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The rain has ceased momentarily in Phnom Penh, the outside heathered, fogged as an Autumn evening in Washington- a sliver of verdant trees visible through the window.

I sit on an oversized bed, crisp white sheets with the methodic swirl of the fan above me. Shrill cries of children playing outside, putter of motos skittering across the wet ground, a sporadic mewl of the cat somewhere on the premises of the villa next door. It has been a fatigued yet sanguine past six days in the city reconnecting with the place I once called home.

This morning was spent under the warm lights of The Tiger’s Eye, overly caffeinating with frothy lattes and Americanos, fuelling myself with poached eggs: gorgeous, bright orange yolks spilling out and smoothie ripe with fleshy coconut and muddled basil. I nuzzled puppies and laughed with friends. Chatted pursuits, impressive endeavours (Abodia) and massively exciting growth (tonlé), wrung hands over the election and listened to stories- all types of stories. Of rueful past loves, of success, of infatuation, of misplacement.

As I looked into the irises of each person, among the confection of their dewy skin and half cocked smiles and smatters of lovely freckles and streaks of black eyeliner and glittering earrings and papier-mâché lips and stubbled cheeks- I hear a similar story. A familiar story that follows me from home in Washington, from the mouths of colleagues and friends and acquaintances, sometimes even strangers. That of heartbreak. Mourning and loss cross seas and speak every language, in every tone, knows no boundaries, and discriminates against none.

I listen to these dramas and histories fully engulfed in each miniature memoir of a relationship dashed,  years or months or days once plump with hopes and plans and dreams, then diminished to a memory. Sometimes bitter, sometimes wistful, sometimes congenial, sometimes furious, sometimes a mixture of each emotion across the spectrum. And it is terrifying, and it is an awakening of what I had forgotten.

It can be so easy to misplace (or bury) the almost pleasurable (anything but, really) rush of something (annoyance? rage? sadness?) when faced with something unpleasant or maddening from another human being. Time heals all wounds, or so they say. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say. These recollections that I carried with me from people back home mixed anew with these fresh confessions and private peeks into the diaries of lives has splintered, if only just barely, part of me that hasn’t been affected in years.

Tilting down the rose-tinted glasses and surveying the underbelly is exhausting. It’s not nice to feel the negative side effects after swallowing the big pill. And yet we do it, over and over again. If I hadn’t seen firsthand the utterly ridiculous magic of a happy marriage or relationship (plural, as time goes on and it seems I grow up a little)  I’d give in to a life of solitude, save half a dozen Golden Chinchilla Persians and enjoy being annoyed at things I bring upon myself.

But then I remember the glimpses that catch my breath, as an outsider looking in- or maybe even find myself part of now. Unspoken acknowledgment of something I don’t understand through a movement between two. Simple glance that screams I love you. Tender brush of the hand, hair moved from cheek. Heavy sigh, filled with adoration. Intimate moment, putting groceries in their proper place. Glint of gold, ring finger occupied. Lingering gaze, across the room. Flushed cheeks, jealous of another’s touch too low on the back. Playful glare, inside joke. Hushed whisper, lover’s secrets.

Stories were once written with these moments as sentences, chapters- making up a conjoined biography, a unified play. Sometimes the next act penned out, characters poised and ready for the impending scene whether tragedy or comedy- both really the same in the end. Sometimes the curtains are drawn and everyone exits stage left, no encore and no applause.

I envision these scenes sensationally, on the edge of my seat- waiting for the next as I listened and listened. Many times terrified, many times soothed; I wait to see our name in lights.

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