Once upon a time on a small university campus in Kansas, I was there for Senior Weekend – where seniors spend the weekend checking out the campus to decide whether they want to attend that university. One of the events for the weekend was a dance at the Student Union, which I attended with a friend. My only recollection of that night was seeing the most beautiful Asian man walk into the dance. He made the rounds, chatting with a few friends for maybe 15-20 minutes before leaving. Although he didn’t even dance with anyone, I never forgot his face.
Fast forward to nearly the end of my freshman year at that university (let’s say it was March or April), I was out at one of the local discos (this was the late 70’s, mind you!) and happened to see the same beautiful Asian man dancing up a storm. He was quite a good dancer, too! As luck would have it, one of my friends knew him. Somehow we ended up at an after party at his apartment. We were introduced and had a short conversation. We apparently were both attracted to each other, but were too shy to really do much about it at the time. A week or two later, he called me. When I asked how he got my number, he said that my friend told him that I’d been looking for him and gave him my number! I was somewhat mad at my friend, but mostly thankful. We had our first date and were inseparable from then on. As a matter of fact, when the semester ended, I stayed for summer school because I didn’t want to be away from him (although I’d told my parents that I would be home for the summer). In my eyes, it was fate – the beautiful man I’d seen a year earlier was now my boyfriend.
As it turned out, Noy was from Bangkok, Thailand. After graduating from high school in Bangkok, his father had sent him to a Catholic boys’ school in Kansas! Aside from being a talented dancer, he never lost at snooker, enjoyed playing tennis and bowling, dressed very nicely, and played card games and board games for hours on end with me. Even more surprising, he knew all the words to religious songs such as “Rock of Ages!” Prior to meeting him, I never ate spicy food. He schooled me on that, however! He was an excellent cook and made my food separate from his, as my spiciness tolerance level slowly increased. More than any of that, he was soft spoken and kind to a fault. He never cursed, raised his voice or had a bad word to say about anyone. We fell deeply in love very quickly.
We spent the next year together at university. At that time, he was living in a house off-campus with two male roommates – one from Colombia and one from Panama. The four of us were like one big family. Those days bring back such wonderful memories with Noy, my first true love.
Right before my junior year, Noy went home to Bangkok for the summer. He called me and sent me a few letters. When my junior year began, I transferred to California State University in Chico, California. I can’t even really recall why. I think I’d looked into an exchange program during the time that Noy and I had first started dating, but didn’t actually think it would happen. Well, it happened alright! I went off to Chico, while he stayed in Kansas. After one more semester, he transferred to a school in Arizona. His friend and he came to visit me over the holiday break while I was staying with a friend in Walnut Creek. At that time, he told me that he loved me, wanted to marry me, take me to Bangkok and have children. I felt the same way. During spring break, I flew to L.A., he picked me up there, we drove to Las Vegas, then on to Arizona.
At the end of my junior year, I “took a break” from college and moved to Casper, Wyoming, where my older brother was living. We were both working for oil companies. Sometime in those months, Noy moved to L.A. After 9 months or so, I got laid off from my job at the oil company. Once Noy found out, he suggested that I move to L.A. and live with him, so I did.
In May, 1981, I moved to L.A. to live with Noy, his younger brother and his brother’s girlfriend. The four of us lived in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment on the edge of Koreatown. A couple of years later, when his brother and his brother’s girlfriend broke up, he and I moved to our own apartment in West Hollywood. We added a Chow Chow named Kolohe Pea (“Naughty Bear” in Hawaiian) to our family. All in all, we lived together for nearly five years and, even with the bad times, those were the happiest years of my life.
I eventually broke up with Noy in March, 1986. The reasons why aren’t important any more. I was young and impetuous. He’d asked me to marry him several times, but I wasn’t quite ready. His parents came to visit a few times and wanted us to get married as well, but they couldn’t convince me to take the next step yet. When I broke up with him, he took it very hard. In fact, he took it much harder than anyone ever let on. I didn’t even know the full extent of how much he suffered until these past few years. He tried to get back with me a couple of times, but, once again, I needed more time. To be honest, my intention was always to get back with him. I’d often ask him things like “Will we still hold hands when we grow old together?” “Yes!” he’d assure me.
We always assume that we have time, yet time passes so quickly. The last time we saw each other in L.A. was probably in 1990 or 1991, if not before. I left L.A. in 1996 and moved (or rather, was transferred by my job) to San Francisco. From the time we’d broken up until about 4 years ago, I had various other boyfriends in both L.A. and San Francisco. Noy didn’t cross my mind that much during those years, as I assumed he’d moved on and gotten married. I got married and divorced, but that’s an entirely different story. After my divorce, I DID send a letter to Noy in Bangkok at the address he’d given me years before, but sadly never received a response.
