Dear friends,

 

Happy New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and holidays to you! I hope you are in good health, warm company, and fine spirits as this letter reaches you – if so, you’ve beaten the odds; and if not, I hope this helps.

 

I am well enough; certainly in good health and in the loving company of my family, though as for spirits, I must confess those dive and soar as the waves of life roll past. I know that I haven’t written you in quite some time – I can say this safely because I haven’t written anyone in quite some time: it just hasn’t been a part of my life lately. Nonetheless, there is a certain tradition to the end of each year; a sense of finality and closure, and I’d like to do my bit to convey some of the fading wonder of my 2010 to you.

 

This time last year, I was in Nicaragua – a lovely country with wonderful, but far from home and family. I spent my Christmas with a handful of travelers and expatriates on a remote beach on the Pacific shore, throwing rocks into the ocean out of cell phone range, as far from the modern world as I could manage. For New Years I got disgustingly drunk with people I barely knew, making a complete ass of myself in front of a girl I had been trying to impress, and ended up burning a long list of everything I wished to remove from my life in a bonfire – I distinctly remember both “my ties to the country I was born in” and “the baggage of my past” being on that sheet of paper. Judging from my present position, that worked out amazingly well, and I’ve had no further problems in that area.

 

After the New Year, I hitched rides down to the capital of Nicaragua, rode buses to Panama City, and spent entirely too much time at border crossings in an attempt to meet up with a good friend and ride the same plane as him down to Colombia. Being as he had all the details on where we were going, it was only fitting I never saw him. Instead, I got into a late-night argument with a fabulous girl from New York, and we ended up traveling together and dating. (Let that be a lesson to everyone – if she opens the conversation with “Oh my God, are you still on your fucking phone?!” she is a keeper.)

 

Anyway, Natalie and I had a wonderful time, and after I convinced her to blow off her trip to Peru, we did a tour of some of the more beautiful parts of one of the more ridiculously beautiful countries on the planet. Seriously – find someone who has been to Colombia who will dispute the awesomeness of this country, and you’ve found a complete curmudgeon – congrats. America has Natalie largely to thank for rehabilitating her image in my mind: I guess I figured that if someone as great as her could come out of the country, then it couldn’t be all terrible. She and I spent about 3, 3 ½ weeks together, and then out of nowhere she was gone and I was alone again. Following a terribly overwrought airport goodbye scene and a crazy cokehead-driven bus ride north, what else was there for me to do except check into a mountaintop paragliding school for the next month?

 

I almost died there – not a joke at all – I’m a bad paraglider. I ended up in the bushes a few times, draped a glider over some power lines, and on my very last flight crashed into a tree and fell 40-50 feet to the ground. It’s no small miracle that I’m still here to tell this story. Still, it was a legendary experience, and nothing I’ve ever done before or since can directly compare. At the end of February, I said my goodbyes, packed my bags, and the very next morning took off to the airport. There I undertook one of the weirdest transitions in my life – torrential rain delay, 12 or 15 hours of flights (Colombian Airlines are great by-the-by) and then straight into “Snowpocalypse” – a huge blizzard with sub-zero temperatures. Did I mention I flew to NYC to visit Natalie in lieu of coming home? Yeah, that happened.

 

So there I am; torn jeans, pack of smelly clothes, t-shirt with volcanoes on it, and I’ve invited myself to come live with a girl I’ve known for less time than you’ve known the guy at your local gas station. Crazy, right? Definitely – crazy is a good descriptive word for the life I was leading. I got a cab to Natalie’s apartment, showed up extremely nervous she would just see me and slam the door, and instead was treated to a fabulous time with a lovely lady. She’d even “borrowed” a coat from some guy who had left it at a bar – good thing too, or I would have died of cold for sure! As it was, I invaded her life, she took me in with striking hospitality, and we made the best of the cold and poverty. It was a great time, made better by that strange sense of transience that comes from knowing one of you is going to bail out of town at a moment’s notice – As it was, I left just before her birthday. What can I say? I am a classy man.

 

What ended up happening is that I had placed a posting on Craigslist asking if someone was headed in the general direction of Los Angeles, and would they be so kind as to take a total stranger along with them? It worked better than I could have hoped: five hours after I sent my message, I received one from a man named Matt, who just so happened to be moving to LA. I called him, he sounded exactly like I didn’t expect a serial killer to sound, and that was good enough – the only drawback was leaving Natalie earlier than I wanted to. We had this fabulous goodbye; just like a romance novel really, and then she went off to school, and I went back into to the coffee shop to wait for my ride. Here’s how good this goodbye was – a little old lady came up to me as Natalie faded into the distance and told me that she only saw people part ways like that in the movies!

 

Then Matt called to postpone our departure – he’d found another rider who wanted to pay for gas. I went back to Natalie’s place, killed some time, and managed to delay leaving just long enough to see her coming home from the subway as I went down to the subway to head into the city. It was… the opposite of a romance novel goodbye. We made out on the cold sidewalk for a bit and then I – stupidly! – headed into Manhattan and let her get away again. As it turned out, Matt was running even later, and I was too broke to do most anything. I hung out with my cousin for a bit, and spent a couple more hours casually hiding inside the Apple store drinking cough syrup to keep from freezing and reflecting on how much better my life would be if I’d just stayed at Natalie’s place. Nonetheless, as a legitimate homeless person, I felt that a certain image had to be maintained – I’m sure the real patrons appreciated it.

 

Sometime after midnight Matt and I finally met up and began driving. The other guy – forget his name – and Matt rode up front, and I passed out almost immediately among the strewn books and bags and detrius of a man’s life uprooted. By the time I woke up, we were in Ohio. Illinois? Ohio. With 3 people you can swap drivers from here til next week, and nobody really gets tired of it, so it only took us 16 or 20 hours to get to Nashville, even after detouring to drop off Adam or Steve or Jesus at his family’s home and eat their peanut butter sandwiches. I took a few pictures – the best being a “Florence Y’all” water tower in Florence, and a street sign with Church going one way and Gay the other. Also, Matt pointed out the eye of Sauron on a local high rise. Finally, we found the Music City hostel, and made ourselves at home.

 

Nashville was a treat – country music Mecca, busking musicians everywhere, country dancing, swing bands, and we happened to pull into town right as the biggest college basketball conference tournament I’ve ever personally seen rolled into the city. Every night it was dance parties, every day strange adventures and surprisingly awesome Mexican food. With the foreign travelers and artists and drifters, I felt right at home. Matt and I enjoyed it all so much that we barely made it out of town with money enough for gas!

 

Lacking funds, food, and with my randomly-imposed March 17th deadline fast approaching, we booked it across the country. If you consider the 12 or so hours we spent at the home of the always-hospitable Becky and Seth in Durant as “on pause”, then it took us just under 48 hours to drive from Nashville to Venice Beach, where Matt and I parted ways forever friends. Speaking of friends, one of my best buddies Rad drove wayyy out of his daily life to come pick me up and buy me dinner that first night, and the gratitude I felt I still feel now. A friend will give you ride, but only a true best friend will come pick you up, tell you that you stink so badly that he’s not allowing you to go to a restaurant, and then buy you pizza! I spent the night with Chad and Rad, their respective girlfriends, and the infamous Jake motherfuckin’ Wood, who I’m sure you’ve heard of. If not, you really need to get out there. They took a lovely shot of me passed out about 3-4 hours after my arrival – It was a bit of an adventure!

