This is a guest post from my friend, Trish. All comments will be moderated.
I have never written about this experience before and I probably never will again. If there were some way to print this off, burn it, and have it completely disappear from my life, I would.
My last roommate and I liked to come up with nicknames for the Couchsurfers we hosted. It was hilarious and we never bothered to keep it a secret from them. Some of them have tried to come up with their own nicknames but we kindly reminded them that WE would be the judgy ones and THEY would cook us supper. Couchsurfing can be lots of fun and being a host is a laugh.
Dunny Overdose, who never actually overdosed on anything, liked to make up his own lyrics to songs. They were never very good but we loved him anyway. My friend and I took him to a touristy location in St. John’s, Newfoundland and I literally couldn’t even. He slipped and fell on the ice so many times that I was in constant chuckles walking behind him just waiting for it to happen again. Do people from Ireland not know to SLOW DOWN when walking on ice?
BraBra was a heartbreaker. Yes, he was attractive and charming but he broke my heart in other ways. Steve quickly became like a brother to me and we chatted about past relationships, current emotions, and travel plans. He is such a genuinely kind person with a passion to see the world and share his light with the people he meets along the way. That is how he broke my heart. He reminded me that people are good and he chipped off a little of the ice layer I had built up around my ticker.
Robin’s nickname was “I’m in!” because anytime we invited him to do something he would look up all cute-faced and say “I’m in!” before you could even finish your sentence. Robyn came for a week and stayed for two months and nobody ever complained about it because we all adored him so much.
Other nicknames that are appropriate enough to include are, “It was a great Tom”, “The Grind”, and my personal favorite, “Salute, Beivenue, Mais Oui, and uh huhh huhh.” (Uh huhh huhh is our way of sounding French when we laugh. I dare you to come up with a better spelling.)
I stayed with a Scottish brother/sister duo once and cried when I left because I wanted to live with them and feed their bunnies forever. I accidently shrunk one of Bobby’s sweaters when I was doing the laundry. Lucky for me, he wasn’t mad and let me keep it. I still wear it.
One Couchsurfing experience, however, wasn’t so much fun. Okay, it was awful. It was the worst. It’s the day I blame for everything bad that’s happened to me since whether or not that has any logic to it. It shook me. The aftershock, though it fades at times, still shakes my world with the same ferocity when I least expect it. With so many good experiences and one truly awful one I still believe that Couchsurfing is an amazing way to help travelers help other travelers, make new friends, and learn something new about the world whether you’re traveling or hosting.
This story isn’t about all the good times, happy travellers, and new friends. This story is, unfortunately, about those people who take advantage of wonderful organizations like Couchsurfing and people like me.
A nurse living in East Ham sent me a message on Couchsurfers a few days before I left home. Having nowhere to stay in London at that point, I jumped at the chance to have a host. He was friendly and we texted back and forth for a few days.
In this story, we’re going to call him Nick. Why? Because his name is Nick and fuck him, that’s why.
I had already purchased tickets to see Les Mis, which included a dinner at a fancy restaurant beforehand. Cute. I was wearing the same yoga pants I put on two days ago, sneakers, and a hoodie because my luggage got lost somewhere between Toronto and Iceland (I AM telling you this because there’s still a small part of my brain that says ‘TELL THEM WHAT YOU WERE WEARING’ as if it matters).
Wanting to get settled and drop off my carry on bag first, I headed to Nick’s house.
Something was missing… something that most Couchsurfing hosts have… Oh, that’s right. A couch. He told me that, as a nurse, he worked a lot of night shifts so I would have the bed to myself.
Feeling as though I had no other option and being someone who truly wants to see the good in people, I decided to wait it out and see if my gut feeling was wrong.
After dinner and Les Mis I was feeling a bit more positive about my situation. I kept telling myself that I had never travelled alone before so I was probably just unnecessarily nervous about being in a big city by myself for the first time. I arrived back at Nick’s house only to be told that he wasn’t there and have the door shut in my face by someone else who lived in the building.
I knew I wasn’t in a great part of town. My first clue was when the customs officer at the airport said, “East Ham? That’s rough, Miss. Why are you staying there?” I mean, did I really need another sign? Apparently, I did.
I approached some guys on the street to ask to use their phone. Oh my sweet baby Christmas did I ever not want to talk to them. They tried to get me to go partying with them at first but after calling Nick and getting directions to where he was the party boys’ want to party morphed into a slight, but real, concern for me. Picking one stranger over the other, I thanked them and got on the bus.
