It’s like returning to a familiar place, a dark place, a place I tried to run from, stuff under my bed, bury in the back of a cupboard. A place I thought I’d left behind when I climbed aboard a plane and flew across the immeasurable skies, my pen inscribing the pages of a diary, trying to comprehend the past year, trying to come to terms with who I was now.
It’s like coming back to that place I tried so desperately hard to run from, the exhibition, the exposition, the vulnerable place, the lonely place, the little-girl-seeking-stability place. It’s like I’ve returned, and yet it’s also different here. It’s different this time around.
Something’s changed. I have a feeling it’s me.
The first time I don’t think I’ve ever been so afraid in my life. It felt like a punishment. My summer stolen from me. A safety net of blonde hair pried from girlish hands. I felt hard done by. I felt alone on an island. I felt erased. And yet, that rupturing, that dismantling of ego, that peeling back of my mask was a revival. Through pain, I changed. I couldn’t find my way back to my former self and I no longer wanted to. Months of insecurity and grief seemed to remain, glued to the tarmac as I flew across the Atlantic, alone and afraid but also ready. I rebuilt myself in the place where I’d first discovered freedom five years before.
South America. A land of Incan ruins and impossible history, of Pre-Columbian geoglyphs and uncorrupted forest. Of two kilometre waves and bare feet on sandy pavements. I healed in medicine circles and in the kindness of strangers, a girl with my namesake and a handmade tiara, an English boy who held my hand in ceremony, as an electric current moved through us. I healed in jam sessions, through song, to the call of a conch as we stood beneath Southern Peruvian skies, on my 24th birthday on the hills of Machu Picchu surrounded by llamas. I healed myself in a hostel room in a nameless town with a guitar and a book of poems. I sought and I wandered and reinvented, and the universe led me to love. It led me to immersion in the wild and a reformation of everything I believed to be important. Of what it meant to be truly seen. Of what it meant to live with mother nature – to rely on her, forage from her, listen to her thundering outside, as I lay beneath a ragged mosquito net, next to the body of a warm lover. To bathe with buckets of hot water under the full moon and cry for the physical mother I could no longer find.
I thought I had shed the demons. I thought I had done the work. I was convinced I could sink back into that place of comfort. That place of routine. That place of normalcy. I was convinced it was my time, my chapter. I’d control my path, I’d figure out the formula, I’d calculate and curb and carve and this youth would be mine. The world felt endless and infinite, I was invincible. And then it came crashing down like a plane in the Indian ocean, like a dark silhouette falling from the sky, a sinking ship, an ending. I’d tried so hard to grip onto an idea of what my life would be and the universe laughed at my plans.
But it feels different here. Sinking into the bathtub doesn’t feel as tragic, the mountain ahead, daunting, but not insurmountable. I’ve done this before, I can do this again. It’s just hair. It’s just needles. It’s just nausea. It’s just pain. “You can take it”, I whisper to myself. “You don’t have a choice”, I reply.
You don’t have a choice.
Choice is a funny thing, the way we think we have it. The way we think we decide things, the way we seem to think each doing is our own, each day is fashioned by us, constructed out of our imaginations when really it’s all chaos. Its wild, fractious, ungovernable chaos and it’s always ready to implode. But it’s also this chaos that makes it worthwhile. It’s the volatility, the variability, the unknown, the chances, the endless possibilities, that’s the magic.
We have no choice what happens to us, no control over anything – only how we choose to face the calamities. Do we crumble, or do we rise? Do we allow our comfort blanket to be ripped out from beneath us, do we walk along the tight-rope of life, staring into the sun?
This time feels different, not just because I’ve done it before, but because I’m changed by the knowing, by the recognition of pain and how it moulds you, how it permanently scars you and at the same time heals you. What a paradox and yet it’s the most simple truth ever.
When forced to shake hands with the impermanence of everything around you, how are you supposed to look at the world the same again?
All you can do is live every day with momentous gratitude and perhaps that is the point.
“You can’t control, you can’t control, so surrender,” I whisper to myself. “You’re stronger this time. You can do this,” I hear myself say as I fall asleep, as I hold myself like a child, as I wrap myself in a love grown out of loss.