I don't know how much detail I should add to this entry, since the memories of it are so haunting. But after this all occurred, I have had to share the anecdote with many people I have met, just to get it off my chest, even though the sharing of the details time and again makes me revisit what I saw.
On my visa run to Malaysia , I went to Penang to revisit the fun I had with Parwaiz, Shah, and Dan several months ago. Stayed at the Banana Guest House as I did before. Saw the crazy band with the hen and rooster groupies down the road. Ate the spicy mexican food from the angry looking chef. All should have been mellow and fine in crazy old Penang.
While sitting at one of the sidewalk tables on afternoon, a man approached me to ask if he could share the table. No worries. Travelers meet people and share space all the time. His name was Tim. From Seattle. 40. Married to a Thai woman and lives on a farm now. Proud alcoholic (sat down with several beers in hand). Recovering heroin addict. The afternoon was spent with his full disclosure of the life of an addict. The prisons both in Thailand and the States. The OD's where his friends would drive up to the ER, throw him out of the car, and drive away, the visible 'track marks' all over his body from the needles. The cyst scars he burnt off himself from veins getting clogged. His regret of spending hours and months and years in parking lots of Safeways waiting for the dealer to arrive. His body's tolerance to death from it. His month in Singapore 'dying' through detox at a friend's house. His learning curve on how to be an alcoholic (don't binge, eat before, pace yourself, etc). How he fell into the addiction (after a work accident and a month in the hospital on oxycontin and morphine). I mean, this guy was an open book. He kindly obught me some beers on his runs to the market. He then asked me if I wanted some Valium, as the parmacy across the street sold it OTC. I said no thanks. He complimented me on my good looks. His speech began to slur. We said goodbye and he stumbled across the road.
The next day, I bumped into him in a computer lab after breakfast. The desk surrounding him already was littered with empty beer cans at 10:30am. He asked me to help him set up a skype account. When doing the test call and asked to speak into the mic, all he said was, "Im drunk! Im drunk!". He bought me a bottle of Coke on his run to the market for more beer. I thanked him and went on my day.
I walked to Little India neighborhood and bought myself a lovely cotton sari. I then ventured over to a park by the water, where I met a 70 year old Chinese Malay man named Wong. He is a widower, and seemed to just want to chat and have some company. I agreed to join him for lunch, and we dined at a delicious Chinese place on the other side of Penang overlooking the Straits of Malacca. Most of the conversation involved stories of how he met his wife, their travels together, and essentially, the lovely life they shared together for 18 years. The afternoon wore on as he took me to his beautiful flat to show me pictures of her. Is this what old age brings? A lifetime of memories to cling to with not much happening at the present?
Wong drove me back to the Banana where we met a nice Italian girl named Tessa who joined us for dinner later. We dined at another open air seaside sort of market with many food stalls to choose from. My bus to Phuket to meet Denise was early the next morning, so I needed to return and get some shut eye.
Back at the Banana, I sit and talk with Tessa and some other Italians she had met before on the road (for those of you reading who do not know, backpackers run into each other time and maybe again on their routes. It's rather amazing to have someone be your neighbor over the Mekong River in Laos and then bump into them at a trance party on a Thai island, but that is one of the many examples that truly happened to me). I go to say thank you and goodbye to Wong inside, where I see him and several other people congregated in the back. Now it is important to know that the Banana has an open store front, and there is no door into the cafe area. The view from the street allows you to see the entire space.
Tim is sitting in a chair, slumped to one side, obviously passed out. When we first arrived back at the Banana, I had noticed him enter through the corner of my eye, but had just thought to myself, "oh, there is that drunk guy Tim". That couldnt have been more than 10 minutes before I came to this scene. About six people are just sort of standing around him and someone says to me,
And I said, "What do you mean he's dead?"
"I mean he has a needle in his arm and there is a spoon on the table. He has no pulse and his fingers are blue and cold and he wet himself".
I fucking flipped out. The guy OD'd in a public place in Malaysia. The guy spent hours the day before telling me about how rotten that life is and his regrets about it. He told me about his wife. He told me about his family he was going to visit in the States.
I ran from the scene, but still have that image of him slumped in the chair etched in my mind. I ran back to the Italians to tell them what happened. I was shaking. We sat at the guesthouse next door at a sidewalk table and shared the intensely horrible moment. It took the police about an HOUR to show up. And in the meantime, I believe his body just sat there, where he died. Because of the layout of the place and the view from the street, loads of people started to come and gawk. I'd say there was 100 people by the time the cops came. Just standing around gawking at a dead guy. How sick.
So that is the story. I keep wondering how his family in the States finds this out. If his Thai wife ever finds out. Where his body goes. Where he found the drugs. How someone does that. But I will never know...