In April of 2014, I began dreaming of Noy, night after night. Since my dreams of people usually portend bad news, I became worried and wondered if he’d died without my knowledge, so set about trying to find him again. Knowing Noy, I didn’t expect to find him on social media, but gave it my best shot. He had a Facebook account, which he hadn’t accessed for ages. I then racked my brain for the names of people who had known him. No one knew where he was, though. Thankfully, I finally remembered the name of his brother-in-law, who’s a professor at a university in the Midwest. The brother-in-law’s name was easily found on-line, but none of the phone numbers for him seemed to work. After a few more days, I finally found a working phone number, recognized his voice on the answering machine and left a message. He called me back promptly at 8:00 a.m. the next morning! He told me that Noy had moved back to Bangkok many years ago, had recently been in the hospital, but was now out and doing better. He asked if I was single, then informed me that Noy was single. He then asked if I’d ever been to Bangkok. I told him, surprisingly, that I would be going to Bangkok for the first time that October. He promised to have Noy get in touch with me and suggested that we spend time together in Bangkok. All in all, it had taken me about three weeks to find Noy. When Noy called me a few weeks later, we exchanged information and kept in touch.
That October I flew to Bangkok, had about a 3 hour layover, then continued on to Koh Samui. After 6 nights in Koh Samui, I flew back to Bangkok for one night. Noy picked me up at the airport. I was SOOO excited to see him again. Although he’s only a few years older than me, he’d aged quite a bit due to his many years of heavy smoking and drinking after we’d broken up. Yet he was still the same incredibly sweet man. We maybe had 3 or 4 hours together. He picked me up, took me to my AirBnB rental and hung out with me awhile. He left because he had to pick up his nieces from school and I had an early flight to Bali in the morning. During the week I was in Bali, we sent each other a few messages.
I was back in Bangkok after a week in Bali, but Noy wasn’t able to pick me up. The following morning, however, he came to my apartment and we went to the Grand Palace in a cab. During that time, he was concerned because I hadn’t eaten yet. As soon as we were done seeing the Grand Palace, he took me to eat something. He was then concerned that I might need to use the restroom, although he didn’t think the one at that particular restaurant was nice enough for me. We then moved on to see the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. While there, it began to rain a little. I remember that he opened his umbrella and pulled me close. At that moment, I felt complete love for him all over again. Since it was raining, we got dual foot massages at the massage school there. Our next stop was a flower market, where he bought me a ginormous bouquet of purple orchids. The next 3 days he took me to another temple outside of Bangkok, to Ayutthaya, to Chatachuk Market and to Chinatown. When his sisters found out that he’d gone shopping with me at Chatachuk and in Chinatown, they nearly fell over because Noy HATES shopping!!! For each of those 3 mornings, he even made breakfast at his house, then brought it to me at my apartment. He remembered exactly what I liked to eat, as well as how spicy I liked it. In addition, he brought a spare cell phone for me to use, as my cell phone was not reliable in Thailand.
At the end of that trip, he took me to the airport. We had a long conversation about our past, which caused both of us so many tears. We’d both been married and divorced, and both admitted that we still loved each other. I also worried because he was so frail and seemingly unhealthy. “I’m afraid that you might die before I ever see you again,” I cried. He insisted that he was fine, though. When it was time for me to leave and he walked me to the gate, I said “Tell me again!” “I love you, Tina.” That’s all I needed to know. Even so, I cried all the way to Taipei, then halfway back to San Francisco.
From that point on, we kept in touch via the Line app. Mostly we sent each other pictures and/or videos. Every so often, he’d write “I’m always love you, Tina.” I wrote “I love you, Noy” just as often.
My second trip to Bangkok was in May of 2015. He’d already made plans to take me to the Floating Markets and to a certain waterfall. In fact, I was going to stay at his house for the first night, as my AirBnb wouldn’t be available that night. As fate would have it, he caught the flu a few days before my arrival. It wasn’t in my best interest to see him or spend that first night at his house. I frantically booked a hotel the night before my flight. Noy sent his younger sister to pick me up at the airport and deliver me to my hotel, however. He also wanted me to call him right away, which I did. On that trip, I was in Bangkok for 3-4 days, went to Bali for 5 days, went to Cambodia for 5 days, then returned to Bangkok for a final 3 days. On my return to Bangkok, he picked me up at the airport, even though he wasn’t completely well. He said that he felt guilty that he wouldn’t see me at all if he didn’t pick me up that day. We were stuck in Bangkok traffic for about 2 hours before getting to my apartment. He couldn’t stay because it was rush hour, which would take FOREVER for him to get to his house. In addition, Bangkok was still under martial law and there was apparently a curfew for Thai citizens. That was the only time I saw him on that trip, although his birthday was the following day. He’d already told me that he wasn’t going out on his birthday, beings he still wasn’t completely healthy. He got up that morning to feed the monks at a temple, then went home and spent his birthday with his nieces, a sister and his best friend.
This year I was planning a trip to Bangkok in October. I’d already booked my AirBnB, as well as booking my flight from Bangkok to Denpasar and back. I hadn’t definitively told Noy yet.
At the beginning of March, I had scheduled a one week trip to Hawaii. At 5:45 a.m. on the day before my Hawaii flight, I received a message from Noy’s best friend saying that Noy had been in the hospital for two weeks, was seriously ill and might not survive the night. I was in shock. If someone had told me sooner, I would have cancelled my flight to Hawaii and already been in Bangkok. I then called Noy’s youngest sister and was crying over the phone. She told me that Noy was in ICU, but to try not to worry too much. She suggested that I call his older sister, who was at the hospital with him. The older sister didn’t answer her phone, but it was already somewhat late in Bangkok. There was nothing for me to do, except board my flight to Hawaii the following morning and wait for news.
