Coming home meant coming down. It was easier to stay up. I’d return home to piles of bills and an empty refrigerator. Buying groceries, I’d get lost – too many aisles, too many choices; cool mist blowing over fresh fruit; paper or plastic; cash back in return? I’d wanted emotion but couldn’t find it here, so I settled for motion.
Out at night, weaving through traffic, looking for trouble, I’d lose myself in crowds. Gaggles of girls with fruit-colored drinks talked about face products and film production. I’d see their lips move, look at their snapshot smiles and highlighted hair. I didn’t know what to say.
The more I was away, the worse it got. I’d come back and couldn’t speak the language. Out there, the pain was palpable, you breathed it in the air. Back here, no one talked about life and death. No one seemed to understand. I’d go to movies, see friends, but after a couple days, I’d catch myself reading plane schedules, looking for something, someplace to go…
Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival – Anderson Cooper
I had been meaning to buy this book for so long. Today, it found me at the right time with the right passage. The passage above speaks to me – loud and clear. I can feel every emotion and I'm sure the author has felt the raw struggle I am going through. It’s funny how I still do a double take every time they ask, “Cash back?” It’s bizarre.
I was scanning the web and reading about travel, as I usually do. I find myself going back to websites such as Lonely Planet. Reading about travel budgeting, guesthouses, airline companies and the daily ins and outs of travel generates this half-smiling nostalgia that in some sick way acts as a support during this transitional (euphemism for “extremely unproductive”) time in my life.
I started reading about the upcoming travels of others, thinking about what my next step should be (going to school/getting a job/etc.). That’s when it happened. I had some sort of attack, a panic attack maybe. At first it felt extremely hot, I took off my sweater, not paying too much attention to what was happening. Soon I felt like I was overheating, had to drench my face in the icy water from the sink, over and over. My breathing became irregular, it felt as if the air had thinned, I was having trouble getting enough air into my lungs. I instinctively cupped my hands together, trying to breathe the same air I was exhaling. It was an anxiety attack.
If you threw that song from Kill Bill’s soundtrack on, it would have been perfect. In the middle of this irregular breathing, I got into my car, drove off, tunnel visioned and without my senses, ended at the place I usually go to when I’m somewhere other than at home, the bookstore. I don’t know why I went there, but I treat it as an oracle when I’m in need of answers. It seems the solution has to lie within the mountains of text.
I entered, aimed for the travel section. I got a stool, planted myself in front of the travel writings, stared at them while taking long hard breaths. The title of one book would come into focus and then another one, then another one. I sat there until I probably scanned all the titles before I finally opened one and read the short story that I flipped to. Ironically, the story was about coming home from a long journey, feeling the emotions that brought me to the bookstore in the first place, except I don’t think the author had a panic attack or anything so dramatic, but I still felt his words.
Reading what travelers feel, how they cope in similar situations, is my therapy. Many times I wish I had the vagabonding mindset or a traveler’s soul – a disconnect between your own values and goals and that of everyone else around you – a lonely place to be. Reading the words of others who get through during those lost, unsure moments helps me reaffirm I’m not alone and not crazy. There have been others before me and there will be others after me.
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You can read more of Jeffrey's journey on his blog.