Little, Blue Marbles

This is a story about marbles. Three blue marbles, to be exact. Apparently blue marbles are symbolic of Earth. I don’t adhere to the concept of superstitions, but I do like to believe that the world possesses a special kind of magic. Magic, in my mind, is defined as something (a sign, if you will) that allows us to appreciate the beauty of life. So here goes. Marbles.

The first blue marble I discovered was back in December. It was my first time hanging out with a new friend from the language institute where I was learning Chinese. After class one day, my Italian friend and I decided to grab some lunch. As we were walking along a street just like any other in Kaohsiung, I glanced down and lying amongst a mixture of gravel and dust was a sky blue marble. Naturally, I reached down and snatched it up. I just assumed that a child had lost it. Tragic. But . . . with the owner long gone, finders keepers.

Marble #2 was recovered in a very different fashion. To ring in 2017, I joined two Spanish friends for a road trip down to Kenting to soak up some sun and fresh air. After enjoying some snorkeling, we began combing the beach for seashells and sea glass. My fingers delicately examined green, blue, and brown sea glass and uniquely-shaped shells and then as a wave rolled in, along with it came a weathered marble, the color of faded electric blue. I had never found a marble regurgitated by the sea before, so I was pleasantly surprised.

The final marble (so far) that has crossed my path was found about two weeks ago just outside of the classroom in which I teach. Because I teach barefoot, I was removing my shoes to enter the classroom and I saw that one of my slippers had fallen behind the shoe rack. I pulled the rack aside and out rolled a shiny marble the color of lapis.

If I truly wanted to attach meaning to these marbles appearing in my life, perhaps I would say that each is representative of a life stage: #1 of the present, #2 of the past, and #3 of the future–based upon the condition of each marble.

Instead though, perhaps it is this. Another story about marbles: an old woman and her marbles. When I was about ten years old, my Great Meme was beginning to show signs of dementia. She made light of it and regularly proclaimed that she was “losing her marbles.” My mom, being a great lover of crafts and projects, came up with the clever idea that we could help Great Meme find her marbles. Therefore, my mom crocheted a little bag and we filled it to the brim with colorful, new marbles. We presented it to her and all had a good laugh.

Since coming to Taiwan, I’ve been on a personal journey. Along the way, I have felt figuratively as if I had lost my marbles. I met a lot of people in the beginning that disappointed me and made me feel as if I was wrong for trying to seek happiness. I actually felt like I was the “crazy one,” the “negative one.” Eventually I got to the point where I knew I needed to reevaluate my friendships, my lifestyle, and my goals. I literally walked (or rode) away from people and removed myself from monotonous conversations. Eventually, things began to turn around. I welcomed people into my life that inspired me, that lent an ear when I needed it, that enjoyed nature and the simple things, that allowed me to be a meaningful part of their existence. I felt like I was able to love my friends again–and for them to love me in return. And fittingly, all of these marbles have been blue, a common color for a marble, but a color indicative of happiness for me. With the discovery of these marbles, maybe I’m recovering my sanity, piece by piece. Or maybe, they’re just little, blue marbles.

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Exigency

Abacinate me cruelly,

my pupils didn’t wish to see,

the world like this anyway;

This babeldom affects my sanity

and destroys and distorts my thoughts–

like a caesura,

I take a pause–

breathe it all in,

absorb morsels of demulcents

to soothe my aching soul,

and my encaustic brain

comes to life,

illuminated by blue, green,

gold, and purple.

I arise from this fimicolous existence,

like a child let loose from the womb,

into a place of gramary–

wringing my humectant hands

of my internal dread–

but alas, I’m unafraid

of being the victim of irrision–

what they say is all jabberwocky,

meaningless, but meant to hurt–

and I can’t even feel it–

banana peels,

and I’m slippin’–

kymatology and the like,

can only tell us so much,

but we’re human–

and that in itself is our flaw,

and a blessing–

because who aspires

to the attainment of the key

to the secrets of the universe–

not I–

for I am labile to the will of the world,

viewing it as my matrical keeper,

until a widespread necrobiosis

poisons us all to death,

which is an operose,

but necessary task,

out of which I spy,

a proceleusmatic new beginning–

Gone are the quixotic notions

to which we formerly adhered.

Like the ocean waves,

we reinfund,

back and forth,

teasing the shore;

and after having our fill,

we zoom up to the sky,

to stellify ourselves–

but we don’t belong there either–

we are totipotent,

but still unsure of our usufruct–

if we learn from history

and our past mistakes,

we will be mindful of

venereous pursuits,

so as not to thrust

our avaricious digits

into every orifice of the terrene,

upon which we dwell.

It could be the wanion

of the world to welcome us back,

but the xenodochial nature of this planet,

is inherent and true.

We will be taught how to control

our yen for power and glory,

that only die along with our physical beings,

lest we desire zoothapsis . . . .

Thumbin’ for a Ride

I left my French lover aka Gabi Baby in Invercargill, New Zealand on January 17th 2016. We were together for 2,200 kilometers and two (far too short) weeks. It’s funny because I hadn’t anticipated becoming interested in anyone during my travels around the South Island, but like they say: when you’re least expecting it, that’s when it comes to you. And come it did.

Hitching with Brendy 2016

After three hours of tramping along through the rain without any luck catching a ride. Boo hoo on us. This was outside of the car rental place at the airport.

Britt and Brendan Hitching

At the start of our hitchhiking adventure to Westport: Brendy and I! All smiles!

I met Gabi on my first official travel day with my good mate, Brendan. Brendan and I met on an online dating website by the name of OkCupid. He had messaged both my friend, McKenna and I and had seemed like a cool person, so we decided to meet him on a purely platonic, non-threesome basis. Believe me, we made that clear from the get go and of course, in response to that, Brendan chirped: “Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that.” Sure . . . . Anyhow, as fate would have it, our hangout with Brendan was incredibly fun (drinking heaps and dancing at Boogie Wonderland). Then just days later, we had a chance encounter with him, and by chance encounter, I mean that we ran into him as he was coming out of McDonald’s and then I coerced him into my car and kidnapped him by bringing him to our hostel. One thing quickly led to another (as in, he overheard me unsuccessfully trying to book a hostel for the upcoming nights and offered his place up to us ladies) and eventually, McKenna and I ended up taking residence at Brendy’s flat where we befriended his two flatmates, Danny and Mark (Mahk). McKenna was there for a week or so and I was there for a bit longer while we each searched and successfully found jobs outside of Wellington. After my au pair position came to an end, I returned to Wellington where the boys graciously welcomed me back as what I termed an “honorary flatmate,” and what they more appropriately—albeit affectionately—referred to as an “honorary squatter”.

During the time I lived with Brendan, we became tight and so, I was really looking forward to introducing him to the world of backpacking, even if it would just be within his own country.

So there we were nine months later, on our first day together—Brendan and I—west coast bound, drenched and standing fruitlessly (except for some literal cherries) alongside the road, one of far too many all because I had insisted upon hitchhiking from Nelson to Westport. On my own and on mostly clear days, I had spent no more than ten minutes waiting for a lift. I figured that with an additional person and with that person being a male that the wait would naturally increase. However, I surely did not anticipate that over a three hour long period, that Brendan and I would receive zero offers for even just a short ride.

We trudged along, positively at first, but then our packs grew heavier and our clothes moist, and our spirits were rapidly deflating. To say it was miserable would have an understatement. And to make matters worse, the possibility of walking along the highway soon diminished and we were forced to continue along a bike trail running parallel to the highway, but on the side with traffic heading in the opposite direction of where we were meant to be going.

