Frost Bite to Buddha Trees

snow from Smashing Magazine

-21 degrees today in NW Arkansas.  That takes into account the wind chill, but still, that’s far colder than the proverbial witch’s tit. I am not amused.  I am, more and more, envisioning a small apartment in Chiang Mia.  One in a complex with a pool and a garden in which I won’t slip on ice and break my hip. Perhaps you recall me mentioning before that I am cold intolerant.

chiang mai pool

I try to be a good sport about the weather.  I do.  When the temperature was 17,  I was game for putting the top down on Jack’s convertible, cranking up the heated seats and roaring around town like a couple of horribly misplaced, and obviously mentally-challenged, striped-assed apes. But -25?  Are you freaking kidding me?

At -25, I begin the search for warmth.  It’s always been a puzzlement to me that people live in places like Fargo.  My grandpa, a native Brockmueller of North Dakota told me that frozen state was a good place to be from.  He ran away to the lumber camps of the Oregon coast when he was twelve.  Maybe my need to roam didn’t originate with Jack’s PTSD at all.  Maybe, I come by it natural.  Maybe the reason I refuse to stay anyplace where the temperature dips below freezing for longer than a couple nights a year, is genetic, passed down by Grandpa Fritz.

At sixty-three the inclination to seek warmer climes, like so many other proclivities, is a knife-knot of influences and choices, past regrets and joys.  What is clear is that Jack is happy with this need of mine to avoid frostbite.  As I’ve mentioned before, our old 150 pound dog – the dog that acted as Jack’s service dog for almost ten years and may well have saved his life on more than one occasion – that dog turned 12 last month. That’s the equivalent of 99 years-old for a dog his size.  When we lose our big boy, Jack will need a distraction from the grief that, if history is an predictor, will bring back every other loss he’s lived through.

Chesty

I’m not going to catalog these loses.  If you’re a combat veteran, you understand.  If you’re not, you might consider buying a copy of the anthology Proud to Be:Writing by American Warriors.  Check out my essay Boogie with Chesty or simply open the book at random and fall into the experience.  Hell, buy a copy of My Life with a Wounded Warrior or Clueless Gringos in Paradise.  Any of those books will make you laugh and cry and understand what it’s like to be a combat veteran.

When our loyal dog dies, the arrangements for wintering in Thailand might well be a fine and good distraction for both Jack and for me.  Besides, I miss Asia and if I have to endure another winter of these temperatures I may well eat myself into such a state that, if I ever do get back to Chiang Mai, I’ll be unable to climb the 106 steps to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthrep. 

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Already I have to force my mind to Buddha trees and flowering gardens instead of dwelling on mac and cheese and chocolate fudge cake.

Think warm thoughts.  Now there’s a great cognitive therapy goal.

Old Dogs and Banyan Trees

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We’ve been living in one place for going on four years now.  Both Jack and I have found our niche here in Northwest Arkansas. Made some wonderful friends.  Found activities we enjoy, causes to work for, favorite places to be during each of the area’s distinct four seasons.

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That’s scary.

Because, historically, the moment we settle-in, form relationships, and get comfortable, Jack gets antsy, sticks a For Sale sign on the house or palapa or RV, and off we go in search of the next adventure.

Did I mention that key symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress are fear of intimacy and the need for an adrenaline rush?

Well, now you know.

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Usually about three years into living somewhere, Jack begins to make tight bonds with other veterans.  Within a year after that, we pack up and leave. About three moves ago, an odd thing happened.   

I began to anticipate this flight. 

The moment Jack began to make friends, I began looking for a way to forestall the move.  This was followed by the realization that nothing was going to prevent Jack from doing whatever damn thing he decided to do.  My reaction was to begin to look around for the next place to live.  This provided me the illusion of having some control over my life, while allowing Jack the illusion that his wife was now an adventure seeker.

Except at some point the illusion became reality.  Or maybe not.  Wasn’t it St. Paul who said, “I do not understand what I do.  What I want to do, I do not.  What I wish to do avoid, I do.” 

My point is, I have no idea why, but I now crave adventure, hate routine, and love to immerse myself in exotic locations.

Plus, and this is a huge factor, Chesty, Jack’s old service dog, is coming to the end of his life and both Jack and I know our sadness over losing him will be long and hard.  Besides, it’s freaking cold in NW Arkansas right now and the only thing I hate worse than being bored is being cold. 

Still, I refuse to leave the life we’ve built here in the Ozarks.  Over the years, I’ve left far too many friends.  I have a good life here.  I’m dug in.

But, I think I’ve found a way to have the best of all worlds.

I’ve done the ciphering and, with a little scrimping, we can fly to Thailand and live four months a year in Chiang Mai.  That would be the winter months when, here in Arkansas, falling and breaking a hip on black ice is a reoccurring danger.  In fact, the cost-of-living is so much lower in Chiang Mai that saving for the very expensive airfare will only be an issue the first year, this year, while we are slipping on ice and paying U.S. prices for food and fun.  

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Does this all sound like the ravings of a crazy woman to you? 

Well then, I’m right on track.

Of course, we’re not going anywhere as long as Chesty is with us.  No amount of tropical warmth or ancient Asian peace or exotic locales is better than waking each morning to see the old boy’s wrinkly face looking up at me from his baby mattress bed.

Chesty

Still, it does help some to know that, when we do lose him, I’ll be able to sit under a banyan tree and meditate on the love of a good and loyal dog and that of a fine and complicated man.  I believe I’ll do a little contemplating on the teaching of St. Paul.