Noy survived the night. For several mornings, I wrote messages to him on Line, which his younger sister promised to show him at the hospital. His condition stabilized. His best friend said that he was sleeping well and snoring. I made his best friend promise to kiss him ten times for me, as well as making his best friend and his sisters tell him how much I love him. In one of my last messages to him, I told him that I’d leave Hawaii on Thursday, but would fly to Bangkok on Monday, whether I lost my job or not. I just wanted to see him and needed him to be strong.
The Tuesday night I was in Hawaii, his best friend sent me a message that Noy had just passed. I was completely distraught and burst into tears. An hour later, his older sister sent me a message saying the same. I wandered down to Kuhio Beach in a daze and cast my lei into the ocean. That night the winds in Hawaii were incredibly strong and the waves were big; unusual for that area. It was also VERY cold. I cast my lei, then stood on the beach and cried. The lei came back to me. I cast it again, then sat and covered my face, continuing to cry. The lei came back to me again. I told myself that it was Noy’s way of saying that, even though he’s physically gone, he won’t leave me. I finally plucked the lei from the ocean and took it back to the apartment with me. I slept with the lei on my chest, even though there was sand all over the bed.
On Wednesday, after informing several people that had known Noy, I spent much of the morning in bed crying. I finally forced myself to get up and go out to eat and drink, though my heart wasn’t in it. I left Hawaii that Thursday afternoon, crying hysterically at the airport. When I was in the office on Friday, I explained the situation to my boss and told him that I was going to try and get a flight to Bangkok for Noy’s cremation. He understood and told me to take all the time I needed. Noy’s best friend said that the cremation was on Sunday morning and would be over by 3:00 p.m., but that it wasn’t necessary for me to go because Noy knew that I loved him. He didn’t answer when I asked him the name of the temple that it would be held at. It was tearing me up not having been there to hold Noy’s hand, to tell him “Goodbye” or to whisper in his ear that I will never love anyone the way I’ve loved him. I’d also sent a message to Noy’s sisters, but hadn’t heard back from them. Thus, I resolved to console myself with pizza, then to spend the remainder of the weekend crying in bed. Around 11:00 p.m., Noy’s older sister answered my message. She said that it was fine if I attended the cremation, that it BEGAN at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, gave me the name of the temple and asked what time my flight arrived. I would have had to have been on a 12:30 a.m. flight that Friday night/Saturday morning in order to arrive in Bangkok in time for the cremation. I explained that to her, but assured her that I would look for another flight. She said that, even if I missed the cremation, I could join the family at 6:30 a.m. on Monday to pick up his ashes at the temple, then take them to the Andaman Sea.
To make a very long story shorter, I found a flight and left San Francisco on Saturday afternoon to Bangkok via Beijing. The flight there was hell, to say the least. Also, precisely at the moment I imagined that they would be burning the body of the man that I love, I (once again) burst into tears. Although I realize that cremation is a tradition in their culture and that the spiritual self is more important than the physical self, it was so very hard for me. I loved his physical self nearly as much as I loved his spiritual self. His physical self had made love to me hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times. His were the arms that I’d fallen asleep in night after night, and his were the lips that kissed me every morning. And I still thought he was beautiful.
My flight arrived in Bangkok around midnight. By the time I’d gone through Customs, collected my luggage, exchanged currency and taken a cab to the hotel, I went to sleep at 2:30 a.m. and got up at 4:00 a.m. My taxi to the temple dropped me off NOWHERE near the temple, but, thanks to several non-English speaking security guards and a very kind woman on a bus, I DID manage to make it to the temple. Noy’s family took me under their wing, as I was the only non-family member allowed. I had a major breakdown at the temple when they brought Noy’s ashes, as well as another minor one when we were on the boat and his ashes were lowered into the sea. The rest of the time, I managed to rein it in because his family made me feel better, especially when we shared our memories of him.
His younger brother revealed that Noy was planning a trip to the U.S. in June of this year – for the first time in about 15 years. Now so many questions plague me. Was he coming for me? Would we have gotten back together? Would we finally have gotten married? I’d like to believe so. Once we reconnected, I simply wanted to be with him again. Even if we only remained friends, I wanted to be the one who took care of him – to make sure he ate more, drank less and got plenty of fresh air. I wanted to be the reason for his smile. Yet now, barely a year and a half after reconnecting, he’s gone.
I’m still devastated; the wound remains fresh. For the first time, I doubted God for a moment. Why would He take him? Is it because Noy was so good or because I’m so bad? I also finally understood why my Aunty gave up in December. Her boyfriend had died 3 years before and, when she became ill, she gave up on life and didn’t want to fight to survive any more, saying that she was ready to go and be with her boyfriend. Now I truly understand.
Of all the messages of condolences, the one that touched me the most was from someone that I have a love-hate relationship with. He wrote “I’m sending you my love, but I know it’s nothing in comparison to his.”