Near the end of our hours-long journey walking from a residential area of the town of Nelson to the airport, Brendan finally suggested that we inquire about renting a car. Although my funds were low, I agreed because it seemed as if we had no other choice. Luck was not in the cards for us, though. There was not a single rental car available for hire. Hence, we reluctantly decided to throw in the towel, which in our case was ever-dampening, so we called up some locals to rescue us. Plan C, D, E (whatever it was at this point) would be to catch a bus to the west coast early the next morning. We would spend another night at Brendan’s workmate and friend, Jack’s family’s home—sorted.

Brendy and I figured that we would have better luck hitching back into Nelson, so we gave it a go. We weren’t waiting long when a man in a van stopped for us. We filled him in on our failed attempt to leave town and he insisted that we not give up just yet. He, himself had hitched years ago throughout Europe, so he had a strong desire for us to succeed. We glanced at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and conceded to be dropped off just outside of the nearby town of Richmond. Our driver (soon to be savior) by the name of Stephen, assured us that this would be the perfect spot.

Out of the van we went, and as a backup plan, I rang up the guy I had hooked up with on New Year’s Eve, asking if he might be able to pick up Brendan and I should we not be able to catch a ride from anyone else. Hey, our options were very limited! He said that it would be no problem; however, he wouldn’t be off work until 4:30, so we had two hours to kill before we could truly call it quits. Game on.

To be honest, by that stage, I was ready to go back to Jack’s parents’ house, take a shower, book a bus for the morning, and watch a movie. It was becoming later on in the day and I knew that it would take three hours to get all the way to Westport, our first stop along the “rugged” west coast. Therefore, Brendan and I resolved that there was no point in accepting a short ride because we weren’t keen on getting stranded somewhere. If we were to accept a ride, it would be to Westport or bust.

Thus began the waiting game all over again. Fortunately though, the rain had stopped and for some reason, I was all giddy and my happiness was renewed. Perhaps it was because I had no absolutely no expectations for receiving a lift and we had a solid backup plan. I couldn’t be concerned about whether or not we would be getting picked up.

As the cars flew past, Brendy and I gobbled up cherries and peanuts we had on hand and chatted and I did a couple one-handed cartwheels with my thumb up in the air for good measure. It was actually quite good fun.

Our deadline began to near—we opted to give up around 4:30 and walk to the center of town to catch our ride—but then people actually began stopping to offer us lifts. Unfortunately, everyone was heading up north to Motueka as opposed to out west. “Thank you anyway,” we’d say again and again.

And then . . . five minutes before our 4:30 deadline, not one car, but two cars stopped for us. In a flash, we discovered that they were on their way to Westport too, with one car eventually taking off for Christchurch along the way. The driver of the first car was a seemingly quiet French guy that I soon began referring to as Gabi Baby and his co-pilot was a little Italian. They helped us load our bags into the boot and away we sped. Initially, I wasn’t eager to accept the ride because both guys were smokers. I hate smoking. But beggars can’t be choosy, especially after the day we had had.

The two vehicles were traveling convoy-style with an Italian guy at the wheel of the station wagon following us. Along with him were two young German girls. The boys explained to us that they had all just come from a music festival up in Takaka.

About halfway to Westport, we stopped in a small town to grab a quick coffee before saying farewell to the two Italians. I noticed that Gabi walked around barefoot, which is very typical for Kiwis and carefree travelers that border on being Hippies. I had been thinking as we rode along in the car that Gabi was kind of attractive, but the smoking thing was a real turn-off for me, so that thought quickly disappeared from my mind as quickly as it had come. Perhaps I imagined it, but I felt like Gabi would occasionally glance into his rear-view mirror at me.

I had little patience for the majority of the young, just out of high school German travelers I encountered in New Zealand, so I made little effort to converse with the girls once they joined us in the car. I chalked them up as being naïve and uninteresting AND the girl sitting beside me in the backseat had an obnoxious laugh that the boys and I would mention to each other later on and imitate for fun. We’re assholes. But you’ve all done it, so . . . .

The drive wasn’t terribly exciting, but it was good to be heading in the right direction. We arrived in Westport around 8 PM and since I had booked Brendy and I into a hostel while at the coffee shop, it was time for us to say goodbye . . . or so we thought.

The German girls set off to either hitch further down the coast or to freedom camp—I didn’t care either way–but then Gabi told us that he was interested in staying at the hostel too, so he went to see if there was space. There was, so Brendan and I conferred for a brief moment and agreed that making dinner for Gabi would be a nice way to thank him for driving us to Westport. When we headed to his room to inform him of our plan, he didn’t fully understand at first and he thought that we wanted him to contribute to dinner. He replied with an apologetic facial expression and “I only have oil.”

“No, no,” I said, “WE’RE making YOU dinner. You don’t need to bring anything. We’ve got it all.”

He seemed a bit surprised by our gesture, but graciously accepted to be our guest. While Gabi was showering, Brendan and I got to work preparing our veggies and such to make a stir fry—Brendan’s specialty. Brendan and I make a good team cooking and baking, I would just like to say.

Gabi came in the kitchen to help us out by chopping up some veggies with his special, wooden-handled knife. I’m just going to put it out there that traveling around New Zealand is really great because all of the hostels have well-equipped kitchens and the majority of people take advantage of cooking for themselves (and most people are actually decent cooks). Even better (and more attractive) is the fact that guys tend to be awesome chefs (aside from those fresh out of high school, which is understandable). Man, I love a guy who can cook.

While Brendan and I were in the midst of preparing our soon to be delicious and spicy stir fry, Gabi slipped away for a bit. Brendan had a funny interaction with an Italian woman wanting some of my sweet chili sauce (he thought that she just wanted a wee taste), but she had been aiming to pour a substantial amount into her own tuna pasta concoction.

By the time dinner was ready, Gabi had returned with a bottle of white wine to share with us. At that moment, our friendship officially blossomed and I liked our—as Brendan called him–“French Man” even more. Over dinner, Gabi proclaimed that the two of us were welcome to join him in continuing down the coast. We gushed (yes, I said it because Brendy and I are nerds) that he liked us and eagerly accepted the invitation.

That evening was pleasant and the hostel where we were staying was really nice. After Brendan retired, I stayed up with Gabi to chat. His English was a bit limited, but there was always a way I could find to make myself understood and vice versa. I could tell that he was a good person and I was glad that he had given us a ride that day.

Before hitting the sack, with quite a bit of difficulty and hilarity, I tried explaining one of my childhood “goodnight” phrases to Gabi. I realized that contractions are little buggers that make English tricky to understand. I said: “Goodnight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” to which the other person is supposed respond: “Won’t! Don’t you!” After using numerous methods to try explaining this short and yet, complex phrasing, Gabi and I parted ways.

At that moment in time, I was entirely unaware that just a mere eight days later, I would be starting a very torrid love affair (I’ve always wanted to use that term, so give me a break!) with my newly-found Frenchman. And so ends the unofficial first chapter . . . .

Kaohsiung Goings-On

I’ve been living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for over two months now. Here’s an update of some interesting events that have taken place over the course of the last couple of days. So yeah, I had Tinder and OkCupid accounts for a hot second, a short stint, and a very brief moment as of 2:30 in the morning on Wednesday. My return to the world of online “banter,” dating, and annoyance literally lasted for a total of eight hours—seven of which I was asleep. I found that OKC boasts of exactly 9 eligible men in Kaohsiung, none of which I found even the slightest bit attractive in regards to physicality or personality. So basically, that was worthless. And then, good, old Tinderoni proved to not be much better. I ended each hesitant right swipe with a resigned exclamation of “whatever” and my fingers quickly grew tired of all the lefties I was dishing out. I must have awoken with a sense of clarity because deleting both apps thirty minutes later occurred without any disappointment.

