On the morning of May 23, I woke up at 3 am and shoved the rest of my stuff into a bag. I got my brother and we headed for the airport. I was on my way to Friday Harbor, an island off the coast of Washington State.
When I arrived in Seattle after two flights and little sleep, I hurried to baggage claim to reunite with Matt and Maddy. And then Jenn, a stranger to me but a friend to Matt, picked us up in her van and we drove into the city.
I saw the Space Needle and it was there I realized the sores in my mouth were worsening at a rapid rate. The dry air on the plane hadn't helped. I pushed food around my plate and tried to engage, but talking hurt and my mood was damaged by the pain.
For the first three nights of the trip, I laid in my bed in Jenn's sailboat in her yard and cried silently from the pain and from the rawness of emotion that pain exposes.
I was surrounded by what would become new friends and wonderful children. And yet, I couldn't connect. I couldn't be me, because I couldn't talk.
I am loud, talkative person. I have opinions. I am fun but I worried these new people thought I was stupid, or snobby, or just awfully quiet. I wanted to go home, even though I was surrounded by tremendous beauty and wonderful hospitality.
The illness had followed me on vacation. And the juxtaposition of beauty and pain made me sick and insecure.
I wanted to be myself but the ulcers in my mouth stopped me. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted people to like me and I was so afraid that they didn't. I wanted these people to be my friends and was afraid I was missing my only opportunity.
Sometimes I am struck by how different my life is from my peers'. Everyone gets tired and everyone's back hurts but my pain is different. It is cutting and unfixable and I'm tired and my back hurts too. One of the kids remarked on how much I napped and it broke my heart a little. I want to have their energy.
But all I really wanted was to be my self. The person who I am, the person I have worked to be.
A few days into the trip, I was having a good time but struggling, knowing how much better my time could be if I wasn't in constant pain. I took some very strong drugs and suddenly, the sores faded.
And I came alive.
I noticed the change in these strangers (strangers who I now call friends) attitude towards me. They were absolutely nice before, but now I felt like I was a part of something. I felt I had blossomed and bonded, just in time to make what I hope to be lasting connections.
I have friends who marvel that I travel when this ill. But I travel because I need to get out of my head. And feeling so sick while I was away truly challenged me. It crushed me.
Luckily, I had a great time. I saw beautiful places, met beautiful people. I bonded with children who will always have a piece of my heart. I spent time with my best friend and his kid. I met Jenn and Sara and Daniel and Rebecca and Kerry and Luke and Olive and Betty and Lucy and Henry and Thor and Rylie and I felt accepted and loved.
Traveling teaches me about myself. How to persevere and take that hike, despite the pain. How to speak by listening. How to reconcile rot with beauty, pain with treasured experiences.
This trip consoled me.
This trip taught me and showed me beauty. This trip reminded me that I am living a full life, despite the pain. And no matter what, I will keep doing it.