I have to go to Hong Kong on Monday, which is something I’ve tried to avoid for four years. This isn’t because I do not like Hong Kong (quite the opposite), it is simply that I can be funny about going back to Places Where Things Happened.
I’ve written about this ad nauseam – about being at the Intercontinental, and having one of the first moments of knowing for certain that my marriage wasn’t going to work. Hong Kong, as I’ve said, was the tipping point; the beginning of the end.
Earlier in the day of The Moment, we’d gone to the top of Victoria Peak like proper tourists, and he’d snapped a few photos of me, as if he was trying to remember me.
Our outing was stilted, strange; we talked at length in rational terms about how he was falling back in love with me, and how I was as cold as ever. He recounted the story of how he’d told his first girlfriend he loved her, and how she’d taken three weeks to say it back. I said One knows, or one does not.
In that same vein, I wondered how, as of the day we’d left, some stranger had left a toothbrush on our shared sink, and it had taken weeks to determine that the toothbrush didn’t actually belong to anyone who lived in our house because neither of us ever asked simple, obvious, quotidian questions like “Whose toothbrush is that?”
I suppose every relationship has those what are we doing here? moments. Having witnessed some epic battles between my own parents (like The Time They Threw Chinese Food At Each Other And It Wasn’t Funny), I am confident that even the individuals in the marriages I most admire occasionally look at each other and go, no, seriously, WTF?
Someone recently asked me, How did you know when to stop trying? How did you know when it was over?
And the answer was, and is, you just know. It isn’t simply that you’ve become tired of folding socks instead of balling them because he can’t stand to have the elastic stretch differently between the pair. It isn’t that you love constant motion and he’d gladly sleep-in till 2pm. It isn’t being angry, or annoyed, or rubbed raw by circumstance. And I suppose, for me, it wasn’t even an impasse, because I’ve known couples who’ve lived unhappily ever after in a stalemate, but have survived in that place because they’ve never reached the point of knowing.
So, in the hours after our lunch, I saw Andrew with the cigar on the balcony, and my heart lurched; gasped. It was a loneliness I couldn’t then place and cannot now describe. It was the last moment in which he was familiar.
Fast forward exactly four years and one week, and here I am, getting ready to get on a plane to Hong Kong again. The trip is all business — dizzyingly business, in fact — but I am a woman who is awkwardly sensitive to place.
Back in 2008, at some point before we made it to Hong Kong, Andrew and I had been in a tourist town in the middle of China. It was a little bit off the beaten path for Americans to have visited. We were among the only Westerners — us and a handful of Australians (if you travel, you will inevitably run into them). In the town square had been these funny, wooden Tibetan bells hanging on a gazebo, and our guide told us that you were supposed to ring them and make wishes.
I think Andrew thought this was a bit uninteresting. But when he retired to the hotel room early, I went back to the square and immediately made my way to the bells.
I walked underneath them a few times, running my hands along their wooden tongues and listening to their dull tinkle. My life had become so strange, and chaotic; I was on the cusp of a monumental change. So I wished what was on my heart, which was that Andrew would be happy. And that I would find a job that I loved, since when I got back to New York, I would be out of work. And I wished some things for Frederic too. But there was nothing I could wish for me and Andrew — which was telling.
Then I went back to the hotel, and had peanuts and diet coke for dinner, which was common in those days. And then for a long time — even by the time we got to Hong Kong — I forgot about the bells. Four years later, all those wishes have come true. I’ve said before that I don’t make wishes. But back then I was so desperate; so broken; so confused and hopeless that wishing seemed as good a solution as any.
So I am headed back to Hong Kong in a few days as a very different woman; one with different hopes and dreams, needs and wants; a whole new set of complexities. It seems a bit strange. But I am a woman who returns to the scenes of past hurts to resolve them, and perhaps this is how that part of this story ends.