My English friend had told me that during my time in London I absolutely had to go to a proper pub and have a proper pint. On the phone, Nick told me that he was at a “proper pub” waiting for me to come have a “proper pint”.
I’m from Prince Edward Island, Canada (Google it) and had spent the past two years in Newfoundland, Canada. If you’ve ever been to the east coast of Canada you’ll know that we have pubs. We have many, many pubs. So I was a little surprised to hear Nigerian dance music while greeted by two very large bouncers asking to check the inside of my purse before I entered.
It was not a pub. It looked fun… but it was not a pub.
Nick offered me a drink. By this point I was well aware that I was in over my head and was fully prepared to keep myself safe (sounds easy enough, right?). Have you ever felt like you were in danger and thought “Oh well. Fuck it, I suppose.” Me neither. I wish I could make myself sound wiser but… oh well. I suppose.
I got a clean glass and he poured a drink for me. I watched (TELL THEM YOU WATCHED!). This was the kind of place where you could order bottles of liquor for your table. It’s called bottle service. (I say that as if I even knew that service existed beforehand. I did not. Have I mentioned my hometown? It is small). After finishing my drink, I told Nick I was going to the washroom. He walked me there, which, at the time, I was very grateful for. The club was a little overwhelming but I’ll admit it was a little exciting!
I came back from the bathroom and Nick offered to pour me another drink. There was maybe half a sip left in the bottom of my glass and I watched him pour my second drink. Nick started introducing me to the people around him. This guy was a retired gang member. That guy was still in a gang but don’t worry, we don’t think he’s ever murdered anyone.
Thank you. That’s very comforting.
Let me tell you something else about the East Coast of Canada… we drink. (Why, yes! We have now reached the point where I stress that I only had one drink at this point and, hell, while I’m at it, I might as well remind you that I was wearing yoga pants, a hoodie, and sneakers.) Gang-guy started talking to me about his watch and handed it to me. I put it up to my ear and the last thing I clearly remember is the ticking sound of that Goddamn watch.
That’s it. I cannot and will not say anymore about that night. There’s A LOT that I don’t remember and what I do remember has never, and probably will never, pass my lips or be written.
I don’t know how these drugs work. I’ve done a hell of a lot of Google searches since then but the scientific facts can never explain the complete mind fuck of waking up. I was not scared when I woke up. I was not sad. I was not panicked. I was numb.
Nick texted me to say he was at church and would be back soon.
He. Was. At. CHURCH.
I left for the day. No, I didn’t take all my stuff and yes, I went back. Why? Because I didn’t have a handbook giving me step by step instructions on what to do in this situation. I didn’t have a backup plan. I didn’t have a friend. I didn’t have a clue. I spent the day sightseeing, visiting art museums, taking pictures of guards outside Buckingham Palace, watching the Horse Guards Parade and getting lost in London. I know these things happened but I don’t think I’ll ever fully remember that day meaning I’ll have to go back to London and OWN IT.
I went back when I knew he’d be at work and had a bath. As I was soaking in the tub, I could no longer push it away. The marks on my body and the physical pain I felt were right in my face begging for my attention. So I did the only thing I knew I could do. I had a break down and called my parents.
While on vacation in Trinidad, my parents stayed online to talk to me and help me as much as they could. I can only imagine how worried they were about me and how much sleep they lost while clinging to each other and feeling helpless. They must have been so scared. Knowing that I did not, and at the time could not, allow my parents to stay in the dark, in the safety of the unknown, kills me. The insane mixture of love and guilt will probably stick with me forever. I kept in contact with them a lot for the rest of my three months in Europe. There were so many times that I wanted to give up and go home but I’m so glad that I didn’t.
Not a single one of us can say that we’ve never wanted to hurt another person. If you have never wanted to hurt anyone before, I applaud you and your unrealistic kindness. I looked around Nick’s room for things to steal. I looked around for things to break. I considered keeping his house key or writing “FUCK YOU” in sharpie on his wall or burning his mattress (I don’t really know how I would have managed that one, in hindsight, without burning the whole house down). In the end, I took my things, placed his key where he kept it outside, and left.
I try to consider myself lucky. I could have never woken up. I could be stuck with remembering the exact events of the night. I could remember the pain, been aware of my thoughts while it was happening.
“Oh, gee! Well thank you for at least drugging me so this little event could go as smoothly as possible.”
How messed up is that?
A week or so later I contacted Couchsurfing. The woman I talked to handled the situation so well. She asked where I currently was, asked if I needed help from the police, and made sure I was somewhere safe before taking any action. They deleted his account and banned him from Couchsurfing.
