Seven Days in Bali
By: Abeer Fahim
Two simple words that she never wanted to hear again. He said “thank you” after six years of marriage and leaving her for another woman. He walked into their house one evening and said he didn’t love her anymore. It was so matter-of-fact, like he was ordering a pizza.
“A peperoni, yes, please, extra olives. Thank you.”
She arrived in Chicago O’Hare three hours before her flight. Bali bound. A suitcase and a mind full of questions. Ghosts of a man who said “thank you” haunted her as she almost reluctantly used the same words to thank the cab driver and made her way into the terminal. A 35-year-old woman whose divorce was finalized just one month ago. Her long auburn hair was tied up in a bun and her white sleeveless lace top and jeans complimented her seemingly effortless look. The truth is there was nothing effortless about this outfit. She had gone through at least ten outfits until she chose this one that had very few memories attached to it. What are fresh beginnings, after all, if you wear an outfit that is a constant reminder of him.
There was a very slim chance, anyway, that she could forget him. It was like her life had suddenly turned into the signs in Times Square. Everything was so bright, prominent, unforgettable. It was like she was surrounded by HD digital billboards that said “You are now divorced. He said thank you. Then he left. Good luck.” There a was a picture on the billboard of her now ex-husband, Allen. He smiles, and with a slightly sympathetic look, waves goodbye. That’s life, isn’t it? Every grand entrance has a grand exit. The exit wasn’t even as grand as she thought it would be, and yet it clung to her unrelentingly. She wanted a fight. Just one fight. Even maybe just an argument. But nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just “thank you.”
Journal Entry 1: Pre-Bali
Lara August 20, 2016.
What is love? And how can someone love you and then leave you? And how can love turn from everything to nothing? And is it fair to be abandoned? And why do we fear being alone? And who is to say I’m better off alone? Did I really want him to leave me? Maybe, just maybe, I could have been ok with his affair for a while. Why did he have to leave so quickly? So many men have affairs. She’s blond. I know that. She’s beautiful. I know that too. And now I’m here. A suitcase and a trip to Bali. A trip to Bali we had booked together. Yes, it was our trip to Bali. Our getaway. Our sixth anniversary. Then someone tells me I should put up a post on Facebook and give away my second ticket to a stranger. Allen gave me his ticket. Go on a trip with a stranger. Someone who wants to visit Bali. So I posted “One free ticket to Bali. Someone who is willing to have some good conversations is welcome. Not a total stranger. That would scare me. But someone in any of my friends’ circles perhaps?” I didn’t want to go with a friend. I didn’t want someone who knows me too well. I wanted someone different. I wanted a fresh perspective on a life I no longer understood. I got 25 messages. And long story short, I chose one woman. She’s 67. She never left America. She got a divorce thirty years ago and she said this “I’m 67, probably won’t be out on the town with you all night, but if you want some good conversations, I can promise you that.” I don’t know exactly why I chose her. Perhaps it was her divorce. Perhaps I sensed we have something in common. It turned out she is a friend’s mother. That was good to know. I sent her the ticket and we arranged to meet at the airport in front of the check-in counter. She lives in Michigan and we never had the opportunity to get together. She studied literature and you could definitely see her passion for books. Anyway, who am I talking to? Will anyone read this one day? Perhaps.
Lara, September 8, 2015. Chicago O’Hare
After a half hour wait, Eleanor finally arrived. Lara had never met Eleanor in person. They communicated through some Facebook messages and a couple of phone calls, mostly about the logistics of the trip. Eleanor lived in Michigan for the past seven years since she left Illinois and and Lara never really thought of visiting her before the trip. Lara still found it strange that she had actually posted that message on Facebook, asking for a travel companion for what would have been her tenth anniversary trip. Her life suddenly seemed like one big joke. But there she was, in the airport, about to speak to Eleanor in person for the first time. Eleanor wore a light pink pair of trousers, a white silk shirt, and pearl earrings. Her short hair looked like it had just been dyed a light brown, and she wore black eyeliner. And yet, there was a warmth to her, the wrinkles around her eyes, her lightly freckled cheeks, and her smile.
“Hello young lady. Sorry I’m late!” Lara hadn’t thought of herself as a young lady for a very long time.
“Hi Eleanor. No worries at all. It’s really nice to see you.” She paused then said, “thank you again for coming.”
“A lovely lady like yourself and a free ticket. I feel 30 again!”
“Well, I’m really glad you came. It should be fun.”
Two days ago, Lara lay in her bed at her parents’ house, feeling more broken than she had ever felt before. She wanted him back. She wasn’t as angry about the affair as much as she was longing to have him back. There was something so cruel about the emptiness he left behind. It wasn’t just emptiness. It was an emptiness so alive in its darkness, weighing heavily on her shoulders, her heart, her soul. She suddenly couldn’t remember what it was like to live alone. To be an “I” instead of a “We”. She could move back in with her parents for a while, but she wasn’t ready for the conversations, the incessant questions, “How are you feeling” “He’s a horrible man, forget about it.” “You’ll get over it.” She preferred being alone over having to discuss her relationship every day.