Around 11 PM that night, I ended up getting a professional massage—if you can’t get it for free, buy it! Joking . . . but really, I’m a western girl in Asia, so it’s more of an accurately cruel joke. But just the same, it was . . . good. I hesitate with my assessment of any professional massage I receive because for me, it’s like dealing with grief in the respect that it puts me through multiples stages (some enjoyable and others far from it).

First of all, I sincerely believe that deep down, every masseuse has sadomasochist tendencies. I once heard a story from an old-coworker of mine whose longtime girlfriend took pleasure in clipping his fingernails and toenails too short so that they would bleed. For some reason, that story always enters my brain when I fancy a massage. I think that your average masseuse loves doling out pain legally. However, I REALLY want to become one of those people who adamantly proclaims that they LOVE massages and they use the phrase, “the harder the better” as if they can peer deep into my hidden, wimpy soul and mock me. I’ll get there someday, but last night was not it.

Now, due to the language barrier, I’m unsure if what I’m doing most of the time is really what I’m supposed to be doing. I had no clue how much clothing I was supposed to remove, so I simply stripped down to my thong and threw on the short robe they had given me. (There’s nothing worse than a massage with clothing on, thanks for schooling me on that one, Thailand). My masseuse was caught off-guard by me at first—she walked into the room and then peeked back out of the curtain and I could hear the masseuse next door inform her that I was American. Great, I thought, we’re already off to an awesome start.

She gestured to have me lie down on my stomach and the first stage of Brittany’s Massage Terror began. I call this stage: Ongoing Battle. Going into each massage, I hope that it’ll be different than the last and so I clear my mind and act like I’m just like every other person that receives a massage in exchange for money. It doesn’t take long for my masseuse to hate me. They always start out so nicely—they get out the oil and lather you up (and the wimpy side of me is all about that), but soon, I swear that the masseuse’s eyes begin transforming your body into a punching bag. The masseuse didn’t go to school for nothing and they’re going to show you who’s boss.

I always like to think that my reactions to pain, discomfort, pleasure, and every emotion ever are very obvious to read. Apparently not. And since I barely speak a lick of Chinese, words were useless, so I pulled my head out of the hole in the bed and conveyed to my masseuse by using hitting motions, that those were “Ow,” and then I informed her that when she wasn’t beating the shit out of me, that I would probably be laughing. I’m sure that after that, she began counting down the rest of the minutes that she’d have to be spending with me, which equated to a very ambitious hour on my part.

I lost my ongoing battle with truly relaxing during the massage and proceeded into Stage 2: Discovering that I’m in a room with a professional torturer. I have a ton of knots in my muscles, which is a real treat for a professional masseuse, but not a treat for me. They don’t gently knead the knots like a friend would; on the contrary, those knots are their mortal enemy and they don’t fuck about breaking them up. I’m not crier, but there were moments when my brain was desperately asking me what it should do. Don’t show weakness, was all that I could tell my powerless mind. However, that’s a bit difficult to do when your masseuse has you lying almost fully naked on your stomach with your face jammed into a small hole that only allows you to see her feet and the sheets hanging from the bed. I also learned that my masseuse for the night was really intrigued by my varicose veins and she took full pleasure in pressing as hard as possible into them, which produced an excruciating amount of pain. I quickly indicated that that shit needed to stop.

Oddly enough, Stage 2 always gives way to the third stage, which is Tickle Torture (I sort of like this). Most people that know me well know that I am actually able to tickle myself, so when I’m faced with someone else touching my skin, the laugh fest is on. I’m sure my masseuse was really confused that the girl who was writhing around in pain just moments earlier was now laughing her fucking head off. It made no sense. I especially can’t deal with people touching the left side of my back or my thighs and so I was losing my shit. I had to keep apologizing for my inability to keep my body still. How people are able to fall asleep during a massage will forever befuddle me. At least my masseuse laughed right along with me and I squirmed and cracked up uncontrollably.

About halfway into the massage, the two of us seemed to discover a happy medium. She realized that her deep-tissue skills would be totally wasted on me, but that I would be fully content with just having her rub oil on me, while gently pushing into my flesh. Unfortunately that was short-lived and I ended my massage by being repeatedly punched in the head. That was a new experience for me, but I guess that’s how the Taiwanese get down. I could take it or leave it, but a small part of me found it strangely enjoyable. After that, she grabbed some hot towels and wiped me clean of all the oil on my body, which I really did not understand or appreciate. I feel like at midnight on a weekday, if I’m out getting a massage, that’s a clear indicator that I’m not on my way to meet up with someone later on for a sexual rendezvous. Therefore, if I want to leave the massage parlor all greased up, then that should be my prerogative. So that’s that. I survived another massage in Asia.

My Life in New Zealand in a Well-Contained Nutshell

“That time I lived in a tent for two weeks . . . thank god for meeting those French boys who showed me the light . . . and more importantly, the necessity AND acceptability of having an air mattress complete with sheets, a pillow, and a comforter inside of your tent. Princess Camping.”

“That time McKenna and I watched LOTR and shamelessly experimented with Legolus braids.”

“That time I fed full-grown pigs expired Countdown baked goods and old fruit while wearing a blue jumper that made me look like one of the Butkis orphans from that Mary-Kate and Ashley movie, “It Takes Two.”

“That time I worked as an au pair and took the boys to the park with the eldest dressed as a lion.”

“That time I let my domestic side out to play without reservation and used a humongous bag of cherries—of questionable origin–found in the freezer of my new flat to bake my first cherry pie–with a lattice-woven crust to boot.”

“That first time I WWOOFed and detected a horrendous odor in my bedroom that, after a thorough inspection, yielded the skeletal remains of a mouse and a bird summoned to the other side via the stickiest glue known to man.”

“That time my five mile run home from work turned into a strange encounter with a bloody man in an alleyway and then a hot pursuit after him through the streets of Wellington. Good Samaritan Mission Fail.”

“That time I visited Brendan’s family’s farm in Levin and named a miniature horse “Chompa” because suspiciously, after residing in New Zealand for nearly six months, my ability to correctly pronounce the “er” at the end of a word greatly diminished. Favorite Kiwi-ism to sum it up: “I just can’t be fucked.”

“That time at the child care center in a room filled with two year olds when I was finally able to announce aloud without losing an ounce of self-respect: “Who’s got poos???” And then moments later, being able to effectively ferret out the culprit or culprits truly made me realize that I, without a doubt, had a gift . . . and that it was not one that anyone would actually ever want.”

“That time I was scolded by a crotchety French woman for putting petals from a foxglove plant (which is invasive to NZ ANYHOW) on my fingertips for a ridiculous selfie, after which her husband asked me to pose again so that he could ALSO photograph me on his camera behaving like a five year old . . . aka myself in nature.”

“That time McKenna and I played on a seesaw at Hobbiton and then amused ourselves by photographing monarch caterpillars. An American woman in the group with a seven year old daughter that was also enthralled by the caterpillars basically told us that she hoped her daughter would grow up to become like us. (One of my favorite compliments in NZ. Rock on, Mama!).”

“That time McKenna and I came across Mustache Cat in Auckland.”

“That time the Welly boys, Baby Swede, McKenna, and I got tipsy off wine and did a nighttime walk through the Botanical Gardens to see the glow worms.”

“That time I went to a Ceilidh and learned how to dance like a proper Scottish lass (sort of) and where McKenna and I also gave fitting names to all of the elderly persons in the room, which was pretty much everyone. “There’s Ira over there chatting it up with Bernadette.””

“That time that Brian came to visit me and I made him pose awkwardly in his newly-purchased (and naughty) Kiwi boxer shorts.”

