After three flights and all sorts of gruelling hours of all sorts of travel, they were there, offering views of cars streaming, blurred and bright, through future-streets and hugs spiked with bristly beards and affection, of children exercising under the crispest morning sun, glimpses of the future under polluted dawn skies, accompanied by the smell of thrice-worn socks roasting on a radiator.
There was a time during my travels in China when I did not write. I did not put pen to paper, did not type into these smart little machines, didn’t allow dialogue to bounce around in my mind or words that connected to anything much to leave my mouth.
This time was filled with broken sentences, stuttered syllables, undefined emotions, and an inability to communicate with myself or others; a grey lake, brooding, a puddle only reflecting, a low-down dirty dog, matted and weary and a little lost. I was working through some shit, adrift from language and expression.
I was clogged with exhaustion, infection, and the blackheads of transition, the ugly unknowns that change can bring. Luckily, I had two of the finest men to find me out there, against the odds, in the wilds of Western China. They met me with a cold beer in a room high above a city.
They carried me to buses, allowed me to press my face to glass and freeze and wake and warm cheek-to-cheek with this immense new world. They let me walk among desolate landscapes where wolves and solitude prowled, to wander the streets of the Tibetan wild west where freshly-scalped yak skins and wide-eyed stares lined the streets, to stand on the edge of great tundras and breathe.
They were with me in the small spaces – hidden shrines to the Dalai Lama, four am bunkhouses, mini-vans at Godly altitudes, the tiny pockets of warm air around a fire. They taught monks the alphabet with me and took me to a holy mountain where I could scream and throw prayers to the air, and sit and drink yak milk tea with nomads.
Eventually, when the time was right, they lead me to a lake in the wilds. I found my hat – a wedding bonnet ripped from some never-to-be bride’s head – that I wore. They handed me the skull. If this was insanity, then it had met its match. With this skull high above my head and flanked by my brothers, I found my mojo, I got my swagger back, I became.