 

However, all adventures end, and this one came to a pretty abrupt close just as soon as I made it back home. Little aside here – by this point, I have had a quite respectable epic adventure. I’ve crossed nations, I’ve changed continents, I’ve flown, I’ve crash-landed, I’ve met a girl, fallen in love, and moved in with her, I’ve made a handful of lifetime friends, I’ve been threatened with arrest and thrown out of very nice establishments. These first 3 months of 2010 have set an incredibly high bar for the rest of the year, no? Well, as it turns out, this is where the whole mood changes, and 2010 becomes the hardest year of my life.

 

If you didn’t already know, my younger brother is Schizophrenic. He’s not only schizophrenic – it isn’t a definition – but it’s certainly something you ought to know about the guy before you meet him, because once you do meet him, you’re going to want that sort of an explanation! Otherwise, depending on his mood and medication level, he’s going to strike you as anything from “slightly eccentric” to “Holy shit.”

 

When I first saw Ken after nearly 15 months away, I wasn’t prepared. At the time, he wasn’t diagnosed, wasn’t medicated, and while my mother had sent me many emails about his declining condition and her worries about him, there just isn’t any way to prepare for something like seeing your brother after his descent into madness. He was a wreck – not at first, when he came to pick me up and drive me home, but 3 hours later, when he began vividly arguing and gesticulating with someone imaginary in the hallway, it became very clear that something was horribly wrong.

 

The whole time I was gone, I had this snapshot of my family just as I had left them. In in, we’re all happy, smiling; I’m trying to shove the dog’s head in my mouth – we’re a normal, happy, family even if Dad takes blood pressure pills and Kyle had seizures as a kid. All of a sudden, we weren’t normal. That snapshot was bullshit. I had just been fooling myself all along. I walked into my family home and it was like a whole other family had inhabited the bodies of my parents and brothers. They were automatons going through the motions and each individually seeking to escape the terrible situation thrust upon them, and to come into that as I did, hopeful, ecstatic, energized to take on the world and beat it – well, it took the life right out of me.

 

To be fair, I was forewarned – my entire homecoming had been orchestrated in response to a series of emails received from Ken, mom, and a trusted friend while I was still in Panama. Actually, that moment I met Natalie – “Are you still on your fucking phone?!” – I was reading a lengthy email from Ken about how the parents didn’t understand him and were conspiring to lock him up in prison. It’s not so much I didn’t know, but really that I couldn’t see the situation accurately from afar – I didn’t want to, I wasn’t able to, I didn’t.

 

I abandoned pretty much all my plans upon coming home – Becky has warned me as we left her house that family problems tend to suck everyone in, and I’d sworn up and down that I would never, ever, for any reason, let that happen to me – driving across Arizona I’d sworn it to myself a dozen times. Yet within 48 hours of coming home I surrendered to the task at hand and started rebuilding. I put away all my photos – I’ve never shown traveling pictures to anyone, ever. Most of them never made it out of my camera except to be copied to my hard drives. My pack is still mostly packed, sitting in a corner of my closet, full of memories and trinkets. I swallowed my stories, let the fire in my eyes ember, and went into damage control – and what damage there was.

 

Mostly, I went into a tailspin. Transitioning from travel to home is difficult in the best circumstances, but going from full-on transience to sedentary life, trading hitchhiking for a desk job, and giving up writing, music, singing, and dancing all at once? That’s just a recipe for disaster. I fell apart, got a data-entry job for the Census, and the next few months are a blur of a job I hated, a home life I hated, and brief gems of home – letters from friends out in the world, free rock climbing with an old friend, and occasional escape to my sanctuary with Chad-Rad-Jake at the new “Boy’s House.”

 

I don’t mean to sound as if I wasn’t happy to see my family – I’m sure that comes across, but isn’t true – I was perfectly ecstatic to see them again, but to see them like this hurt like a sword through the chest. You never want to see your loved ones doubting their own existence, blaming themselves for genetics, or squirreling themselves away to hide from the failing family dynamic. Nobody who hasn’t been through a complete family meltdown can quite grasp how it undermines everything else in your life – we were all spending our days just trying to get up, work, eat, and get back to sleep again, and any day where all that happened without something else breaking was a good day. Looking back from right now, in a slightly brighter but still grim present, I have no clue how everyone pulled through that.

 

Slowly, it did get better. Ken got a diagnosis, new medication, birthdays passed, I got a job waiting tables, Dad graduated the police academy (3rd time through, those fucking bastards) and on the whole, things looked like they might be recovering. Also, some long-time friends got married, and celebration always helps to bring up the spirits. I mean, Ken did cold-cock me in the eye at one of the weddings after going cold turkey off his pills, and I started my new job with a fantastically swollen black eye, but we got through all that, and it’s been a gradual upslope ever since.

 

Yes, except for Dad losing his job, and my hours being cut so that I had to take a job washing dishes at minimum wage, and Ken’s recovery hitting a plateau, and Kyle’s grades, and Mom’s mental health, and the stolen trailer, and the broken pool motor, and the money trouble, and the arguments, and the silent malaise overshadowing every instant of our lives, it’s been a steady rise to the present. One might even say we’re quite lucky really – most people can’t take another crisis, whereas we’re so used to them that it’s all taken in stride. “Oh look,” one of us will yawn, “While we weren’t home tonight, the peaceful dottering old dog we all love and cherish fell into the icy pool and drown because she was too blind and weak to get out. How perfectly appropriate.” Don’t you wish I was making that up.

 

I think we’ve been cursed perhaps, or maybe pissed off Apollo or some of those Norse gods – not enough sacrificing, or insufficient lamentation. Perhaps life on the shit end of the stick was just too good for us, so we’ve been downgraded to the shit itself. I don’t really know the answer, but I can tell you that ever since I came home, it has been a struggle simply to wake up each morning and not sob myself back to sleep. What kind of person abandons his family to run off and have fabulous, unbelievable adventures while the people he adores fall apart? Who does that, and then, when it’s his turn to suffer along with them, spends every spare moment dreaming of running away again? Pray you don’t have to wrestle those demons.

 

And yet… I can’t bring myself to really believe that leaving wasn’t the best thing that could have happened to me. When I came back home, I was a strong enough person to deal with all the hardship and misery that this year has thrown my way, and still have inner strength to support my family. The old me, the one who never had to live on coffee for a week, the one who never had to fight parasites or crash paragliders or hitch rides from drunk drivers would never have been able to do what I have. Further, if I hadn’t been out of the picture, what’s to say I wouldn’t have just sunk down into the muck with everything else? As it turned out, my re-entry forced a lot of jolting and adjustment within the family – If I had been around the whole time, that unfamiliarity, that different view, would never have been what small help it was to swing things around for the better. Vagabonding forged me to survive, and it has been a welcome source of strength in these trying times.

 

Now, as the year and this letter come to a close, let me share a few future hopes and plans with you, so that we can perhaps end upon a much happier note. The holidays have been fabulous for us – we took a family ski trip in lieu of material gifts, and the change of scenery certainly helped to level out our mood swings. Tahoe is a very gorgeous area, we managed to visit between the massive storms, and the snowboarding, sledding, and horseplay were all therapy to us. Afterward we drove down to Grandpa’s house, did the family Christmas celebration, and managed to get home before family togetherness got the better of anyone. From there, I headed up to Santa Barbara to visit friends, wear a suit, and ring in the new year like a classy individual. It kind of worked – I spent the entire 31st sick in (someone else’s) bed, but managed to rally before midnight, got dressed, and between surprise visitors and good company, it was a great time.

