This Was My Plan
I would come out to my fundamentalist family just before catching a plane to Bangkok. I’d saved up for three years so I could drink Mai Tais, snorkel, and sunbathe, while I let heated feelings cool back home.
In Bangkok, I went to a few nightclubs, but for a small town boy, they were too noisy and crowded. The beaches down South were better, but I soon got bored. Then one night I overheard some travellers talking about a monastery up North that taught insight meditation. Their faces glowed.
I figured I could use insight before returning home, so I took a night train north and the next morning I stood at the golden monastery gate. A tall shiny white stucco fence surrounded the compound, and within were several temples with pointed, jagged roofs. I decided then for sure that this was where I needed to be.
A young monk named Lek appeared and introduced himself. He showed me around, explaining the practice. We meditated together, and after, he invited me to lunch.
Under a banyan tree, we sat in silence, eating rice and curries prepared by nuns. Then Lek took my hand and held it a long time, touching each finger. “So large,” he said. “So beautiful.”
I felt my throat knot. It was the first time a boy had held my hand. We looked at each other, and I knew. Then I looked down and noticed tiny X’s cut into Lek’s arms.
“What are those?” I asked.
“When I’m bad,” he said, releasing my hand, “I make a mark.”
“Is that Buddhist?” I asked.
“No, it’s my way.”
“To stop thoughts,” he said. Then he stood up and looked away.
“You okay?” I asked.
“I should go,” he said and led me out.
* * *
The next morning, I returned, I couldn’t find Lek at first. Then I caught him exiting the temple.
“I’m here,” I said. “To stay. To meditate.”
“Sorry,” Lek said, looking down. “There’s no room.”
I wanted to tell him that I’d also come to be with him, to spend the afternoons together, to find some private place beyond the stupa where we could kiss. How could the Buddha be against love?
But I could see the stubbornness in his eyes.
“I have to go,” he said. “May you have good luck.” He turned and began to walk away. He was not even going to lead me to the gate.
It was then I saw a new X on his arm, just below the others. I knew I was the cause of it, which was worse than any of the words I’d hear back home.
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Nathan Alling Long
Nathan Alling Long lives in Philadelphia and teaches creative writing at Stockton University in New Jersey. The recipient of a Mellon Foundation Fellowship, a Truman Capote Literary Trust Scholarship, and three Pushcart Prize nominations, Nathan has work in various journals, including Tin House, Glimmer Train, The Sun, and Indiana Review. His collection of short stories, Everything Merges with the Night, was a finalist for the Hudson Book Manuscript Prize and is currently seeking publication. For more information and other stories and essays, please visit http://wp.stockton.edu/longn/.