I need to be somewhere right now.
The thought slices urgently into my dreams like a thin steel ax. I jerk awake. Fingertips of early sunlight stretch faintly through dense curtains into a blackened room. My heart is drumming heavily.
Where am I?
I push my brain to rebel against the fog. I stay quiet, not wanting to disturb the others. Am I in a hostel dorm room? No…I don’t think so. I’m alone. A hotel?
What country is this?
A fraction of a moment flickers, the fog lifts and I become aware of the softness of my bed and pillows below me, and my warm woven blankets around me: I’m home. My heartbeat begins to slow and I exhale, bringing the flat of my hand to my forehead.
I’m home, I repeat to myself.
“What’s it been like coming back?” my friends in San Francisco ask over drinks at a dim, vibrating dive downtown.
Young, hip city dwellers have gathered on a Thursday night for post-work cocktails shaken up by a cheerful female bartender clad in high heels and a tight, shimmery dress that looks amazingly uncomfortable to me.
I glance down at my outfit, the same beat-up, comfortable stuff I’ve been wearing for the past year (I haven’t been able to get to the storage locker containing all of my worldly belongings yet). I’m pleased to find that I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about my ensemble.
So far so good.
In the recent months of my journey, I’ve fretted that the ghost of my former self might attempt to take possession of these world-worn shoes once they’ve returned to the old familiar city streets. My mind has become a soldier, fiercely guarding my own mental treasure; the confidence, calm, happiness and awareness I’ve summoned over the past year.
I can’t let anything happen to it, it’s too precious to let slip away.
“It’s been strange but good,” I say, joining them in a snug booth near the door. “It’s nice to sleep in my own bed and have hot showers and grocery stores, cuddle with my cat — and of course to see you guys again.”
What I don’t tell them is that I’ve been feeling as though something is missing, or out of place. Like I’m waiting for something, or I need to be somewhere, but I can’t put my finger on precisely what or where.
In Kathmandu, I open my eyes after a restless sleep. My t-shirt is damp with sweat from the harsh September heat, which never quite releases its grip even after the sun has been down for hours.
I’ve been roused by the sound of a bell, oddly dainty and cheerful.
Through a softly illuminated window above the bed, I make out echoing calls of falcons circling on a calm breeze above the city. Pigeons coo, seemingly directly next to my head; their nests create grassy tufts poking out from the eves of the corrugated tin roof of this three-story homestay.
Somewhere here in the Lainchaur neighborhood, roosters announce and dogs bark hoarsely into the morning air at some unknown disturbance. I sit up on my thin mattress and peek through thin flowery curtains. Below, the Nepalese family next door traces their daily patterns in their yard of packed dirt and occasional sprigs of dry grass.
Smoke floats upwards from an outdoor cooking fire tended by a sturdy-bodied mother dressed in a blue and green sari. She squats near a metal pot, holding a wooden spoon that stirs up steam from their breakfast. The father stands by the cinderblock doorway of the house wearing brown slacks and an old white tank top. He sips from a mug and gazes blankly toward the simmering food.
A young boy in a dark blue school uniform leans over a plastic water jug and brushes his teeth vigorously. A little girl, perhaps seven or eight years old, emerges from the home wearing a similar blue skirted uniform and holding a hairbrush. She goes to her mother and parks herself facing away. The mother stops stirring the pot, rises and quickly unbraids the girl’s hair, gives it a few swipes with the hairbrush, then rebraids it into a smooth dark plait tied with a white ribbon.
They’re oblivious to my curious Western eyes looking on, lulled to peacefulness. It strikes to me that the family doesn’t seem to need much. Their lives appear so simplified, so pared down, so free of unnecessary stuff.
I glance at my small blue backpack leaning against the wall in the corner of the room. My tireless companion; everything I need to live this life is inside its belly. My mind flashes to all my earthly belongings back home, sitting quietly in neatly stacked storage boxes, awaiting my return.
Outside, the delicate bell continues to ring.
My friends and I stand on the street corner as streaks of white and red light flow rapidly by in intersecting rivers of blasting horns, revving engines and whirring wheels. On the concrete river banks, young legs in expensive clothing trot past occasional decrepit, dirty, worn legs tucked near the walls of skyscrapers, restaurants and radiant hotels.
A taxi is flagged down and, hugging my friends goodnight, I climb into the back.
I tell the driver to take me home.
As we navigate the twists and turns of dazzling big city neon and shadows, I ask how his day’s been. The driver, his name is Peter, tells me he’s had a terrible day, and I listen sympathetically to his tale of demanding, impatient customers. “I wish I were back in the desert,” Peter laments, “I just came back from three months living in my camper in the desert down near L.A. and I’ll tell ya, life was nice and simple there. This city? This city is madness.”
I smile and nod in agreement with absolute understanding. Peter thanks me for listening and says he’s glad I was his next customer. “Because you’re real, if you know what I mean. You’re a real person, I can tell.”
Back inside my cozy, safe, tiny apartment, the walls ring with silence.
My cat Lucy brushes against my leg and purrs. I reach down and stroke my little companion’s soft head. She follows me as I close the curtains and prepare for bed, weaving between my feet, making it difficult (on top of the beer I’ve had) to keep my balance.
At last, I slide under my blankets, which feel as though they were spun from threads of Heaven. My bed is comfortable like a welcoming embrace. Lucy snuggles down on top of the covers next to me, still a quiet engine of reverberating breaths.
As my eyelids become weights, I fight hazily to hold on for a few more minutes to enjoy snapshots from my epic year of world wandering.
I think of the incredible places I’ve seen and the warm human beings I’ve met. I think of the adventures I’ve had, the fears I’ve conquered — my losses and my victories. My near misses and my right-on-times. I think of my friends, my heartbreakingly wonderful friends, who were with me along the way — in person and in spirit.
My final thoughts as the line between consciousness and dreamscape blurs to oblivion:
I am so proud to have accomplished this journey. I wonder what else I’m capable of that I never thought possible?
I feel so grateful. For everything. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue improving myself; to keep the confidence and calm flowing. To be compassionate and kind. To know that things don’t matter, but people and experiences do.
To appreciate every sunrise; another chance to be alive. An opportunity to chase down what’s missing, and make it my truth:
A life bravely lived, and one I can be proud of.
My dreams take over…yet I have never felt so profoundly awake.
Stay tuned for upcoming stories and photographs from my ongoing adventures 🙂