Masters Degree secured, job quit, full-time writing career underway, the first part of my revenge was almost complete. Who cared if I was a fat, ambitious, opinionated motherfucker? Well, him obviously, but who else?
That's the funny thing about the moments and people that hurt us most - they reflect something from inside back at us. I was never a girly girl, even when I tried to be. Make-up couldn't hide the muscle from martial arts, the combative nature. The scarred, slightly bent knuckles on one hand. I used to like it in a defiant way.
I could run, when I was a kid, and jump and wrestle and tumble. I was bruised and bloody and happy... and that changed. Bit by bit. Comment by comment. I tried to make myself smaller and failed. I got bigger and softer instead until every week was marked by tears and panic attacks. Now, in the warm light of a burning life, I saw the shadows of the old muscles and dusted off some petty little dreams.
Travel, I decided, was what I needed; I could find myself somewhere far away... of course, that was a load of horseshit.
Eat, Puke, Laugh
The first thing you learn is that there is a distinction between travel and a holiday in the same way that there is a difference between intimacy and fucking. One will teach you something, not always pleasantly, and the other is just an experience.
And believe me, from the moment we wandered out of the first hotel in 2019 (it was in downtown LA and we affectionately referred to it as the Murder Hotel) and onto skid row... we were taught. You see, travelling, even when broke, is fairly safe if you have common sense.
Unfortunately for Ani and I, common sense is in deficit even when we pool our resources.
Over four or so years we hit eight important cities in the USA, the UK, and Europe with "breaks" between of course. By breaks, of course, I mean the Pandemic and financially enforced house arrest filled with brutal work schedules to save for the next adventure.
Its not Eat, Pray, Love out there by any means; you learn to live from a backpack, and ditch attachment to pretty shoes. You walk your practical hiking boots to bits and the weight comes off without acknowledgement. It was what I needed; too big, chubby, too masculine, too brash? Not out there.
Do you want to look like a man?
Don't you want to be pretty?
That's not very ladylike.
You don't hear or think that when you're thirty thousand steps deep into Boston, wandering through an industrial estate because you thought walking to Whitey's Bar in Southie from the end of the Freedom Trail was a good idea. You don't think, 'gee I wish I wore more summer dresses and didn't lift heavy'.
You don't think, 'men don't like loud, vulgar women fuelled by ambition.'
You think, thank fuck I can run a mile and lift my bodyweight. Thank the Gods I'm too fat. Thank God I'm wearing poorly fitting, travel worn clothes. You think - I can run if I need to, and when we get there the beer will taste so good.
Cut off from the land that made me with my roots dangling in foreign winds... it can be a blessing.
You learn something else, too, when you're nose to nose with your best-friend in a freezing, dirty Manhattan hotel room, listening to the guy upstairs... entertain himself while giving verbal feedback.
You learn that intimacy doesn't have to be frightening, and there are many kinds. Its weird when all you know of intimacy is a minefield of expectations that include, but are not limited to, being strong but not stronger than him, smart but not arrogant, pretty but not vain, sexual but not a slut, curvy but not fat. Fit, but never muscular. Yourself, but only the version of you at 16 that made him want you.
It's weird to look at someone else and know that they have no expectations like that. You realize that they expect you to be your best self as often as possible, and honest when you can't be. To offer help and accept it. To listen and speak. To be human, and that realization heals something vital, something your friend didn't break. Because you can laugh at everything, and you realize that it doesn't really matter if the area is shitty and the room is tiny, as long as hotel door locks and you know where to find cheap beer.
And you take that lesson back with you and open up, little by little to the friends that you didn't have the chance to experience that with. Then a vital, living network of new roots form and you think that maybe home isn't the problem. Maybe travel isn't the life for you, maybe it's something to add to your life so that when you come home you can bring something of worth back with you.
At least that's how it was for me. The first trip wiped away the expectations that come with this body. The second brought back the joy in it.
When in Doubt Find a Dennys
If you live in the USA or have visited, this might sound like a joke, but I mean it. Denny's has a home in my heart, and it's all because of Dallas. Let me take you on a trip; we flew too close to the sun, and I've decided to make that your problem.
You see, we had become pros, yeah? So we speed ran it; York, Skye, Vilnius, and then two days in London. And while we were there... well, why not Stonehenge? I'll tell you why.
When you get back to the hotel at 11pm and sleep for an hour and a half before getting up to catch the bus to Heathrow, you'll think 'it's fine, I can do this'. And you'll be right; in Dublin you'll feel tired but optimistic, and the Burger King will help keep the high from the Monster you chugged in London going.
By the time you make it to JFK, though, the desire to chain smoke and chew your nails will become unbearable because your body doesn't actually class plane sleep as real sleep, and the selfish bitch who nearly caused you second degree burns by reclining her chair the second her meal and coffee were done snored like a chainsaw.
In JFK the four hour security process will deny you the chance to nap and somewhere around the time you pay $24 for crisps, chocolate, and soda, you'll realize that you've eaten more in the last thirty or so hours than you usually do in a week. Then you'll realize you're coming up on thirty four hours without actually sleeping. Hilarity will set in as you wait to fly to Dallas, and the nic-fits will make you realize that the cigarettes you started on to help you cope with long travel can't actually save you from sleep deprivation.
When you make it to Dallas you'll feel grim; your skin will be breaking out, your eyes will be dry and still watering. You feel like you have the worst flu of your life, but if you're me you'll feel clean (ish) because you washed your face, neck, and underarms in the plane bathroom, changing your knickers and socks to give the illusion of hygiene after more than a day awake and moving. Then you'll find out that your case is still in New York and your motel won't let you check in until nine am the next morning.
So... what do you do in this situation? You find a Denny's.
Denny's may be the kind of place that has someone OD'ing in the parking lot, I wish that were a joke but it happened, but you'll feel at home there because the waitress doesn't seem mildly perturbed by the ambulance, your appearance, or an order for fried chicken, gravy, pancakes, diet coke, and coffee at 1 am. She's unflappable. She's your rock, and when you get home and realize the six hours you spent there feels like a fever dream, you'll regret not getting her name.
But at the time you're in survival mode.
I never knew the difference between being ready for bed and being Tired until I started working freelance. Working freelance and doing my masters at the same time taught me how much work you can cram into one day if your bills depend on it. Making it to this point taught me the meaning of Exhaustion.
Standing in the parking lot outside Denny's in the blueish light of the Dallas night with a dying pack of Camels, I was taught a few things. One, if you're tired enough literally everything is funny. Two, hot and cold flushes aren't mutually inclusive with the menopause. Three, humans are the terminators of the natural world and my body, my poor wee, fat, tired, scarred body was capable of feats that seem ridiculous in hindsight.
Three countries, four major cities, coming up on fifty hours of travel without a nights sleep, dozing on planes and benches while trying to stay awake enough to be useful and safe later, and it didn't let me down. Ani and I made it to Dallas, sans one case, alive and laughing.
Of course, after that first sleep I woke up dead, forgive the hyperbole, with a fever that could have set the bed on fire if I wasn't covered in cold sweat. The joy of a capable body, regardless of how it looks, is a beautiful thing. I had to travel five thousand miles or so to understand what I knew before I started linking my value to sex appeal.
Muscles move beneath skin like magic, the brain is a haunted sack of jelly that runs on electricity. To be in love with the bulk of your own legs and the thick muscle on your shoulders and the feel of everything just working is the first step. Loving the stretch marks, scars, and flaws comes next. It's all a part of the journey.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme