So, I had a stroke. Two, actually.
The landing gear stores itself away, mechanics that could also fail, though it’s designed not to.
I’m moving again.
My knees hit the back of the seat in front.
I read that we don’t know why we cry on planes, and I’d had romantic visions of me breaking down somewhere over the Indian Ocean, going for that cathartic, filmic gesture of leaving a previous life behind. Toodle-oo, health scare. Sayonara, job stagnation. But I get distracted by the inflight entertainment, instead. Oo, TV shows I can’t get on Netflix!
The friday before I got on the first of three planes to London, my stroke specialist told me the MRI showed the scar of another mini-stroke I’d had – they couldn’t say when – suggesting that the more recent one wasn’t such an arbitrary occurrence. She told me that the fatigue I felt in the weeks after being discharged from hospital was normal, which placated my worry about that. She also told me not to let the stroke define the rest of my life, that she meets many people – men, especially – who let the ischemic attack keep them from living a full life. I told her about the blog post I wrote; I told her she’d have to get a legion of federal policemen to drag me away from the departure gate in order to keep me from my trip abroad.
As I sit hour after hour flying, my thoughts bounce over the last few months, but never settle. My adventure awaits: London, Iceland, the US, Mexico. After going to Hong Kong and Taiwan for the previous Christmas, I booked this trip a couple of weeks later, my addiction to travel flaring up again. This trip: revisiting places I love, and only a couple of new ones, all mostly centred around friends and family. The last time I travelled for this long I was 26. Now at 31, my thoughts bounce around differently.
I had a stroke. Actually, two.
Don’t let it define you, the specialist said.
Do you realise how serious this is? Others say. I’m given blood thinning injections to administer on myself, and I’m on aspirin for the rest of my life.
Could be worse. At least I know now. How many movies can I watch before landing? I wonder what the next meal is going to be? Why do I need to pee so much?
Still no tears.
I stay with a friend, Benji, who I met in Hong Kong, before he went to Everest base camp the day before the earthquake hit Nepal. He left a day early to meet a lover in Thailand. A blown up photo of him on a Himalayan precipice hangs above my bed.
I meet up with my cousins. I meet up with friends, old and new. Day upon day I’m wrapped up in the comforting blanket of “why don’t you live here?” and retell the stroke story, now getting the details and plot beats down to a fine art. I have no request to see anything, nowhere I want to be except with good people.
On the Wednesday, my blog post gets a lot of attention. I have my WordPress notifications left on and every time I find wifi, my phone lights up with unmanageable numbers of people ‘liking’, following, and commenting on my little corner of the world (wide web). It’s very nice. What strikes me most is the universality readers of the post found for themselves. Sometimes I wonder how interesting my story is; how interesting anyone’s is unless the highlights are relevant to me at that particular point in time. On a train, I read a page of a Kindle over the shoulder of a stranger. It seems autobiographical, but could be fiction. Either way, nothing much happens. The protagonist discusses rent prices in an American city, and how much they like phone booths. I guess I can’t underestimate the voyeur quality to mundanity.
Which is my favourite thing about travel.
I asked a coworker why she was going to the Gold Coast for a holiday, and she replied, instantly, “The theme parks!” which is an unexpected answer coming from anyone above the age of 18 (even though I think I befriend people who would answer the same at any age). It got me thinking: why do I travel?
I couldn’t answer it straight away.
Was I just running again, like the Red Queen from ‘Through the Looking-Glass’?
What was the experience I craved outside of my routine?
Then I realised I liked travel because I got to see routines of others. I love following in footsteps. People-watching at transport hubs. Supermarkets. Running errands with friends. Seeing how a system works in another country. All the mundane things that can make me feel so static at home become the things of other people’s lives far away that make me feel connected again.
I guess that’s why I continue to write. I’m sharing experience to feel connected. This time in front of my laptop makes me pause and try to articulate where I’m at in my life – no inflight entertainment to distract me.
the next post will be about Iceland… (more travel-y, too)