Tristan falls into the grip of despair and alcohol abuse as the result of betrayal, eventually understanding that his relationship fallout might not be the root cause of his demise. Before this unsurmountable pain, he is forced to face reality for the first time, having lived in denial for years. At every twist and turn of this journey, he collects pieces of the puzzle that would unravel the mystery of his life. With each discovery, it becomes clear that he has been living a lie all along, and that the people he most trusts have turned their backs on him. The truth finally comes to light when he finds the love of his life, only to realize that their past traumas will be detrimental to their happiness. Alone again, his rehabilitation, now in jeopardy, will depend on the excavation of his true self. The Veil of the Soul explores the resilience of the human spirit and shows another side to the suffering inherited from the Vietnam War.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Veil of the Soul by Jess Lee Jalao, Tristan moved with his family from Laos to France after the Vietnam War when he was just a child. From France the family eventually moved to the US. Tristen’s life seems to be a series of painful and traumatic events, culminating in his desperate thoughts of suicide. He’s a troubled man, beaten down by life, betrayed those both family and those he thought were his friends and loved one, leaving him to wonder about the meaning of it all.

While the subject is not particularly comfortable, Jalao handles it with sensitivity and compassion—a touching, poignant, and thought-provoking read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Veil of the Soul by Jess Lee Jalao is the story of a man whose existence has been nothing but pain, beginning with his life as a young child in Laos. His father was in the Laos Army under the auspices of the CIA, who conducted a “secret war” in Laos. Then the US pulled out of Laos in 1975, leaving their former “allies” to face the consequences of retaliation by the totalitarian government bent on revenge. So, after unthinkable sacrifices in an effort to preserve freedom, his family fled to France. Life there was not much better. Not only was he in a foreign country struggling to make his way in a world he didn’t understand, his family was large and what attention he got was mostly negative, if not actual abuse—one of those stories that make you say, “And I thought I had problems.”

Jalao tells a powerfully moving and thought-provoking tale that puts daily struggles into perspective and highlights the sacrifices made by those driven out of their homelands by circumstances beyond their control and how long ranging the consequences can be. It’s a book not easily forgotten.

Chapter 1

La Bella Mariana

Death, a much sweeter retreat, I acquiesce.

Another miserable night gone by, spent in the company of a bottle of vodka while my head throbs in excruciating pain. Disoriented, I wake to the penetrating yet soothing reverberation of a symphony orchestra composed of larks and cicadas that invokes, strangely, the music of Bach. In paramount enthusiasm, they celebrate the universe while another day slowly arises amidst a pleasant lassitude of freshness.

Joyful disturbance well-appreciated, I must say.

To my consolation, I have managed to get, at last, a few hours of rest–a remarkable accomplishment, considering the current circumstances in my life.

Gradually, the sun percolates into the grandeur of the milky spotted welkin and unleashes vigorously its scorching rays against the surface of my body. It appears as if they depict the singing poison-tipped arrows of the mischievous angel that aim to pierce through the frail cuirass of my heart.

In a ripple effect, I feel terrible aches along my stiffened neck and spine from the night spent in the back seats of my van. With tears still welling in my eyes, my appearance resembles far too well that of a bloodthirsty creature unable to find peace in sleep. I’ve spent countless white nights on account of my sorrow, obfuscated in a caricature of madness.

As I lay here, enfeebled, rigor mortis, as it seems, triumphantly encroaches toward the last standing capital of hope inside of me.

Like dust in the wind, the vestige of my life has burnt to a cinder, and even my home has been taken away. The clothes on my back are all that’s left of a lost paradise where happiness once reigned in a totalitarian regime.

Or so, I believed.

My life, which had been, hitherto, an array of tribulations, has reached its expiration date. As much as I wish for the turmoil to vanish within a simple blink of the eye, reality resurfaces instantly. And along comes pain–inconsolable, Challenger Deep, abysmal pain. At times, I retrieve memories of happier moments, warped by delusion, in a vain attempt to convince myself that the course of my life has not been derailed out of its natural trajectory.

I imagine a warm embrace and a soul-healing meal still await me home.

With a shudder of remorse, I concede that my life had passed me by, unnoticed, in giant leaps. Wallowing with eyes wide open, I contemplate salvation through the tarnished windshield as though waiting for a divine apparition. But help would not materialize into such a shape and form, and surely the bitterness of my relationship fallout would not dissipate either. As a swelling torrent in monsoon season, the ingression of the darkness has finally lacerated through my shield and demands my capitulation before the intensity of the pain.