And now, the trip to Bali. How kind of him to have given her an extra ticket. A reward for 10 years of marriage. August 21st, their wedding anniversary. August 18, traveling to Bali with a stranger. Seven days. Seven days of reliving every memory of him and imagining what it’s like for him to be with another woman, to share his secrets with her. That’s not why she got married- for him to leave her one day. She got married for ‘forever’.
That night, as she cried in the darkness, she wished she could turn back time to figure out where it all went wrong. But there was no turning back time.
All that was left was silence.
There was still half an hour till boarding. Eleanor was reading a book, “Top 100 inspirational quotes.” Lara quickly wiped a few tears that had escaped her eyes and watched people passing by.
“Are you a fan of inspirational quotes?” Eleanor asked as she looked up at Lara.
“Yes. I liked a few inspirational pages on Facebook. These quotes often show up on my newsfeed. They’re helpful sometimes.”
“You are what you read,” Eleanor said.
“I guess so. I keep a journal. I like to write about my experiences and sometimes I add quotes there. I’ll be writing about this trip. Hoping to maybe write a book one day.”
“Maybe the journal for this trip will be the book,” Eleanor said with a smile, “Just don’t forget to describe me as the most beautiful sixty-seven year-old woman you’ve ever seen.”
Lara laughed for the first time in days, “Sure I will. You are very beautiful.”
“And you are going to be fine. Amanda told me about the divorce. I’m not sure if you want to talk about it.”
“I don’t mind talking about it. It’s just been really difficult. Far worse than I imagined.”
“Relationships are messy. And affairs are very difficult to deal with. But denial isn’t going to help either. Go to Bali with an open mind. Be prepared to face your fears and embrace what comes your way.”
“I’ll try. I’m just not sure what it will be like when we get there. I apologize in advance if I’m really bad company. Living the moment is tough for me right now. I’m also very, very afraid of geckos. And I hear there’s lots of them there. Allen had promised me he’ll take care of that. I don’t know how. But he said he’ll take care of it. He always took care of things for me. I don’t really know why I’m even going.”
Lara covered her face with both hands, her elbows on her knees, her body slowly shaking back and forth. Eleanor put her hand on Lara’s shoulder. “Lara. Everything takes time. But every wound can heal.”
A voice from a microphone said, “We are now boarding flight……”
“Let’s go,” Eleanor said, “Let’s begin.”
The trip to Bali was going to take them over 22 hours. Lara had been dreading the trip. She was not a fan of sitting on a plane for too long and almost cancelled the trip in the last minute. She packed a new journal and a few books. She figured she could spend a few hours writing, a few hours reading, and some time speaking with Eleanor. What she didn’t expect was that she would spend hours speaking to Eleanor.
“I wasn’t sure I could handle the long hours on the plane,” Eleanor said as she sipped her tomato juice.
“I wasn’t either. I almost cancelled the trip to be honest.”
“What? Cancel the trip because of the long journey? Really?”
“Yes. I was worried about what it would feel like to be trapped for hours. It’s good to be able to walk around when I get anxious or start thinking about Allen.” Lara was surprised that she had opened up so quickly about her relationship. But there was something about Eleanor. Something that made her want to speak to her about everything.
“I understand. But you know… you’re going to have to make peace with stillness. Going for a walk is good of course. But if every time you want to forget your relationship, you have to go for a walk, that’s not really good either. Maybe some Yoga or mindfulness can help with this.”
“Yes. I’ve already signed up for a few classes at the resort.”
“I know I’m a lot older, but Yoga has done wonders for me. I probably don’t do it as well as you do. I don’t stress too much about getting the poses right. I just focus on my body and try to see what I’m still capable of doing. It’s really helped.” Eleanor paused and sipped more of her juice then said, “May I ask…When did you find out about the affair?”
“I never did. He told me. He told me he met someone else and he wanted a divorce. He also said thank you. He thanked me. I hate that he thanked me.”
“My dad had an affair,” Eleanor said.
“Do you want to hear the story?”
“Yes. I really do.”
