In a flash, I was home. My sister bounded towards me as I crested the elevator in the airport, tears in both of our eyes as we embraced. It was 6 AM and the December sun meekly illuminated the dingy grey sky as bundled Seattleites did their best to keep out of public view. I hadn't eaten since the pineapple incident 16 hours previous and recalled a craving I'd had at some point on the trip: blueberry waffles. IHOP was the destination, where I began to recount some of the initial travel tales while they were still fresh in my mind. I ate a little, but my appetite certainly wasn't even approaching normal.
I didn't speak of my dread, but I was so incredibly aware of it. I was dreading returning to my job, in a new capacity that I wasn't sure of, working on projects I didn't care about. I was worried that, aside from my family, no one had missed me. With my friends coupled up, and some of my best friends having relocated to other countries, who would I spend time with upon my return?
As we pulled up to my house, I could see the silhouette of a person standing in the window. Had I done this? Was this a clever theft deterrent I had thought of so many miles before? I was baffled, and my sister, who had watered plants for me, said it hadn't been like that before. Opening the door, I was treated to one of the funniest sights I have ever encountered. My living room had been emptied and in it a life-size nativity scene with manger had been erected. Each character in the story of Christmas was represented by life-size cardboard figures of my closest friends, with me, the Jewish friend, representing baby Jesus, in the form of a baby doll wearing a mask of my face.
OK, clearly they did care; they had been thinking of me and had put a ton of effort into showing me that I meant something to them. It brought tears to my eyes.
Over the course of the day, I spent time with my sister, then my parents, and a few friends swung by. I called my ex and asked her if she wanted to have dinner. With so many additional miles on my odometer, I wanted to see how she looked from a refreshed set of eyes. I wanted to know how her business was running, how her life was, and I wanted closure on the sour note we had departed on.
Seeing her again made my heart soar: I recognized her smell, her laugh, her voice, her eyes, her hug. It felt good to be there again. We headed out to her car to go to dinner. Sitting down in the passenger seat, I immediately knew something was wrong: the passenger seat was tilted back much farther than any normal person would want to sit. I knew instantly that there was only one jackass in her world who would ride in a car seated like that. He was the contractor for her business, a guy I knew was interested in her and whom I absolutely despised. I said nothing.
I had no appetite, so she ordered an entrée and I an appetizer. I knew my social calendar was empty and was looking for her company for New Year's Eve.
"So, what are you doing for New Year's?"
After a weighty pause, "Adam, I need to be honest with you."
I knew what was coming, and I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me before she even said it. She hesitated, looked down at the table and sipped her wine. I encouraged her to continue.
"I've been seeing someone else. Someone you know, and someone you don't like."
I was right. And I knew that it was my fault; that I had let her go and that she needed to move on for her own best interests, but that didn't diminish the pain one bit. I sat, my mouth gaping, looking at my drink, my stomach churning, my mind dizzy from the travel, illness, and the news. She gulped down some wine. I told her I understood and I did. But I was still incredibly hurt.
We discussed the events that occurred the night before I left. She wanted my attention and I felt that she was looking for it in the wrong way. I felt that I didn't want to be in a relationship with someone whose EQ didn't register that making a scene and storming out wasn't appropriate. In my mind, it was indicative of far-reaching implications that would only get worse over time.
"I don't agree with that behavior and I can't support it."
"I know, and I understand where you are coming from. But the truth is, I need that attention, and Scott gives it to me."
End of story.
On our final evening together, we shared a few bottles of wine, and left with very bittersweet feelings: we loved each other, but I wasn't going to let it happen. She even went so far as to say that at that point I could still take her from him. And I knew that I could, but I knew that I couldn't.
A long hug, a gentle kiss, and I watched her drive away one final time from my house.
Empty. Living alone, the house was suddenly entirely too large for me. Coming home from work each day, I could smell the remnants of my trip on the souvenirs that I had brought home. But there wasn't a sound that wasn't made by me. There was no one in the kitchen to ask how my day was; no enthusiastic hug from someone waiting happily on my front porch for me to arrive home from work.
