My mother recalls a television show about Native hockey players, a particular boy’s struggle. He couldn’t hack the injustice at hockey camp, went AWOL. Hopped the bus home and entered the kitchen. At the stove, his mother wouldn’t turn around. Her son’s footsteps gave away more than they should have. His mother’s back, the coldest reception. The brick wall he’d keep on running into. Anything worth having is surrounded by obstacles. All he wanted was acceptance. All they ever wanted was acceptance, young Native boys on skates, dreaming of the big leagues, to be just like the other boys, to be like everybody else. He picked up his bags and got back on the bus. The river is death waiting, even when frozen.
The waiter fills my glass with Thai beer. A goldfish grazes the surface. Was he successful? I ask. Yes. And what of his mother? She was right and proud. A mother only wants what’s best for her child. The lemongrass paste tingles my palate. Three goldfish mill around the lily pads. I comment on the tranquility of water. The waiter brings hot towels and Jasmine tea. We cleanse our hands.
My mother revisits William Least Heat-Moon. She says, in River Horse he wrote: The ocean is the wind made visible and the river is the land made liquid. The goldfish flutter in succession. I touch her peaceful hand. She tells me that the hockey player is Ted Nolan. He overcame the odds, made a name for himself in the NHL. The waiter produces the check. I ponder the distance in my mother’s eyes. She’s a million miles away from the wintry Canadian city, in Bangkok, by the river, embracing what matters in life.