I am laying on the futon in my living room, covered in a quilt that smells like home, sleep nowhere in sight. My backpack is neatly packed with flip-flops and sundresses, yoga gear and sunscreen. My bedroom, my sanctuary, has been wiped clean. All my belongings are stored in containers inside in the walls. My journals are kept safe in a fireproof box. My wardrobe is slashed in half, my jewelry and perfumes and trinkets tucked into pockets and bags. My luggage is reduced from a 50-lb suitcase to a 35-lb pack (which, I’m told, is still pretty “amateur”).
Isn’t it a wonderful thing, how little you need to survive?
At 5:20 AM I board my flight to New York City, kicking off my six-month reign of Newfoundland exile. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from home. I am terrified. But like my friend Matt says, nobody ever travels to be comfortable.
I’ve been feeling those peculiar sensations of last-minute traveller’s remorse for over a week. I felt it last night while clutching a purring kitten to my chest. I felt it while sharing a pint with some good friends inside Erin’s Pub, a squeezebox master and a guitarist serenading us with Newfoundland lore. I felt it while popping open a bottle of wine I couldn’t afford at The Reluctant Chef, along with a similarly too-expensive (for me) meal. Shucked oysters and rabbit pate and rare steak soaked in Vegemite. It’s maddening how I fall for my town just days before leaving it all behind.
And of course, the irrational (but somewhat rational) fears of dying, either by fiery airplane plunging into the cold Atlantic as I make my way from New York to Norway, to catch my flight to Brussels, then to Athens. Or being mobbed and beaten on the streets of Santorini, or kidnapped in the Balkans. Or simply falling victim to a freak accident, falling headfirst into an open archaeology site, coming to rest side-by-side with the tomb of an ancient warrior. People back home will be slightly amused by the fate of a young girl who met her maker in an already-dug grave. Every time these thoughts occur, I think, this isn’t right. I have a bad feeling about all this. Something is wrong. And then I can’t recall whether or not I had the same fears on my last trip, although I suspect I did, and so here I am writing it down to consult later when the fear returns on another voyage. I very well might not return. I also very well might get hit by a car on my way to a doctor’s appointment, or stabbed while shopping for fresh fruit at Sobey’s, or suffer a heart attack at spin class. Stepping outside that front door is a constantly terrifying ordeal.
I think about those long months after The Next Big Thing when I let the heartache come in waves, pulling all the happiness from me in a great undertow, and how it invariably led me to this moment. And then, how the tide broke. I was snowshoeing with my friend Melissa on the south coast, beating my way through deep powder and chasing the prints of coyotes and rabbits. The sun came through the trail and brought out the cyan sky, the near-neon of pine. I was thinking about him and our conversation earlier, and how he had said he still wanted me in his life. I thought I did too, but I wanted things to be like how they were before. What I had wanted was a second chance. I don’t know why it all changed that day out there on the trail, but it came to me when I was looking up over the treetops and the cold was freezing icicles into my eyelashes. There was no snap of epiphany, only the slow release of a knot. Like air being released from a balloon.
I still can’t comprehend that silly heartache. I know what loss and mourning feels like; I have seen my family deal with the likes of murders and suicides. I know what betrayal is. I have been followed home by men and propositioned for sex. I have rolled in a car across the highway and into the ditch, narrowly missing death, and I have vowed to cherish every emotion and sensation in my body because it means I’m alive. It seemed sensible, at the time.
Ages ago I went to add him as a friend on Facebook again, felt ready; saw his recent photo uploads, and came across that Dutch girl he had taken on a date. She was stunning — a beautiful woman with a mouth full of perfect white teeth, long blonde hair, thin wrists. I couldn’t hate her. She looked like someone I’d be friends with. But I could hate myself, and so I did. I put myself through hell and back to lose weight. I did it. It meant nothing. I’m told you’re not supposed to divulge these insecurities. But I’ll never not be me, even if it means aloneness. I’d still rather be me.
I haven’t checked his social media since. That was over a month ago. I have no idea what he’s doing, or where he is. Liberation in the age of Internet.
Recently a friend told me her boyfriend’s friend couldn’t “get over” how beautiful I was. Am. I was stunned anyone could think so. I was stunned by my own complete lack of self-awareness. I was angry with myself for needing the validation. I was angry. I grew strong and happy again, I became me. I missed him sometimes, but never enough. When you start to “get over it” you realize how one sided the whole unfair affair is. While I was transcending into not-caring-ness, he had already been there from the day we parted ways. The clarity was outstanding. It’s funny how the mind works. You assume because you’re consumed with grief that the other person feels the same.
The simple fact is that I told him some of my hardest secrets and he used them against me. I find this hard to reconcile. I wish I could take it all back; I wish none of it happened. Not the moonlit walk around an empty volcano, nor the elated first minutes of finding him on my doorstep. Sometimes I hear his pivotal words and I can recall their precise crack of cruelty and it takes my breath away. I wish I could forget. How awful it is to question your own independence, the one thing you are so very proud of.
No, no, no. I don’t need you.
That, I don’t need.
What I do need is to chase sunsets and hike mountains and seek chance encounters with the gods and goddesses inside the Acropolis. I need clean water and more Vitamin C. I need my mother to make me sweet tea in the evenings, and I need card games around the kitchen table. I need the sun burning halos against the inside of my eyelids. I need a steady breath to keep from toppling over into a fractured caldera. I need this journey.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing, how little you need to survive?