Published: January 3rd 2012January 3rd 2012
“Where’s Jan? Jan’s gone.” I was nearly screaming in the crowded café. I looked from the chair in which she had just been sitting to all the faces now staring at me, wondering what it was I was screaming about. How do you say ‘missing’ in Spanish? How do you say ‘thief’?
“Calm down. Where’d you see her last?” John asked calm, and annoyingly collected as he walked to the table. He wasn’t missing Jan. He’d only recently been introduced to her.
“What do you mean where’d I see her last? She was sitting right there… I got up to get some sugar and came back and she was gone. Someone took her. Ladrons! Ladrons!” the word for thief suddenly came to me. People were looking at me because now they knew what I was screaming about.
The manager or owner or whoever it is whose job it is to quiet the crazy gringa came over. I explained to him in my broken Spanish what had happened.
“Mi mochilla esta desparacido. No esta aqui. Alquien saca mi mochilla. Tiene todos de mis cosas, mi camera, mis libros… todo!” I was in tears now, inventorying everything that was gone; everything in my backpack that I would never get back.
I imagined Jan’s new life with some young Hondruano. Riding to school with him on an over crowed bus with chickens and other poultry. I saw it falling off his shoulder as he bounced up and down during the bumpy ride. I envisioned each of my precious memories falling from Jan in the crowded bus. First my camera that held the last photo ever taken of the man I thought I’d marry. A picture of us from the last party we threw together. It was the fourth of July. Could it really already be December now? I saw the journal I wrote in every day tumble to the ground; its pages dirtied and torn as they were stepped on by exiting passengers, till eventually they would become unrecognizable. I gasped audibly at this vision.
“What?” John asked.
“My journal. My journal was in there,” I said.
“Ya, ok. So you’ll get a new one when we get you a new bag. No worries,” John said, so god damn calm. No worries? There was a lot to worry about. Did he not get that a journal was not just a book full of empty pages. It was full of my words and my memories. What would become of them now that I had lost them? What happens to things we can never replace? I imagined the young boy finding my journal in the bag. What would he do with it? It’s not like he could read it. Not just because it was in English, but also because my penmanship was so awful. It was written only for me to read. To look back at my life in words and remember things I had long since forgotten.
“It’s full of my thoughts and ideas. All my memories,” I responded, not nearly as calm as he.
“You’ll make new ones,” He said almost cheerfully. I didn’t care that a stranger might be reading my words. What I cared about was that my words and my memories were riding around on a bus somewhere and I would never read them again. And if I never read them again, I feared I would never remember things quite the same, not the way they really took place. Would I remember them at all?
“What about my old memories? What happens to them?” I asked him.
“They’re still there. Everything still happened,” He replied.
“Well, I know that… but. You don’t get it,” I said frustrated by his ignorance.
“I get it, but you can’t let them disappear just because what you wrote about them did. You still did it all, you’re still who you are because of it. Writing it down doesn’t make it any less real. What you remember up here is what you keep forever anyway,” He said pointing to his head. Should I try to re-write them, I wondered briefly? Maybe John was right. That wasn’t really the point was it… capture everything as it’s happening… not afterwards, days, weeks later. I couldn’t help but think it wouldn’t be as true now. Somehow the realness of it would be gone. Somehow writing it all down made everything have more meaning.
“I know I’ll remember it. But maybe I’ll remember it differently. I’ll remember it less clearly,” I said.
“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” He said.
Perhaps John knew me better than I thought. I thought about what I had reveled to him in the short time I had known him. He must have been paying very close attention to have gained this insight into me even I was not aware of.
So the words were written down, I would just never read them. Where does the meaning go now? Maybe the meaning was never in the words, but in the actual days that passed. Maybe they could disappear, perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad. It could be the first step to letting go, moving forward. Adelante. I would keep all the words in my head the way I wanted to remember them.
I didn’t even know John. I mean, I met the guy three days ago at a hostel in Tela.
