Monday, April 16, 2007

Starting where we begin

Walking to work today, there were hoards of elementary school kids, lined up in buddy-system rows, waiting to get into the theatre for a play. Some of the girls waved and smiled and said hello to me. I smiled back. I remember being that age. For a moment, I saw myself through their eyes--just a brief glimpse. Through their eyes, I’m an adult. I’ve got insurmountable debt, I’ve got jobs, I have an education and I even have a small amount of furniture.

But I'm not quite there yet.

In a month, I’ll be turning 23. The number feels somehow substantial, weighty. I'm moving back in with my parents in only six days, for one last time.

Will I ever really feel like an adult?

On my last days in Australia, I got off a train in Katoomba on a chilly, grey morning. The wind and rain whipped at my face, and I wandered the streets in search of my hostel. I was tired, alone and had no clue what I was doing there. After spending nearly three months constantly surrounded by people—sharing the nighttime shelter of a mosquito net, avoiding the sparks and ash that shot off our cooking fires, taking quiet comfort and pleasure in the hot tea from the morning billy before the hot afternoon sun made us crave nothing more than grapefruit and fresh bread, scrubbing cement-covered clothes at sinks plugged with old flyers, standing lengthwise at mirrors wet and wrapped in sarongs, swapping spit and stories all the way up the Australian east coast—I was completely alone. I had come to Katoomba on a whim, with no purpose and no reason.

This is where the owner of the hostel found me, lost and worn, but in no rush. Pulling over with his dog’s salacious tongue hanging out the passenger side window, he offered me a ride. Why had I decided to come to the Blue Mountains? “I don’t know,” I told him truthfully. He was appalled. I didn’t come to hike? “No, I honestly don’t know why I’m here.” He insisted that before I went back to Sydney, I had to go for a hike. I agreed, but only to humour him. I intended to sleep and read and maybe do some paperwork. Hiking wasn't on the agenda.

That night, I took myself out for dinner: half a bottle of local red wine, beet root juice dripping down my chin, one hand scrawling furiously into my journal and vegan lemon square for dessert. Back at the hostel, a conversation with a Dane born to Swedish and Finnish parents, but raised in South Africa. A midnight payphone telephone interview across the world, while cargo trains rumbled beside me, and I shivered in the night air. Feet touching those of a young British hiker’s, sitting comfortably in front of the fireplace until our words collided and intermingled, and there was nothing more to say.

In the morning, I showered, packed my bags, tied the laces of my worn shoes and found the Brit. “I want you to take me hiking,” I said. An instant grin was my response. The hostel owner, overhearing this, couldn’t help but let a slow smile spread over his face, too.

So, with wet hair and running shoes with holes in them, I hiked. We followed the trails, until the markings no longer mattered, and we made our own. We washed our faces in waterfalls. We climbed into cool, damp caves for breaks. We left the path and sat with our feet dangling hundreds of feet above the earth as we watched cockatiels swoop through the blue haze of the eucalyptus trees below us.

This is the last time I felt like an adult.

Later that night, the train rolled back into Sydney and anonymity swallowed us again. I packed carefully, folding my clothes and shaking dirt out of my bag. My cement-caked, world-weary shoes—the same sneakers that had carried me across Europe, to Toronto and around the world—I threw in the trash, without one trace of hesistation.


  1. Anonymous2:43 AM

    this made me miss you even more... even if you someday start to feel yourself as an adult, you wont loose your touch, cause you have the skill to feel.

  2. This was a good post. You are a good writer.

  3. I was just reading some horrible prose that I had written when I was 23 and feeling old for whatever reason. I turn 30 in less than 2 weeks and I can say in retrospect that I was but a young pup at 23 and having the time of my life. Enjoy it! 'Cause your friends will start pumping out kids and turning weird before you know it! (No offense intended to any moms -- just speaking from person experience)

    That whole "being an adult" thing is highly overrated! I found out that you actually have to pay back all that debt you rack up during your college days! Can you believe that?!? Just another example of THE MAN keepin' us down!

  4. Anonymous3:44 AM

    it's almost 4 a.m. and I needed some inspiration. I'm glad I came to visit your blog Jess.

    Thoughtful and expansive, without being overstated.

    Great pictures too.

  5. Anonymous3:12 PM

    i love this post....
    quick question. did you try the chocolate in katoomba?! it is oh so good....:)

  6. Anonymous3:28 PM

    I totally enjoy your blog (your old one and current ones too). Some posts are cute, some are funny and some are truly amazing. This is one of the amazing ones. I really can't wait to see where you go in your life and career.