 

My next step (which I’ve actually started already, since I’ve been slacking on writing this letter) is to take a leave from my job, fly to New York City to see Natalie again, then hitchhike to Oklahoma to live with Becky and Seth and write a book of my adventures. I’m looking forward to the coming year – with the family slowly recovering, I feel comfortable enough to leave again, and I’m looking at a job teaching English abroad. Travel and adventure seem to be my calling, so I’ll be doing as much of that as I can while I’m still able. I will have to work hard – I don’t have much money – but I’m confident that I can find what I’m looking for if I keep searching. For now it is enough to be back on the road, living out of a bag, and unsure of what tomorrow will bring. I hope that you all are living the lives you desire, surrounded by loving people, and happy with your present. If not, it is never too late to change your reality, and I hope that you do not settle for a life that does not fulfill your dreams.

 

I would love to hear from you, so if you ever have the chance, call me, email me, write me, skype me, facebook me, instant message me, (that’s still a thing, right?) send me a carrier pigeon, or send me a smoke signal. We live in the future – it has never been easier to contact each other!

 

Until next we cross paths, -k

Schizophrenia

November 5, 2010

I feel obligated to write something – anything – on here to explain how this blog went so suddenly from stories and observations about the world I was so excitedly exploring, to well… nothing. No posts except infrequently, and pretty poor-quality ones at that. It isn’t so much that I’ve given up on writing, but lately it has become difficult for me to write anything that I feel is worthy of being shown to other people.

 

I discovered in traveling that there are experiences which cannot be fully conveyed to anyone who did not experience them. One of my biggest problems is that while I can tell an entertaining story, or write an essay that provokes the reader to think, there simply isn’t a way to telegraph the feelings and raw emotions of some of the experiences I have had without going and doing the same things – even then, you’re likely to run into different people and do different things, and so your adventures will be different than my own. On some level it works, because most people don’t want to have the realizations that come with watching small kids huff glue to stay warm and knowing you could fix the problem except that you’d rather keep traveling and not adopt and raise a street kid, and even if you did, that’s still only one in a million. Trust me when I say that the self-discovery that comes out of walking away from someone else’s problem when you could actually fix it is one of the more unpleasant I’ve had. I’m hard on myself for details, for accuracy, and for trying not to preach, but when I try to write stories about my adventures of the past year and half, I run into an even bigger barricade; one which has prevented me from giving any serious effort to writing about my life of late.

 

I came home in mid-March of 2010, stumbled into my familial home, took some pictures, shared a few stories, and passed out. Between then and now, my life has been divided into work, looking for work, and taking every effort to keep my family from falling apart. What I hadn’t realized in my time on the road, and what they had been too kind to tell me, was that my younger brother George (what my 2-year-old self wanted to name him) had descended into the living hell of schizophrenia, and that this horrible disease had been eating my family from the inside ever since I left. By the time I returned he was holding full conversations with people none of the rest of us could see, drawing massive amounts of graffiti and nonsensical (to me) scribblings on every surface available to him, and had convinced himself that his destiny lay in becoming a professional skateboarder and rapper. He gave up on personal hygiene, developed phobias about sunlight, trimming his nails, or cutting his hair. He’d become nocturnal; sleeping until mid-afternoon and refusing contact with the rest of the family until my parents and youngest brother had gone to bed. At this point, he would emerge from his room, make a hell of a lot of noise, cook some strange meal (an entire pound of pasta with no sauce) and then go off to skateboard around the neighborhood until dawn, after which he’d go back to bed, and the cycle would repeat.

 

The burden of taking care of George fell to my mother, because my father was working 12-16 hour days at a location an hour away. This meant that for over a year, my father was more or less not present in his family’s life. My mother, in addition to her full-time job, had been attending support meanings, reading dozens of books on the subject of mental illness, and trying – largely in vain – to get my brother the assistance he so desperately needed. This left my youngest brother Randy to pretty much fend for himself at 15 years old. His grades crashed, his interest in school also, and he buried himself into video games as a coping mechanism for the terrible life he had been thrust into. Our extended family’s help and advice has been limited – one aunt and uncle offered George a job and a place to stay part of each week, but he couldn’t do the job and eventually cut ties with them as his paranoia led him to believe they too were trying to control him. (his biggest fear in life is that people are out to control him, and he will go to great, self-destructive lengths to avoid these perceived attacks on his sovereignty.) Yet incredibly, all these strange behaviors, screaming fights, and George’s descent into madness were kept largely from me, the exception being occasional tearful emails from my mother, casting herself as the over-reacting mother. From my end, George wasn’t doing great, but in our communications he was distant and sullen, not crazy. Like all of us, I simply didn’t want to believe that my brother the athlete, the architect, the wonder kid could possibly be mentally ill. We all deluded ourselves, internalized the problems, and the whole family sank silently. Coming home was such a shock, because having not seen the transition, George’s condition was intolerable. Here I was, my clearly not-sane brother before me, and I’d been off having the time of my life for a year.

 

The guilt that comes from this is indescribable. I should have been there. I could have helped. I would have made the difference. If not for my self-centered adventures, I could have stopped his slide. It’s all shit; in case you were wondering – my presence here would not have made the difference then any more than it has now, and I am confident that I would have done a far worse job than I have if not for the perspective and strength I gained in traveling. Had I stayed, I would have been in the same condition as my family at the time of my return – soul-bruised, vacant, and hopeless. It doesn’t matter where guilt is concerned – the knife still digs into my chest when I think of their suffering concurrent with my happiness, separated by a few thousand miles and a yearning gulf of uncaring bliss. When the pain and suffering breached my isolation, and brother, mother, and friend all asked me to return with a few days of each other, I did what any good son would, and came home to investigate for myself. By that I mean I flew to Colombia, got a paragliding license, flew to NYC, and hitched a ride cross-country with a now-great friend Matt. I took my time because even faced with the distress of those I loved, I misunderstood the urgency in their words – George was coherent in his communications with me, so how bad could it really be?

 

Life-shatteringly terrible, as it turned out.

 

My original plan in coming home had been to stay here only for a matter of weeks, a few months tops, to visit the family, say hi to old friends, aid George in whatever was ailing him, and then victoriously take off again – to overseas, to live with new friends, or to reunite the wonderful woman I met and fell in love with in Colombia. (I swear, Natalie, I will write our story soon enough!) That plan, like any, never survived first contact with the enemy. My family members did not even speak to each other in my first few days back in the country. They did not interact except at the most basic level of survival communication, and each seemed trapped in a world of isolated unhappiness. Seeing the dire straits of my family I could not help but to abandon my own interests and save the people I love.

 

I have been remarkably unsuccessful in this – good intentions cannot cure mental illness – and to this day George suffers delusions, heightened unpleasant senses, and cannot separate real from fantasy. He lives in a world all his own, surrounded and tormented by demons the rest of us cannot imagine. At times he shakes loose, and for an hour, a day, my brother is back with us – in certain situations, surrounded by lifelong friends and doing activities he has loved his entire life, he will appear almost as I remember him from all those years ago. Then something will shift; his entire body language will slump, his voice will change, and he will be another person altogether. He is gone again, and until another surprise reappearance, the person we must deal with is not the one we love. His other self, the one that we most often see, is angry at the world – we are all assholes, we are crazy, we are the enemy seeking to control and destroy him. If not for us, he would be able to live free, take charge of his own destiny, and fulfill his rap/skate dreams. We hate him, we are obsessed with him, we have nothing better to do with our lives than to destroy is, and that is our purpose in existence. All of these are things he has yelled at my mother and myself within the past 50 hours. He cannot make eye contact, he cannot face the people he is speaking with. His hair – ratty and matted to his head – hangs past his nose now, and he moves stiffly, robot-like, with everything coming from the shoulder and hip joints. When he is like this there is no point in talking to him – his denial of his own problems runs so deep that anything, the slightest comment, will drive him into fits of rage.