“It was a beautiful summer day. June 1965. I was sixteen years old. We were well-off. Dad had worked in a bank for years and mom was a math teacher. I went to school only about ten minutes away from home. That day, I went to see a friend after school and she and her brother walked me home. As I walked home, I spotted dad’s car on a nearby street. I could see from a distance that there was a woman inside. I thought perhaps my aunt. Of course, it wasn’t. As I got closer, I saw my dad kiss the woman. It all happened so quickly. My friend and her brother were only a few steps behind me. I turned around and walked as fast as I could back home. Later that day, my friend who was with me earlier, Annabel, came to see me. She told me she had overheard her parents talk about my father’s affair but didn’t want to tell me. But now that I had seen it, there was a lot more that she could tell me about it. I was very close to my dad, and it was very difficult for me to understand why he would do this to us or to mom. And I decided that she had to know. Even if this would destroy us, and I knew it could, I felt it was unfair for her to live a lie. I cried for days. I questioned my decision, but at the end, I sat down and wrote the letter. A letter from an anonymous person to my mother. I would leave it in the mailbox around the time mom gets home and checks the mail. It was a short letter. A few details. A few references to times when dad was out of town – for some credibility. I wanted her to know and to believe that dad was having an affair, but I didn’t want her to know that I knew. That would hurt her more than anything else. I imagined the divorce. Who would I live with? Where would I live? Would I go back to the same school? Would we be the talk of the town? Were we already the talk of the town? Mom came home that afternoon and checked the mailbox and found the letter. I was in my room, but peering from behind the door. I could see mom at the dining table. She put her bag down and sat down and opened the envelope. My heart beat so fast. I saw her read the letter. I saw tears streaming down her face. It made me wonder if she had known all along. It made me wonder if this was that final piece of the puzzle, that she could put everything together now, all his meetings out of town, how he never kissed her when he came home any more, his cold demeanor. She sat there for what seemed like forever. I watched her. I wanted to run over and hug her and tell her she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. But I just stood there. And what happened next, I will never forget. She tore the letter into tiny pieces. She walked outside and threw it away and came back into the house wiping her tears. She sat back down and took a few deep breaths. I could hear and feel her breathing. After a few minutes, she called me, “Eleanor!” I walked to the living room, pretending I was fine, pretending it was just another day. “Let’s make dinner. Daddy will be home soon!” She smiled and walked to the kitchen. I followed her in disbelief. Are we really cooking dinner for dad? Is this what dad gets for cheating on her? For betraying her after eighteen years of marriage? He gets dinner? I thought perhaps she was just in denial. Just for a while. Or perhaps she didn’t want me to see her anger. I played along. Dinner for dad. But when dad came home, nothing changed. Not once. Not ever.”
Lara shook her head in disbelief, “You mean she didn’t say anything? Not even one question? She just carried on?”
“Yes, she did. She just carried on.”
“I don’t think I could ever hide how I felt about something like this. I’ve considered forgiving him for the affair. I have. But to not say anything about it. If I had found out myself, I can’t imagine doing that.”
“You see, Lara, there’s no one way of doing anything. And the one thing I know for sure is that love is not constant. It changes. And what you thought you would never do becomes what you do without even thinking. That’s why they say, never say never.”
“But what about the vows, the promises, the commitment? Why leave it all behind? There were opportunities to work on our marriage. There’s therapy. There’s so much we could have done. And he threw it all away. Your dad never told your mom, did he?”
Eleanor shook her head, “Never.”
“Perhaps he loved her more than Allen has ever loved me.”
“Allen was honest with you. Isn’t honesty part of love? My dad betrayed my mom, but stayed with her. Is staying what makes him loving? I’ve read countless stories in my life and I’ve analyzed characters and I’ve thought of themes and I’ve thought of life. Studying literature for so many years opened up my eyes to how complex humans are and how impossible it is to define feelings, experiences, as just one thing, one way, one perspective. Every character I’ve read has loved a love so different from the other. And I’ve found that imposing a definition of love on anyone is useless. Every person comes with a story that defines who he or she is, and that story is a backdrop to the love they give and the love they receive. And if we open our minds, we may be able to forgive ourselves and to forgive others, simply because our definitions of love are not the same.”
“So I should forgive Allen for betraying me?”
“No. Not necessarily. Though forgiveness is for you, not for him. And if you choose to do it, you are healing your heart, not his. You should forgive him for selfish reasons. But it’s not what this is all about. If you forgive but you never understand, the forgiveness will not last long. If you forgive and run away and deny what happened, it will live with you for the rest of your life.”
“So, what are you suggesting I do Eleanor?”
“Face your fear of loss, one day at a time. Face it head on. Don’t let it become a monster. Dare yourself to do one thing a day in Bali, one thing a day that you never thought you could do. A dare a day. It could be simple. But do it. And don’t deny your feelings of anger or hurt. But let those be the backdrop to this story. You’re going to be writing while you’re there, right?”
“Yes, I will.”
“7 days in Bali. A dare a day. How does that sound?”
Lara smiled, “How big does that dare have to be?”
“As big or as small as you want it to be. Doing something daring simply means doing something that you would usually be afraid to do. You’re afraid of geckos, right? If you find one, dare yourself to look at it. Dare yourself not to ask someone to remove it from your room.”
“No way! I can’t do that!”
“You can do what you want, when you want it.”
Eleanor sounded firm. Lara sensed a resilient spirit in her. She wanted to ask Eleanor how her marriage had ended, what she had been doing on her own for all these years, if she was ever lonely, if she was ever afraid, but they still had seven days in Bali to talk about everything.
Instead, Lara opened her journal and wrote “7 Days in Bali: A Daring Existence”.
END OF CHAPTER 1.
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Copyright: All rights reserved. Abeer Fahim, 2017. No part of this material can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means other than sharing through the means provided by the author (sharing from the website to Facebook or other social media). For any other forms of sharing, permission must be obtained from the author.
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About the Author: Abeer Fahim is Assistant Professor of Literature and founder of Juliet Turns the Page, an inspirational literary project that has over 153,000 fans on Facebook.