Quit everything. Tell your high school boyfriend you can’t stare at the same ocean forever. Buy a one-way ticket. Disappoint your parents. Label your boxes with wit “Useful Junk,” “Rubbish, But Not.” Pack the camera he gives you as a parting gift.
Sleep in big rooms full of adults in bunk beds. Join bar crawls in ancient cities. Follow a guy to Croatia. Let him have you in all the ways he wants until he doesn’t want any more. Feel abandoned. Roam old streets, alleyways. Pat stray dogs. Feel lost. Make a tally of all the buses and boats and trains and hours spent in motion.
Take a picture of a Romanian gypsy child imagine it on canvas. Buy hippy bracelets. Join a group chasing festivals. Fit in. Throw tomatoes and drink wine from plastic buckets. See the sunrise from a mosh pit.
Start spending nights in trains instead of hostels. Wake to fields of sunflowers. Use your Euro-Rail pass to save money. Feel free. Eat only sweet biscuits. Meet a group of Brits in Berlin for the weekend. Road trip back with them to London.
Find a job in a pub on Brick Lane – board upstairs. Work double shifts. Discover roast dinners and cider and bacon bagels with brown sauce. Keep a handwritten budget. Save money. Dream of Kilimanjaro. Surfing in Costa Rica. Fall in love instead of leaving – Twice.
One big time and one small. End the small one with a broken pinky and a restraining order you’ll never tell anyone about. The big one the Irish charmer, cry about him over the phone to your sister ten thousand miles away. Find out she’s getting married.
Take your broken heart and expired visa back home. See your sister happy. Make a happy speech at the wedding. Let your high school boyfriend take you to the dance floor. Drink too much champagne with your head on his shoulder, your eyes closed, ask him to define happiness. Make this the last thing you remember about the night.
Resign to the fact that you’re back HOME. Dig through your boxes, sneer at the labels you wrote three years ago. Wish you had the money to leave again. Decide the only thing that will make you happy is to leave. Again. Work three shit jobs. Office reception, bartend. Babysit from three to six every Sunday afternoon. Do the motions. Just think of the money. Read travel books. Eat, Pray, Love, The Alchemist, The Lonely Planet Guide to India.
Make your desktop Angkor Wat. Tell everyone how much you hate this place. Tell your high school boyfriend you wish you were a better person. Tell him this really is the last time, in the same parking lot you two once lost your virginity together.
Head east. Decide to be a better person. Join an NGO in Cambodia. Paint a community mural. Help organize a puppet parade. Fly to India. Find people seeking peace. Seek peace. Eat Biryani. Decide you want to believe in karma, live again. Heal your heart. Spend one hundred and seventy eight hours riding trains over three months drinking five-rupee chai while befriending Bengali families and Amma devotees.
In Nepal obsessively photograph prayer flags. Trek in the Annapurna region. Smoke Himalayan leaves. Learn to meditate. One night get back from a temple find your hostel room robbed. Call your old boyfriend crying, panicking. Admit you didn’t have any money left anyway.
Stare at the ceiling fan. Realize you can’t be a backpacker hippy peace-seeker forever. Replay the I still Love You barely heard over the poor Skype connection. Try to make his words feel like something. Finally leave the hostel. Overhear a group talking about New York. The Centre of The Universe. Tell yourself you’ll make a lovely photo book of all the places you’ve been. Buy a ticket with the money he wired.
Find your attitude fast, your thick skin, big dream. Your right to be in this city. Juggle waitress gigs and a Photoshop course. Spend entire days in coffee shops playing with hue and saturation. Switch your phone off. Try not to get distracted, annoyed, angry when you can’t make the photos look like they do in your head. Decide you need to go back to Laos, a better camera, more time to make good art.
Try to remember to drop your fake British accent when you call home.Start feeling uneasy when the winter comes and the heating isn’t hot enough. Remember the year-round warmth in the other hemisphere, just across the world. Make a list of the countries you’ve visited. Thirty-nine. Feel smug for two seconds. Buy a coat.
Work really hard on the photo book. Decide it’s a waste of time. Survive the winter. Realize the dark thoughts haven’t gone. Go to all the beaches you can reach by train. The Rockaways, Montauk, Jersey Shore. Think of home at every one. Whiter sand. Water so clear there can be no comparison.
Swear you won’t live another winter in New York. Feel jealous but kind of happy when your sister emails a pixelated scan, fourteen weeks. Start to feel that thing travellers talk about. Homesickness. Know it’s a terrible idea. Will yourself not to go back. The small nowhere beach town with smoother you, kill you. Drop your coat and leather gloves into the donation bin in Grand Central.
Know you’re being melodramatic when you click confirm flight and nearly throw up. Work on your photo book for the whole twelve hours across the Pacific.
Surprise everyone. Give your sister’s baby an “I heart NYC” onesie. Feel like the cool aunt. Feel old. Call your old boyfriend. Tell him you want to take a walk to the fish and chip shop. Listen to him say you’ve been chasing circles. Stop when he tells you to. Just look at the horizon. Be here. Snap a nice picture. Imagine it as a postcard. Realize the place you would send it to is right here.
About the author:
Jennifer Chardon is a writer with secret dreams of also becoming a comedian and/or hairdresser. She is currently at work on a novel, Chasing Summer. The title will probably change. Her fiction has appeared in various places, including The Rumpus, Metazen and theNewerYork. Jennifer has spent much of the last six years backpacking, journal writing and staying up late. She recently bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and blogs from a garden shed at www.jenniferchardon.com