 

One of my greatest fears in life is that he will attack my mother or youngest brother, and I will not be there to fight him off. He has twice assaulted me – once in our home, and another time at a good friend’s wedding. I still have the scar from that second attack, my right eye does not open the same as it once did, and I suspect the injury is for life. On his bad days we all barricade our doors and let him rage, because he is an adult, and the rights of parents and family over the mentally ill in this country are non-existent. He has no control of his mind, and yet no one, not the police, our insurance, his school, nor his former doctors will grant anyone the ability to protect him from himself. In this manner, we are given the choice of throwing our own kin into the streets to survive as a crazy homeless man, or to keep him at home. There are no other options until he harms someone to the point of going to jail or a mental facility. We have no money – we have spent many thousands of dollars on medicines, doctors, mental care experts, and there is no cure forthcoming. For a while now he has been medicated, but one of the first things that comes from his medication is an overwhelming feeling that he doesn’t need the pills to control his life. Thus he hides them, refuses to take them for days, misses his dosing schedule, and the meds feed another part of roller-coaster emotions. While unmedicated he is a danger to everyone around him, but while he continues to take his medication on so erratic a schedule he risks permanent harm to himself, and amplifies the wild cycles of his mind. His manner is hostile, his behavior erratic, and his attacks on myself and others leave me little choice but to assume the worst – he will hurt someone one day if he is not stopped. As there are no authorities willing to deal with him, our choice as his family is to keep him close to home and both protect George from the uncaring world, and the world from the insane George.

 

There is no clear path left open to us now – those diagnosed schizophrenics who are caught early and take their medication consistently can oftentimes recover, but for those who persist for years in denial and rebellion against their own minds the hopeful prognoses fade to semi-invalid or death. A full quarter commit suicide – the same proportion which recovers completely. My brother’s condition was discovered when my father and I bailed him out of jail a year and 9 months ago. Talking with his roommates at the time, he had been bad off for many months before that as well. With the medical insurance games and exorbitant fees of private practice doctors, we did not have a diagnosis until some 5 months ago – likely too late. Certainly George has not responded well to the treatments or medication, and his current behavior, while less physically violent than before, is still volatile to the point of grave concern. He has driven away his friends, lost every job offered to him, is on the verge of being kicked out of the local community college, and has convinced himself that his own family is plotting to destroy his life. At this rate, I do not expect him to survive another year – indeed, my mother and I spoke just yesterday about our (previously separate and unspoken) fears that each day will be the one where we discover he has killed himself.

 

There is no way out of this without abandoning my family. My parents are close to divorce, Randy clings to me as a rock of stability in his shattered life, and everyone seems to need my love and advice on a constant basis. They all need me, and in my heart I can feel only hate. I hate San Diego. I hate living here, I hate the people here. I hate the way that this whole world has turned to ashes in my hands. I hate that I cannot help, cannot save, can do nothing more than comfort the people I love as we all spiral downward. We are trapped behind George’s lying brain’s filters – our outstretched arms are obscene gestures to him – our words are horrible to his lying ears. He is trapped in a hell of his own creation, and his powers of creation are so great that all who come in contact are sucked in as well. I find myself simultaneously dreading and hoping for his death – at least then he would not have to suffer so. At least then we could try to recover. I know there is no happiness here, that there may never be happiness again – for any of us. There is no one I can speak to about this – not without paying money I do not have for a counselor whose job is to listen. I don’t need a prostitute.

 

Just as there was once a gulf between myself out in the world and family here at home, so is there now a gulf between my former self and my present. I have never shown traveling photos to anyone, I have never told my story to a friend. I can feel myself putting all those happy times into a little mental box, locking it, and abandoning my dreams. I am being ground into powder my this life, and soon I will be nothing left.

 

Last night I dreamed the happiest thing I have felt in as long as I can remember. I was on the road, in the back of a truck, riding to I-know-not-where. Around me were friends, and we were riding off to some great adventure, laughing and singing into the wind. I took my phone from my pocket, threw it into the road, an explosion of plastic and glass and circuits. We all found his hilarious. Later, sitting around a campfire, I took my passport from my pocket, thumbed the pages, threw it into the hungry flames. Next my photos, of family, friends, a life I no longer wanted. Journals went in, my laptop too. My companions sat silently as I did this, and tears of joy flooded down my face. Afterward, I sat and faced the dimming fire with my wet face, finally free of myself.

 

Do you see what I am getting at here? Do you see where my mind goes? There can be no happiness for me when those I love are in such pain. Coming back here, I though the solution was to help them, to free the ones I love from their chains. Now I see that is impossible, and that I am chaining my body alongside theirs. My only hope lies in flight; in abandoning everyone I have ever loved and beginning anew in another life. I am not even the same man I was when I returned, and certainly that carefree, happy, traveler would hardly recognize me. The few people I still talk to honestly are unanimous in their assurances that what I am doing is noble and good, and will be worth it in the end, but I have lost any faith I once had. My brother is not my brother any more. My family is shattered, without hope, without help. Our friends have their own lives and worries, and as our problems deepen, they bow out one at a time. We are alone in a way I have never been – even being actually alone is less lonely than to be the problem family, the one who brings everyone down. I am sure that the only responses this gets will be good-natured, well-intended missives of help and support, but my own doubts are so deep that it all comes to naught.

 

So you see, writing a book about adventures, love stories, and happy times is quite impossible when the whole world is on fire, and there in no one there to help you put it out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put on a fake smile and pretend to be happy for the benefit of others – a man has to make a living somehow.

 

Apology

June 2, 2010

Every parent has such high hopes for their newborn child. I think they want to give birth to, raise, nurture a prodigy – the baby Einstein or Curie, Mozart’s second coming, maybe Jesus himself with bless the family with his triumphant return – all trumpets, skyfire, and angels. Look at her lying there, drooling and babbling softly… The child is brilliant, beautiful, perfect in every way, full of talent and promise – an embodiment of all that is good, hopeful, and possible in the world. What potential! And what a burden also, for that little bundle of flesh.

Woe to those who do not live to realize the dreams of their parents. Bad is failing in the attempt – being simply too dull, too plain, too mediocre to summit the lofty peaks of their imagination, stretching, failing, falling to lie in the dirt, never to climb higher. At least there is comfort there among the masses trying and failing at the same. Company, even in failure, makes loss more bearable. Worse than failing, far worse, is to give up – to abandon the dreams of the father, mother, family, and chase goals wholly one’s own – in this one commits the greatest sin, the harshest injustice against the family unit. To rip oneself from the whole, to set out alone and seek individual happiness, fulfillment on one’s private terms is to forever set self against family – the love may still be there, but the solidarity is fractured, belied by the precedence of the personal.

What makes this second choice so painful is not the confrontation, the arguing, the tears. The initial reactions cannot possibly hurt so badly as those of years later, when you aren’t a doctor and don’t live in a fancy mansion, when you don’t want to write for newspapers or whore yourself to pay the rent, but still want to be a part of your family. It’s the way mom can’t hide the disappointment flashing in her eyes as an old girlfriend marries someone richer, more handsome. It’s the catch in dad’s voice as you tell him how good it was to see your old friends – “those bums” he doesn’t say, but you can feel it just the slightest. When you could have been anything, perfect, the prodigal son and instead spend your life chasing happiness on your own terms, the rift is near bottomless if nigh invisible. Nobody speaks of it. Nobody dares mention how great you were in school, how everyone thought you’d be rich and successful, a power player in the groups that run the world. It’s all too painful, so we keep silent, keep living.

