My father used to call me his absent-minded professor. Just like your papa, he’d say. One love called me his little calamity, and was wrong only in magnitude. The married love of mine quoted Fitzgerald, and smiled, each time my infinite carelessness ended with a signature of tiny disasters. The Beautiful and Damned is right. The poet still addresses his letters to Little Lady Trouble and most recently a friend coined T.Rex the Train Wreck, saying it was a miracle I wasn’t extinct. I don’t doubt it.

A cell phone floats down the sewers of Columbia Heights, another makes a muffled call for help from the backseat of a North Carolina taxi, just two in a long line of brethren fallen. The camera under the seat of a bus in Arusha belongs to someone poorer now, and only a week passed before its twin left me for the Indian Ocean. A glass of milk, a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, all murder weapons of the various valuables in my life. Five cars were totaled before I learned to give up on the highway. My fourth iPod in two years finally forced me to be silent, and brought my mind back to paper. After all, they are only just things: little lessons in impermanence and patience, to help recall those things that truly matter. And with each minor loss came a brief mourning for whatever small joy it brought me, whatever minor hassle its loss entailed, and a smile as I thought of the one on the married man’s face if he could only see me now.

But something was different this time. A square, black journal, sharp in its youth, the red thread laced through the inner binding already beginning to fray, could never be replaced. Malaysia stole a thousand ringgit and the use of my right foot for a month. And along with that journal, my first day in Thailand cost me five thousand baht, a new wallet, all of my debit cards, my very last iPod, and my much-loved spectacles. Struggling to find a way to stay in Thailand with no access to money, and struggling harder to cope with the loss of my words, the fever hit. On the third day tossing through sweat in the heat of dreams somehow both vivid and cloudy, I lost the poet too. Overwhelmed by all that was gone from me, for the first time I felt a part of myself giving up. The girl who never did, the stupid romantic who would love a bullet in her heart if it gleaned the right way from the barrel, finally walked away from the man with the gun. But in that same pitch of hopeless fever, a soft Irishman came instead. He sang the songs whose chords I thought had vanished when I left him: the fragile movement of his wrists, each soft note less apprehensive than the last, glances darting quickly downward, awkward and guilty with wanting. I’m not quite sure how, but in the third dazed day of dreaming fever, he saved me.

Still disoriented, but on my way, words flowed faster than thoughts to every scrap of paper I could find, as I pressed my way on to Phnom Penh. I at least had a friend there, and a place to stay while I pasted the remaining shreds of my life together. The journey was as exhausting as the fever itself. I was ripped off twice more in the desperation to get to somewhere that every bus-ticket-selling Thai could smell from a mile away. But when the fever cleared and the sweet faces of Cambodia smiled each place I went, I felt a happiness again beginning to settle in me. And then the last five thousand baht I had hidden was stolen as well. I shook in disbelief. It hadn’t been a week since the first robbery. I couldn’t even pay for my room at the guest house in Siem Reap. I could feel the last remnants of resolve inside me unraveling. With the help of a somewhat stranger, I made it to Phnom Penh with $1.50 and a friend my only assets, weakly struggling to find the self I used to know through yet another knot in this long string of calamities I call my life.

From the first day in Phnom Penh, I felt like an apparition in the busy capital city. The smile on my face a pale shadow of the one that used to stretch through every limb as I discovered a new part of the world. As it was, Barbara and I explored and enjoyed the sweaty streets, she an easy distraction from the precarious sorrow that burrowed itself quietly inside. Knowing all along that one last card would topple my shaky tower, I took careful care to keep it standing, my breath ever baited, afraid to blow it all down. And when the laptop, with every word I had written since I left, inexplicably died, I was hopeless to stop the tumble. For the first time in a long time, I gave up, and gave in to the tears that had been waiting for their turn to fall.

