I sit here trying to write about love as I kill the ants crawling over my computer keys.
I’m in Thailand, and seemed to confuse “simple” and “rustic” when looking to get away and unblock my chakras or whatever soul searching I had in mind. My friend Steph sits opposite me, applauding the mosquitoes she can’t quite catch.
We returned to Thailand after visiting years before, when 10 high-schoolers from around the world serendipitously signed up for the same adventure—something called “Come With Nothing”—and left home with a change of clothes in a backpack. All of us bonded over complaining: too much rice, not enough fruit and finding ourselves in the wide unfamiliar. Leaving Thailand introduced me to the concept of reverse culture shock, when the person who left home wasn’t who returned.
Steph and I spend a lot of time talking about that first trip. We brought ourselves to tears — both from laughing and nostalgia — but Round Two isn’t quite the same. We tried to recreate something that didn’t exist anymore. That couldn’t, really. We even retraced some of the same paths and put ourselves in the way of similar experiences, but so much is different now.
The first time I was a fearless 16. I face-planted into my first love, and created some of the most important relationships in my life today. I’m proud of the girl I was for being so brave with her heart, so beautifully vulnerable. But while reliving old memories, I realized that who I am now is far closer to who I want to be, and that the raw innocence of five years ago has been smoothed out by time and experience. I’d been living in the past for so long that I barely recognized how far I’d come.
But living in the past seems like my regular trip from reality. For example, I have In-Case-You-Think-About-Reaching-Out Stories on reserve for when I wallow in the memories of old boyfriends. During one of these Netflix & Chills with loneliness, I told my sister that I worried about never finding someone better than the boy I left, and she told me that I shouldn’t. She said I’ll be wiser and stronger because of this experience. I will be able to love more people regardless of whether I want to or not, and one day look back on his memories without the bitterness of now. She also said that the world really is beautiful, and much too naïve and random to be cruel, to hurt this much forever. So I followed her advice to move on, and my wise 13-year-old sister was right. Per usual.
Gazing across the mass grave of insects, I see that the kinship Steph and I built brought us back to Thailand. Though it started during “Come With Nothing,” unique experiences are what help solidify equally unique connections, not the other way around. This realization took time and perspective, but also led me to closure: the ability to accept the past as nothing more than the stories I tell myself, and move forward with deeper understanding for my experiences and appreciation for those who shared them. And if I carry the relationships with kindred spirits — like Steph — into the future, and learn to find closure with the rest, I have to believe that the best days are always ahead.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.