That Evening, in Sa Pa
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
That night, Trung and I slept in separate hotels.
Trung had once again taken us to a hotel that was not heated. And I had once again agreed to stay there.
Once in my room, my body collapsed from fatigue. It must have been about 10 degrees inside. Gathering my courage, I took off my coat and laid down. Under the covers, my body was shaking from the cold and my teeth were chattering.
Then I went into the bathroom and started the shower. I was saved: the water coming out of the showerhead was warm. I stepped in, standing still under the jet of boiling water. But after five minutes, the hot water ran out. Not only was I still freezing, but now I was all wet.
That was enough. I wasn't going to sleep in these conditions one more night.
Yet I was so afraid to tell Trung that I wanted a heated room. I was petrified to tell him that these conditions were not acceptable. And I didn't know how to tell him.
Determined to find another hotel, I got dressed. Trung was in the lobby talking with the hotel owners, whom he knew well. As I walked down the stairs, he said, "Here, coffee for you. I felt like a traitor. I sat down and drank the coffee and gave them a guilty smile. I tried to bring it up, but I couldn't. Then I apologized. Then I excused myself, saying that I wanted to see the village before nightfall.
I ran away like a thief. I wanted to find a new hotel before dinner.
What did I feel so guilty about? First, for not expressing my desire for a heated room. Second, for not saying no to this hotel.
When we fail to act, we do nothing and feel guilty. Guilt, then, is the alternative to acting with courage. The courage to assume one's choices. The courage to realize your desires.
I have great expertise in not expressing my desires. I prefer to live those of others, which is easier than assuming my own. In fact, after eight years of being in one relationship after another, I have lost all sense of what I deeply desire.
My father did not want to die. He fought death until his last breath. He wasn't ready for the end to come because he hadn't accomplished everything he wanted to do. He would have liked to finish the doctorate he had started. He would have liked to take one last trip to Vietnam. He would have liked to marry his childhood sweetheart who had waited for him forty years. From his hospital bed, he told me how he would accomplish all of these things once he recovered. With the imminent threat of death, it suddenly became so easy for him to have the courage to realize his most cherished dreams.
In my opinion, there are three major failures in life. And not living your desires is one of them.
It is the failure of reaching the end of the road only to realize that you wanted to follow another one. The failure of realizing that you have lived someone else's life. The life of a parent you wanted to please or the life of a spouse you were afraid to lose.
Small failures hurt the ego and that is why we easily walk away from them. Big failures are more difficult to perceive. Like the frog in the jar of hot water, it can take a long time to realize that you are cooking.
This was the thought that crossed my mind as I wondered how to tell Trung that I wanted to change hotels. It seemed so difficult to express my simple wish to have a heated room.
But learning to live my desires again was going to start with this small gesture.