As I was filling out the addresses on my Save the Date cards — the wedding is only five months away! — I started thinking about my life as a single person, and more specifically, the places I’ve traveled to solo. This might seem like an inauspicious sign, but really it’s my way of paying homage to transition and celebrating the woman I will never quite be again. There’s an excellent book that discusses this very process. In The Conscious Bride (I keep a copy in my office bookshelf, right next to The Lonely Planet India), Sheryl Paul characterizes this as a necessary rite of passage: it must involve a letting go, a shedding, a separation, indeed, the death of the old identity before the new identity and the new life can take hold. Very few women speak of this shedding. When Dan proposed to me in front of the fountain at Washington Square Park, I was first shocked, then ecstatic, then overwhelmingly ecstatic, then scared. I alternated between visions of raising fat bubbling babies and me in a bank teller or grocery line, sounding out my new last name to a stranger. Who exactly was I now? Once the engagement dust settled, I steadied into a comfortable mental space characterized by warmth and peace, assured that I am going to spend my life with my great love and friend. But that doesn’t mean I don’t periodically take out my old travel journals from my 20’s.
I was bit by the travel bug at a very young age — in fact, my travel bug was literally the firefly, and in the summer I would walk the half mile around our lake to the little sinking wooden pier where they tended to congregate in a swirl. My parents, who were both born and raised in North Carolina and settled down in Raleigh, couldn’t quite wrap their heads around my adventurous spirit. I devoured Jack London books and travelogues. For a brief period, I decided I wanted to be a sea captain. I took to requesting maps from government offices and when they arrived, spread them out on my bedroom floor and sat in the center, one hand in an ocean, a foot on a peninsula. This was my version of Twister.
My freshman year of high school, I went to Paris with my french club. This trip changed me. It was the first time I came face to face with buildings centuries old, the first time I photographed a museum painting illegally with my flash on. As a self-conscious 14 year old, I approximated french fashion the best I could: stripped stockings with birkenstocks. I strolled the Champs-Élysées to the plaintive crooning of Edith Piaf in my walkman. I was awkward and in love with a city. When I got home I cried, cut out a picture of the Eiffel Tower at crammed it inside a locket.
So long before my wonderful Dan, there was travel. I’ve back-packed alone for three-weeks through Germany, slept on a boat in Budapest, been mugged in Barcelona. I’ve hiked up a volcano in Nicaragua and descended into a dormant crater by a very tenuous rope. I’ve kissed one boy in a park in Lisbon, held hands with another in Turkey as the sun rose over the Blue Mosque. I once found myself curled up all night in a cabana chair on a Baltic beach in a torrential rain storm, a result of poor planning. I’ve written poems cross-legged in the Buenos Aires cemetery, woken up with an Ouzo hangover in Greece. Now as I embark upon my joint life with Dan, it occurs to me that this will be a joint life of travel. It must involve a letting go, a shedding, a separation. The honeymoon isn’t just an exciting commemoration, but a vital marker. It’s a reminder that my rucksack is Dan’s rucksack. This is both a beautiful thought, and one that leaves me wistful. Of course it isn’t as if I can’t traipse without my better half — what I’m referring to is a new way of self-conceptualizing. I’m no longer the same traveler.
I found this overly dramatic passage from the journal I kept the summer I turned 25 and lived in Italy and read a lot of Rilke. I wrote it on a bus from Spoleto to Sienna:
The Tuscan landscape waits for something, patient as a child who has been told to stay put. The cypruses are are self-composed. The poplar trees are pure emotion, their tremulous tips dipped in snow which cannot melt because it is actually light. We pass through the landscape like a procession, the cypruses are erect soldiers. When you drive into a tunnel, and the light goes, that darkness is the pause between thoughts, the time when mind unfolds into itself and breathes. And the sunflowers bend over the ground like tranced pianists. Does it only rain when you leave something? Sienna, a sidewalk, a lovely second. The sky sulks, gathers itself to its chest, draws itself up into a storm the color of periwinkle. When will I fall in love and have it returned?