Rob Schultheis: "The Lost Prince Of Tibet"

Rob By Rob Schultheis

Rob Schultheis is the author of six books, including "The Hidden West" and "Fool's Gold," the latter about the changing face of his home town, Telluride, Colorado.

Since 1984, Rob has covered the wars in Afghanistan for Time magazine and other periodicals, also freelancing as cameraman for the networks. Over the years, he has written for "The Washington Post," "National Geographic Magazine," and "Outside" magazine. Rob is also an accomplished painter. A show of his newest images will be on display in the Daniel Tucker Gallery at Telluride's Ah Haa School for the Arts July 7 – July 15. Telluride Inside… and Out is delighted to welcome Rob, a close friend and professional colleague, to our pages.

I was still very young eight years old to be exact
 when I  began to discover that  I wasn’t  anything at all
 like anyone else in the world so different and radically
 strange in fact that over time I concluded any chance of a
 “normal” “successful” life was doomed, damned
 and screwed from the get-go, and that was that.
 My first  lightning flash of unbelonging came when
 we were living in Hong Kong, my mother, brother and I,
 holed up in the  Peninsula Hotel with a Chinese-Portuguese
 body guard while my father under an assumed name and
 posing as some kind of  globe-trotting tycoon was traveling
 to Jordan, Yemen, Afghanistan and who knows where
 pulling off covert ops like ordering new false teeth
 for the Sultan of Yemen and subverting Comintern couriers,
 business as usual for an Agency spook; suddenly  with no
 warning I announced that I was the lost heir apparent to a line
 of princes who ruled an obscure principality in far eastern Tibet,
 and some day somehow I would return there  to claim my throne.

(These princes were evidently the reincarnating kind,  like the
 “Living Buddhas” the  Tibetans call tulkus. or rinpoches.)
 I’d been killed by my best friend shot in the back as we rode
 our horses together across the high grasslands and my wife never knew
 what happened to me only that I had disappeared. There’s a specially
 cruel kind of loss that comes when someone you love simply vanishes without
 a clue:   “A silent death is an endless word”  as Kawabata wrote but
 it’s really a single word  that’s left unsaid: forever:  “Goodby…”
 a silence that aches, and never heals….
 Since up till then I’d exhibited no nil nada nothing in the way
 of knowledge of or interest in the Land of Eternal Snows  my
 revelation scared my mother half to death while my eleven
 year old brother with the i.q.  of 230 loftily declared that
 he’d known for some time I was mad since I believed that a.
 Donald Duck was a “real person” and “ b.  that blue was an actual
 “color," while everyone with half a brain knew that what looked
 “blue” actually wasn’t , it didn’t “possess” blueness, instead it absorbed
 all the other colors of the spectrum reflecting only “ blueness” back to us
 and when my mother tried to refute him he laughed at her flimsy
 arguments derisively and was sent off to bed without his supper;
 I made the mistake of jeering at his downfall which reminded her
 that I was the cause of the trouble in the first place with my spooky  “Lost Prince
 of Tibet” jive and I too was packed off foodless, to brood.
 What did she expect from us, when my father gave cocktail parties at our
 villa high on Victoria Peak, where the guests drank martinis extra dry and
 watched real live naval battles in the coastal waters of the South China Sea,
 sailing junks and motorized sampans blasting each other with fiery broadsides,
 the Communist Chinese navy trying to run agents and weapons
 into the Royal Crown Colony of Hong Kong under cover of gathering
 darkness, battling one of the Fukienese Triads hired by my father through
 a cut-out in Macao to sink all of the interlopers they could?
And I was supposed to be the crazy one?
 But worse was yet to come…
 Flash forward three years and change:  we’d just returned “Stateside”
 from “Overseas”  after eight years of nonstop bouncing around the
 Pacific Rim  while my father tried in vain to repair America’s
 disintegrating Empire with every trick  in the encyclopedia of imperialism
 (“We need a bigger hammer, goddamit to hell!”, discovering too late of course
 that they’d been trying to  nail together a wall made of mud & water); and now
 we’d crash-landed in Washington’s Virginia cracker suburbs
 in a crappy townhouse  stuck in the craw of an eviscerated landscape
 of  flayed red clay and patches of funereal second growth where shopping
 centers  and tract houses sprouted  everywhere like mold on a corpse.
 My life was a total blur and my friends were ghosts without names
 one of whom (moonfaced and strangling on his own stutter
 with thick glasses and nearly as unpopular as I)
invited me to his birthday party under extreme duress
 and here were hot dogs,  cake,  sodas, and ice cream
 and I stuffed myself till it hurt,  my mindless  response to stress
 back then and while everyone but me screamed laughter smashed
 toys exploded balloons rough housed and ricocheted off the walls
 I slumped like a pathetic potbellied ho-tai In a chair in the corner
 feeling absolutely alone in the universe—–

 AND SUDDENLY felt my Self break loose from the
 scene around me and fly away out the back of my skull
 at the speed of light the roomful of strangelings
 shrank to a tiny light a flyspeck in the enormous darkness and then
 vanishing like it never was,
 and if I was anything I was
 the Lost Prince of Tibet again
an outcast forever, unknown and never to belong….


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