My heart has been beating faster this week. Sporadically. Belly somersaulting at funny, off-kilter moments. I’ve been sleeping just fine but my dreams haven’t been good. Too many faces from the past, saying out loud the worst fears I have about myself.
I used to cry when I travelled. Ten years ago I left school with not much of a plan other than to piss off my high school sweetheart. He was headed through Europe with his best friend, inter-railing, and thought I’d wait patiently behind for his return. Instead I booked a plane ticket to Colombo, only looking up where, exactly, Sri Lanka is, afterwards. We were in a train station in Paris when I told him what I’d done and I still remember the look on his face. That feeling of empowerment ended the moment I flew and couldn’t stop sobbing. I came home early. The man at passport control said, why did you extend your visa if you didn’t want to stay?
I tried, I told him.
I was nauseous for a week when I went to India. Teary and a bit shaky for 72 hours when I moved to Detroit. Anxious for days before I first went to Italy, where my biggest triumph was that I stuck around long enough to realise it was all in my head.
But, it’s a very specific kind of afraid, the way I get when I travel. Because if it were a bad, negative afraid, I just wouldn’t do it. And yet, still I take the trips. Since I was 18 it’s like I’ve known that somehow, these adventures, this deliberate search for discomfort, it’s important. Not for everyone. But for me.
Travel isn’t something to get out of my system, travel is my system, my friend Courtney once said. There’s a lot in that.
The only thing, to me, more incomprehensible than actually moving to the edge of Siberia for two months, is not doing it when the chance is there.
That to do trips like this, to leave my stable London life for periods of time like I have come to do, so that I get to experience my other existence as an adventurer, out of her comfort zone, is a particular addiction, built, as addictions are, into the shapes of my bones. Into my system.
When I wrote about moving to Russia until Christmas, my phone blew up with Tweets and emails, Facebook comments and texts, so many people saying, wow. Laura. Russia! And I’ve laughed, feigned a blasé, unaffected demeanour, which is misleading, and most heavily to myself. Because I said yes on a whim, but I feel like I did when I was still a teenager. Fretful, restless, uneasy.
Like I could, given a small act of kindness from a stranger, or a flight delay, or Christ alive the assignment of the middle fucking seat on the plane, burst into tears and not stop for a really, really long time.
I’m letting myself admit that this is a huge, terrifying chapter. I don’t have to pretend that it isn’t, like I perhaps sort of have been before now. “Near Siberia,” I say, raising an eyebrow and giggling as if to infer, what am I like?! No. This is brave, and bold, and that which is brave and bold can also be crippling scary and that is okay.
And that is okay.
Every day, when I get to the café where I write, I order the vegetarian breakfast (“No toast, please. If you bring toast, I’ll eat toast, and I really don’t want to do that.”) and pull up my Gmail. I scribe about a thousand words to a woman I have never met before, but to who I write to understand myself. She does the same, and back and forth we go, learning ourselves through each other. She told me this week, “You are doing the right thing because it is what you are doing.”
That drips with a gentleness, doesn’t it? Humanness. A forgiveness of every conflicting emotion one could have about life, and love, and decisions and travel and not sitting still and movemovemoving. It is the right thing, for me.
As my cab pulled up at Heathrow on Saturday night, my driver – who hadn’t spoken to me for the whole twenty-minute ride – said, “Going anywhere nice?”
I told him, “I’m going to Russia, for two months, to teach.”
“Be cold,” he said.
“That’s what everyone says,” I told him.
“An interesting experience.”
My cab driver peered at me in the rear-view mirror, pulling up alongside the kerb outside of departures. “Have two shots of vodka,” he said, “And read your book. Then think about all the great things that are about to happen.”
“Okay,” I agreed, nodding. “I can do that.”