My memory clouds when I try to recall the instant it initially arrived. Perhaps it was at that Italian restaurant in Kathmandu where I was adrift in a sea of smiling couples and friends who were sharing their oversized pizzas, a good laugh and an evening together. Eating alone is not new to me, nor necessarily unpleasant, but that evening it struck a harsh cord. I, too, wanted to be laughing with someone.
Maybe it was when I tearfully hugged my mother goodbye at the Yangon airport. She was returning to our family, comforting American food and a clean bathroom. Me, I was heading on alone to China, more sticky white rice and reputedly some of the most shockingly disgusting toilets in the world. I was lonely.
There was that morning when I wearily searched for decent budget accommodations in Guiyang, a Chinese city burgeoning with hotels, but few that fit my pocketbook and were licensed to accept foreigners. Finally, success seemed at hand when a young man waved me into his hotel, only for the craggy old coot behind the rundown reception desk to scowl at the sight of me and angrily shoo me back onto the sidewalk. I was tired of the incessant search for a place to sleep.
In any case, when it came is of little significance. It is here. Though it is temporary, roaring up one minute, causing my heart to palpitate and a soft sadness to wash over me, only for it to vanish the next minute, leaving me reinvigorated and busily making plans.
Anxiously, I had been wondering when – even if – it would swoop down. Long before its appearance, I cursed it, damning it away and warning it never to rear its ugly head. Life on the road was going grand, sweeter than I had expected, and nothing was going to tarnish those golden days.
And then I prayed for it, though not yet, but in the near future. Nights I would toss and turn, questioning what would happen if it would never come. It needed to be there to ease the launching of the next stage of my life. Maybe I was to be one of those backpackers who was immune to it, always wheeling and dealing, scheming and saving to stay on the road or to jet off for their next adventure. But I didn’t want to be. One of my mother’s biggest concerns when I departed was that I would never feel it and travel would become the guiding beacon around which my middle age would revolve. My hope is that middle age will revolve around sharing my life and love with a husband and children, not strutting solo around the globe with most of my possessions strapped to my back. That is why I craved its coming.
And then it was here. Fleeting at first, just popping up on the particularly difficult days, bringing a maelstrom of emotions in its wake: relief, anxiety, anticipation, fear and sadness. So much sadness.
For the past 28 months my life has revolved around The Trip. Thirteen months of constant planning, preparing and working at two jobs have been rewarded by 15 months of indescribable joy, discovery and excitement. And not only for me, but for many who have vicariously ventured off to far-flung lands such as Yemen and Iran through my stories. Upon hearing the news that I had finally felt it, my mother, whom I expected would be thrilled, hesitantly replied that she now had mixed feelings. She, too, was feeling the sadness.
Recently it has been coming more frequently, lasting longer periods and carrying with it an urgent sock-in-the-gut feeling. "Please," I murmur, "it’s not time. Just a few more places to see, a couple more things to do." Silently, I beg for a bit longer because I know once I answer, it will all be over. "I’ll be ready soon," I whisper, "but just not yet." I feel like a dying woman as I plead for just a little bit longer. And in same ways, something is dying.
It is thanks to my Aunt Selma, who took a wide-eyed little girl to Washington DC for her first big trip, that my passion for travel was ignited. Passion combined with determination and fortune to land me a high school scholarship for a summer homestay in France. More trips to France, as well as ventures to other European countries, marked my 20s. And now, at the age of 32, I am living a dream, traipsing around countries that seemed at one time as unimaginable as visiting as Mars. Travel is a part of me, and always will be, but chances are slim that I will again embark upon a similar journey. And that is why there are moments when I loathe, fear and fight off The End.
But then I put a positive spin and call it The Beginning. It is here, heralding bountiful days ahead with endless opportunities and exciting at-home adventures. (Well, at least that is what I tell myself when questioning what the hell I am going to do when I get home.) Nights I now find myself tossing and turning as I map out, envision and mentally prepare for The Beginning. I’ll be ready, eager for the next chapter to start, but just not yet, I resolutely tell it.
And so it stealthily slinks back, but only for the moment. It has come, and it’s here to stay. Today the call to come home is simply a soft stirring in my soul, but it is growing in size and intensity, as I want it to be. The whisper will soon be a roar, and then I will respond.