PiLee and PiChai’s wedding that year was a sumptuous affair. From wealthy European investors to Thai pop stars, Bangkok’s high society drifted into the downtown hotel and gathered around the pools in dazzling gowns and tuxes.
PiLee’s lacy designer gown was form-fitting and flattering. PiChai’s father, a lifelong advisor to King Bhumibol, toasted the couple with a champagne flute in hand, his face projected on a giant screen. Candles floated over the water. Strings of golden lights swayed from the trees. Waiters bustled around the bar. Then, Lee and Chai performed a beautifully choreographed waltz, complete with fog machines, to a song he had composed for her, “Kon Dee” (“Darling”). One of the stars in attendance serenaded them as they danced.
It had been a long road to love for both of them.
And they deserved nothing less than the resplendence and romance of that evening.
* * *
Karl Ove Knausgard once said in an interview with The Guardian Books that reading the autobiographical work of someone you know can be quite a shock. You discover how central your life is to you, and to virtually no one else.
Still, I do feel a little guilty. Lee and Chai hosted a beautiful wedding that was profoundly meaningful to them and to everyone there.
But what I remember most isn’t the glamour or the giggles I shared with my in-laws or PiLeng’s intensity as she readied her younger sister and fussed over every detail before the reception, right down to PiLee’s shoes.
Because it was a family wedding, my brother Allan had been invited as well, and the other guests assumed we were together. Top didn’t mind this at all. Lee introduced us to an old friend of hers from her flight attendant days and asked us to keep her company.
I found her friendly and intelligent, but after the first ten minutes, every time I spoke to her, Top jumped in and peeled off in Thai. Soon, the two of them were standing by the pool, alone, while I finished my dinner with my brother. I watched the young woman laugh, a ringing silvery laugh that echoed across the pool. And I wanted to leave right then. Walk right out of the courtyard and through the atrium and hail a taxi to the airport.
Take me home, I would say. Take me back to Seattle.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I finished eating. I walked up to Top. “Hey,” I said. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
He turned to face me and looked at me coldly. And then he turned back to Lee’s friend and continued in Thai. She stared at me for a moment, confused. I realized she had no idea who I was. She thought I was a white girl following them around, interrupting for no reason. Lost. Pathetic.
My hands began shaking. I didn’t know how to extricate myself from this without making a scene. By the time Chai’s father began giving his toast, I could hardly hold onto my champagne flute. Before he finished, the glass slipped out of my hand.
Up on the stage, he paused.
Everyone turned to look.
A waiter was already sweeping away the shards by my feet. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
I tried to help with the clean up but got only one piece of glass before the waiter plucked it from my hand and waved me off.
Everyone turned back to the stage, and the toast concluded.
I stood there helplessly as everyone raised their glasses.
I had nothing to toast with.
* * *
Top’s behavior was unforgivable. It was rude and cruel and calculated.
For the second time, I returned to the United States knowing I had to end it. But this time I’d had more practice with saying no. And I had learned from the first time. I knew he might stalk me again. He might try any number of ways to coerce me. This time, I told myself, I would be prepared.
So I began to formulate a plan. I told no one but Allan and his roommate, whom I swore to secrecy.
This time, I would get away.
And this time, I would make it.
Years later, I told my therapist Sarah that it had felt so wrong. So duplicitous, I had said. Like I was doing something awful.
“Well, what choice did he leave you?” She asked. “You had tried to end it before by being honest with him, and that hadn’t worked. So what alternative was there?”
Looking back, I know there wasn’t any.
Looking back, I only wish I had been colder. Crueler. Even more duplicitous.
Maybe it would have saved me.