I am the adventuress I’ve always wanted to be in Thailand. I scuba. I rock climb. I taste crickets and go out until three A.M. I meet lots of people: DJs, divers, rock climbers, wildlife guides, photographers, cooks, Germans, Lithuanians, Thais, Russians, Chinese…
The list goes on, but I’ll spare you.
What matters is I’ve been so distracted I haven’t had time to worry about the Question, which is “What are you going to do with your life?”
It has haunted me ever since my senior year in college. I realized, impractical millennial that I am, that I didn’t want to do work related to my Environmental Policy degree.
During that final year, the Question followed me from class to class. It even went to my graduation. It sat next to me at dinner parties and sided with people who said, “You got all A’s right? Psh, you’re fine.” Translation: Problem solved. Stop complaining.
I don’t care what anyone says, grades are no substitute for a sense of purpose.
Two years later have passed and I’m no closer to knowing what mine is. And in a last, ditch-effort to escape it all, I leave the country. I go to a place that I know will capture my attention and hold it: Thailand.
Land of Smiles, exotic escape of my colorful imagination, please accept my humble appeal for asylum. I need a break this soul-searching…
The border patrolman stamps my passport. I wave goodbye to the Question and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. In Phuket, I float weightlessly through coral reefs that lie 100 feet below the surface. In Chiang Mai, I escape into deep, dark caves free of human chatter. I wish I could stay here forever. I doubt the Question would ever find me here.
But the weeks go quickly and before I know it, I’ve left Chiang Mai for my final stop, Bangkok. It is here that I Couchsurf for the first time. For the first time in a long time, things are about to change.
When I connected with “C” online, I thought that staying with him would be like the rest of my trip: so interesting, cool and all-consuming that he, too, could keep me from obsessing over the big, scary Question. I thought we would be parters in crime, taking trendy day trips and visiting the city’s coolest, hippest spots together. At least, that’s what happened to his other guests.
I hardly expected that Carsten—oops, did I just let his name slip?— is an ass in real life.
On my first night, Carsten and I have dinner together. Before leaving, he makes fun of my dress (“You’re wearing that?”). In transit, he slows us down (“My shoes clash with my pants. Hold the taxi, will you?”) Over dinner, he says, “Women over thirty are damaged goods. Haven’t you heard?” That is the last straw. Over dessert, I devise my escape.
The next morning, Carsten yells at me for sleeping in (“This isn’t a hotel, you know!”) and I leave.
I drag my suitcase towards the train station, “Where to now?” Pedestrians elbow me as they rush to work. The heat and humidity feel thicker now that I’m on the street and each block feels longer than the last. What I first thought of as a bustling city of opportunity and excitement is now an abrasive, inhospitable jungle. Right now, I would give anything just to sit down for a minute and breathe.
After wandering around for a few hours, I sneak into a hotel for free Wifi and book myself into an Airbnb for the night. I indulge in a cab ride to the apartment and unpack my bags.
It’s in this dark, one-room apartment that I suddenly feel very lonely. It’s an ache that’s best likened to diving in cold water with a wetsuit that isn’t thick enough. I’m not uncomfortable enough to stop and surface, but no matter how hard I try I can’t relax. I know. I’m in limbo, deep in a rut.
You have nothing to do. You have nowhere where to go. You’re a failure.
It’s then that the Question appears.
“Ha! Gotcha.” it says. “So, tell me about your ambitions in life…”
Anxious for a distraction, I swing a last-minute dinner reservation at one of my bucket-list restaurants, Gaggan.
The sommelier looks suspiciously young, so I say, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but how old are you?”
“I’m 24,” he says.
24? Me too. So, how does he know what to do with his life and why don’t I?
When I look up, the Question is sitting across from me.
“You’re scared of me, aren’t you?” It says.
A waiter quickly walks over with a clean glass and fills it with wine. Oh dear, it seems the Question is here to stay.
And I don’t want the Question to know it, but yes. I’m scared, terrified even. As I eat, I can feel crumbs from the second course, “fish granola”, stick to my teeth. Sugar and salt go to war over my taste buds. I chew, taste, and swallow like a machine in slow motion.
In my heart, however, I’m crying. It’s as if I’m standing on the peak of a tall mountain howling out a long, hard scream that only I can hear. I just can’t get over how lonely and lame I feel, how misunderstood and frustrated I am. I can’t seem to see what everyone else sees, a smart woman who’s lucky to have what she has, who should feel nothing but gratitude for her adventures and good fortune.
No, all I see is a loser. A loser who lacks purpose.
I have to get myself down from that imaginary peak, but how? What to do?
From below, I hear a faint cry: “HEY, DOWN HERE! I’VE GOT YOU!” From my waist, I feel a tug. I look down and see a red helmet. Tiny, but distinct. I know what I need to do now. Of course! I’ve known all along. I lean back and let go.
When I reach the bottom of that mountain, I turn to face the woman who wears the red helmet and lowered me down. She is me.
“You’re no loser. You’re not alone. I’m here for you. I’m always here for you,” she says. She embraces me. Finally, I can see what everyone else sees and more: a smart woman who’s lucky to have what she has, who loves and believes in herself and will find her purpose. It will take some time, but she’ll be okay.
I’m back at the restaurant and another course arrives. Two popsicles shaped as Despicable Me minions in bathing suits tan side by side on my plate. “Lemon ice-pops,” the waiter says. “Enjoy.”
I take the girl Minion for myself. The Question picks up the boy Minion.
“I was scared of you before, but I’m not now. You’re on my side. I see it now.”
“Of course I’m on your side! I’m part of you! We have always been on the same side.”
Upon hearing this, I feel a buzz of excitement. I’m ready to climb a new mountain now. This time, with a true partner in crime.
We both take our last bites. “Savor it,” I say. “We have much work to do.”