It’s that silence that hurts worst, eats us from within, divides, conquers each from behind the facade until we’re just shells wandering through the same spaces in different worlds. Perhaps that is at the heart of what drove my brother to the brink and then beyond – certainly he has fallen harder than I, harder than he deserves. Deserve… as if life truly was that just, simple, or fair. I think the dream of heaven is couched in the reality of life – utopia must be like life, but without the bad bits in it – a beautiful vision, but I can’t imagine the reality of it being anything except frightfully dull and devoid of purpose. What would be the point of existence without struggle? Why survive if not to raise a fist, throw a manic grin to the universe, and shout the words “I’m still here goddammit!” upon reaching another summit? I can’t imagine one, but then I’m not going to heaven anyhow. Neither are you, but this is getting muddy – I meant to talk about parents.

About disappointing parents.

About apologizing.

I’m not much for apologies, perhaps because I’m a self-centered, arrogant, and full of shit, or perhaps because I’m usually right enough in any apology-spawning stance I take that reconciliation would have to be mutual and the whole rest of the world is too self-centered, arrogant, and full of shit to realize the truth in that. Then again, I could just be overlooking the fact that the ease of any apology is inversely correlated with the passion and conviction that drove the fight. When I run into someone unexpectedly, elbow you in the side by sheer accident, don’t pay attention, to apologize is simple – a matter of course and culture. When I get into a screaming, lamp-throwing, passionate argument, to apologize then becomes a mountain of sand I must climb, force myself up until the end result is gasped – exhausted – from the mental peak.

It never comes out right.

I’m a product of my family and also of my world, but neither of those are particularly forgiving or submissive. We’re hardheaded, spirited fighters; play hard and fight dirty with equal zeal. We’re all right, unless someone beats wrong into us. When I feel I’m in the right, I’ll never apologize. I’ll try and console you , to find some satisfactory compromise perhaps, but the fact is this – if I’m right, that overrules your hurt feelings, and simply being angry doesn’t earn you an apology. When it comes to how I ought lead my life, I’m right – I know what is best for me, and what I’m willing to do to get there. You might have experience, education, opinion, a lifetime of learning to back you up, but the course of life comes in the end to only oneself. I know best when it comes to myself, about what I ought to be doing with my life just as you with yours. Not that they aren’t right in their own ways. I probably would have been a hell of a doctor. Will be – med school is another 8 or 10 or 14 years, and my alternate-universe self had better love obscenely long hours, bureaucracy, and school. I don’t, that’s why I’m not surrounding myself with those things!

We must make certain decisions for ourselves in life – at those key junctures, yes, but every day we make the choices that form our path. There have been so many opportunities to take myself another direction yet here I am in this place, going this way, and nothing explains my existence here more thoroughly than my own actions, thoughts, wants, choices. I choose to live as I do, not as my parents would have wanted – even as it hurts them and me both. “Hurts” is so damn relative. It makes them sad, makes them feel like failures and bad human beings. However, I like this life, have enjoyed some parts of it to the utmost, have struggled and fought, won my existence – that I still continue to act as I do speaks to my stubbornness perhaps, or my love of this lifestyle. Both, likely.

I disappointed my family when I grew up wild, impulsive, loving chaos over structure, desiring not stability but adventure. They will deny it of course, but there is that glimmer in the eyes, stutter in the voice – the telltales of any pride-hurt benefactor facing the fallen protégé – that hurts so much more than I can express. I crave the road and travel for this reason among many. I do not enjoy facing those whom I love, who love me in return, and knowing that my way of life causes them unhappiness. Weak as it seems, I would rather be a world away and know the same, just not deal with it, not face it day to day. I am glad to be here with them, but this place is not home any longer – it is but another stop in a journey without end. I cannot wait to leave here, but I must not without doing the things required of me. I will always love my family, for their imperfections and foibles more than in spite of them. I just find that I do my loving better from afar, as far as they are concerned.

All my parents ask of me now is that I don’t live so far away they won’t be able to see me.

All I want to do is travel far and wide, see the corners of the spinning sphere, and get lost in the glory of life.

I’m a disappointment to my family, and I don’t see that changing. It hurts. I can’t apologize for who I am.

The Situation Thus Far

April 16, 2010

Dramatic title, I know.  Really, I just need to write something, anything here and I’m sick of being negative so I’ve by and large refrained from posting anything at all.  It’s hard all over, as the saying goes, and I’m trying not to spread my black moods any further than I absolutely must.

It’s difficult.

There’s a lot I’d like to write about, but without a resolution I really can’t make a story of it.  I’m going to give it a shot anyway, but it’ll probably come out sadder than intended.  No matter – I’m home, got here 3 weeks ago give or take, and I’ve finally carved out a niche in the ole’ homestead.  My room, the one that was mine 5 years ago before I moved out, had become the storage warehouse, semi-permanent office, guest room, and who knows what else.  When I first got here it felt kind of like moving into a mausoleum to my childhood – old trophies, diplomas, bags and boxes I never unpacked; the whole schebang.

Try moving back into your parent’s house after being a wandering bum for a year plus – it’s like attending and presiding over your own funeral, the one everyone else skipped.  I couldn’t do the “here’s your whole old life, the one you never were all that excited about and now can’t stand” thing at first – just getting up was paralyzing.  I’d wake up surrounded by boxes and just close my eyes again, hoping the next time I opened them I’d be in Colombia or Guatemala or even my shithole casitita in Honduras.  No avail.

Still, I’m not so hopeless as to be controlled by my own mess – I just kept living out of my backpack the last weeks as I tore the hell out of the room – shoved 20 years of kids books, schoolwork, paintball shwag, boxes, bins, photo organizers, sacks, socks, dressers into “attic,” “donate,” “toss” piles and now I’m sitting quite happily in a room that is pretty much the cleanest in the whole house  so long as I ignore that one corner where all the art supplies I don’t know how to deal with are.

The hallway full of pillows, blankets, TVs, monitors, and boxes also requires a certain blind eye…  Small victory, but it was weeks in coming.

In this atmosphere I need the small ones to keep me sane, because the big ones just aren’t coming.  I came home to a warzone – there is just no nice way of saying it.  Parents not talking to kids, one brother locking himself in his room all day and wandering the house all night.  Arguments in proxy, anger and fear and hopelessness everywhere.  The love was gone, and nobody seemed to be looking for it.  I hadn’t realized just how bad things were until I was thrust into the middle of it all.  Things are bad.  They were worse when I got here.  That’s my small victory.  Talking is still minimal, there are still angry outbursts, a recent death in the family, our car  carrier trailer got stolen, things are broken and nobody has time to fix them… It’s rough, but we’re making due, and that crucial family cohesion is coming back bit by bit.  Doesn’t make me feel any less of a shithead for leaving right as things started going downhill.

The job hunt is a joke.  Every day I throw applications into the abyss, expecting fully that they’ll never return.  Once every few days I get a near-automated response and that cruel mockery just sends me raging.  Nobody is hiring.  I’m damaged goods in the eyes of corporate America – all the same things that made me an ideal employee in the traveler world, being bilingual, having a wide variety of experiences, being adventurous and open-minded – those all work against me here.  “You left before,” the unspoken accusation, “why would you stick around in our awful entry-level positions that sap the life out of you for peanuts?”

Good point.  Why would I?

