by Rachel Angel
Some of my favorite moments and memories consist of being out on the road wearing a hat over greasy hair and some of the same travel clothes for days. Stepping out of the van barefoot to see the sights, the wind blowing my clothes as I look out over the expanses, I feel free of earthly possessions, free of the need to control how I look and feel, and free of the expectations of the outside world. Truly anonymous in a hat, I travel from town to town in and out of diners and cafes with my face slightly obscured. I’m just a traveler blowing through, never promising anything to anyone. I’m a transient presence for a moment and then I’m gone.
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Throughout my adulthood, I’ve had a recurring anxiety dream that I am traveling by train, bus, or plane and on the journey I lose or misplace my baggage. The dreams, always distressing, wake me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with my jaw clenched shut. When I awake, I am relieved to find myself in my room and learn that it was just a dream. My eyes dart around counting my things one by one. Falling back asleep, I feel comforted knowing that they surround me. For days after, I reflect on the dreams’ meaning. Though they undoubtedly present an obvious message, they still baffle me.
That is why, a couple of days ago, when my luggage got lifted off a Barcelona bus platform before I even made it off the bus, I was in sheer denial, thinking it was something that only could’ve happened in my worst nightmare. Panic immediately set in, followed by a vague disbelief. I assumed someone had taken my bag by accident. My friend and I spent the remainder of the day back and forth from the police station, to the Barcelona airport where the bus had momentarily stopped, on the phone, and standing in lines pleading for help to unconcerned people. Our cries fell on deaf ears— stoic replies echoed from various service centers, a culture so clearly fed up with tourists, or Americans, or this dynamic so prevalent (take a number), all of it welcoming us to Barcelona. With each passing hour, the likelihood of finding my things dwindled more and more. That earlier optimism turned into a sickening knot in my stomach. With plans to head out into the mountains with limited reception, no car, no shops being open even in the city due to Easter holiday in Spain, I contended with the thought of wearing the same clothes for a week, and not having any of my medication or toiletries.
I had packed my wardrobe’s “best hits,” the few pieces I almost always wore despite a full closet. The clothes that made me feel like me, the most comfortable, the most authentic version of myself. I had packed all of my curly hair products and all of my daily medications in the bag, as well. The stages of grief washed over me like waves as I sat at the police station listing every item on my phone. I imagined my precious items somewhere in a trash can, what a waste. In vain, I began to google how to re-purchase some of the vintage clothes again. I texted everyone I knew seeking reassurance. I tried to think of solutions to being without things on a vacation. I had strange moments of fleeting joy and feelings of freedom followed by bouts of immovable sadness. Telling myself it happened for a reason, I scanned my mind for what those reasons could be, trying to attribute some spiritual and philosophical significance to the strange turn of events. I frantically researched trains back to Valencia (where I was attending Music school) wondering if I should just give up and go back home. I was pretty intent on calling it quits and saw myself returning home a crumpled mess of a human, deflated, and robbed of my spirit.
But I wasn’t robbed of my spirit. There I still remained. As the hopes of my bag returning dwindled and the memory of my things grew static like a hologram, my body materialized like a big mountain. I still had my faculties and my wits about me. With only the shirt on my back, the mismatched socks I jokingly wore on the bus ride up, and the “comfortable” travel jeans I intended to wear only for the journey, I had reminders of that transient and free person from the road-trips. I began to envision myself as a whole person, all my parts merged and melded together, my spirit, my sadness, my joy, my eyes, my ears, my hair, my humor still kicking somewhere within me. I began to ask for help from my friend…Can I wear your clothes to sleep? Can I borrow something in case I start to smell? I was deflated and broken, but humbled and vulnerable. Finally someone had to clothe me with the stuff off their back… in a way I had to “make it work” with what I had, and to “accept” that I had to make the most out of the situation. A humbling experience like this can be quite freeing for an anxious control freak such as myself, the need to grasp what’s lost, still strong and stubborn within my gut. In my friends flowing hippie garb, we took press photos in the mountains, without my makeup, my jewelry, the things I wear to define myself, I suddenly started to feel defined by who I was as a person, and turning my face to the mountains I took a deep breath in and out.
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