“That time that McKenna and I made the acquaintance of Eliana, a wild and crazy Brazilian woman with a beautiful, giant heart and atrocious driving skills that invited us to store our backpacking gear at her summer cottage a mere three hours after meeting her and her ten year daughter (a Frida Kahlo lookalike if I ever saw one). Elian then drove us out into the back of beyond to do an overnight hike. My trust in other human beings greatly mounted while living in New Zealand.”

“That time, on the flip side, that an old Kiwi guy trusted THIS blonde girl enough to let me drive his boat around the Marlborough Sounds, so that I could follow his bubbles while he SCUBA dived for scallops for our dinner. Unbeknownst to him, I made a hell of a lot of circles with that keel.”

“That time–well, one of many–that I scooted to school with Emily, Josh, and James, my awesome kiddos I was an au pair for, enjoying every second of whizzing around on the footpath (I wanted so badly to write “sidewalk” there) and cherishing the simple (and greatest) moments in life.”

“That time McKenna and I picked apples and became obsessed with making playlists to match accordingly to our daily activities while WWOOFING, such as “Apple Picking” and “Peach Passion” for preserving peaches. Fun fact: the majority of songs with the word “peach” in it are in the hip hop genre. Think about it.”

“ALL the times I laughed hysterically when Kiwis mentioned their love for “native bush” and tramping.”

“That time Brendan and I walked for three hours in the pouring rain, laden down with heavy backpacks, unable to successfully hitch a ride from ANYONE in the hippie town of Nelson.”

“That time that Shelby and I had a deep talk with Bridal Veil Falls in the background and became inspired by the notion that you don’t need a photo of every single moment in your life. Some moments are best not captured on film.”

“That time McKenna and I started a Kpop dance party in the kitchen of a house where a birthday party was taking place and donned sequined masks that I randomly found hanging around.”

“That time the Americans outnumbered the lone Kiwi (Brendan) in the group and we climbed trees in the park, saw black rabbits that may or may not have been real, and reenacted our own version of a scene from a nonexistent ’90’s coming-of-age film where we chanted through the forest.”

“That time I celebrated my 27th birthday by buying a station wagon and eating gelato on a bench by myself and thinking that it was honestly, one of the most perfect birthdays I have ever had.”

“That time McKenna and I went on a My Little Pony-themed Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the lovely Marika and Jess.”

“That time I acquired a French lover and had sex with him three meters from a hiking trail, which spurred my passion for public indecency and exhibitionism.”

“That time I CouchSurfed in Porirua and spent my night doing “spots” with Uncle Gordon (who possessed approximately three teeth inside of his entire mouth) and did absolutely nothing afterwards besides pet a dog for countless hours and watch the garbage that is New Zealand’s version of “The Bachelor,” which in all fairness is garbage no matter which country’s version it is.”

“That time in Raglan when my yoga instructor refused to allow her participants to take a sip of water during her class because it would “put out the flame inside us” because we were “dragons.”

“That time I used my noodle and craftily exploited gyms throughout Wellington by getting trial memberships from every possible place in order to maintain my fitness and what little money I had.”

“That time I did a job interview in a grocery store parking lot over Skype on my phone and obliged to sing a children’s song to demonstrate my “teacherly” abilities. I was offered the job and prompted turned it down.”

Wyoming, Marriage, Kids, and All That Jazz!

Something a co-worker of mine said the other day spurred a debate within my mind. At the time, she has been relaying a story to me about why she was frustrated with a fellow co-worker of ours, a Slovakian guy that had made it clear that he was interested in pursuing a relationship with her, despite the fact that he was leaving the country within a week. It was bizarre, but relatable—it seems as if every female (and perhaps every male, too) has had an unwanted admirer at one time or another. I felt sorry for her; she had never led him on or given him any reason to believe that a relationship would be possible. They had never even gone on a date, let alone hung out alone together. By that point, nothing in her tale was unusual, but then she made a statement that made me rethink what I thought I already understood to be the “norm”—and unfair one, at that. She (the single, nearly 25 year old female and mother of a 9 month old) casually mentioned how her admirer (the 23 year old Slovak kid) wanted to return to the U.S. and specifically, to the small western town in which we resided, AND that he wanted a family, which she already had. Hmmm, I thought. She never skipped a beat alluding to the fact that he wanted a family and that she “already had one.” It seemed highly unlikely that a 23 year old male would be interested in coming back to the country for a woman with a child with whom he had never even had a chance “courting.” However, I don’t think this ever occurred to her. I was thinking about how someone would take advantage of such a situation to gain a green card. I know of foreigners (and have friends who have done this) attempting or succeeding to do that, but perhaps in this case, it was different.

This brought about an entirely different query I wanted to explore further: was it a complete misconception that dating as a single female with a child(ren) is more complex than dating when childless? Hell, I find dating to be a struggle minus children, but from what I’ve heard from my sister-in-law, cousin, and numerous friends, it’s even tougher to seek a relationship when you’ve already created a family. It’s not a mystery to understand why this would be so—when you have a child, your life should revolve around them (not completely, but most parents become a lot less selfish than they were when they were childless) and therefore, when you make decisions in life, you’re not only considering how those choices will affect you, but your offspring as well. I imagine that if I had a child and I was a single parent, that I would be cautious about whom I brought into my life. Would I want temporary partners to come in and maybe even play parental roles at times in the lives of my children? I can’t believe that I would ever feel the need to have senseless flings; I would probably crave something more permanent—reliable and healthy. However, going back to my co-worker: she doesn’t seem to have any problem attracting potential mates, but I question the quality of these relationships. Was this why dating wasn’t any more complicated in her case as it was her back when she didn’t have a child?

This also made me question dating and the single life versus the married life in the state of Wyoming. Ever since I first became truly acquainted with Wyoming when I was thirteen years old and moved with my family to a tiny town in the southwestern part of the state, I knew that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, or rather, New York, from which I hail. I heard an accent (yes, as much as Wyomingites beg to differ, they DO have an accent—it’s kind of like a southern twang mixed with a Midwestern drawl) and I immediately made a conscious effort to avoid acquiring one over the subsequent five years residing there. I also realized that cowboys still exist, and that they wear very tight jeans (Wranglers), and sadly, they don’t resemble John Wayne [RIP Marion]. It was a strange new world for me: one where there were only three radio stations (country, NPR, and a religious station), horses outnumbered people, and mountains seemed to be looming everywhere in the distance. Among these major differences, was the mindset about getting hitched at a young age, and because of that, I’m very grateful that I had thirteen years of living in New York to set me straight on how to approach that topic.

It never occurred to me that someone would put a ring on it (the “it” being me)—thanks, Beyonce—in high school, directly after high school, during college, or immediately post-college. I saw no rush and I still don’t, and in fact, if I never walk down the aisle, that’s okay too. For me, marriage isn’t the goal I’ve got my heart set on currently. I would like to spend a good portion of my life with a significant other, but I don’t believe in settling or giving up dreams in order to do what far too many people expect me to do—get married, reproduce, live in a big house, have a million televisions, and remain within the “safety” of my own country, maybe taking a two week vacation each year to somewhere like the Bahamas or Hawaii. This is the simplified version of the latest “American Dream,” but it’s not my dream.

The people possibly living that dream are some of my former high school classmates. Since returning to the United States after teaching English for my second year in South Korea and then traveling solo around Southeast Asia for two months, I’ve been here and there—road tripping with friends (former fellow teachers in Korea) to California, visiting an old flame in Texas for the 4th of July, catching up with friends and family in Wyoming, Missouri, and New York, and basically living on my savings, enjoying the life of a singleton recuperating from life abroad (it’s fantastic, but you really do have to readjust to life in your home country once you’ve been gone for an extended period of time). However, reality set in and as I watched the numbers in my bank account decrease, I decided to stay put for a while and began waiting tables at the restaurant where I worked for a couple months between my teaching gigs overseas.

