here’s something i want to acknowledge and i want everybody to know about me, because sometimes, i feel like a propped veneer, i feel unreal, i feel like i am interpreted as strong and smart and sexy and powerful when i am only halfway there. i want to acknowledge that i do things even when i know they will be painful or that they won’t reward me in long term with smooth, even emotional returns. i do things for attention. i flirt with people who don’t deserve me, i undervalue my time, i overvalue other’s opinions. i ache for people who are far away and yet i ignore emails from my parents. i brush off people who love me for people who will validate me. i ignore those people who confess feelings for me and pine for the ones who act aloof. i hate my body and my stomach so much that i spend hours and hours and hours thinking about how ugly i am and how i deserve nothing. if you sleep with me i won’t let you touch my stomach. i don’t let people please me because i believe truly, down to the bone, that i am not good enough to deserve it. i am working on it, every day, i talk like this is not my reality because it helps me actually move away from it, but here i am, a fuck up, and that’s okay, it’s okay that i act on bad habits sometimes, it’s okay, i’m allowed.
i’m allowed to act on bad habits.
i’m allowed to fuck up, i’m allowed to figure it out.
in my own time.
lessons from a little traveler:
last week i lost my wallet in new zealand on the day i had a flight to australia. i was stuck on a 10 hour bus ride from queenstown to christchurch with no cash and 10% battery on my phone. the bus would drop me at the airport and i had to step directly on a flight with no way to pay for a ride to get from the melbourne airport to my friend’s rented room in in the suburbs. i was panicked. the kiwi $4 jingling golden in my pocket felt a little bit like a cruel joke. i had changed out my nz dollars for australian ones earlier that morning - stocked my wallet full of soon-to-be relevant currency - and then lost the damn thing.
the bus stopped for a break. i was hot with worry and i needed to charge my phone. i asked if i could sit in the cafe and use their outlets without buying anything - my wallet was missing.”do you drink coffee, poor thing?” she asked.
i was panicking and brimming with tears and i said yes without understanding the question. i sat down in a daze and stared at my phone, wondering what to do next. the barista, to my surprise, settled a muffin and a cup of coffee in front of me. suddenly i had food and a place to sit for free and somebody who listened to my terror and heard me and wanted to help and instead of a flat “i’m sorry about that,” or the kind of glazed uncaring most of us use just to exist in this world, she had no hesitation about showing me she knew that my situation sucked. do you know how much that means when you’re alone, traveling, and are the sole source of strength and emotional moderation? to have somebody look at you and see you? it’s rare, as a backpacker, to feel that. i can spend days in dorm rooms having conversations with young people and never really connect.
she showed me more awareness and kindness than i knew i needed. i cried, eating a muffin, because i was so happy to be acknowledged.
and outside towered alpine mountains over a teal blue lake and a crisp, cloudless afternoon, bright, telling me that i would be okay. that, despite an unfortunate sidestep and a few more days waiting for a card to arrive, i would be fine, and that the world’s massive glacier-formed lakes would wait in stillness, the tourist buses would roll in and out, and i will continue to breathe, no matter the kink in a single-human-sized travel plan.
lesson: ask for help when you need it, breathe and release, be kind always.
couch surfing, a series of four:
i arrived in wellington with a stiff spine and a heavy load on my back. my bag was overpacked. the boston marathon bombing occured two days prior and i felt alone in a western world that raised their eyebrows at my country’s nightly televised violence, as if i could explain it. the cold, drought-quenching new zealand rain lingered around the city. it was dark.
a cross-country bus dropped me in a quiet northern suburb and i found a city bus to take me to an address i had tucked in a notebook. city buses systems are generally mysterious - stops are almost-unmarked corners of street, the driver says nothing to announce your location, and in the dark, the sleepy storefronts and look nothing like they do on google maps.
i found the host house and was offered a room and one of the three pillows had mold; i left it on the ground. my host and i watched a british soap opera together in silence. i ate over-fried fried rice from a plastic container; her son had finished the leftovers by the time i looked for them in the fridge the next day. she told me about her beautiful dog that lived to be 21. she had a painted portrait of his smiling boarder collie face in the entryway.
i woke up at 6:30 to watch the sunrise from her windows. the house sat alone on a hill overlooking farmland and the golden bay. the living room smelled like the clean laundry she had draped on every surface for drying mixed with the sweet rotten smell of tree fruit strewn on the kitchen table. the sky moved from grey to pink. i left before she woke up.
