through it had saved my life.  If
I had stayed with my car I would have been crushed. No use
trying to look for insurance papers, the dash and glove box were
like a puddle of melted butter between a sandwich of steel.
     It was only by chance that I had come to visit my wreck
that day but seeing it left an indelible impression because now
I knew it was only by a strange set of circumstances that I was
still alive. And that was enough to make me wonder why. What     ***199
else was I being saved for to do with my life?                    
     Maybe someone up there wanted to make a point that patience
is a virtue and nine years of waiting should trump any fortune    
teller's doomsday prophecy. Whatever it was I got the message. I
had been given a second chance at life because there were still
things left for me to do and going back to Thailand to start a   
new life with Ta was just icing on the cake.
                                                               *
     Getting on the plane I was leaving everything behind, not
just the crutches, the pain pills, and the awkward knee braces
but my old dysfunctional life. I had hoped to make it back in
time for New Year's but I was a few days late not because I
still had trouble walking there just didn't happen to be any
available flights. However noone had foreseen to warn me about
the plane's cabin pressure and so my knees were giving me an
eighteen hour torturous time. The only way that I was going to
be able to get any relief or to get any sleep seemed to be a
prescription that included generous doses of Chardonnay wine.
                                                               *
     Bangkok came up early along with the sunrise. From high up
in the clouds it looked the same though I knew on the ground
too much time had gone by for everything not to have changed.
     Besides the obvious troublemaker Ed being gone, Ta's two
brothers and sister were all home; all three now married and
raising kids of their own. And since Khun P. and Khun M. were
back together, I had a feeling they'd be in a hurry for me and
Ta to catch up.
     There was just one thing that worried me. Ta had been
entrenched in Thai culture and her family's problems for so
long I wondered if our relationship could ever be the same as
it used to be-just me loving her and just her loving me.
     Then there was the question of what I was going to do for
work. If the American embassy continued to give us a hard time
fighting the bigamy charge, Ta might decide that she didn't
want to go back to the states. For her, working for her parents
had always been a good job. But I was a foreigner without a
work permit and most expats that worked in Thailand, unless
they were independently rich, got sent there for a limited time
by an international company based somewhere else. Besides I
had to send child support to Nat and I didn't want it to be a
handout from Ta.
                                                               *  ***200
     As luck wouldn't have it, my flight and four others landed
at the same time resulting in an immigration clearing line that
stretched back nearly to the disembarkment gate. Now after an
eighteen hour flight I had another three hour wait. Or so I
thought until he walked up. It was Ta's youngest brother Tik;
last time I saw him he was taking a swing at me; now he had
become an immigration cop.
     With newly polished captain bars on the shoulders of his
well-pressed, dark brown uniform, he wasted no time telling his
two assistants what to do as he patted me on the shoulder and
with a grin pulled me out of line. "TJ," he said in a loud
voice, "This is my new brother-in-law," he continued, looking
around daring anyone to object. "Give your pack to Corporal Kop.
He'll take it down with your baggage stub to retrieve your bags
off the carousel and rush you through customs. And your passport,
give that to Sargeant Daeng. He'll go get it stamped."
     I fumbled through my bag for my ticket and passport.
     "Hurry up and follow me; Ta is waiting for you downstairs,"
he impatiently said.
     "Tik, I didn't know you had become a cop?"
     "A captain. I just got promoted last month," he proudly
said, "Fucking tourists, why are there so many of them today?"
     "Ta said you just got married. Congratulations," I said.
     "Yeah, four months ago. The bitch is already pregnant," he
said looking off into the distance as if I had reminded him to
pray to Buddha that his first child was a boy.
     "Was it that girl Hoong? The one that drove up in a BMW
with four of her friends while I was sitting out getting a
suntan who gave you a tie for your birthday?" I asked.
     "Damn TJ, that was five years ago. How can you possibly
remember that?" he asked.
     "Did you ever wear it?" I asked.
     "Fuck no," he said.
     "How's your sister Koi doing? I know she got married
awhile ago," I said.
     "She's already working on her second kid. Her husband Korn
still runs his father's Bridgestone tire dealership and Koi runs
Korn's car detailing racing boutique. I haven't been over there
since I bought a new Mercedes. I can't see modifying it with a
new steering wheel, rims, or Recaro seats," he said.