Defeated, I accept my morbid fate in desolation, but the prevalent pain is not nearly as forgiving. It engulfs severely further with each memory that converts into rancor and then, at the finishing line, suffering. Likened to a living organism, the pain feeds on my soul and hunts for the remnants of my life energy.

Life is mercilessly cruel and love so unkind, when all I’ve ever wanted is to love and be loved in return.

Being a neophyte in the matters of the heart has finally caught up with me. Along with love, comes inevitably pain. To the utmost degree, I have unwittingly heeded little attention to that simple concept, perhaps due to indifference, or even impertinence.

But in this darkest hour, I have plenty of time to reflect upon the misfortunes of my life. Love and pain represent the two facets of the same coin, although I have been solely dealing with the undesirable side of late.

All of a sudden, the world becomes a cold place through the lens of a broken man. This pain doesn’t show any preferential treatment to anyone.

No one is spared.

A long silence imposes, the same sort that creeps at a funeral, as if I am mourning my own death, and sure enough, I am. I proclaim myself dead for I stop living from within. After a slew of defeat, it appears that I have inherited the genetic encoding of a life that excludes any abeyance from suffering.

From the moment I was old enough to understand life, I was cautioned not to let my emotions get in the way of making radical decisions. Apparently, I’d failed miserably. As if immune to good advices, I made poor choices and the situation has only worsened with the years. Throughout my life, I’ve been known to have an obstinate nature. That man is no more today.

My will had been shackled down, and my equilibrium shaken.

Although my mind represents the single most valuable tool I possess, it has not operated rationally due to the deceptive impulses of my heart.

The once incandescent light of my faith is now just a blurred flare incapable of sending signals to warn against any forthcoming danger. Like a wave washed ashore, that light slowly vanishes before my eyes.

Desperately, my sanity hangs by a filament as madness corrodes the very core of my humanity.

In truth, I wanted to be left alone in quiet solitude while awaiting the ultimate anesthesia. Marred with the spirit of a man at the end of his rope, I resorted to the physical by perforating holes in walls bare-knuckled with intent to expunge the emotional distress.

The plan did not work in my favor, however. All those emotional excavations left my heart with the semblance of an archeological dig.

In all my years, I have never felt anything so destructive. But in all honesty, I started to enjoy every bit of it lately. Far more frequently, I find appetite in wanton destruction to appease the anger, even for just a scintilla of relief.

Pain is so close to pleasure, indeed. A believer, I’ve become.

Containing my pain, in any way possible, has become the sole objective, an insane occupation yet a necessity. Similar to those descending moments right before falling asleep, there is no point to intellectualize anything anymore. Perhaps something in me needs this pain.

Fermented in an accrued inward violence, I surrender to the magnitude of my suffering. I am tired of feeling it, breathing it, bleeding it, and especially fighting it. Could it be the preamble to an ill-fated life of misery?

I start to question the very merit of living.

Over time, my silent screams only resonate to amplify further the distress within. Secluded deeper in my failure, the nicotine and the alcohol become my only confidants as the tendrils of fumes desecrate every space I occupy.

Ironically, a liquor-breathed man told me the other day that I would die soon should I prolong this harmful lifestyle. Showing total indifference at first, I kept a straight face. Then sold to sins, I faked a grin and agreed to the nuance that I would die in dignity, whereas, years from now some caffeine-charged care nurse would be tube-feeding him and wiping his derriere. So maybe, for once, my choice of action was not as inept after all.

We laughed, at his expense.

After a series of phantasmagoria I think of the Tin Man who wished for a heart while I lie here trying to rip mine out of its thoracic cage. I snigger foolishly to myself in derisive dissension. If only the dummy knew the consequences, without any doubt he would decline from acquiring of one. Better yet, if he could see through my misery, he would understand that the curse of being human is to feel.

And to feel comes with a price. Pain.

Alone in a tumult of emotions, I am imbued with a cascade of crisis and bleed the bitterness of betrayal. For the wounds are so profoundly entrenched, it would certainly take ceaseless cajoling to seam the scars.

Before this pillage of my emotions, I am angry at God for this unshakable unrest. Is there a reason behind all this? I implore. Although I must confess, I have never set foot in a worship establishment of sort. Forthrightly, I condemn my parents for my birth and appeal for restitution from being born.

I was told that seclusion brings either madness or greatness. I agree with the former, in this case misery would not feed into creativity.

In some respects the situation is far worse than it seems. The eradication of my relationship has taken a tremendous toll on me. Not for a minute have I envisioned that my life would turn into such a dramatic way. At one point, I was certain that I had finally found the love that would last me a lifetime–an eternity.

Upon further reflection, all I perceive is the soiled portrait of a malleable-minded man who spent great exertion in helping others but sadly never received any guerdons for his gestures.

