How I tell the story, really depends on my mood. If it is a light occasion, I can joke about the “Typhoon in Thailand,” but other times I avoid the memories. Otherwise, he will be there, later that night, standing over my bed again, soaked in water, dripping onto my face, holding his head together with his hands. His eyes are somehow dry and the look on his face is that of shame, disappointment, realization.
Bangkok was beautiful, full of foreign scents and jeweled glinting buildings. It was rare for me to have time alone with my dad. We could be men together, as he would say. We could experience a country supple to our will and money without her around to kill the buzz. She would try to keep us on some insane schedule of sights, treasures, and worse of all, shopping. Dad never fussed over my hair, my black t-shirt collection, my unwashed jeans, and the smell of my feet when I took off my shoes.
We arrived in never-ending night. The air seemed strange, electric in a way I had never felt. It started raining lightly as we were settling into our hotel. Luckily, we had full service where we were staying. Dad liked to hit the bar as soon he could and I could listen to my headphones while eating dinner and not have to ask to be excused. I ate quickly so that I could go to my room and lay down.
Later, I awoke with a start. The window shades were banging and rattling. I heard huge claps of thunder. Between flashes of light, I saw that Dad’s bed was untouched, still made. I heard water pouring into our bathroom and the sounds of glass breaking. I looked around the room for a safe hiding place but all I wanted to do was leave, leave, leave and find my dad.
The intense smell of my feet wafted up to me and I tried not to gag, I fumbled under the bed between the claps and flashing and finally found a damp pair of Chuck Taylors. I remembered that I had left my army jacket hanging on the front door and grabbed it on my way down the hallway. I started to run in a panic, my stomach dropping and my heart beating heavily and quickly. Finally, I started to hear murmurings of other hotel guests and workers the closer I got to the lobby.
I ran down the grand staircase into a few feet of water rushing through the first floor of the hotel. The front desk had been abandoned as well as the bar. There was no sign of my father. People were dashing about in the corners of my vision, but I couldn’t focus on anything that wasn’t immediately in front of me. Before I started to panic fully, one of the waiters that I recognized from the restaurant grabbed my shoulders and said, “You must come with us. We will keep you safe.”
“Dad. My dad.”
“Come with me. We will be safe.”
I felt that I had no other choice but to go with this person. His eyes were worried and his face ashen, but I willed myself to trust him. I had never seen this much water in my life and yet, I wanted to swim across the ocean to get back home. He started to walk away from me as if to follow, but I was bolted to the ground.
“You must come,” he said as he grabbed my hand gently as if to a child. I let myself be led through a door on the side of the staircase. It wasn’t as nice as the guest stairs, with harsh white lighting and institutional green paint on the walls. As we climbed flight after flight of stairs, the light began to flicker and shut off completely. I stopped in my steps.
“We are close now.” I felt his hand find my arm and pull me up a few more steps to another door and through to a different hallway. He led me to a room with groups of people huddled together. I heard snippets of many different languages. I made my way toward what sounded like English and I could hear the low tones of a familiar voice.
“Dad!” The voices in the room got a little quieter and then louder.
“Son, I’m so glad you found me.” I embraced my father hard and without embarrassment.
“Me too. Me too. If it wasn’t for that guy…” I turned to look, but could only make out shapes in the dark. My heart finally slowed and there was a growing pain in my chest, pushing on my lungs making it harder to breathe.
We all heard a shrieking cry coming from outside, even though we were on a high floor. I ran to a covered window and pushed aside some of the furniture to look out onto the street that had a rushing flood running through it. Then I saw him, a man, a total stranger holding onto his bleeding head with his hands, being carried along the stream. He looked toward our hotel with desperate eyes but couldn’t reach or hold onto anything to keep himself from being swept along. At first, he looked surprised and then hopeless and then resolute. There was nothing we could do but watch and hope that his fate was as swift as the current that took him across our path.
Great post! Whether you’re far from home or right at home during a hurricane, you never forget the feeling of helplessness.