Lovable is not a word one would use to describe Chhang … and he was well aware of that. At one time, before the sores started, his looks were a little more tolerable but he never did gain weight in his lifetime, and having AIDS was something he could not hide from others.
Too weak to play, he sat or lay on the floor and watched the activities of the other children, but became irritable should anyone attempt to include him in on the fun. He was content to be invisible unless something didn’t go his way… then everyone knew about it. At times his demands went unnoticed however and he would eventually lie down on the floor and pretend the world did not exist.
He did have his good moments, usually after a meal, when he would come over to my table. I was not always sure if it was to be with me, or so that he could clean my plate of the leftover scraps of meat or fish heads I had not consumed.
He wasn’t much for cuddling and he didn’t like being tickled… most times he would just curl up in my arms and fall asleep. He was one of my toughest critics, and although he seldom said a word, I could feel him watching me in my work and play with the other children. He seemed to be looking into my soul, questioning my motives, and evaluating my sincerity. For that reason, whenever he returned from a Doctor’s appointment and presented me with an ear of boiled sweet corn or another special treat that he himself had chosen to give to me, I was greatly humbled.
On the 16th of January 2005, he refused to get out of bed for breakfast and so we let him sleep in… but later that morning, when I went to check on him, he was very weak. I decided to start an IV but had difficulty finding a good vein. He offered little resistance as I poked around in his frail little arm with the needle. For Chhang that was unusual and, when after several attempts, I looked up, I realized his body was beginning to shut down.
There was fear on his face as I took hold of his hand. He looked straight into my eyes, following my every move. If I were to let go of his hand, he became restless, and so I continued to hold it while staring back into the ever-widening pupils of his big dark eyes. His breathing became shallow and his body relaxed, but his eyes never stopped watching me.
Several of the children came around, as did the other residents, they all knew what was happening… we have been through it so many times before.
With candle and incense lit, we sat there quietly waiting for what none of us wanted but all of us knew would come… and it did… but unlike any death, I had ever witnessed before, Chhang took a firm grip of my hand, and with his other arm, he reached up to wrap around my neck, like he had done so many times before when he wanted me to carry him. “Wayne!” he shouted, loud enough for all to hear.
I literally saw his Spirit coming up and out of those big dark eyes and felt him, like a cool breeze on a midsummer’s night, passing through me. His lifeless arms then fell back to the bed while his eyes gently closed behind his departing Spirit.
I have always assumed that just before death when the eyes have fully dilated and the respirations have ceased…. There was no more recognition by the dying person of things going on around him… at least not of worldly things. Therefore to have Chhang reach out his arms for me and call my name, long after I assumed his Spirit had departed, was a bit startling. What could it mean?
I suppose there are many possible explanations for what happened that day… but I have now come to believe that Life is Eternal Energy and that what I saw and felt that day was, without any doubt in my mind, Chhang being released from the form that held him.