My last night in New Zealand and I know I should be getting back to my hostel. I have a long day tomorrow, the sun has long since set and Auckland nightlife is starting to just warm up. Wandering by myself with headphones blasting in my ears probably isn't the smartest thing to do, especially since I'm not quite in the swankiest part of town and I forgot to bring my map. And yet, I've already passed my hostel five times, trekking up and down the hill, and still haven't made a move for the door handle.
I'm not ready to head home. Six weeks in Australia, two and a half more in New Zealand, and I dread the prospect of sitting around for days on end in Hillside, Illinois, with nothing but a cat for company. I dread the idea of knowing everyday will be the same, that I won't be bombarded with new sights and people everywhere I turn. Somehow, by not entering my hostel to spend my last night abroad, I feel as if I can prolong the inevitable and trick myself into believing this was going to last indefinitely.
It doesn't work. I walk aimlessly, bobbing my head to my travel mix coming out of my headphones -- a collection of songs that will forever remind me of this summer -- but each step I take reminds me that soon I'll be sitting in a cramped airplane for 11 hours, eating my last single-serving meals of the trip. Nostalgia sets in for a place I haven't even left. I tell myself that I'll be back, that I'll walk these streets and climb these mountains again, but I know that it can't ever be the same. I'll never have the thrill that comes from setting foot in a place for the first time, the unquenchable excitement that starts in your toes and goes all the way to the tips of your hair. I can return, but I'll never be nineteen and alone in the southern hemisphere, ever again.
When there's no one else in a foreign country to tell these things to, you write them down. I used my journal as a way to record what happened on a daily basis, but also for so much more than that. It became a form of conversation, even if it was only with myself. I hoarded my worn green notebook as if it were my last breath. I treasured its pages, flipping through them whenever I had the chance, running my fingers over the indentations on the pages. I read the lines I'd written over and over again until they were burned into my brain, but I mostly just liked to feel the pages.
When I do get back to my hostel on that last night, I open up that treasure and write:
|The other day I was almost looking forward to going home, but now that the time is actually upon me, I know that I'm both ready and not ready. I'm ready to be back with my friends and able to use my phone and internet whenever I want and not to have to pay to go everywhere and for every meal and not to have to lug crap around everywhere and to be able to wear different clothes. But I'm still not ready for this lifestyle to end completely. I'm not ready to give up doing something new everyday or seeing something beautiful everywhere I turn. But ready or not, this IS my last night here, and it's suddenly hitting me really hard in the face. I don't fucking want this to end.
I don't cry, at least not yet. I'll allow myself tears when I get home, but I'm determined to not ruin this last night by breaking down. It almost happens, though, the next afternoon as I sit in the airport, waiting for my delayed plane. Now that the inevitable has come, I just want to get it over with. I have trouble dealing with the delay, the slight flutter of false hope that the plane will never come and I'll be stuck in New Zealand forever.
As I wait for the plane, I wonder how to convey how much this trip has affected me, how much it's meant for me to plan and execute a trip by myself, to shoulder my own backpack the entire way. I know when I get home I'll be the only one who understands what has happened to me. I'll tell friends and family about my trip, and they'll listen, but soon their own lives will get in the way, and I'll have to retreat into my memories. I'll bring it up often enough, and soon they'll get tired of me starting every conversation with "When I was in New Zealand," or "This is just like that one time in New Zealand," or "I remember in this one hostel..."
One of the most difficult things about coming back home from a trip, especially a long one, is that you come back different to people who are expecting the same old you to walk through the front door. What's more, they rarely ever change while you're away. You have an amazing experience, do things you've never dreamed of, while everyone back home goes on with their daily lives, working nine-to-five jobs, cooking dinner, taking care of kids, going to bed in the same room every night. The day you come back is probably the most exciting day they've had since you've left. Meanwhile, for you, it's the worst.