To be honest, it digs into your self-esteem to take on a serving job after having had such an amazing experience living in a country very different from your own. In Korea, I rarely worried about money, I ate out with my friends on a regular basis, I was able to travel to other countries during my vacation time, and I didn’t have to pay rent. I refer to Korea as “La La Land” because my dad always told me when I was growing up that I lived in “La La Land.” Little did he know that I would truly live there one day, or that this wonderful lifestyle could be found in Asia. Coming to America (as Eddie Murphy and I both discovered) can be a real trip. Never did I plan on returning to the small western town which I had completely loathed during my younger years. After that first year overseas, I took the serving job reluctantly, feeling like a failure living with my parents and doing something I vowed never to do again after serving at Crackhead Barrel (Cracker Barrel) during my sophomore year of college. However, this time around, I didn’t see it as something shameful, and even when I wait on my former classmates, I could care less if they make any judgments about why I’m back in town or why I’m working at a restaurant. I know it’s crossed the minds of some of the people I used to know because I had a former teacher come into the restaurant one day. He had been my favorite English teacher (and possibly influenced me to major in English) and he recognized me, although I assume that most people do not. He questioned me about how school was going, regardless of the fact that it was late August and had I been in school still, I wouldn’t have been working in that small college-less town. I replied that I had graduated four years ago and he asked me some more questions about what I had been up to and I’m sure that I saw surprise and relief on his face when I told him that I wasn’t a failure. It had felt like his initial question had been asked in the hopes of motivating me to stop waitressing and to head back to college. Thankfully, I didn’t disappoint him.

Another girl, a few years younger than me, asked me what I had been up to and she had seemed pleasantly surprised that I had spent my early to mid-twenties seeing the world. Why should this be so shocking, you wonder? That’s what I wondered too, but then again, I spent my high school years in Wyoming, so it made complete sense to me. And finally, this goes back to my original quandary that presents a whole new one: what is the goal for a Wyoming resident in regards to marriage and children? Another girl I work with once told me that she had been engaged in high school. She’s now 20 years old and the other day, her former fiancé came into the restaurant with his wife and their infant in tow. The girl sat across from me as we rolled silverware. She appeared to be frustrated. Old love dies slowly, if ever, in some instances. I glanced across at the little family and blatantly told her that she had dodged a bullet—and I literally said that, so correction: “Girl, you dodged a bullet.” She laughed, perhaps a little too loudly, maybe trying to capture the guy’s attention and I wanted to shake my head in disgust, but instead, I decided to dig for information, to gain some enlightenment into the psyche of a born and bred Wyoming girl desperately searching for love in all the wrong places. “Why did you get engaged in high school?” I asked her without trying to conceal my puzzlement. She had no answer for this. I was looking for her to admit to being young and foolish or to confide in me that she had truly loved that boy and that there had been something special between the two of them. She then said that she would still be there for him if ever he needed anything. Awww, how sweet, my brain wanted to vomit out in a flood of sarcasm. But I toned it down and asked her in my typical, point blank fashion, “Would he be there for you if you ever needed him?” No, was her reply, and that was the end of our conversation. That’s why I make a terrible girl sometimes. I don’t understand several things: why you would want someone to be a part of your life who’s a piece of shit (oh by the way, this guy had been cheating on her with his now-wife all throughout their high school rendezvous) and why so many women (and apparently Wyoming men) are obsessed with finding a spouse and then popping out children like they’re turds. So many shit references, oh well. Maybe that just about sums it up—I don’t understand shit.

Once I was away at college, only three and a half hours from the small Wyoming town in which I had lived for an agonizing five years, it felt like an entirely different world. And go figure, I was living in Salt Lake City, Utah, known if for nothing else, Mormons and snow. Yet, I felt alive and I quickly found people that possessed larger goals that didn’t involve wearing rings on their left hands or stretching out their vaginas. However, although I was gone, I still heard stories of what my former classmates had gotten up to occasionally and most of what they had accomplished consisted of the aforementioned activities that my friends and I at college found inconceivable. Nowadays, I see my old peers come in with their children. It’s like seeing a very eerie alternate reality for yourself. I could be that woman sporting the full-figured body of someone who works at the local auto repair shop and has given birth to three children within the last five years. I remember back when that girl was voted “Most Likely to Be Famous” and when she had no breasts, no ass, and no stomach. And at 26 years old, she’s already on her second marriage. Apparently the first marriage with her high school sweetheart didn’t work out.

It would be interesting to see how she perceives me and I wonder if we both lack any envy for each other’s lives. It could be that she pities me for being single, not having kids, and working a menial serving job. But then again, the glimpse I have into her life may be as inaccurate as the one she has into mine. Regardless, there’s no right or wrong way to approach marriage and reproduction, but it’s very interesting how acceptable it is for Wyoming men and women to establish themselves as “adults,” presumably by entering into these relationships. It seems as if all the women with whom I work are looking to find someone to love, which is admirable, but it seems mindless. What do they really want for themselves, I wonder? What will being married at 21 provide them with in the future?

I graduated from high school with a class of 51 students. Out of those 51, I had learned that at least ten had gotten married and/or had children by my sophomore year of college. Now, I would guess that over half are living the married with kids life. To my credit, I’ve never been disillusioned about marriage or sex. In regards to marriage, I don’t think it’s something in which to be entered into lightly. It takes a lot of work—there are ups and downs. And as for sex, it never crossed my mind that I should wait until marriage to find out what it was all about. Premarital sex seemed practical—I never recall a moment (even as a pre-teen) when I thought about waiting to dive into the crazy world of sex—but I did wait until I was eighteen to find the right foreigner (a 25 year old Brazilian) to take my V-Card. Hey, I had very few options in a town with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants!

So, what’s the draw for these western folk? Why do they race into marriage and divorce and child-birthing so quickly? And aren’t the men at least not supposed to have that baby batter on the brain? What’s with the chase for the ring exchange?

When people used to ask me if I was married (in Korea or the USA), I would say with disgust, “Uh no, I’m too young to be married.” But now I fear that I’m just at an absurd age to be saying that I’m too young to be betrothed to someone. I do still say it in Wyoming though because it amuses me and confuses the questioner who typically follows up with “how old are you?” When I say 26, as expected, I receive an odd stare and I’m going to start using this as an explanation for lack of a diamond ring (or whatever the hell kind of ring you’re supposed to get): “I have goals, not children.”

I realize that I sound like I’m heading down Future Old Hag Lane, but in reality, I adore children, I hope to have some of my own someday and/or adopt, and I would like to spend my life with a significant other down the road. Currently though, my life of wanderlust suits me just fine. Children, dogs, husbands—they all demand attention, money, and love. I have all of that to give (except maybe money), but that’s not where my interest lies and it would be unfair to expect others to be able to accept that. If or when I traverse down that path, I would like to be able to fully commit to that lifestyle. I would desire to enhance the lives of those around me, as I do now with my friends and family, but at the moment, I’m not the person I want and need to be to fulfill that goal. Marriage and kids can wait, but the world, well, that’s more than welcome to enter into my life.

Beasts of Burden

I just wrote a Facebook status using the phrase/hashtag, “ExpatBeastsofBurden in regard to my disdain for writing cover letters for potential employers. I comprehend their purpose and absolutely find them useful in being able to sell myself in hopes of acquiring a promising job, but just the same, they are a pain. After writing that, I put on “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones and I began thinking about the other beasts of burden in my life, or in other words, how I can properly convey what’s going on in my life at the moment. So here it is. And before I get into all of that, Spotify was kind of enough to follow up The Stones’ version of BOB with Bette Midler’s and I’m just confused as to why she sings. I imagine she has talent, but I can’t see her as anything other than the surly leader in the witch triad in “Hocus Pocus.” Oh well. Trivial pursuits.

