I have this theory that nothing can change your center of gravity but love.
I’m not sure if I love my friends in New Zealand yet. I can feel the beginnings of it, the shift in my way of thinking, the feeling of finding a solid place to stand. There are times in the car, or sitting around the dinner table with my flatmates, when I am sure I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I think that is the beginning of love. There’s safety in it- the lure of letting go of everything else and letting this place and these people become my life.
But something is always pulling me home.
I went to Indonesia for ten days.
I sat at the front lip of a raft and paddled through a choppy river that cut its way through a dense rainforest. Waterfalls slid down the rock face and monkeys swung from the canopy.
I tied a sarong around my waist and washed my face with sacred water that flowed from a temple’s spring. We knelt down and dipped our fingers in and made wishes.
I stood on the beach while my feet were lapped by the Indian Ocean to watch the sun sink down into the waves. Some of these moments were so shining and magical that even as they occurred I felt like I was watching someone else experience them on a movie screen.
Those are the parts of the trip that I talk about when people ask me what my time in Bali was like. I describe the clear water, the bustling streets, the too-sweet smell of air thick with crushed flowers. There is a very romantic and exotic version of this story that features an island with endless green rice paddies and a group of twenty-somethings who explored it and found themselves. But that is only part of the truth, and it is not the story I am going to tell.
The real story goes more like this: we were cranky. There were times that we got mad at each other. I learned so much about my own personal shortcomings. One person pooped right in their pants. And of course, there were endless green rice paddies along the way. Traveling is crazy, you know?
Here are some of the things you come to understand about yourself when you spend twenty-four hours a day with the same four people in a country that is completely foreign to everything you have ever known:
- Your stereotype in the group. Are you the one who is always seeking adventure? Or the one who is always on schedule? Are you a complainer, or the kind of person who depends on everyone else to figure things out for you? (I am a complainer and the kind of person who depends on everyone else to figure things out for me.)
- How to convey that you want an egg-white omelet to a waiter who speaks another language because I can’t eat the yellow part or I will get sick, please, no yellow part.
- How you handle conflict. Do you need space? Do you need to talk it out? Do you need to fake a stomach ache in order to get a few minutes alone in the hotel room to text your mom and stress cry?
- Your own personal response to seeing a rat.
- The way you treat your friends when you are hungry (always) or tired (often) or too cold or too hot or too far from a wifi hotspot.
This is the part where I feel like I need to talk about what it was like to have Crohn’s and travel to another country. Honestly, it should be the main point of this blog but I have been avoiding it because I don’t really know how to phrase what I am trying to communicate. It was hard. And also, it wasn’t.
I did have airport diarrhea. We took four flights total, and I managed to have diarrhea just in time for all of them. On our six hour flight home the little boy in the seat behind me vomited the whole way. It seemed like everyone was feeling a little messed up in the stomach- we would later learn that this is called “Bali belly” and is quite common after a trip to the island. People had things coming out all sorts of places on that plane ride, but at least we were in it together. Except for the kid who was vomiting. We were all pretty mad at him.
The most difficult issue that I ran into concerning my Crohn’s in Bali was trying to communicate my food allergies when we went out to eat. The good news was that in Indonesia butter isn’t very commonly used. A lot of times people didn’t even seem to know what I was talking about when I asked if it was on something. The bad news was that gluten was pretty much everywhere. I developed a system where I would just ask for some sort of chicken dish with sauce on the side (the sauce usually being the part that contained gluten) and it worked out pretty well! I ate the same thing at every meal, but at least I was eating.
I didn’t wind up running into a ton of problems due to my Crohn’s. I just ended up dealing with the same problems I always have to deal with (finding something to eat, getting tired out more quickly than my friends, diarrhea in an airport) anywhere else. I spent a lot of time worrying about my limitations just to discover that I’ve grown with them for eleven years and I know how to deal with them in most circumstances by now. I don’t have to be so afraid (let the record show that sometimes I still get afraid to be “that difficult girl who asks all the questions” to a waiter and my friend Susan had to do it for me. You will always still struggle with certain aspects. Just make sure you find a good friend who doesn’t.)
Some noteworthy moments from the trip in which I learned about the world/other cultures/my own humanity include:
-The night Carly, Susan and I slept in our rental car in the rental car parking lot because we thought we were too resourceful to need to pay for a hotel room. Lesson to self: You are not the kind of girl who can sleep in a car and still love anything about the world.