At four in the morning on the bare tiled floor that night, I sat. Next to the poorly padded mat that had been my bed for weeks, legs to my chest, eyes staring towards something they know they can’t see, I asked for the Irishman. Wiry and unsure, as thin and frail as his words, but stronger so for his honesty, I needed him now. I asked him to tell me what I wanted so badly here, what I was supposed to find in the romance of these ancient kingdoms. But instead of his reassuring voice, only unanswered questions coursed through my mind in the hot, empty room. Instead of peace, my guts turned over in me, cramping in inexplicable pain as they had been for two days. And instead of darkness, a tiny red blip flashed from the failed attempt at saving my now deceased laptop, nonchalant in its inconsistency, as if taunting me with the fact that it was never coming back. My back ached from the unforgiving floor and I felt a feeling to which I am wholly unaccustomed. I wanted to go home. But I knew all too well I had no home to go to. I felt as if Asia was kicking me out. As if I wasn’t supposed to be here now, but then where was I supposed to be? So accustomed to these tiny mishaps slipping from my shoulders in happily resigned laughter, so used to a decade of cheerfully careless calamities, now I could barely breathe under the weight of this avalanche. And in that moment of pre-dawn desperation, I wrote. I wrote every desperate thought that had been chewing my limbs to pieces. Just before the sunrise, I closed Barbara’s laptop and let myself give into one more thing: sleep.

I awoke the next morning understandably exhausted. The urge to find some silent and unknown solitude had been slowly pulling on me since that train to Bangkok. And after my failed attempt to let the ocean revive me in Sihanoukville, a dirty, overwhelming party town on Cambodia’s southern beaches, I knew I needed to head out on own again. But every part of me still felt defeated. I left my paperweight of a laptop at home and went to the internet cafe to find a friend to lay my troubles on. I found Iva.

For eight years, Iva has been stern and unyielding in her advice. Sometimes harsh to hear, cutting and even hurtful, she is as reliable and unforgiving as the sea. I put everything I have bared here onto her and asked her what I was supposed to do. I cried in a self-pity that led me only to self-loathing and told her for the first time I didn’t think I could do it anymore. In the lofty melodrama of a writer’s ways I told her there wasn’t anything left anyone could take from me.Trying to offer solace and encouragement in any way possible, she told me the one thing I guess I needed to hear: “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re the toughest girl I know.” Such a strange thing when you are weak, and frightened. Crying for no reason other than you don’t know what else to do. Afraid of nothing, and everything, and longing for comfort in a place with no comforts to offer, but she was right. I hated myself enough just for feeling this way, and giving up would only distill the regret in my bones. The pride that stopped me from leaving, that foolish hubris that kept a broken traveler from turning around, from finding a home, wasn’t foolish at all, it was me. I have always been scared. Through every journey, listening to the words of family and strangers calling me brave, I never understood it. It was never courage, it was a frightened, secretly shy girl still trying to prove to herself and the world that she could do it. Petrified of falling into another rut, and running as fast as she could away from anything that might make her feel small and stuck again, the next foot just kept falling in front of the other, a thousand times again. It wasn’t courage, there simply wasn’t anyway I couldn’t do it.

And so the tears dried tight on my cheeks and I started to write. To write everything I had felt and everything that had helped me get out of it. Finally now I am left with the sly, weightless smile that blooms familiar in the pit of my gut as my next adventure awaits. Finally, I feel like myself again. So, perhaps this post offers not the thrill of danger, nor exotic adventure, or sordid love story. Perhaps this self-indulgent ramble isn’t something anyone even cares to read. I have struggled enough in the past few weeks with where my writing will ever go, and who it is really for other than myself, so if you have come this far and feel disappointed, my apologies. Who knows, maybe I will find love with a long lost Khmer Rouge rebel guerrilla who kidnaps me in the hidden jungles of Ratanakiri next week, but I make no promises. Today, these words are for me: a much-needed exercise in catharsis. And maybe also for anyone who thinks it takes some mythical courage to do the things you want to do, or the things you are scared of, or the things that seem impossible from the easy comfort and structure of everything that is familiar. Because trust me, it doesn’t. You just do it, and it works because there isn’t any other way. Because even the girl who never spoke, simultaneously praying to be noticed and not, staring at her feet as she shuffled through the hallways of her youth, closed her eyes and jumped, and left it all behind.

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