So beasts of burden in Brittany’s bizarre life . . . I am job searching at the moment. My current position as an au pair in Paraparaumu, New Zealand ends in mid-July! Eek! It went by much too quickly and as usual, I am unprepared for what to do next. The plan is to find another job in Wellington, NZ’s fun and vibrant capital city, and to get myself into a lush apartment (or at least one that is somewhat warm and large enough for my air mattress). Should this plan fail, then I’m unsure of where I’ll be. I’m hoping though, that I won’t have to relocate–I’ve really come to love the Wellington region, the friends I’ve made here, and all the cool things in the area (the rainbows, the tramping, the pubs, the events/festivals).

Therefore, I’m going to continue with my search and see where it takes me. As some of you know, my time in NZ has been filled with more ups and downs than a line of camels meandering through the desert (it’s almost midnight and I’ve had some red wine, so excuse me). But I’ve managed to get myself picked up and dusted off again and again, with the help of friends and family, with some unexpected people lending a hand along the way. We need those challenges that life throws our way to test our strength–to reinforce the fact that life truly is unpredictable and that we should take nothing for granted. I’ve learned that lesson again and again in this country. I lost my positivity at some points, which shocked many people who had never seen me down before. I thought I had made an enormous mistake moving to an expensive, western country similar to the States. I considered bailing and running away to Central or South America or heading back to Asia. I compared my NZ adventure to my previous travels, which just wasn’t fair, and I became dissatisfied. Traveling isn’t perfect. It’s not easy and it’s not always as the photos suggest. If you want to relax and have no worries, go on vacation. Don’t travel. I LOVE traveling and I have embraced all of the hardships and magnificent moments that go along with it, but just the same, when you’re down and can’t stand back up again because the waves keep knocking you down, traveling is ROUGH.

Getting through all those rough patches was a beast of burden worth facing though because I’ve come to adore this country: its magical, otherworldly beauty, the laid-back nature of the friendly Kiwis I’ve befriended along the way, and the feeling of security I possess no matter if I’m hiking through the forest solo, walking through the city streets late at night, or sleeping alone in my tent. New Zealand has offered me a very different sort of travel experience than what I’ve previously experienced. It didn’t challenge me with enormous cultural differences or force me to pantomime in order to communicate, but it has made me realize that I can survive no matter what. I’m resilient and capable of making things happen for myself.

That being said, who knows where I’ll go from here? I can’t even begin to think about what happens after my NZ visa runs out . . . so let’s not even put that out there right now. We all have our beasts of burden and if the only beast of burden I have right now is a matter of finding a job and a place to live, then that’s okay with me. Things always work themselves out. I know that I worry people with my lack of purpose, my reluctance to settle down and have that “American dream,” and my tendency to end up in very peculiar situations, but that’s just the way it is and it sure does make for a good story. I’ll find my purpose (just a little later on in life), the “American dream” is NOT mine, and those bizarre stories fuel me and enlighten me and even more importantly, they make me HAPPY!

So there you have it–one American girl’s life in NZ in a very tiny nutshell. It never fails to be amusing how you set out to write about one thing and then it morphs into something entirely different. BOB’s for another day: love, sex, relationships, grief.

I’ve been working on a piece that incorporates love, grief, and traveling altogether, but it’s painful to release. I’m not even positive if I want to share it, but I know that I should. It will be the most difficult piece of writing I have ever created. That is the BOB I was meaning to express, but it wasn’t the right time, apparently. Thank you, mind of mine, for filtering me subconsciously.

Recollections of Myanmar: The Longest Day (Hpa-an to the Golden Rock)

Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants” crept into my thoughts as I stood riding on the back of a small pickup truck speeding its way through rural Myanmar one hot April morning. We had departed from a quaint and colorful village by the name of Hpa-an early that morning. I had grown quite fond of the place and hadn’t been annoyed that my party and I had had to remain there for an extra day than we had originally planned. Had I more time, I would have stayed there even longer, writing and soaking up the town’s charm and the approachability of its residents. However, in the essence of time and in order to arrive in Mandalay for the start of Thingyan, Myanmar’s annual water festival, we had to get a move on. Little did I know that it would be my longest travel day to date—covering all kinds of terrain using various modes of transportation.

During the previous day, Tue, my Vietnamese-American chum with whom I became acquainted while volunteering in the Philippines over the past winter holidays, and I said farewell to our Canadian pal, Cynthia. I befriended Cynthia in Seoul, South Korea, where we worked at an English immersion kindergarten. She taught P.E. and leadership there and I was a homeroom kindergarten teacher for Korean five year olds. Not long after meeting each other, Cynthia mentioned that she would be going to the Philippines for our Christmas vacation, so naturally, I asked if I could come along as I had been considering going there as well. Because of the occurrence of Typhoon Haiyan (known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines), our would-be beachy, soaking up rays, mini vacay turned into us partaking in a disaster relief effort instead, thanks to Cynthia and her excellent researching skills that led us directly into the base camp of the company with whom she traveled to North Korea . . . but that’s a whole other story, and so, in short, that’s how we met Tue.

Cynthia had set out a day earlier than us so that she could meet her mother and boyfriend up in Mandalay. Basically, this journey to Myanmar was chockfull of reunions. Pretty funny how a crazy idea thrown out there by Cynthia could have brought us all together again. I can’t recall exactly when it was mentioned—either after Tue had slaughtered a humungous spider during our sleepover in an actual building (while volunteering, mind you, we tent camped out on the beach every night except for twice when the rain flooded our tents) or when we were having a picnic on the lawn of a hotel, because Cynthia and I got way too excited about grass after having been deprived of it living in Seoul), and including Tue was simply mandatory. We became fast friends.

So without Cynthia, we were just us three—I forgot to mention that we had made a friend before arriving in Hpa-an. His name was Peter and he was surprisingly, an American. Go figure—during my (at that point) month-long solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, I had encountered very few of my countrymen, but then I flew over to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and there were all the Americans coming out of the woodwork. I met them all over: solo female backpackers, families with children, best bros—okay, so there weren’t that many, but compared to the number of Americans I met in the other countries, it was like there was an American convention going on and Myanmar was hosting. I felt kind of impressed by my fellow compatriots, and it seemed to me that perhaps Americans, contrary to the popular belief held mostly by Europeans, actually do travel, but that when they travel, they tend to enjoy getting off the beaten path. That’s not to say that you won’t find slews of sluggish, old American men sporting white, billowing shirts barely covering their beer bellies in Thailand or the inebriated college party kids covered in neon paint dancing to music they probably can’t even hear at the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. It’s simply my own observation that the places in which I’ve traveled where I’ve bumped into the most Americans have been off the regular tourist circuits.

Alas, I’ve ranted (there’s just always a backstory that has to unfold or a societal observation to be made)—apologies, and so, back to the meeting with Peter. As it should surprise no one at all, it was nighttime and Cynthia, Tue, and I had spent all day exploring the first town we visited in Southern Myanmar, which is called Mawlamyine, and so we were hungry. Getting the three of us together just makes our stomachs growl, and especially with Tue around, we ate a lot (well, until I grew tired of the greasy Burmese cuisine and my body just lost all interest in consumption). Thus, we strolled along, searching for a restaurant that captured our interest. We saw people dining outside at small tables, purchasing fried noodles or rice with chicken, beef, or pork, and it looked like the locals’ spot for dinner. As we were contemplating satiating ourselves there, a tall, thin Caucasian guy struck up a conversation with us. He was clad in a longyi, the traditional dress of the Burmese people—it’s basically like an ankle-length skirt that you wrap around you and tie at your waist. It’s worn by both men and women and I would liken it to an Indian sari, except for the fact that it only goes to your midsection. We all ended up dining together and then organizing a trip for the next day to Hpa-an. In Hpa-an, Peter and I became roommates, sharing a bed at our hostel (which we assumed was tailored toward couples because of the lovey dovey bedspread—that’s Asia for you!). Cynthia and Tue roomed together across the hall and then we all began going our separate ways, which would converge again in the future.