     "A Mercedes...aren't you a little young for an old man's
security blanket?" I asked.                                         ***201
     "Fuck no," he said defensively,"You know my brother Tod
right? Well he's been working as a manager at one of Bangkok
Bank's new branches. And you know my cousin Peter who works for
the IFC that international agency that reviews all the big
projects in Bangkok before they get approved, right?"
     I nodded.
     "Well now they are working together. Whenever a project
comes up for approval they finance personal loans to buy up all
the land around the projects before they get built. Most of
them are out on Ratchadaphisek Road where the government is
trying to develop on the outskirts of town," he said.
     "How can they afford to finance so much ?" I asked.
     "That's the beauty of it. They don't have to. They lease
out the land to the dealers of used cars. That's used car city
out there at the crossroads. The projects get finished. The
land prices go up. The dealers do all the work financing the
land with the rent." he said.
     "So you invested with your brother on the ground floor,"
I assumed.
     "Three years ago," he said.
     "So what does Tod drive?" I asked.
     "Depends. He has seven cars. Last week I saw him in his
red Ferrari," he said.
     "Didn't he marry his high school sweetheart, Tuk-Tik?" I
asked.
     "Yeah, they have one kid-a girl. Tuk-Tik spends her
mornings down at the stock exchange day trading on Tod's tips,"
he said.
     "How's she do?" I asked.
     "According to her she makes two grand a day. But I heard,
last week she got burnt big betting on Siam Cement; so who
knows," he said.
     "And your mom and dad. I know they've been back together
for awhile and your dad got back into politics. Anything else
I don't know?" I asked.
     "Did Ta tell you about Japan?" he asked.
     "Not yet," I said.
     "Well my dad has a big project coming up that he has
already gotten approval for in the parliament. The Thai army
wants to buy a whole bunch of motion detectors and laser gear
to put on the borders with Laos, Burma, and Cambodia to detect
illegal migrant workers, gun runners, and drug smugglers. He     ***202
said something about since you were American and into computers
and he knows that you are a quick study maybe he would hire you
as a consultant for the trip," he said.
     "No shit," I said.
     "Yeah, go have Geisha girls spoon feed you and tour around
the country and get paid for it. But don't tell anyone I told
you. My father hasn't made any final decisions yet." he said.
     By now we had reached the front of the line where Sergeant
Daeng was waiting for me with my passport. Tik checked that it
was stamped for three months before giving it back to me. "TJ,
when you and my sister get remarried, you can change this to a
one year visa."
     "Okay," I said as I proceeded to walk to the top of the
escalator leading down to baggage clam.
     "Ta, Ta," I heard shouting from behind. Tik grabbed my arm
and pointed to where she was standing. She waved in her tan
tailor cut pants, high heals, and low cut blue satin blouse.
"You hurt my sister and you'll have to answer to me," he
whispered in my ear.
     I turned around laughing, "Tik the last time you tried
kicking me that kick didn't even have the power to kill a fly.
Don't worry bro," I said as I patted him on the back, "I've
already waited a lifetime to be with her. Hurting her would
break my heart."
     "That's good," he said, "You know TJ now that you're back
my parents are going to expect you to catch up with grand
children for them."
     "As long as Ta doesn't mind being on top for a while I'm
more than happy to give them that," I said.
     "Yeah, I heard about your accident. Too bad about your
car, if you had shipped it over here it would have been the
only one in Thailand, " he said.
     "True but I'm sure your sister is just happy to get me,"
I said.
     "Fucking right. I can't believe you survived that
accident," he said. 
     Ta watched me all the way down the escalator and all the
way across the floor until we were eye to eye and just both
smiled.
     "Calvin Klein jeans, cowboy boots and a white dress shirt.
That's a new look," she said.
     "Yeah, can you believe I was able to pick it out myself?"
I asked.                                                            ***203
     "Are you ready to go home?" she asked.
     "Depends on whether you are going to make me sleep in that
bedroom next to your parents again or not," I said.
     "Not anymore. I'm all yours," she said as she leaned in
grabbed my hand and closed her eyes for a kiss.
     I could taste the chaulkiness of her lipstick as I was sure
she could taste the bitterness of my wine.
     "Hairy are you going to stop drinking now?" she asked.
     "I have no reason to anymore," I replied.   
                                                               *