Did I get lonely on this journey? Sure I did, just as you might whenever you saunter off from home by yourself for any extended amount of time. Excitement fought with anxiety about being in Central America and, at times, I found myself uneasily curious about what would happen next; there were nights I lay in bed alone wishing for just one hour at a table with Korey to barter stories over a plate of Bojangles’ fried chicken.
“Oh, boohoo,” you say. “Lonely? Is poor Adam gonna cry about not being able to see his friends and family for a little while as he gallivants around the world meeting great people and piling up the best experiences of his life?” Fair question, but over a thousand miles from home, a realization struck me—being away from family and friends was going to be trickier than I originally thought. I work well alone, but I also dig a charming companion.
I connected to home, though, with a book or a movie or by clicking through pictures of yesteryear on my notebook computer. Sometimes I would just go to Subway, and it would be enough, buying a club sandwich at just about the same price that I would pay in North Carolina. Other times, I e-mailed my brother and Pops and Ma and Korey and Tony and Matt and made sure we were still on for dinner and drinks and paintball when I returned to the States.
Holidays, believe it or not, were easy to deal with. Before I left, my friends back home gave me a bagful of gag gifts—toilet paper and Imodium A-D for all of the street food I was bound to sample; a pet boulder and a bag full of used snorkel gear to fill every last bit of excess space in my pack; and Sixth Grade Writing Skills, a resource for my journal.
My mom, though, as mothers will do, saw my departure as no laughing matter. She spent the month leading up to my departure preparing my going-away gift. Holidays on the Move she called it as she handed me the stack of handcrafted cards and pictures for each of the big days I would miss. Flashy commands on the outside of each envelope reminded me not to open them until their designated dates. Long hours—days and late nights—she had committed to this endeavor, and the significant additional weight made me smile just about every time I heaved my pack onto my shoulders. My birthday, Christmas, the New Year, July Fourth. On Halloween, I opened the corresponding card and smiled down at her swirly handwriting: “Happy treats and happy times! Did you remember to pack your superhero outfit?”
Sometimes, my present location didn’t celebrate a particular holiday. Thanksgiving means nothing in Honduras, a country where they are quick to celebrate any occasion at all. But on November 24, I found a quiet moment to sit down on my bunk alone. I thought for a moment of my family gathered around the table, exchanging stories about what they were thankful for before they dug into the feast laid out before them. My stomach rumbled at the imaginary smell of turkey and Ma’s overstuffed twice-baked potatoes. Blinking, I eased the envelope open. It momentarily transported me back to North Carolina: “This is the trip of a lifetime!” she wrote. “Enjoy it! I’m thankful for you!”
The other holidays that aren’t even officially recognized in the States—just another excuse to pile into a bar with friends—she included anyway. On Saint Patrick’s Day: “Here’s good luck coming your way!”
And she always added a quote or an idea that had absolutely nothing to do with that particular holiday at all. On Easter: “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person (me!), you are the world.”
In each card, she often questioned where I was and where I was headed: “Okay, so, where are you gonna go now? It’s getting colder here, y’know. Maybe it’ll snow. You’re probably hot where you are, huh?”
On Valentine’s Day, she asked how many pretty ladies I had romanced so far. She reminded me that time was ticking. “I can’t wait until my grandbabies come along, and we get to do all of this all over again.”
And pictures filled each envelope, eight or ten or twelve or fifteen snapshots of me celebrating that particular holiday with the people who had made me happy since childhood. Dressed as a scarecrow on Halloween, posing with my brother, the clown; my pops dragging the Christmas tree he’d just chopped down; Ma laughing as she held me, all swaddled in a white cloth on my literal birthday; roasting a pig with the Leggetts and the Litowskys and Mike Stewart and all my other friends; at bat in a baseball game; fishing off a bridge; baking brownies; fireworks, speeches, and dinner parties.
She left out her divorce from my father and her ill-advised gifts (“Sweatpants? Again? Really, Ma? I’m seventeen years old! You people are the reason I can’t get a girlfriend”) and fights with my brother and reminders of all of the birthdays I’d spent in after-school detention. She never mentioned the time I air-balled a layup in a game at Merrimack or the time, at age fifteen, I bloated our home phone bill with a sex-talk hotline. But she did include a picture of me dressed as a cheerleader for a powder-puff football game at Southeast Raleigh High School—complete with scarlet blush, blue eye shadow, a skirt, and a full-bosomed pair of breasts. (Travel tip: this isn’t the kind of photo you want in your pack when crossing foreign borders.)
Some days on this journey were tough, but mostly, one activity or another kept me too engaged to let the isolation bother me. On holidays, though, the days when I pined for steaks on a grill with longtime friends or board games with my family, I was well cared for by a woman cooking dinner thousands of miles away. She told me she loved me, she missed me, she was excited for what a great trip I was having, and that she was looking forward to hearing all of my stories upon my return.
And that was sufficient incentive to keep me grounded in the present.