The insomnia began immediately. In all of my other travels I had been able to leap from time zone to time zone in an instant, but for days I would lie awake for hours in bed. After a couple weeks, I was able to fall asleep immediately, but then vivid dreams would wake me and I'd then spend the rest of the night awake. My stomach bug turned into exhaustion and then to flu. I had vivid dreams of her, of him, of them. They were so clear that in one I saw my phone ringing, her photo caller ID appearing in full color above the flashing blue LED.
Pangs of heartache struck me at regular intervals, and for months, I would sigh in the midst of whatever I was doing, as she popped into my mind and I wondered again whether I had made a mistake in letting her go. It wasn't fair: my past trips were supposed to ensure me at least 6 months of post-trip glow, but this homecoming was marked with heartache and sadness.
Grey. It continued. I was a victim to the weather's whims: so long as Seattle remained cold and grey, I was under a frigid wet blanket. Now that I was home, I was at a loss as to what to do next. What was left? I'd accumulated a unique and dear set of friends, had formed incredible bonds with my family, and felt no pressing desire to create a child of my own. I felt like that part of my life was complete; there wasn't anything else I could ask for. I'd done well in my career, making an admirable income and acquiring the icons of success including the house and the car, and I didn't feel an intense need to buy more or to climb higher on the corporate ladder. Finally, I'd found one of my true joys in traveling and had honed that skill until the point that I felt expert at it, and that even the higher medals on my list were becoming easier for me to attain, routine almost. Where had I taken myself?
Sure, I was feeling pain from the loss of friends and a loved one. Why should I have to endure that?
What had I learned on this trip, aside from that I could accomplish it? What could I do with these blurred images? How could I account for the things I'd seen? What was I to do about any of it? The voracious growth of China, the aging lady in Myanmar who'd touched my heart, the street children in India, the tottering balance of the environment and human need on the shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh, and the comparatively unimportant heartbreak in my own world. Completely bereft of answers, I decided all I could do was give myself time.
It would be months before the heavy malaise imposed by my life's circumstances and the dreary grey environment would be lifted from my shoulders. It would be over four months before I slept a full night. But when springtime was imminent, there was no fighting the feeling.
I took a stand after a few rainless days and pulled my spring coat out of the closet, banishing my wool winter coat until further notice. Shortly afterward, literally over night, the plum tree out back popped out tiny green buds. I was on my way.
I began making progress at work in the new team. I had numerous bursts of creative energy, creating a short film and working on my website. I threw some great parties. And of course, I met some new women. Things began with desperate ass-grabs; looking for anything that would spend a night and help lift my self esteem. But little glimmers of hope were to be seen. The pangs in my heart slowly disappeared.
I struggled with all my strength to emerge from the grey, perhaps a little over ambitiously; planning summer activities at the slightest glimpse of sunshine, refusing to lower my sun visor when the sun would glare right in my eyes, but I had to embrace a more pleasant season.
Eventually, as the warmth spread, it was all I could do to try and conjure up the pain from just a few months previous. In retrospect it was clear to me that I had learned a lot: I did have some great adventures and met some great people. I saw more of the world and I saw more of myself. I learned that I could start a relationship and that I could end one. That was good. I learned that I could love and feel pain. That was good. And I learned that I could heal and move on. There was just too much left to do in this world, too many people to meet, too many friends to spend time with, too many creative projects to do, too many stories to tell, too many places in the world to think about visiting next.
And that's how things stood until I felt restless again, and sent the following email to George in early June:
"Important question, and one wrought with a lot of implications, and potential pressures. I am making absolutely no promises by asking this question, but I would like to know:
What do you think the odds would be of being able to sell Qingqi on the idea of adding a third famous and amazing caucasian to their advertising campaign? With a third bike and outfit?
Just a germ of an idea at this point, but something that is worth looking into... "