We’ve been working at a festival in Munich for about a week, doing shitty jobs like putting up tents, pouring beers and serving food. Her name is Colby, “Like the cheese,” she would always say. She was so unapologetically herself, I knew we’d be friends from the moment I first met her.
We work all day and spend the nights downing free beer and doing stupid shit with hundreds of other travellers. You’d never guess it by looking at her, but that girl knows how to party. We have a few hours off one day, so I lay in our tent to try and have a quick nap. The night before had been a big one; my head is aching and I’m running on an hour of sleep, so I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself, as we all do in such moments of despair. She crawls through the tent door after a shower, and I start complaining about something trivial.
“Ugh, I can’t fucking sleep. It’s too bright,” or something like that.
She doesn’t reply, but my eyes are closed so I assume she’s on her phone or lost in thought. A few minutes later, I sit up and say I need to head back to work. Still no reply. My groggy, hungover mind doesn’t really think anything of it. On my way out of the tent, I glance at her and see that her face is red and puffy. Tears are literally streaming down her face.
I freeze. It takes me a moment to know how to react. “What is it? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
This just makes her cry harder, louder. She is trying so hard to contain herself. I can tell she doesn’t know how to word it, how to say it out loud. Eventually, in between gasps, she tells me she went to see the doctor a couple of weeks ago, before she started travelling.
“I just got the results back.”
At this point, I’m thinking she’s pregnant. And I’m terrified for, her because in that moment, as a young and er… single traveller, I can’t think of anything worse. I crawl over to her and wrap my arms around her.
“I have a lump in my breast. It’s… not good.” She’s crying so hopelessly. I know there’s nothing I can do, nothing I can say.
I’d always heard people talk about how cruel the disease was, but I’d never personally known a sufferer. Never come face to face with the mortality of someone I love, let alone my own. I mean, as travellers, I think we’re all somewhat aware of the fragility of life. We realise the need to take advantage of a beating heart and functioning liver, live in the moment – that kind of inspirational crap.
But this was just a slap in the face. Colby was one week into an eight-month stint around Europe, which is exactly what a 23-year-old should be doing, if you ask me. It’s so easy to forget how freaking lucky we are to be young and nimble and healthy.
When global travel is a regular thing in your life, it becomes easy to adopt a frame of mind in which otherwise incredible things seem mundane. But it’s the same in everyday life. You don’t realise how lucky you are to have perfect health until it’s snatched from your ignorant hands. You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, right? Maybe it’s just important to stop every now and then, and appreciate. Smell a rose, as they say. And I guess just pray that whatever time you have on this earth, is long enough to do all that dumb shit you’ve always wanted to do.
Cover by Douglas Pope