I travelled far from home this summer. For one of the very few times in my life, I would be completely alone. In a foreign land, with nothing to my name and no accountability to anyone save to myself. Some called me “brave”, others thought me “adventurous”. A woman travelling on her own in Europe. Some thought the idea of travelling alone was a challenging one, because of the loneliness. You have naught but your own company. Who would you talk to?- they asked me. And I shrugged. Anyone, I replied. Anyone who’d want to listen to what I have to say. Isn’t that dangerous? Maybe. I don’t really care. I’m a grown woman, and I can take care of myself. Oh- my dear- but you don’t know bad people and what they can do to you! Oh, I’m sure I do. I’m just not so sure I really care. Anyway, what’s meant to be is meant to be, I say.
I repeat my little mantra to myself, “I am a strong woman. I am a smart woman. I believe in me.” There were times, before this trip, that I doubted my self-worth, the person I was. Could I really be strong enough to face the sorrows of the days that would only come at me with renewed vigour? Coming out of the darkness of a divorce, raising a young child single-handedly, and leaving the only man that I truly loved to the ends of the earth, the only man who had ever romantically owned my heart- all this following quickly on the heels of my father’s death- threatened to destroy the very core that made me, me. And I don’t believe in that “Eat, Pray, Love” stuff- Elizabeth Gilbert is funny and witty, and I’m glad she discovered herself- but I am not Elizabeth Gilbert. And I don’t have the luxury of running away from my troubles, my past, the ugliness that made life so unbearably painful. I don’t have the kind of money that would allow me to live in Italy for months. I am a million kilos of excess baggage that included (gasp!) a life I would be responsible for- my daughter. And it was to be that my daughter was the only living thing that would keep me sane.
So- away from home, away from my beloved daughter. My friend, Ann, told me, “I hope you find Love.” At that time, I didn’t really understand what she meant. She hoped I would find Love. She said, “a summer romance”. I took her words at literal value, not certain if I could allow myself to fall in love again with another man, to release my emotions and allow my heart to be ruined all over again. But I nodded, and we laughed. Yeah baby. So what’s wrong with a little casual sex while on holiday?
I embraced Oxford. Walking the local market, milkshake in one hand, cookies in the other. And all the while, I greedily drank in culture, sights, sounds, history. I blended in and shopped at M&S and Primark. I walked everywhere for miles, until my ragged feet cried for mercy and my calves contracted when I went to bed the first night. I bought a bologna sandwich and sat under a tree in a park, bottle of beer within reach, pen and notebook hard at work. I wrote nonsensical prose. Made up stories about the people who walked around me. Human traffic oblivious to this person under the tree. They had no idea I was writing about them. I wrote angst-ridden, angry poetry, shouting out words like “cunt face” and “dick head” to nobody in particular. I bought goth jewelry on sale at Accessorize and inked my eyes like Evanescence’s Amy Lee. I dug into English Ale and fabulously-grilled steaks and mash. A dashing Englishman made love to me in Summertown. Bought a Toy Watch. Took a tour of the beautiful Bodleian library and imagined myself on the set of Harry Potter.
I rekindled a friendship in Dublin. Indulged in architecture, home-cooked Malaysian food and museums. Drank and relished Guinness every day. Made new friends. Dined and wined at Temple Bar and kissed an Italian man named Marco. Captivated by the Long Room in the Old Trinity College Library. Ate Irish Stew in Galway. Got lost on Forster Street and Eyre Square. Bought a Claddagh ring. Watched little men dressed as leprechauns dancing on the streets of the Latin Quarter. Threw coins into a guitar box and listened to street musicians play traditional Irish music. Met a Dubliner named Greg, who called me an Asian goddess with eyes like the moon. Partook in an Irish jig in an old pub with said Greg. Got semi-seasick on the ferry from Rossaveal to Inishmore. Cycled for hours on Inishmore. Explored the ruins of the magnificent Dun Aengus. Got sunburnt. Made friends with the islanders on Inishmore. Rode in Joe McHealy’s beat-up van up and down Kilronan Village and listened to him rant on about fixing me up with an Irish lad. Had black coffee and cigarettes with Brenda Faherty’s handsome 24-year old son, Michael Joe, on the verandah of our B&B, overlooking the Galway Coast, talking about the law. Took long walks on the island, mostly alone, sometimes getting a lift from Joe McHealy or Diane Dan. Got drunk one night and walked half an hour uphill in the dark back to the B&B. Almost died from exhaustion.
Got into a tube for the first time in London. South Kensington to Covent Garden, Friday evening 6.00pm rush hour. Pressed between 2 men, one eating chips and dropping crumbs onto my shoulder, the other in a suit facing me, his hot breath on my ear. Had drinks and dinner with Hannah & Malcolm in Leicester Square. Walked the breadth and depth of Chinatown and SoHo. Bought The Rabbit from Ann Summers. Spent hours in the Common Room in Beit Hall Residence, watching TV and surfing the net. Went to the Museum of Natural History. Spread myself out like the Vitruvian Man in Hyde Park. Shopped in Knightsbridge and battled a pimple in Boots Chemist.
And when I came home, from this wonderful adventure…. there was happiness. And then there was sadness. And then there was realization that my friend, Ann, had made complete sense when she spoke to me. If I could but write better words. If I could but capture all my memories in a nutshell and keep them there forever. If I could but whisk away to another land, with my daughter, and start anew. And I realized that I did indeed find Love. And I did fall in Love.
I fell in Love with Me. I fell in Love with all that I could Be.