The ball and chain.

A credit card debt bomb, fuse slowly inching down, sits at my feet.  Frantic actions are being taken, giant Hurt Locker-esque suits being donned.  Chase is dumb enough to offer me another credit card, zero percent for a year?  Guess what BofA?  Fuck Y’all I’m going with the cop out!  Cain in Nicaragua, eat your heart out – this is your debt-rodeo riding strategy to a T.  Small victories.  Still, with no income the minimum payment is a wall of solid granite looming, and my steering is locked, brakes are out.  I’m heading for a collision and can’t keep my head above water.

Postponing the inevitable, hoping for an out – I feel like that’s all I see going on around me these days.

People are really fucking grim!  We don’t smile in the USA, not on the level of slum kids or homeless men, nor on the level of street tailors or beggars in the streets of Nicaragua.  We’re so unhappy that I can’t help but feel it – a one-two punch in the gut – hollow eyes and a frown as you drive past.  Nobody walks, the people live inside in Southern California, in the beautiful sun.  It’s all just so foreign to me, I can’t bear it.  Where are the adventurers?  Where are the rebels?  What happened to the happiness of being broke and outside, the joy that comes with just doing nothing?  The people here don’t have it.  They wear rebel T-shirts made in sweatshops, listen to the indie bands in the cars they still owe payments on, keep their eyes straight ahead and heads down – don’t make any sudden movements.  It’s like everyone is on their tiptoes because daddy is drinking and we don’t want to make him angry.

I’m such an outsider now that I can’t even find people to talk to about these sorts of observations.  The vast majority don’t notice because they’ve never known anything different, the few who do are cowed into submission by the sheer mass of the topic – “Things sure are fucked up around here there days, aren’t they?” – you have to sneak into discussing the topic, slide around the edges, paint the elephant’s toenails but for fuck’s sake don’t anyone point out that he’s standing here in the room with us!  There’s just a general desire to turn a blind eye to the basic truth of what’s going on here.

Americans have forgotten what it means to be free.

Freedom requires danger, and we’re so risk-adverse that we’d rather run to our trucks than set off fireworks in a field.  I’m looking at you, guys who fled the festivities a couple nights ago because we fired 2, two, dos, one-two rockets off into the air!  BANG theeeeewwwwBOOM and that’s it.  The police might come, sure, but if you’re so worried about the cops finding you and arresting you for shooting off firecrackers that you actually bail a party…  What’s the point of living any longer?  You’re worried about losing your job?  Perhaps the question needs to be asked – where have all the jobs gone, that you are so terrified of losing yours?  Where did those bailout funds go, if not to keep Americans employed?  Why do the top 10% own 50% of the wealth?  Where’s my bailout?  Hard questions, but until we look at root causes we’re just going to permit our government to give the rest of our money to the rich.  So long as we’re divided, so long as we’re convinced the poor are the ones getting handouts, we’ll never question the order of things.

My brother freaked out at me the other day for giving a handful of change to a dirty guy sitting on the freeway offramp.  “Please.  I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it.” reads the sign.  “Thanks brother,” he says, the first real smile I’ve seen in a  week on his lips.  “You have no idea how little people give these days.”  My brother next to me yells – “Don’t give him all that!  Look at all those quarters!  He’s faking it, he could just get a job  if he needed money.”  I see his eyes, hard and dark, and think of long days  spent smoking cigarettes and drinking instant coffee to keep the belly full.  He doesn’t get it – he’s never known anything else – the TV tells him that the homeless are dangerous, the beggars all fakes and liars, and who is he to think otherwise.  We all believe our programming until we step outside of it and see the Potemkin village for what it is.  Fear, anger, ignorance, bred on lies and false histories – I  can’t help but feel that this place is going down down down unless some voice of reason and sanity can step in.  The racism and rah-rah USA blow up dem terrist undercurrent is terrifying.

If Barack Obama can be tarred as a socialist (hahahaha really?  Fucking hell…) and Justice Stevens as a liberal lion, then Ronald Reagan becomes some champion of the left, because he was more liberal than both of them.  He was a crazy right-wing nutjob in his day, and now he’s to the political left of Barack Obama.  What hope is there for reason and honest discussion when the far-right party is being tarred as socialist by the fascists?  I think Frank Llewellyn wins my heart today by pointing out on CNN that Sarah Palin was the most socialistic candidate in the 2008 elections.  I only wish that more Americans would get outside the states and see what a real live socialist looks like in the wild.  Err wait, as I was told recently “I don’t care what they do outside the country – they’re not Americans!”  Right, you get em.  The old jingoism still knocks me for a loop when I see it.

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to get super-depressing and ragey  in this?  Whoops.

The shining light of this whole return has come from a good friend I knew since Kindergarten.  He and I have taken up hiking, bouldering, free rock climbing, and just hanging out – it’s pretty much all that keeps me sane these days.  When you’re 10-15 feet up a rock wall with nothing between you and hard ground except that knobby rock in your hand and crack you wedged your left foot into, there’s no thinking.  There’s no debate.  Only action remains at that point, only exertion and climbing and breathing and the next move.  It’s my style too – personal accomplishment, no point to it really, and it requires a certain strain of insanity that I find rather endearing.  Endorphins, Adrenaline, a healthy dose of fear, sweat; shake over ice and serve cool.  It’s the sort of cocktail I’m all about these days, given that I’m too broke to buy booze.  Ah well, I could do to be healthy for a while.  That’s the happy-haps for me now, and yes, I really just did write “happy-haps.”  Sometimes it’s just one person or one small gesture that makes all the difference.  I only hope mine work so well.

Oh, and the internet is EVERYWHERE.  Seriously strange.  I’d gotten so used to it being tiny little pockets strewn across the world like gems, and now there’s a 10 foot wide deadzone in the far end of the house and everyone complains.  Funny stuff.

Madrugada Rambles

February 1, 2010

I can’t sleep any more.

It’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. This shouldn’t bother me so much – I rarely know what I’m doing.  I’ve spent nearly a year flying by the seat of my pants, doing whatever seemed right in the moment, just living day to day as I saw fit.

It was wonderful.  Truly fantastic, if I am to be honest with myself.  Finally, in the unknowing, in the not planning, I had found a life that made me truly content, happy in the most basic way.
And now that’s over.

It wasn’t my choice – it wasn’t anybody’s choice.  Things just change, ebb and flow, with time.  The universe just does this, and it isn’t our place to whine or bitch about it.  Life back home, the life I left behind, abandoned like a prom night baby, walked out on and never looked back; that life caught up to me again.

Debt was a big part of it.  Family drama is a much bigger one.  People I love need help, and I can perhaps give it.  I might be a freer spirit, a selfish prick living a life based on doing on what makes one feel content and fulfilled, but what sort of complete shithead would I be to walk away from family?

Don’t answer that – I really don’t want to think about it right now.

There here it is, all of these thoughts – am I ready yet? – where will I go? – can I even work in the US? – won’t I just get trapped? – how the fuck will I even eat? – can I, this me, be happy there in that past me’s life? – all this shit, nonsense, worry, pain just rattling around in my head, and I’ve lost my coping mechanisms.

It was easy to quit smoking when I had sex on a regular basis.

