by Niall Doherty

It’s cooler than usual, almost pleasant this Bangkok evening. We wander through quiet side streets, headed nowhere in particular.

You ask if I’ve ever been in love.

I stay silent for a few, reminiscing, until it dawns on me that my answer must be no if I have to think so long about it.

I tell you that I’ve felt as if more than once, but the feeling never lasted long, so I hesitate to count those memories as the real deal.

You notice how quiet this street is, peaceful even. Almost inaudible is the hum of a highway somewhere in the distance, a sound barely eclipsed by families going about their lives in the homes we pass by. Children are laughing. No dogs are barking.

I ask if you’ve ever heard of M. Scott Peck. You tell me no.

He was an American psychiatrist, I begin, wrote a book called The Road Less Traveled. I remember he wrote about love beyond lust. Far beyond. He saw real love as that deep respect and caring that lasts long after the sparks have subsided, your partner as your very best friend, someone whose company you still crave after many years together. Of course, he ended up cheating on his wife, but I don’t consider his message diminished just because he failed to live it.

We turn right at an old furniture store. It’s still open at this hour, for social reasons if nothing else. The elderly gents out front pay us little attention, engrossed as they are in their card game. Just beyond is a street-side eatery with steel tables and plastic chairs. A plump woman cooks at a cart for customers unseen.

I share a story I heard recently, about an old man who was in a hurry to leave his medical appointment, telling the doctor he had to go visit his wife at the nursing home. Knowing that the old man’s wife had severe Alzheimer’s, the doctor asked gently if she still remembered her husband. The old man bowed his head and replied that she didn’t, then looked up at the doctor with a quiver in his chin and a gleam in his eye. “But I still remember her.”

The story hangs in the air for a minute as we walk on. I catch myself wishing that there were more parks in this city, those of the small and unassuming kind, waiting to be discovered on rambles such as this. A secret garden for every 7-Eleven. That would be nice.

I ask if you’ve ever heard of Errol Flynn, and you haven’t.

I tell you that he was a famous Hollywood actor in the 30’s and 40’s. I read his autobiography last year, a fascinating read. He was very much a womanizer — the term “in like Flynn” is part of his legacy — and he concluded after trying and failing several times to be monogamous that he simply wasn’t wired to be a one-woman man. His tales of sex and romance are the stuff of legend, enough to make a male reader wonder if monogamy really is the best policy. But then you learn that he drank himself to death a half century deep while lacking any real love in his life.

We cross over a canal as teens go by in twos and threes. Shacks line the waterway in both directions, dimly lit and speaking in creaks. The water shimmers green, a beautiful scene with an unpleasant scent. I imagine the people living here pay little attention to either.

I guess what I’m trying to get across to you is this. I’m pretty sure that the real, deep love Peck wrote about is one of the peak experiences of a human life. And I think it would be a damn shame to die having never known such a love first-hand.

But to answer your question… no, I don’t think I’ve ever really been in love. I’ve never stuck with one girl long enough to have a shot at it.

You notice that there’s no moon out tonight. But we can still see some stars.