It was keeping me company on that long night ride South from Bangkok. I was never good at sleeping on buses, unlike Rob. He could sleep anywhere and in any situation. The best night’s sleep he had in Simahaphot was on the bathroom floor curled by the toilet. He threw up half the night and was bright as a daisy the next morning. I wasn’t gifted in that way. I sat awake staring into that 1am darkness while Rob’s head dipped and bobbed with the rocking of the bus.
I was acutely aware of my own heartbeat—that nervous flutter that usually comes from too much coffee. I hadn’t drunk any coffee. It was the Fear that was squeezing on my lungs.
But what was there to be afraid of? We were headed to Tonsai, to the rock climber’s paradise—a beach in the south of Thailand with limestone cliffs that towered over a teal ocean. It was what I’d been waiting for for the last four hellishly long months stuck in a backwater town of rice patties and Double A paper factories. I should have been giddy. But the Fear was there, staring down from the top of the seat in front of me with eyes like a monkey—animal eyes that looked back with recognition.
We would spend five nights in Tonsai, then one week together in Malaysia and Singapore. Then Rob would fly home to Brisbane, and I would be alone again in Southeast Asia. That was the heart of my fear.
Had it been that long since I had been alone in the world? Where would I go once the money ran out? Could I make it in Seoul working under the table? Did they have English teaching jobs in beach paradises? Would I go home to California after Songkran?
The prospect of going home was only slightly more terrifying than the idea of flying to Korea without money, contacts, or proper paperwork. Home would guarantee a semi-permanence—the possibility of getting trapped again. I could move into an overpriced apartment in north Oakland and leverage my university degree to land a waitressing job at Croll’s, spending half my paychecks on rent and the other half on booze. I could smother my dreams of writing in hard cider and sticky nugs of marijuana.
But goddamn did I miss baseball, and people back home were already posting pictures of The Giants’ spring training games on facebook.
The top of the bus was swaying like a ferry boat. Somewhere in the dark a passenger snored. It came to me then that this is what Marie must have felt just before she decided that she was in love with my then-boyfriend. I recalled the wild glare in her eyes when she told me how much she hated sleeping alone, even with her two cats and a rabbit named Mishka to keep her company. She had only been single for a week. I didn’t realized then how serious she was until it was too late. The Fear had a terrible power over that one.
I should say that this was when I roused my courage to face the great and terrible adventure of being alone in an unfamiliar world. I would wax philosophical on how facing the fear of the unknown is the beating heart of what drives the traveler. But instead I closed my eyes and decided to move in with my dad in Bangkok once the money ran out, then figure out the rest from there.
I opened my eyes in the darkness and the Fear blinked back at me from its perch on the bus seat, and smiled with a mouth full of feathers.