The Pirate at the Window: From the Shores of Southeast Asia — By Jennifer Shipp
Southeast Asia Thailand

The Pirate at the Window: From the Shores of Southeast Asia — By Jennifer Shipp

Washed up on the same shores.

Stories are spherical like planets. I orbit around my story, once a comfortable, well-explored habitation of warm caves and tall trees. But now I’m a satellite in outer space, watching the drama of new planets forming out of the two moons that once graced my night skies. And it’s both lovely and terrifying. My world is no longer a planet, it’s a solar system. My moons have become their own planets with moons of their own.

Bangkok once seemed so foreign to me, but now I find its familiarity irritating at times. I can’t wait to get back to the sandy streets of Bagan. It’s Home* (with an asterisk). Because Mexico is also Home**. 

This world has become so small, but only perhaps because I’m orbiting above it and looking out into the celestial spheres that surround me with intense focus. The comets and the asteroids. And while the world gets smaller, the domain of what exists overall expands exponentially. 

I had a dream three nights ago that a pirate crawled up a ladder and knocked on my window, an opening that overlooked the ocean and a huge wooden ship about 100 feet down below. I couldn’t get the window to latch shut to keep the pirate out so I pushed back on him and he and his ladder fell backward, back, back, back… until it balanced precariously over a turbulent ocean, the pirate 100 feet in the air on a ladder made of bamboo and twine, and his shipful of men down below. And then, suddenly, I was the pirate. But though we occupied the same space over the vast and powerful ocean, we weren’t the same person. Suddenly, we both dove from the ladder in different directions. But the current washed us both up on the same shore…

…Me and The Marauder.

I’ve been working with something called Constellation Therapy and it’s turned up some fascinating insights. I string them together like beads on a string, the planets in my solar system, each one with its own life. Some of the celestial bodies are heavy and dense and their gravitational pull is almost too much for the system as a whole. The system suffers from the weight of it all. But there are laws that govern this type of astrology and they’re as immutable as physics. A dark planet harboring secrets or problems that have never been put to rest pull the moons and planets into itself, a black hole, powerful and fearful vortex…the whole system spiraling into it until a new sun is born, generations later, and whatever was covered can come to light.

On this trip to Thailand, Lydi and Naing Naing started working ceremonially with all The Lost Children who were a part of their families of origin, lighting candles to remember them all and name the unnamed and acknowledge each one in turn under the auspices of their unique religious backgrounds. They called in the ancestors to watch over their work and then they invited them to stay to guide them (thus the window in my dream, partly opened such that I wasn’t able to latch it shut). John woke up the same morning as my pirate dream with so many voices in his head it was deafening. He asked them to “Please STOP!” (And they did, but the silence was tense). So there’s a lot of unrest. Things that haven’t been dealt with are seeking resolution with Secrets taking top priority.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Around the same time, John’s computer started playing a movie we’d started earlier in the night (Lost in Translation with Bill Murray), a strange occurrence since it’s not technically possible for that to happen with his computer closed. I heard it start, but I was already wide awake rolling over thoughts about various ancestors and living family members. And then, after the computer woke him up, he was too. 

A couple of hours later, I had notes that I’d written of new thoughts in a notebook laying on the bedside table that I’d never before considered in regard to our family. Ancestral Secrets I’d never uncovered or considered.

After I’d written them down, I fell asleep and had a series of dreams that I remembered vividly when I awakened. First, I had a series of dreams about heavy responsibilities. Responsibilities that were too heavy for the person they were given to to carry. And then a dream of a young, adolescent girl behind me in a pew in a Catholic Church. She was holding a communion cup that was overflowing with blood and wine, a symbol of atonement and forgiveness. The blood/wine was poured out of the chalice into a wooden box and then back into the chalice. The wooden box was like a source of contamination perhaps…a cheapening of the wine. And as it was poured, it splashed off an engraving of an apple on the inside of the cup. It was an Apple of Original Sin. The adolescent girl has been in John’s dreams too this week. His dream of this girl in a red and white checkered dress signified innocence lost, but in Secret. A loss that was barely noticeable, almost indiscernible except in slow-motion. The girl is a faceless entity. But, as she poured the blood/wine into the chalice, I was given a close-up view of the apple and the splashing of the liquid and I worried about the stains they’d cause on the pews and on my own clothes. There’s urgency to this issue and I feel it even now as I write about it. 

By the time I woke up this morning, I could see an analogy between my Grandpa Mahnken’s time at war here in Southeast Asia and John’s and my own time here. We’ve spent a great deal of time in this region of the world during our travels, but I’ve never visited a single location that he’d been to during the war. A part of me doesn’t want to see, but I’ve never consciously thought about this fact.There was a time when I was a kid and I studied his World War II letters that he sent back home to the family when he was a marine on a ship responsible for building runways for planes to land. He was a young man then and he hadn’t met my Grandma yet at that time. He was in Japan, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea just to name a few of the countries he’d visited, but he never ever talked about it. He kept the demons under lock and key. And I was 6 when he died so I never had the chance to ask him for his stories. I do know though that he never knew in advance where he’d go next. He was drafted and for five years, he didn’t know his next destination. He’d board a ship and they wouldn’t tell the crew where they were going. And his letters were heavily censored, so his history is lost. I would always try to read the letters between the lines, but there was nothing to find. The censors had done their work well.

The metaphor that connects him and me resonates deeply with me for a number of reasons and I see some of my travels over the years and our periodic exile from our families and our native land in a new light now under the umbrella concept of Constellations which totally blows away the material I studied for my master’s degree in Family Therapy back in my twenties.

And  it seems that Grandpa and I have washed up on the same shores…

And I need to figure out what to do about that.

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