I think I am finally beginning to understand something about my travels. There are places I will never make it to again. When I was younger I would go places because I could. It would never concern me that I may never go to Wilmington, Delaware again. Of course, that may be because I would never knowingly go to Wilmington again. But I’ll save that story for another time.
I once went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I went many times. Each time I didn’t know if it would be the last. It did not concern me one way or the other, if it would be the last. As I look back, I realize I may have treated it differently if it were the last. Maybe I would have taken one more look in the rearview mirror as the van drove southward down the snowy highway, bound for Rockford and points homeward.
Now, it is different. When I travel, I travel with both my conscious and unconscious self. My unconscious self enjoys the journey and the destination. My unconscious self remembers certain smells and sounds, some train rides, some meals, some encounters. I do not need to remind it. I do not need to take a picture. These are the stories we recount to our friends, stories which become grander or more adventuresome with the passing years. But now and then, my conscious self comes along, telling my unconscious self to remember this particular moment. It says walk around the square one last time. Remember the color of the building, the name of the subway stop, the smell of the pastries. Look here, it says. Look there. Do you see that? Then it starts to think about time and how big the world is.
This conscious self tells me that I spent 11 hours of flying on 2 airlines, then a 4-hour drive to end up here in Karlstad, Sweden. I have been dropped half a world away from your home in a country far too expensive. You will never make it back, it taunts me. This journey, this memory is just another one-night stand. You can go with the flow, experience the orgasm, the throes of passion, the bumping and grinding. Then, tomorrow you will wonder whether the pleasure is worth more than the details, alternately glowing in the light of the night that was and kicking yourself for forgetting the intimate details your brain wants to remember. Or you can study the body, concentrating on the curves and the warmth, the movements, the touches, striving to solidify all five senses in your memory, taking the chance you may miss the spontaneity, the passion that the moment is intended to bring. Tomorrow you will be left with facts and not feelings. This is how I travel, doing my best to balance both.
The result of this conundrum, this internal debate, is that I am prone to suffering from pre-nostalgia. This is the longing to return, before I have even left. I feel this way often. It happened in Chattanooga, where life seemed so easy, riding a carousel with 30-year old friends and living day-to-day the way we did in college together, visiting the shops, wasting the waning daylight. I felt it again in Luang Prabang, the glorious city on the Mekong in northern Laos. So there I sat, in the languid dense air of June, by the pool or in a cafe or on a bench, watching the tuk-tuks and the bikes and the tourists, and wonder how I could ever be so lucky to be here at this moment, a random stranger to this place. I love the calm and the hubbub, living in harmony. And I wonder to myself if I will ever make it back. And I promise myself I would make it back. But it may be 10 years or 20. Things will not be the same in even 5 years, this world changing daily, making progress I do not want it to make. And I scheme in my mind, how can I ever make it back. What path can I choose that will lead me back here to the jungles of Indochina for maybe just one week more. What is one week in a life as long as ours? Can I do it? How can I do it?
And each time I visit Waikiki, I can barely sleep. I want to curl up in that moment and freeze time. I want to turn off the clock and the sun and sit there in the perfect sunset until my brain can no longer stand the beauty. And I am the happiest person in the world, just to be there. And the saddest person in the world, knowing that I will have to leave.
I will not speak of all my journeys. I do not intend to make you jealous, just as I do not intend to share all of my experiences. We could talk all day, and if I need to explain more, you may possibly never understand. And if you understand, your mind has already started to drift to that place in your past. That hayride, that dinner under the stars, that walk down the street of the foreign city, that view. Oh, that view. That ocean. Those mountains. Yes, I think you understand. And if you are lucky it just might be more than a one night stand.