December 25 – Portsmouth, RI
The first thing to do when constructing your 20-something cliché is to equate your friends to a family. You can take cues from RENT or Reality Bites if it’s not immediately clear how to do this.
There is a burnt turkey or a flimsy Christmas tree and you’re all broke and happy.
So its Christmas day in Portsmouth, RI, USA and several elements of the narrative are falling short. There is no broken family or gaggle of bohemian friends. Just cousins and uncles and lots of food.
But when one cliché fails you can always look to another, and every returning backpacker will utter a variation of this sentence when discussing their return home: “The first week is great. You see all your friends and family, its good to be home. But then after a week…”
So yesterday was a week and Christmas is day eight, and now visions of Winona Ryder or Mark Cohen dance in my head. In my little cousin’s smile I’m strangely reminded of a Dutch girl in Rome, who hasn’t written back in a few days. In the bottles of red wine I’m nostalgic for French friends. But as Benny insists at the end of Act One, “Bohemia is dead.”
I’m unsure if it makes things sadder or less sad, but I’m aware there is no backpacking Bohemia for me to return to. Not mine anyway. The Dutch girl isn’t in Rome anymore…the Canadian isn’t in Spain…the German isn’t in Australia. No plane can take me back to the places I remember, because the people were the places.
I imagine the world now as a lonely place. I think of empty hostels and unfriendly bus stations. I think I picture it like people who haven’t traveled alone do: I imagine it being lonely because the people I know are gone.
I landed in Sydney on January 10, 2005. It was a sunny Tuesday but really it was Saturday. And every day for the next 26 countries and $20,000 was Saturday too. It was Saturday, December 17, 2005 when I returned. But the calendar was done playing games then and the next day church bells rang, and the day after that was a working Monday. So that world I discovered is hidden from me now. But in that false bohemian picture I see myself peaking in like a ghost, watching someone else still learning the straps on their backpack, watching them get comfortable in a hostel lobby, watching them step out of the week I’ve returned to and settle into their Saturday and smile at their first sight of this hidden world.