As I step out of myself, the darkness continues to seduce my soul toward the portals of madness, in gradual attrition. All I can hear are the flouts of my foes. I discern contentment in the complicity of their eyes as I fall. I have been stomped upon, my dignity obliterated. They had stripped me out of the only thing that is meaningful to me. Love.

The suddenness of the situation had not allowed me to prepare for this brute transition. I had been defeated in a battle I had not engaged myself in. Disarmed, I can’t infuse my strength fast enough with the proper ingredients to emerge from this immense sea of agony. From one pocket of air to the next, I am struggling for a breath without any direction or guidance, and most important, without any faith to moor my angst to a palpable solace.

To my doom, I have underestimated the depth of impact of the pain.

Over the course of this whole ordeal, my resiliency had been reduced to velleity. For that matter, balance will not be restored any time soon. Subjected to an indigestive appetite in my mouth, I am still nibbling the harsh reality of what’s left of my life. Although I have endured break-ups before, never was I exposed to this level of pain. Perhaps, for the first time, I have felt a sense of completeness with this person.

Now that all that’s precious is lost begins the dreadful descent back to the terrestrial orbit—needless to be a clairvoyant to prophesy a crash landing.

All my dreams are shattered. A simple man, I never expected much. All I wanted was a simple life under the azure of the sky. Instead, my world turned into a landscape bereft of all the enrapturing excitements and the people that matter to me.

All is sure to fall as I careen through dangerous territories, deep into darkness.

At last, the combination of the pain and the depression has succeeded in their role of destruction. Must have I committed a horrendous act in my past life to be excluded from happiness in this one? I wonder.

Sore at heart, I hold myself in contempt for being so weak.

My entire world is in peril from the crushing blows of the agony that dictate my every move. I had preached to others not to give in to bitterness, yet a true Pharisee, I am the first one to relinquish such moral claim. In my defense, I’m certain anyone would understand if they were to walk in my shoes.

Deep inside, I am undignified by such a double-standard on my part.

For quite some time now, I have been embracing defeat, hoping for a quick exit. In so doing, I was in thrall to the pain. At this point, nothing is relevant anymore.

And, it sure doesn’t matter.

I remain cold inside.

Discouraged by the apathy I’ve shown toward my own rehabilitation, my family and friends stopped helping me altogether. They have labeled me a lost cause. They had exhausted their efforts, all of which that could have been done within their power, before accepting that I have opted to walk the plank. And like a beaten naval fleet, they sailed off thousands of nautical leagues away from the maritime storm within me as I face the penal colony.

At first impression, Tough Love was thought to be the motive, but I soon realize it was a cellophane-case of abandonment. They mean business this time. In their eyes, I am as good as dead, and it is just a matter of time before they bring me flowers—black tulips by preference, if anyone were to ask.

Even Maman did not cry. She never did much, at least not in front of me and aloud.

And here I am today, alone as I have wished for all along, kneeling before the hypertension that’s skyrocketing at terminal velocity to a near stroke or even heart attack probability. Obliged finally to comply with reality, I face the undeniable choice between life and death. Dying would mean the end of the agony whereas living to endure this pain most indefinitely.

Despite the fact that I am still fairly young, my body would not withstand the abuse much longer. The languid rhythm of my heart rate palpitation toward the flat line stage is a clear indication of that reality. In this darkest hour, the pain of an entire life comes upon me with fierce determination to sink me in, once and for all.

But peculiarly, my mind still manifests with some sort of resiliency–a last fight in me. Absurd as it sounds, I need a reason to live.

My daughter.

No one could have doctored the festering internal wounds but her. Awash with self-pity, I nearly omit her well-being. What has possessed me to be so self-absorbed and jeopardize her entire life?

Most issues in our existence are matters of degree, and this, without question, is the lowest point I’ve fallen to.

Cold sweats crawl out of my skin.

Although the after-effects of this emotional holocaust are foreign to my comprehension, it seems my survival instinct has laid groundwork for spiritual healing. It had ignited in me a need to understand this vitriolic anger that has turned into self-destruction.

The next logical step would be to dig my way up. Quite elementary, that is, if one’s mind were in the right place.

From what I take of all this, life doesn’t necessary need a purpose nor to be devoid of one. In this case, however, I will argue that life isn’t the focal point of the matter, but the manner of living it rather. This, I’m confident, constitutes the foundation for personal enlightenment.

To repair the faults of my mind, I must conduct a thorough psychological assessment to ascertain the root causes of the cruxes of my life. Expeditiously, I search deep within my soul for answers before doomsday occurs.

And so, there goes the story of my life thus far…

© 2017 by Jess Lee Jalao