That leaves us at the beginning of this tale again, with Tue and I plopping down on the wooden benches in the rear of a small Japanese pickup truck. We made sure to get there early (we had learned that public transportation in Myanmar runs on time—like right on the dot) and awaited the staggering arrival of the other passengers. At first, it appeared as if it would be a comfortable trip over to the next town of Kyaiktiyo, which boasts of the famous pilgrimage site for the Burmese people atop Mount Kyaiktiyo where the Golden Rock balances precariously on the edge of a cliff. Legend has it that it is held in place by a single strand of Buddha’s hair. However, as one learns while traversing through Southeast Asia, when a mode of transportation looks as if it’s reached maximum capacity, there’s always room for at least thirty more people, a couple bicycles, and maybe some farm animals too. And not to disappoint us, women wearing brightly-colored longyi loaded into the truck. Soon the benches were invisible, covered entirely by two American behinds and too many to even count Burmese backsides. But there were more paying customers determined to get to Kyaiktiyo. Young men arrived and climbed up on top of the pickup truck, ready to spend the trip lounging on the luggage of the other passengers’ stowed up there. It was starting to boil inside of the truck and I was fortunate that with each new arrival, I hopped off the truck so that they could squeeze inside of the sweltering vehicle. Sometimes you have to look out for yourself, and I knew that the last thing I wanted was to sweat out of all of my fluids and have to resort to peeling off my clothing in front of conservative Burmese ladies. More and more locals arrived and several plastic blue stools were positioned in the narrow aisle of the truck. Children climbed in and plopped down onto their mother’s laps, peering curiously at Tue and I.

Finally, with no other passengers waiting to squeeze into the jam-packed truck, we were on our way. I sat at the very end of one of the benches in the truck and I was glad that I was able to enjoy the scenery as we jaunted along. One of the workers who had helped load everyone’s baggage onto the truck stood holding onto a bar on the top of the vehicle. His grip was loose and it was apparent that he had done this journey many times before. The wind blew into his face and he chewed betel nut, the tobacco of choice in Myanmar, occasionally spitting it out to one side of the moving vehicle and letting the wind catch it until it came splattering to the ground like cherry red paint.

During one point in the journey, we stopped to pick up some Burmese people standing on the side of the road. I scooted over as much as possible in the crowded vehicle to allow a woman in her twenties to sit beside me. Despite being so cramped, I noticed people sleeping. A little boy, in particular, was getting the best slumber of all, as he lay sitting on his mother’s lap, his head tilted back onto her shoulder. For me, however, I knew sleep would be impossible. Even just sitting down on the wooden benches with my legs unable to move was unpleasant. After a while, I could take it no longer, so the next time we stopped, I jumped off the truck, nearly twisting my ankle in my effort to reposition myself, to make it easier for the newest passengers to board. Then I waited until everyone was seated. The girl whom I had been sitting beside offered her seat to me. I politely declined and instead, gestured to the man who had been standing on the rear of the truck. Using charades (a talent I’d perfected since living in Korea), I communicated to him that I also wanted to ride standing on the back of the truck. He consented and I hopped back on and we were on our way.

Immediately, I knew that I had one of the best spots on the truck. The country flashed past me (back to Hemingway)—one side of the road was lush and green, while on the opposite side, the land was black and brown and dying, as if a fire had torn viciously through the area, with the road being the only boundary which it could not cross. I felt amazing during those two hours that I stood on the back of that truck racing its way across rural Myanmar. The wind felt amazing on my face and it wove through my hair like the teeth of a comb. Even the heat was kept at bay by the constant jet stream of air hitting my body. The sun felt wonderful and although I knew I would look like an absolute mess by the time the ride was over, I couldn’t care less. I was having a blast. It was the start of “embracing the danger,” which after that day, became my mantra regarding traveling around Myanmar, and Southeast Asia, overall.

With each tiny village we passed by, children and adults alike waved at me (I’m sure it’s not an everyday occurrence to see a blonde-haired white girl riding on the back of a pickup truck) and I waved back. I loved seeing the smiles come over their faces as we said our Hello’s and Mingalaba’s! The Burmese in our truck were just as kind as the local villagers we drove past. They offered food to Tue and I, which we graciously accepted (being as how we were constantly hungry) and we had short conversations with people due to the language barrier. I liked making observations about the other passengers. All of the young men aboard the roof of the truck amused me—one had on headphones and would often sing out loud the lyrics of whatever he was listening to or dance to the music. Each one of the youths sported sunglasses and exuded a natural essence of cool, and I couldn’t get over the fact of how comfortable they appeared to be, sitting where they were, never considering the dangers of falling asleep and falling off or the outcome of a potential crash. Maybe that’s a form of “embracing the danger”: never even considering that it’s present. I even noticed that one of the youths had Korean writing on his sneakers and it made me smile.

After three hours and numerous stops along the road, our journey came to a close. Off we went to purchase our tickets to take a truck up to Mount Kyaiktiyo because hiking up to the top as we had originally planned would be cutting it too close for us to make it to our next bus, this one to Yangon. Somewhere along the way, we made the acquaintance of a friendly couple (an Australian girl and her Dutch boyfriend) and our foursome filled our stomachs and then headed to the place where we were to board a truck to take us up the peak of the mountain.

By this point of the day, I was already filthy—dust-covered, sunburnt, and with my hair matted and covered with all sorts of environmental particles. Even with a wet wipe bath (having wet wipes while traveling around Southeast Asia is imperative), I was still disgusting, and little did I know, it was about to get worse.

We arrived at the place where we were to embark upon our drive up the mountain. It resembled a warehouse of sorts and besides a large crowd of people, there were platforms with stairs. I soon discovered that these stairs were our method for climbing into the dump truck-sized vehicles that would careen us up to the Golden Rock. When our truck arrived, we waited our turn (there are no queues in Asia, so you just go when there’s even just the tiniest break in a line) and piled into the monstrously large truck. Without a doubt, it easily had six rows of wooden benches onto which at least eight people found themselves uncomfortably tucked together. Personal space has yet to be discovered in Asia and so you find yourself involuntarily swapping sweat with a stranger you’ve only just met within minutes.

Our foursome found ourselves loaded into the very rear of the truck, which of course had no seat backs. We merely had a metal bar behind us to grab onto and the saving grace that we were packed in so tightly that being sandwiched in between two other human beings just may keep us from flying out the back of the truck. When we were on our way, we only knew a couple of things that we could expect: that the drive would take forty five minutes and that there was a golden rock perched every so perfectly at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo.

Up we went, with the truck’s engine groaning and straining to make it up the twisting roads leading their way around the mountain. Along the way, there were stations designed for cooling down the engines of the overworked vehicles. Water was dumped upon steaming engines and we saw young girls carrying gas cans atop their heads, walking up the steep path of the mountain road. The local Myanmar people and what I presumed to be Japanese tourists all sported floppy hats that made me smile. I counted all the ones in my line of vision in from my seat on the last bench. Perhaps they were selling them somewhere at the base of the mountain.

