Yet Still You Wander
“Another trip, then?”
“How long’s this one?”
“Not sure yet—three months, maybe.”
“I can’t get you scripts that’ll cover you for more than two; you’re also going to need another suitcase just for medical.”
“It’ll be uncomfortable—there’ll likely be fatigue, headaches and joint inflammation in those last weeks. And that’s a best case scenario.”
“I’ll be safe; make smart choices and all that.”
“You never do. Yet still, you jet off every year—slowly killing yourself.”
“You’re our most difficult patient,” they often say, lips tight with grim humour. Nurses scratch their heads when consulting blood work and doctors, eyes heavy with fatigue and the burden of knowing, turn X-rays side-to-side like lenticular postcards. They scan the charts with rapid, clinical eyes, waiting for an answer to jump out.
It never does.
Can’t put you on steroids or that’ll ravage your sugars—eyes burning, stomach churning, lethargy rising. Don’t bother with naturopathy or joints will flare and creak like the aged timber beneath Yia-yia’s stairs. Don’t over-medicate, or the efficacy of your immune system will slump lower than your mother’s when she was bed-ridden and pumped with chemo. Don’t under-medicate, or the degeneration of your worldly form will rival that of centennial war veterans—doctors will use colourful phrases, like “quickened erosion”, and you will drift to sleep imagining the monotonous, piecemeal progress of autumn rains carving canyons into the earth.
“The only cure for your cocktail of conditions is uniformity, balance and, most importantly, routine. Variability is enemy to health; equilibrium of lifestyle is the only currency that’ll buy you more years.”
Yet still, you travel.
You’re a creature of ego.
You’re envious of those who don’t hurt in strange places at random times, for no observable reason.
You’re envious of those who don’t calculate meals, sleep and footsteps with exhausting alertness, because a failure to precisely read your body’s obfuscated communications will land you in a hospital bed.
You’re envious of those who bemoan their 25th birthday as a ‘quarter-life crisis’. You wonder how anyone could be upset while believing they’ll pass from existence warmly in their bed at the age of 100—an age you know you’ll never come near.
Yet still, you’re thankful.
Thankful that your illnesses, quirks and conditions are invisible, because nothing destroys you faster than a stranger’s pity. Thankful that you have two working legs, seeing eyes and filling lungs, because nothing is more exhilarating than punishing your body as you take in new sights atop mountain heights. Thankful that you live a privileged life of comfort, love and travel, because if your youth isn’t to last, then you’ll sure as hell wander.
Thankful that you can kneel in the dust on a Dutch freeway, thumb out as the sun beats your shoulders bright red, waiting for a kind soul to stop. That someone did, a dark-hard dark-eyed Turkish woman—a kind woman who worked in corporate equity takeovers. That you sit in the back, watching farmland and dykes flash past, while a caged budgie occupies the passenger seat and pecks at scattered seeds—the creature is being delivered to your saviour’s sister in Groningen.
Thankful that you can sit cross-legged around filthy plastic tables at 3am, swapping drinking games with a circle of exotic backpackers, all bright-eyed, ambitious and drunk.
Thankful that you can trek through Japan’s forested valleys, following the scent of fresh rain, only stopping to ring bells as you pass through each postal town to frighten away any lingering bears.
Thankful that you can listen to the incongruent melody of tuk-tuks and reggae music blasting into midnight while fireworks stretch like webs across the polluted sky. That you and your friends can dangle your legs off a Phnom Penh skyscraper, sipping soju and marvelling at the climaxing festivities of a foreign city burgeoning on a new year.
Thankful that you can recline on a tiled rooftop, perfectly comfortable in the mild-warmth of a summery evening, holding a warm body close while scanning the Mediterranean stars for comets that never come.
Flesh decays and memories dissolve into vapour, but journals last forever.
You jet off every year, because since you were 17, every accumulating diagnosis has enhanced the clenching sensation of a tightening noose—so you better damn well enjoy your twenties.
You travel because your richest memories and favourite relationships have always emerged in the most unassuming of places: sleazy pub-crawls, ¬¬¬ flooded train stations and six-hour bus rides along winding mountain roads. Your mum rolls her eyes every time you say you’ll meet the one you marry buried in a notebook on a squeaky hostel bunk.
You’re thankful because decades ago, you might already have been cremated, a dying ember in a dwindling number of memories. Thankful because the brilliant efforts of scientists and researchers worldwide has not only kept you breathing, but given you opportunity to fall in love with the world an infinite number of times over.
Yet still, and despite every ounce of optimism you possess, you’re tense. You just can’t shake the feeling that you’re running out of time.
Cover by Amine Rock Hoover; inset by the author