“i thought i would see you again,” she said to me later that day in the parking lot of the village’s street market. she gave me a hug that burst across my nervous system, a hug like a friend.
he bent over his homemade dj table and spread out detailed maps of small parcels of new zealand, outlining roads that are never mentioned in guide books and camping huts you can only find if you know they exist. “take a mosquito net,” he said, pointing to a small inland lake, “it’s beautiful here, but you’ll need one.”
his house was an old workman’s shack from the 1950s that had been converted into living quarters, and as soon as the wood fire went out, the alpine freeze crawled through my sleeping bag and into my sock-wrapped feet. i slept in every layer i owned and still woke up with a running nose.
in the morning i ate warm oatmeal and fruit in the frozen 8 am sun, standing in the frost-crystal yard because it was warmer outside than in. before he headed out for the morning, he left an extra mosquito net on the kitchen counter.
my travel partner and i made red curry for the whole group - three other couch surfers and our host. the six of us sat around the benched kitchen table for dinner. curry is easy - a can of coconut milk, curry paste, chopped vegetables, and chickpeas but we get a hearty, happy reaction. “this is really good,” say the host, still wearing his blazer from work. “i can feel myself getting healthier.”
we drink red wine from a box and sit in front of a wood fire. and then we eat chili spiced popcorn. and we trade the wine for mugs of peppermint tea. the conversation continues.
my watch reaches midnight, the latest i’ve been awake in weeks, before i consider crawling to bed.
when does being in your twenties stop feeling like there’s everywhere to go and see but nowhere to stop and grow into the earth? i miss people constantly, ache for the consistency of being deeply known, but as soon as i try to stay still somewhere, i start twitching to leave.
whenever i travel, even if it’s five hours across a state line into a city that barely qualifies as “distant,” i see phantoms. i see the faces of classmates i met in college, the sharp angles and hunched stride of my canadian best buddy, and the bald head of the man i met on okcupid who ate sushi with me and forced conversation through a sore throat. as soon as i see one phantom, i keep seeing these people i recognize everywhere; they fill up my side vision and jump out at me from storefronts. their familiarity fills me with hominess and safety. even if, at home, i would ignore their glances on the sidewalk or actively avoid their paths, in travel, i want these people to embrace me and hold me in their smothering scents of safety.
the pull of recognition is bodily, in the spine and along the hair follicles, up and down the ridges of my knuckles, deep in the boiling, churning pools of my belly, where gut reactions originate and spread like spider veins of heat. i see these familiar faces and feel like the free fall of travel is momentarily anchored to something understandable, something of the wood i’m cut from, like the void of the unknown has an end.
i look again and the faces are not of the people i know - they are strangers with barely similar features. skewed noses and mismatched profiles and incorrect heights. they are not my people. the disappointment is never strong or long or powerful, but it’s there. i’m forced i miss these acquaintances when they weren’t even here to miss. sometimes, if i know the person well enough, i will write on their facebook wall a loaded:
“i saw your lookalike today in melbourne
at my metro stop in paris
hiking the headlands of san francisco
in a decrepit bar in memphis
camped out in the patchy woods of southern virginia,
at a busstop in suburban wellington
i saw you.”
mostly, i just want them to answer and say “i wasn’t there then, but i’m here now.” tell me home is still there to go back to, and when i do, they will still remember me.
In other, relevant news:
I will be in Wellington (soon!), Nelson (soonish), Queenstown, & Christchurch (end of May) within the next month. I’m calling for coffee dates, if you’re so inclined. I’d love to meet and talk and Instagram. Come on, you know you’re into it.
i am a quiet creature. shy is not the correct word, though for a long time, i tried to force myself into that label. but no, my silence is not shyness.
when i find the person with whom i tick, on beat, like matching metronomes, i can stay up all night in conversation, rapidly sorting through topics and arguments that lie underneath pop culture references and thinly laughable jokes. i am honest and i am brutal in these moments - there’s nothing shy about it. when i sense that i am in the company of a matching mind, i am instantly exposed and pleased to be so.
but that’s a rare phenomenon. mostly, i am quiet. i listen attentively to all conversation. i sit in the corner. i follow at an arms length, listening. attempting to make noise when there is nothing to discuss beyond the trivial requires concentrated efforts to perform like a distorted version of what i assume is expected in normal conversation. filling voids of silence with people who have no desire to crack the crust of surface conversation requires so much energy from me that i’ve found it’s more rewarding not to attempt it. i like hearing what you have to say; it may be that i have nothing to add for myself. and it puts me in a position where, to most, i am a breezy phantom. i am a girl with red glasses. i sit in corners, and my name is quickly forgotten, if it was ever remembered past the three seconds of introduction.
but for those who sit a moment with me, you’ve got my soul under your fingertips, and you’ve got lifelong loyalty, words of sweetness and discussion to feed you forever, a friendship that will survive thousands of miles of distance and years of time, and an unexpectant love that almost never cracks.
my aunt leaves her washing to hang on lines outside on a metal tree with wires spread between its limbs, jersey underwear twisting in the breeze. she watches the temperament of the sky as she moves through the house with a vacuum. she stops at the window when the wind changes to a faster, stronger whip.
the weather does not simply happen outside of you by blind surprise when you grow tomatoes in a garden and when your clothes dry in the sun. the sky opens up with consequence, you burst though the front door to rescue your knickers from the downpour, you pray for water to feed the brittle grass and the kiwi fruit. and when you directly depend on both effects of the rain - dampening and nourishing - you’re always aware of the direction of the balance. you stop at every window.