All the little things that I take particular joy out of in this life, like singing into the wind in the back of a speeding pickup truck, running into the ocean with my pants on just to float out in the waves, spending an entire day walking circles aimlessly around a bustling city, making lifelong friends over coffee on a small couch, then saying goodbye forever – those sort of things didn’t happen before.  Those sort of things don’t happen in a place where the magic is dead.  Where is the place for someone like me in such a hard, rude, fast place as the US?  People who write poetry and sit around all morning watching the clouds pass by aren’t exactly in high demand.  Where is the productivity, the value, in any of the things I enjoy doing?  What if I just don’t want to become another wake-eat-work-shit-sleep automaton, desperately throwing myself into hobbies, activities, to pretend that I have some sort of meaning in my life?  Where’s the fucking place for that, huh?

Nowhere.  There is no place for that sort of bullshit.

Not in fast-food, fast-cars, fast-forward, faster-than-last-week, can’t-get-fast-enough modern society.  There’s no slowing down there – just full speed ahead until you shatter into a million pieces on the bricks, and everyone says fake shit and sheds crocodile tears over your corpse.  There’s nothing for me when I go back.  Not when I’ve sworn off the advantages of a self-destructive society.  I don’t want what it has to offer – the exact opposite is what I’ve found happiness in.

Is it possible to do what I need to, but also what I need too?

I’m being  a brat about it, honestly.  Just sitting, self-pitying, being a rock.  Me, the guy who tells every tourist, traveler, vagabond in their final days before returning to jail “go 110%, right into the final seconds, so that instead of sitting on that plane regretting the things you didn’t do, you’re that smelly, exhausted-looking guy all the other passengers whisper and point about, but secretly envy.  Live so hard, and so well, that you burn it all up in what you enjoy.  Have the best damn time you can while you can, before you’re stuck back home.”  I truly believe that, and yet I’m just loafing, lying around and wasting myself away.

Why can I give such good advice and then refute it in my actions?

It’s just – well – honestly, I didn’t see this end  coming so abruptly.  Whereas most people have a set date to leave, I haven’t had to plan anything, have deliberately avoided planning anything, since last February.  I tried to a few times, sure, but whenever you plan, you end up doing exactly what you planned to.  There’s no mystery, no adventure, no intrigue or desire or despair, pain, spontaneity, laughter, love, or authenticity to it.  You just do a list of shit, check the boxes and move on – it’s like having sex with your hand, or watching a movie.  There’s the barest outline of what you really want, but the reality, the truth, isn’t there at all.  I just got tired of fooling myself, and vowed no more plans.  Until now, that’s never been an issue.

Everything changes.

Now I need to plan something, or I’ll just be fucked completely whenever I get home.  I need a job, a life, money, an escape route, and above all, I need to be really goddamned sure that I don’t get stuck in that country any longer than absolutely necessary.   And I’ve forgotten how to even do!  What, do I make a list or something?  Should I start brainstorming, strategizing?  The most important decisions I’ve made in months have been decided by coin tosses, bets, sealed with kisses or handshakes.  Job hunting means walking door to door asking if people have work.  A resume?  That’s an insult to even ask for!  Just let me work for you, and if I’m not good enough, throw me out on my head!  What sort of fucked up system decided a contract was needed for that?

I’m used to a better life, that’s the real problem.

Make no mistake, life is better down here.  Simpler, poorer, rougher, harder, but better nonetheless.  It comes to a few things, I think.  People know each other, for starters.  They know their neighbors, who is fucking who, which dog belongs to whoever, when the neighbor’s  kid is going to have her baby, who was kissing in the park last night.  They talk, they keep up on the local goings-on, and they don’t isolate themselves from reality.  In the US, I lived years without knowing the first or last names of people who lived 20, 30, 50 feet away.  No idea who they were at all.  I’m certainly not the only one.  People know each other, and it shows in every interaction.  Further, they trust each other.  I was in a bakery today, buying a sandwich, and everything was on display right next to the door.  Not behind any doors, not covered by cameras or sensor tags, just loaves of bread, rolls, buns of any sort, sitting right next to the big fuckoff roll-up doors.

Bear in mind, this is a city of over 1 million people.  We’re not out in the countryside here.  Any asshole thief could walk right in and load up on free food, and probably even the cash register, since the employees were nowhere near it except when people were paying.  No, not here.  People don’t steal from their neighbors – not from people they know and care about.  And even if they don’t, it’s just not done!  Better to give people something, any day.  I could go for days, but let’s just concentrate on this for now – they have community here.  They have pride in their surroundings, know their fellow humans, respect each other.  You don’t see people stealing cabs, making old folks stand on buses, pregnant women lift ANYTHING.  They see the other humans around them, and live as if everyone mattered.

Try finding that at home.

I don’t know what to do, what I can do, but I do know that I will be just about the worst American in a while.  I’m giving away everything when I get back – everything I  can live without.  Considering I’ve been living from a backpack for a year, it won’t be a small pile.  I’ve been an ignorant, materialist, self-centered pig most my life, and it took this whole other life to realize it.  I can live just fine off of rice, beans, bread, and eggs.  I don’t need fancy designer pants.  I don’t need more then 3 pairs of any pants, really.  I don’t need heaps of things.  Really, all I need are friends, love, adventure, and the very basics of human comfort.  It’s not a tall order – the trick will be remembering it in the mindfuck and bustle of the corporatist world.  I guess I’ll just have to see how well I can hold onto my self and my values in the belly of the beast.

Keep smiling, and never let the bastards keep you down.

I’m going to bed. -k

Farewell to Leon

January 4, 2010

I don’t understand how I’ve gotten so attached to a place, a single city so quickly as I have, but there it is – I’m leaving Leon, Nicaragua in a couple of hours, and I actually ache with the realization that I might not be back any time soon.  What is it that ties people to locations so tightly, drags them in and wraps them up and makes it hurt – physically, mentally, emotionally all – to leave again?

I never intended to come to Leon, never even heard of it before I met a random traveling acquaintance on the Honduras-Nicaragua border.  Sjoerd, this crazy Dutch fucker, and I were hitchhiking south on a whim when we crossed paths with Mike.  “If you end up in Leon,” he said, “I’m staying there at the Tortuga Booluda.”  We had no intention of visiting, but hey, information is always appreciated to those of us who travel without plans.  A few hours later, after being chased around by drug dealers in Chichigalpa, we skidded into Leon after dark and without many other options, stayed the night.  And another.  And another.  We walked around town every day, did some drunken Michael Jackson karaoke, made friends, had a blast, and when we did finally leave it was only by tearing ourselves away from the sweet, easy, addiction of Leon.

It happened again, returning from Costa Rica to my life in Honduras.  And again two days later , chasing a beautiful Belgian woman.  A week later, looking for tattoo parlors and ending up in a part of town so run-down and gringo-unfriendly that a local man actually marched us out of the neighborhood to the nearest bus stop, and the gang-affiliated tattoo artist wouldn’t even let us talk to him.  It was so strange – every time I came to town it was “just for the night” yet I stayed a few, or a week, maybe two. Each time I left it was for good.  There’s a magnetism to this place, that much is certain – consistently good times don’t hurt, fun-loving and humorous people either.  The hoards of Scandinavians are an added bonus.  Perhaps it is just the memories that draw me back so consistently.

Still, when I left in August I wasn’t coming back – Leon had been great, but I was off to bigger and better things – or so I told myself until I found myself here again a month later, smellier, with more holes in my clothes, but welcomed with open arms nonetheless.  We’re dysfunctional lovers, Leon and I, always parting ways, pretending it is for real, but never meaning it in our hearts.  I left again, chasing a girl of course, went south to Granada, Ometepe, hitchhiked Costa Rica for a while, and when all of that ended, I crawled broken-hearted back to Leon, hoping she’d be so forgiving as to take me in again.

