We’re creeping towards Morocco, and before even hitting our last port, we’ve begun the end. The winding down. Boxes are being packed. Speeches are being made. And very soon, the Explorer won’t be ours anymore.
When we say that we partially admit that we’re talking about ISE, SAS, grand, overarching organizations with boards and leaders and trustees. But really we mean us. We mean the student across the hall whose name I’ve never learned, and the people whose faces I seek out at breakfast every morning. Because we can’t possibly believe that she belonged to anyone else before us – that 22 semesters and 15 summer voyages have possessed her the same way we have. This is our baby, our home. She’s majestic and cosy and I refuse to believe that anyone else has ever lived in my cabin, nor that anyone will again.
Of course, to some extent that’s true. No one has lived in it exactly as I have – the same sand painting of Burmese monks by my bed, the same post card I picked up in an expensive paper store in Kyoto right next to it, and an ugly dodo magnet as the first things I see every morning when I wake up. And no one will again. It will be a hotel room, someplace people rest. Someplace men and women barge into, dizzy with Caribbean cocktails from the pool bar, and flop onto my bed, laughing about the couple across the hall whose name they’ve never learned.
We’re trying desperately to record. It’s an endless process, and an impossible one. On an official level, Evan is photographing everything, storing up vast supplies of digital photos that will end up somewhere, on an innocuous external drive. In some storage unit will sit the history of 22 years, the things we couldn’t carry off.
Personally, I am frantic. I want to pin down everything, every moment I know will slip, and am running around trying to catch them as they fall, knowing most will shatter, and disintegrate. Someone asked me about Amsterdam yesterday, and I told them I’d loved it when I went last year. As I talked, I saw the front of the houseboat we rented, a bridge where we paused for photographs, and the window of a single cafe. With work I could recover more, mostly things I have shown myself again in photographs. If I sat down and focused, really focused, perhaps I could get a second of a street sound, or the light on a canal. It was three of the loveliest days of my life, and now it is the front of a boat, a bridge, a window.
Everything in my cabin has a tiny story, and I go around, touching things and remembering. This book that I’m reading, this one with the blue cover: I bought it in a bookshop in Singapore. It was meltingly hot and everything was closed. The zoo seemed too expensive and somehow, by no mechanism I can remember, I had made the journey alone. I ate kaya toast, sticky and sweet, dipped in eggs, in a shopping mall and then took the subway (no durian fruit, no loud music) to a street that seemed not just empty but deserted. Sweat puddled in the small of my back and I felt faint. Far away it sounded like there was a parade, perhaps for the New Year. The bookstore was locked, so I drank coffee across the street and watched expats come out of yoga. After an hour they opened and a white cat sat on top of a stack of books. A Singaporean hipster excitedly recommended books by Burmese poets. The book is by my bed now, held up by the male half of a pair of green bronze lions and I’m on a street in Hong Kong, hungover and squinting at the sun, with Adam and Andrea and they’re both committed to finding me lions but we end up eating french toast and drinking iced tea with condensed milk instead. Beyond that is a beach in South Africa full of chatty, fussy penguins, then the pushy shop keeper in India where Dad thought I should buy the blue bedspread, and finally the cold rain streaming off the metal awning of a tea house on a misty hillside in Japan.
I can’t record it. I can’t keep it, I know I can’t.
It’s all too fast.
We write and we record. We sort through photos in our cabins and re-watch video clips of streets in Shanghai. We sit out parties we’re meant to be at to tell ourselves stories and then run to them, two hours late, desperate not to miss out on that either. Everyone is exhausted, worn to the bone.
And at the same time, we’re setting life back in motion, one by one. We buy plane tickets and arrange sublets, talking endlessly about the burritos we’ll eat. And we are excited, genuinely and truly. I can’t wait to see London again and I’m desperate for the first sunset at Blue Mountain. I spend much of my time now contemplating the exact shade of red lipstick appropriate to a Taylor Swift concert. I am preparing for home. I even think I’m ready. But the time is slipping by too quickly, the stories are fading away too fast.
Cleaning my room tonight, I find myself holding a piece of paper with unfamiliar writing, rows upon rows of black characters. It’s a fortune, I know that. A fortune from a temple. Tokyo? Kyoto? Japan, I know. It must be Japan. I must have paid for it. Shaken a box to choose which fortune would be mine. It would have been cold. I’d have been wearing my leather jacket. Sensoji? Meji? It was probably raining. It was always raining in Japan. The paper is creased from where I put it in my notebook three months ago, certain that with this to remind me, I would never forget that moment.
I fold it along the same crease and put it in a drawer. Later, I tell myself, I’ll remember later.