-Brushing my teeth in a lot of airport bathrooms.
-Getting my debit card declined immediately after arriving in a foreign country.
-A moment after we had all gotten a pre-packaged full body massage and scrub where we reconvened in the lobby of the spa and gently asked each other “Did your masseuse stay in the room to watch you as you got into the bath?”
-Lying sardine-style in a magnificently carved canopy bed with four people whose last names I still sometimes forget and talking about the movies we loved watching when we were little.
-Watching a tiny baby monkey nurse from its mother in a forest filled with monkeys. And shortly after, getting bitten by one of these monkeys.
-Nearly capsizing our raft in the middle of a very rapid river and the extreme rush of adrenaline that surged through my body when I realized I was going to survive.
-The monologue Will gave on a particularly long car ride through the jungle about how elephants have souls and are able to comprehend complexities of the world.
-A moment when we were en route back to New Zealand and the lady at the counter explained to us that we needed Australian visas because of our supremely long layover, and the five of us had to crowd around Carly’s laptop and desperately sort though a mess of paperwork before our flight left without us.
Out of all of the moments on the trip, that is the one that will always stick out to me the most. I felt it very clearly as it was happening: I was sitting in an open-air lobby with all of my bags surrounding me, sweating, while my disgruntled friends tried frantically to apply for visas. We called my mom and Carly’s dad, but our parents couldn’t help us from continents away. I stared up at the departure board, counting down the minutes that remained before we would be stranded in Bali. In the back of my mind, I worried about missing classes. I remember thinking, this is it. This is exactly how it feels to be young.
It was five in the morning when I stumbled through the back door of my flat with my bag on my shoulder. I waved goodbye to my friends and turned to my door. Relief flooded me- finally, a chance to get some real sleep. But when I walked into my room and dropped my bag on the floor, something changed.
You know that feeling you get when you leave home for a long time and you finally get back and you can smell your house? Normally your nose is adjusted to it, but after being away for a while there are those few moments upon arrival that you can actually smell home. I guess that’s what I was expecting. But instead I smelled my room here for the first time since I arrived. I was immediately assaulted by the memory of how I felt when I first got to New Zealand- exhausted, disgruntled, horribly and irrevocably alone. It was startling. It knocked the breath out of me.
I stood in my open doorway for a few moments. My room was dark but cheerful. I’d decorated since then. I’d made friends, taken exams, traveled to a whole other continent. Why did I still feel so little and weak?
When I first got to New Zealand I set my bag down in my room and turned my little space heater on. I curled around it, trying to dry my dripping clothes. My walls were blank. I didn’t know a single person. I took out my phone and scrolled through, looking for someone to call.
This time around I dropped my bag on the ground and turned on my heel, out of my room and up the stairs. I knocked on Patrick’s door but there was no answer. I creaked it open, “Patrick? Wake up!” He was a lump on his bed, tangled in his blanket.
“Wake up, wake up, I’m home!” I said, bouncing onto the foot of his bed.
“Oh! You’re back,” Patrick mumbled into his pillow, closely followed by “What time is it?”
“Five in the morning!” I said.
“And you’re home!”
My heart is never where I am. That’s what I’ve come to learn. And that isn’t sentimental or cheesy or romantic like it might sound if you’re reading it with the wrong inflection- I don’t mean to say that I leave little pieces of myself with the people I love because they complete me and blah de blah blah blah. I’m saying that my center of gravity is still off. That when I say “home” I could be talking about so many different places that I have to stop and clarify. My body keeps moving on without waiting for the rest of me to catch up.
I think this is what I am afraid of: what if I make the switch? What if I let the love I can feel beginning to grow for these people overshadow what I feel for the ones who are far away from me? If, when I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts are of New Zealand and my friends here and my day instead of whatever is going on back at home? If I let that happen I know I would be happier. Being away wouldn’t hurt so much.
But then what? In a few months we hug goodbye. We have our last dinner together as a flat, Devon and I split one more bottle of wine, I shake everyone’s hand and thank them for making me a better person and then I leave. But this time around, when the plane lifts off, I know that I won’t be coming back to the life I created for myself. I’ll never live with these four people again. I’ll go back to Texas, where my friends are waiting, back to these people that I miss, but I’ll be waking up and thinking about New Zealand.
Letting go would be a lot less painful if I never learned to hold on in the first place.