Of course she did – in her mercy she even gave me a new family at Hostal Sonati – sent an Irish lass to fetch me from the bus station and dumped me shell-shocked and exhausted into a big dorm room full of sinners, saints, artists, prophets, adventurers, lovers, and Dengue-fever victims.  Leon knows just how to heal me – one night turned into ten, we dabbled in debauchery as high art, flung minds, bodies, souls into the practice, spent nights in a blur, nights in a haze, forged lifetime friendships and love affairs timeless.

It was all I could do to get out, to flee before Leon consumed me and carried me off struggling into the night, to break me of my adventuring ways until I started a restaurant and a magazine and lived my life contented and happy – who would want that anyhow?  I fled to Guatemala, wrote a poem about it all, and again thought I’d gotten away from this dangerous siren.

It was not to be – another life ended abruptly, another love affair collapsed, and Christmas fast approaching – what else was I to do but come back to Leon, tail between my legs, to see if there was anything left here for me?  There was, of course, there always is if you’re willing to ask, but the pull was so strong that I’m still here fifteen days after I showed up.  I’ve canceled a boat cruise, pushed back paragliding, flirted with giving up the whole hitchhiking adventurer life just to stay here and hang out at the beach with Norwegian metalheads all day.  Today is the absolute last day I can possibly leave if I’m going to make it to Columbia on time, and I just don’t know if my heart is in it.

I guess I just don’t know how to treat a city like this.  My friends back home used to say that we weren’t allowed to have nice things, the reason being that we’d always do something stupid with them, but what about a nice city, a contented life?  Am I allowed to have one of those?  Something inside tells me no – it isn’t time yet – and so once more I shoulder my pack and prepare to head out of town.  I’m not kidding myself this time – I’ll be back to Leon – there’s no way I can stay away from the city that has brought me so many friends, laughs, good times and bad, love, tears, cheap drinks, live bands, great bars, stray dogs, street parties, and magnificently dangerous fireworks displays.  How could I?  Once this bitch gets hold of you, sinks her claws into you, there’s no escaping – I might as well admit that I like it.  So farewell Leon, you’re the best city in Central America, a hitchhikers’ oasis in a cruel, confusing life – don’t ever change!  I won’t know what to do with you otherwise.  To all you Leonites, I’ll pour one out for you if you’ll do the same, and when I get back, you’d better bet the first bottle is on me! -k

What I’m Thankful For

November 28, 2009

I started this on Thanksgiving, but some old friends came into town yesterday and decided I needed a Thanksgiving party, so Mexican food, tequila and mezcal, dancing all night, and the drunkest acapella Elvis cover band in the world substituted for family togetherness and turkey. Kind of. Anyway, here’s what I started yesterday and neglected to finish until this morning:

I’m sitting on the hard tile floor in a mildewed dark room next to the only working outlet in this hostel that is also within range of wifi. My family and friends are several countries away, and on this day of family togetherness and giving thanks, I’m nursing a head cold and surrounded by strangers. Nobody aside from Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, so as you might guess I’m a bit out of my element today.

Making things harder is the fact that I’ve drifted far enough away from everyone I love that they aren’t really able or willing to contact me any longer. The last time someone outside of my family called me or emailed from back home was weeks ago. It’s not them – I don’t usually have a phone, and I’m far from the most communicative person anyway. Still, it hurts a bit when your good friend sends you an email and you realize you can’t remember the last time that happened.

It’s my fault – I’m the one who left, I’m the one who isn’t close, or a part of your day to day life, and I like to think that people do still think about me from time to time. Even if they don’t, I still have things to be thankful for, and this seems like a good day to reflect on them a bit.

First, the stupid material shit – I’m thankful for my little laptop, the eee I’ve had traveling with me all over Central America. Sure, she’s been more weight in the bag, but I couldn’t write or blog at all without her. Plus, it’s always nice to have a lifeline back home. Likewise, I really appreciate every single thing I still own, and that isn’t a lot. I’ve given away everything that doesn’t fit into my backpack or messenger bag, and as I do so every thing I still have becomes all the more precious. My 4 changes of clothes, 5 pairs of underwear, 6 pairs of socks are each valuable to me, each special in a way that I never understood before they were all I had. My mementos of this life, coins, bits of wood, shells, twisted metal parts are all imbued with memories. Really, if you carry everything you own around on your back all day, each thing takes on significance – this is my machete, it keeps me warm in the woods – this is my sleeping bag, it lets me sleep anywhere I choose – this is my headlamp, it lets me see, and so on. I’m thankful for everything I have.

Even more, I’m thankful for what I don’t have – my lack of a career, steady housing, a life plan, a car have all become precious gems, points of pride, and signposts that give evidence that I’m moving toward something better then what I had before. I take ridiculous pride in how much I don’t have, don’t need, don’t want even. I’ve found joy in not having, in giving away, in doing without the unnecessary. The other week I gave away almost 50 pounds of gear – clothing mainly, but also boots, a backpack, gloves, hats, books, everything. I haven’t bought anything I didn’t need for a while now, and I’m thankful that I’ve come to this realization of how little I truly need so early in my life. It would be much more difficult to live my life if I’d gotten deeper into the consumption game before I got out.

That’s what I’m most thankful for today – I’ve gotten out, torn myself free of a life I was terribly miserable in, and found a way of living that makes me truly joyous. I smile all the time, laugh genuinely, give hugs and kisses to people I don’t even know. I make friends every day, some of them for life, and get to experience a world completely alien to most of the people I know. I’m thankful for my Spanish – I can communicate with people I would never have otherwise met, learn about their lives, beliefs, hopes, dreams. I’m so thankful that I was right, that people everywhere are the same, all wanting and needing the same things – it’s one of the bases of my whole world, and sometimes it is quite nice just to be correct for once! I’m so incredibly happy to be living here, in this strange yet welcoming land, in another language, another culture, and still share moments of deep understanding with people of all stripes. From crossing cultural barriers I never knew existed before finding them to meeting, befriending, and sometimes dating people of very different worlds then my own, I’ve done a whole lot of growing lately – a trend I’m happy to be pursuing further.

Lastly, well, no, not lastly but lastly for now, I’m thankful to everyone who has made my adventures possible – from Sjoerd, Dan, Becky, Seth, Veronique, Marc, Matt, Karina, Vish and all of my traveling companions to the countless friends I’ve made, there are so many people who have made my life the better simply by touching it. The people I’ve left at home have been so good as well, especially my mother, who lives the most hectic life yet still manages to send me touching emails, and my father, a man who has fought so long to live life on his terms and is beginning to see the returns he deserves. I owe my existence to them, and am so lucky that they raised me in a way that has allowed me to become the person I am – did an excellent job too, I should add. Then there are my brothers, K2 and 3, who I see growing up and developing into themselves. It was incredible to call my family on Skype and see a DIY halfpipe in the backyard, then to realize that my youngest brother is taller then I am! Without the support of all of them, and my good friends too, I’d be so much lonelier out here. I’m thankful too that I can call home and everyone I know seems to be doing well, or at least, putting on a good show of it. Sure, I come off as crazy to most, but just having you there makes a hell of a difference.

So that’s it I guess – it’s been a tough year, but I’m better for it, and falling into this strange and wonderful life seems to be the reward. I don’t know how long I can keep it up, or how things will go tomorrow even, but in the present moment I’m fulfilled, lacking nothing essential, happy in every way, and in love with the world I inhabit. How can I not be thankful for all of that? Happy Thanksgiving to you all stateside – a day late and probably more then a dollar short, but I wish everyone the best anyway. Ciao! -k

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