First of all, I suppose I should address the elephant in the room. I stopped blogging daily. It is hard, and it made me feel obligated to produce content and that is not what this rebrand of my blog is supposed to feel like. I don’t want anything I am posting here to feel forced. There are many things that we are forced to do on a daily basis (brush our teeth, interact with strangers, etc.) and I don’t want my hobby to feel artificial. I love writing, and I want it to stay that way. I need an outlet to express myself and since traveling with a potters wheel isn’t convenient, this is all I’ve got. Anyway, I felt like I owed you an explanation, so there it is.
Now, back to the reason I am here today. Bear with me, it is about to get pretty real (and long) up in here. Reading is good for you though, so do it.
Why I Travel
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was awkward and quiet and couldn’t talk to boys. I didn’t understand the whole introversion/extraversion thing and I just assumed that I was nervous around strangers because I grew up as an only child. I used to shame myself daily for not being cool enough to get a boyfriend, no one would ever like me. We’ve all had those counterproductive, hateful thoughts about ourselves, but at 15 I truly believed that I was going to be alone forever. Dramatic, I know, but I was a 15 year old girl, what can I say?
One day in my science class, I was paired up with this cute, popular guy that sat behind me. I knew him, sorta, but I had never talked to him. When I turned around to start working on the assignment, I caught his eye. He smiled and the kindness in his eyes melted my fears away. I instantly felt comfortable around him, which had never happened to me before.
From then on out, I talked to Josh every day. We got pretty close, sharing inside jokes and complaining about homework. You know, the typical 15 year old banter. In October of that year, Sadie Hawkins (a dance where girls ask boys) came around and the only boy I talked to was Josh, so I figured why not ask him. My mom helped me decorate a fish bowl, and fill it with Swedish fish candies. The note attached said “Out of all the fish in the sea, I want you to go to Sadies with me.” How precious, right?
I walked into class early to drop the gift on Josh’s desk so that no one would know it was from me, other than him of course. He saw it, laughed and told me he would let me know if he could go. My heart sunk and I started to become overwhelmed with anxiety and dread. I had never asked a boy out before and if he said no, I thought it might kill me. He must have been able to tell I was over thinking it because halfway through the class period, he grabbed my chair, pulled me backwards and whispered. “I really hope I can make it.”
Again, his kindness washed over me and I felt instantly reassured that I had made the right choice by asking him. The day came and went and when I got home that evening after soccer practice, I called him to see if he was going to be my date after all. I remember the call more vividly than any other before or since. I was in my bathroom, leaning my elbows on the counter when he told me his family would be out of town that weekend for a hockey game and he wouldn’t be able to make it to the dance, but that he was really sorry to let me down. I choked out a hurried “it’s fine, don’t worry about it. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Then I burst into tears. I sat on the floor in my bathroom crying for a few minutes before I pulled myself together and went upstairs to have dinner with my parents.
I did see him the next day and every day after that, and he apologized close to 50 times by the time the dance rolled around. He hadn’t lied to get out of the date, and he remained my friend. For a 15 year old boy, who was asked out by a girl who wasn’t in his friend group, it was an act of honor in my eyes, even today.
Over the next two years, I remained friends with Josh. I started to date my high school sweetheart, who was a close friend of his, so I began spending more and more time with Josh in group settings. I saw how his smile lit up every room he entered. I saw his guy friends rely on him when they were in trouble, and his girl friends fawn over him. I listened to how people spoke about him. “He’s such a nice guy, always willing to do anything for anyone.” “He’s so reliable. He’s going to make a great husband some day.” Everyone loved this guy. No one had a bad word to say about him, and as teenagers, we had negative things to say about everyone. Except Josh.
After high school, I ended up leaving Spokane for college, while most of my friends stayed closer to home. I lost touch with a lot of people over those years, but I stayed in contact with Josh. We shared our same stupid inside jokes and he made fun of me for my love of cats, even though he secretly loved them too. But now, instead of seeing him every day, our interactions were limited to Facebook messages. It was a hard adjustment.
As the years went by, I talked to Josh less and less. We grew up, grew apart and started to live our own lives. After college, I moved to Seattle to work for Amazon, and Josh joined the Marines. I didn’t hear from him for quite some time, other than random Facebook comments here and there. I assumed his life was great, my life was great, and everything would go on being great for the forseeable future.
In May of 2015, I woke up to news that Josh, along with 21 other Marines, had been killed in a routine helicopter test in Hawaii. I remember reading the posts on Facebook, thinking that it wasn’t real. Someone misreported it. It couldn’t be Josh. He’s 24. People don’t die at 24. I got dressed through the haze and went to work. I sat down at my desk overlooking Lake Union and puttered around on my computer for a few minutes before one of my coworkers arrived. Knowing I was from Spokane, he mentioned the news to me. “Hey, did you hear about that Marine from Spokane who was killed this morning? You didn’t know him did you?”
Instead of responding, I looked up from my computer and burst into hysterical tears. I didn’t expect them, and I couldn’t control them. My coworker rushed around my desk, hugged me tight and told me to go home. I spent the next 3 days in a fog, reading through all the kind words everyone was posting for him. I posted some canned status saying we would miss him. Not many people knew I was close with Josh. Most of his friends would probably scoff if I told them how distraught I was about his death.
Not long after his death, his family made shirts to honor him and his passion for adventure. He had always been an active, outdoorsy person, loving to travel and experience everything the world had to offer. I bought a shirt. “Adventures for Bearchief” was printed on the front. His nickname from the Marines. I slept in the shirt for as long as I could before washing became a necessity.
The day I washed the shirt for the first time was the day I booked my one way flight to Thailand. I was striking out on my own Adventures for Bearchief and for myself. The death of my friend made me realize how precious and uncertain our days on this earth are, and I became determined to spend every last one of my days doing things I love. I take that shirt with me on every trip I have been on, whether it is a weekend away in the mountains or on my upcoming adventure in Australia. It is my comfort blanket, and on days when I don’t feel like I am doing the right things with my life, I wear it and I know that I am traveling because I love it, and life is meant to be loved.