“What are you running from?” He asked me. I was lying in the common area of the hostel on a hammock, reading a book, minding my own business. I have always thought that there are many types of travelers. There are those who think the only reason you travel is because you’re running from something, in which case they are, and there are those who are running towards something. I realized for the first time that I fit into the former. I was running from the memory of him. Where I was, everything reminded me of him. The glimpse of what I thought might be his truck, even if it never was. The possibility of it was enough to bring me to tears. The thought of running into his friends, who were no longer mine, was enough to keep me home at nights. Finding his sock in the laundry room weeks after he’d moved out, kept me in bed for a week. Hearing the recording of the concert at Red Rocks we’d attended, remembering exactly how we were dancing, him behind me, arms around my waist, my head resting on his shoulder, the two of us swaying to the music like it was meant for only us, made me cancel my Sirius subscription and turn the radio off for days.
I’d always liked the idea of running to something, rather than from something, but this time I was most certainly running from everything I eagerly left behind when I boarded my flight. I realized too, that there are those who travel to forget and those who travel to remember. I again realized I fit into the former. I was trying to erase the damage of a relationship where love faded with the time it took to become close enough to one another to know the patterns of their days. The rise and fall of his chest as he slept next to me, the quiet nods to communicate without words, the gentle touch of his hand on my back to signal it was time to go. But that comfort of knowing someone so deeply became commonplace to him, rather than cherished for the act of love it truly was. Losing my bag was the beginning of my forgetting.
John was that guy…first time around, discovering the world, eyes wide open, mind still pretty closed, young dumb and full of cum as my brother used to say. John was what I called the newbie traveler; innocent, naïve, never been out of his home country. He was the kind that would do this once and say he was a traveler.
“What are you reading?” he asked when I didn’t answer his first question. I showed him the cover of my book and went back to reading. I was reading a Tom Robbins book I’d picked up in the last hostel I was in. It was good. I wanted to keep reading.
“Any good?” He asked. Jesus Christ. What is it with some people? Can’t they take a hint? I sat up in my hammock, giving him my full attention; useless to fight it any more.
“It’s quite good,” I said.
“Oh, that’s good. I’m John, from Canada.” Oh great a Canadian. I quickly glanced around to see where his flag was proudly displayed, differentiating himself from us yanks. There it was smack dab in the middle of his day pack resting at his feet.
“Hi, John from Canada.”
“Why do you call your backpack Jan?” John asked as we left the café. I had now determined not to let this ruin what was left of my time here. I was moving on and this was a step forward I never would have taken on my own. I hate it when people say everything happens for a reason, especially because they only say it when something really terrible has happened, but maybe it’s true. Maybe Jan getting taken was the new beginning I was looking for when I got on the plane to Honduras.
“It’s a Jansport,” I replied curtly. We were headed to a pulperia to get a new backpack, a disposable camera and something suitable in which to write.
I picked up the pace in a feeble effort to lose him in the crowded streets. He chuckled a bit at my response.
“Oh, I get it,” he said smiling, “a Jansport. Maybe I should call mine North?”
I thought about Jan sitting just inside the door of the three room shack the young boy called home. She looked new and proud resting among the dirt and grim of the dim home. I wanted to feel new and proud. How easy it was for Jan. All she had to do was be taken from her seat in a crowded café to find a new place from which to start.
I see Jan filled with books and toys and notebooks, slung on one shoulder of the little boy as he walks home from the bus stop. She doesn’t miss her previous contents. They were heavy, burdensome things she easily let go. She doesn’t know where they are now and she doesn’t care. She gladly replaced them with the toys and notebooks that now fill her.
Maybe Jan was my burden. Jan who held the memories of things I’d rather forget. Pictures I couldn’t erase because they were the last ones of him, words I didn’t want to let go of because they were all that remained to tell me it was real. The young boy took them away for me and Jan and I were both just beginning. Perhaps now I would fill my next bag with new memories, new pictures of John and me on various beaches and in different bars. The new journal would contain a new story, one with a much better ending.
At the pulperia I searched for a day pack. It was a cheap knockoff version of a Jansport, a Jensport. John was waiting for me outside smoking a cigarette.
“John, I’d like you meet Jen,” I said as I walked out into the late afternoon sun.