What did I do? I went to Limoges, France and fed bunnies. I went to Celles Sur Belle, France and pointed walls in a Gite and took lovely lunch breaks in the sun to eat bread and cheese. I went to Paris, I went to Dublin, and I met my friend in Croatia and lived on a yacht for a week. Why? Because fuck Nick, that’s why.
When I finally went home, after my three month Euro-trip, I was terrified to see my parents again. There’s something completely world shattering about your parents knowing that you’ve been through a horrific experience. When I was a kid with the flu they probably held my hair back when I threw up. They knew when I skipped school, when I got drunk, and when I lied to them. This is completely different. I didn’t do anything wrong but I felt so ashamed and disgusted. Despite the years of encouragement, love, and support that they had given me, I still worried that they would never see me the same again. I worried that their vision of me would somehow change and I would be forever pitied and broken. Apparently that’s not the case. A parent’s love for their child is boundless and I’m sure I’ll never understand it until I pop out a little tyke of my own.
I don’t want anyone to pity me. I don’t even know if I want anyone to read this.
This is NOT a warning to never travel solo. The rest of my Euro-trip was hard, of course, but the people I met were loving and safe and I HAD FUN! The rest of my trip was a blast! Sure, I had some awful moments and sure, it kind of turned into a soul searching “what do I want from life?” kind of trip instead of the “where’s the next party?” kind of trip that I thought it would be but I’m in a good place right now and that’s what’s important.
The people I stayed with in France, after leaving London, unknowingly got me back on my feet and taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things. I’ll probably never have the strength to thank properly thank them but I will always love them for the kindness and security they gave me.
I couchsurfed in Paris, which may sound crazy given the circumstances (but I must add: DO NOT VICTIM BLAME! It’s all over the goddamn Internet, guys. This isn’t new. We all have those Facebook friends who constantly post about victim blaming and slut shaming and rape culture and good on them! Someone has to do it! Yes, I still couchsurf. Yes, I still host couchsurfers. Get over it). Paris was an overwhelming push to stand up for myself and act quickly in situations. A week on a yacht in Croatia taught me that I’m not a 19-year-old supermodel but… I already knew that. It also taught me that making new friends and making time to have fun is important. Dublin? Well by the time I got to Dublin I was mentally and physically exhausted. Dublin taught me that sometimes it’s okay to just want to go home and have a nap.
So, am I okay? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. No, I wasn’t for a while. As soon as I got back to Canada I began my year of getting drunk, making other bad party decisions, putting myself in dangerous situations, and not giving a fuck. I failed out of University, was prescribed depression medication that I took semi-regularly for a few weeks before my anger and denial took over and I gave up on that as well.
The guys I dated in those 16 months of hell sucked. These men either saw me as a damsel in distress who needed to be fixed or were told no details of my life and saw me as a fun, carefree party girl. This made me wonder what my future life in dating looked like. Controlling jerks that want me to need them? Superficial relationships based on how late we can stay out at the after bars?
It got to the point where I just didn’t care anymore. I no longer wanted a shoulder to cry on. I no longer wanted to feel better. I no longer wanted a friend to help me onto my feet. I simply didn’t care. I would spend every spare nickel I had on making sure my mind was too dull to properly function. I remember thinking “This is really dangerous. Maybe I won’t even wake up tomorrow.” That’s a terrifying thought now but at the time I just thought, “Oh well.”
A few months ago I got really drunk. Like, black-out-don’t-remember-a-thing-hurt-the-people-you-love-then-end-up-in-rehab kind of drunk. I said, out loud, in front of some of the people I love most in my life that I wanted to die.
I don’t want to die.
When I woke up I decided I wasn’t done. I wasn’t done chasing after happiness and dreams. I wasn’t done being healthy and proud of myself and I certainly wasn’t done letting love into my life. Things have been better since then.
I decided to move back to my hometown for a little while. It’s a place where I feel safe. I can go to family dinners to remind myself where I come from. I can hang out with my friends’ kids and younger cousins to remind myself where I’m going. I can explore this beautiful Island where I grew up and remember who I am.
So no, I haven’t been okay but yes, I will be.
When we hit rock bottom, whether it be from alcohol, drugs, or the actions of someone else inflicted upon us, there always seems to be something or someone to remind us that things are good. To the people who have supported me, watched me tear down everything I ever believed in, and most importantly, didn’t stop loving me when I fell down on my knees begging for help to pick up the pieces… thank you. I love you.
People are good. I am good. We are good.