It was just our luck to have chosen the one, little truck that could not—to reference “The Little Engine that Could” and so maybe a quarter of the way up to Mount Kyaiktiyo, we had to stop, temporarily blocking the other trucks pummeling up the winding road. Fortunately, we were able to get moving once again and our upwards roller coaster ride resumed. Occasionally I switched which arm held onto the metal bar behind me and I considered the possibility that either me or one of my friends could fall off the rear of the truck. However, I pushed those thoughts aside and laughed and smiled with my friends as we made that insane ascent up to the Golden Rock. I was finally living my mantra, “embracing the danger” and feeling that if today were to be my last, wouldn’t it be a fine way to go? No real regrets, ending life the way I strove to live it. I enjoyed the people around me, the rush of adrenaline shooting through my body, and the beauty of the land all around me.

We climbed and climbed and at last, the journey was over. We disembarked from the truck and carried on walking toward the Golden Rock. During my travels around Myanmar, I frequently forgot where I was; I’m not sure if it could be accounted for the fact that I had visited so many places that they had all sort of begun meshing together or that Myanmar just made me feel like I was in a place I had never been, like India. Regardless, at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo, I lost all sense of where I was in the world. After garnering our foreign visitor badges, we proceeded to climb the stairs leading us ever closer to our destination. Antoinette, the Australian girl with whom we had ridden in the truck, and I nearly lost our chance to see the famed rock altogether. We both wore shorts and I sported a tank top—not acceptable clothing for visiting a site of pilgrimage. Luckily with a bit of ingenuity, we fashioned some less revealing clothing (I wrapped my teal shawl around me like a longyi) and we were permitted to enter the sacred site.

What I saw was proof that I truly was in Myanmar—women donning human-sized woven baskets atop their heads (some with actual humans in them), overweight people being carried like pharaohs on sleights with two people on either side lifting them to see the wondrous site of pilgrimage, vendors selling various kinds of unsavory Burmese snacks (go there and it’s doubtful that you will disagree with my critique of the cuisine), balloons, and trinkets, and families shuffling around barefoot along the tiled floor covering the mountain top. Everywhere you looked, people lounged on mats, small children played together, and others prayed or meditated. I felt very out of place—not being Buddhist, Burmese, or non-Caucasian—but not unwelcome. As we walked along with our feet making contact with the sun-warmed tiles, we finally spotted the golden rock off in the distance. The boys found their place in the queue so that they could paste their golden squares onto lower half of the famed Golden Rock. Women, unfortunately are not permitted to participate in this ritual. Antoinette and I stood behind the fence encircling the Golden Rock and watched and took photos as the boys chose where to place their squares upon the sparkly gold rock. Lit candles stuck to the ground outside of the fence and dried candle wax formed delicate, white pools in various patterns. Young and old Burmese men carefully crouched down to stick their individual squares to the rock, deeply concentrating on just the perfect placement of their tiny piece of paper, while others said short prayers, clasping their hands together and closing their eyes while facing the rock. It was an impressive sight to see. After the boys finished up, we strolled around the top of the mountain.

I discretely snapped photos of people I found interesting that were sitting down below the rock. I spied an older monk with two young boys—monks in training, if you will—that were peering through the wrought iron gate overlooking the valley down below. The older man wore a hot pink bandanna atop his head while one of the boys wore a lime green one. The third monk sported what appeared to be a terry cloth towel to protect his bald scalp from the harsh sun.

During our walk around Mount Kyaiktiyo, we were asked to pose for pictures with local people. I took a photo with two teenage girls and a woman whom I presumed to be their mother. All three women wore gorgeous longyi in different floral prints with very feminine blouses over top. One of the girls had a red, flat-brimmed baseball cap turned to the side over her dark mane. As the photo was taken, the girl standing beside me, linked arms with me. The gesture used to seem foreign to me, but I had become accustomed to having new acquaintances do just that while residing in Korea. It was a very sweet and simple display of acceptance and friendship.

As we were leaving the Golden Rock behind, I noticed a teenage girl sitting alone—she had four hearts formed by thanaka on her face and she looked like the embodiment of a modern day angel. I was intrigued by her outfit: she also wore a flat-brimmed ball cap (hers was blue with a word in a language unfamiliar to me written on the bottom of the brim and also on the front of the hat), a gray T-shirt with a red M&M and a blue M&M that read “Completely Nuts,” and yellow capri pants inked with polka dots and repeating the phrase, “Happy World,” over and over again. I asked for permission to take her photo. She obliged and held a peace sign off to one side of her body with her eyes peering off into the opposite direction.

Before hopping onto the first available truck to take us back down the mountain, we saw two toddlers armed with backpacks connected to water guns and stopped to observe the hilarity that ensued as they scrambled after one another, soaking one another with water, until one child finally grew tired of the constant stream of water being directed at her and began to cry.

We found a truck into which we could all fit and sat near the rear once more. To say we were squeezed in like sardines would be a major understatement. We were much more squished than that, rather like the toes of a child inside a pair of shoes several size too small for their growing feet. However, this time we were prepared for the trip and we cozied up to those sitting beside us. The Burmese people had found themselves some treats atop Mount Kyaiktiyo. The men possessed fresh supplies of betel nut and sloshed it around their gums, occasionally spitting out the spent bits. They reminded me of boxers in a ring, cleansing their mouths of blood after enduring a gruesome beating. The women and children returned with small sodas and various kinds of candy I could not recognize. Floppy hats were pulled down firmly upon heads, so as not to be blown off during the ride and off we went. We zipped and zoomed and for brief seconds our stomachs lurched as if we were riding an amusement park ride and not coasting down a mountain in Myanmar.

Several times, we paused to give the engines a moment to rest and at one particular stop, we noticed an advertisement for a technical school. A Burmese woman dressed in what was clearly a very western-style dress appropriate for a nightclub was screened across the poster. My friends and I could not conceal our amusement at seeing this “sexy” woman promoting computer classes at a technical school.

The drive down the mountain, as expected, concluded with no catastrophes or floppy hats unaccounted for, and it was time for the next stage of the longest day of traveling. It was back to Yangon, where Tue, Cynthia, and I had marked our reunion since last saying farewell in the Philippines. The bus ride back to the city that is frequently mistaken as Myanmar’s capital was uneventful, and surprisingly so comfortable that even I fell asleep without a single issue. Tue dozed off as well, but he can literally fall asleep anywhere. He even fell asleep on the bumpy, windy, ride down from Mount Kyaiktiyo—now that takes talent.

Upon reaching Yangon and its bustling and chaotic bus station—the hub from which buses depart to take passengers all over the country—we were grimy, exhausted, hungry, and still processing the amazing sights we had seen throughout the day. It was time to say another temporary goodbye—our new friends hopped aboard a bus to take them to Bagan, I believe, and  Tue opted to remain in Yangon for Thingyan, the much anticipated annual water festival that takes place all over Myanmar, and is celebrated to the extreme in the major cities. I, on the other hand, was in luck when I managed to lay my hands on the very last ticket, so they told me, that would take me to Mandalay that very night to join up with Cynthia for that city’s version of Thingyan.

In the meantime, I had time to kill. Tue and the others stayed to eat a little something, keeping me company. I was irritable at this point, discouraged by unclean restroom facilities—in reality, an overflowing squatty potty in a small, foul-smelling room with no paper of any kind to wipe yourself clean. Those are the moments when you truly appreciate sanitation in the Western World. In Myanmar, and in many parts of Asia, urinating can be a chore—a very frightening and distasteful event, in fact. Despite my attempts to remain positive while traveling, which I normally do very well, I had lost my good spirits due to fatigue and the inability to stomach another morsel of greasy Burmese food. However, as it seems to always turn out, during my worst moments of discontentment, something happens that dispels all my annoyance and completely humbles me more, while helping me to see the beauty of the places in which I travel.

After receiving basically a plate of grease topped with noodles and bits of chicken and a soda that strongly resembled “grape drank” both in design and taste, I shrank down in my seat in the tiny bus depot restaurant. I wished for a sandwich . . . and a hygienically sound restroom . . . and a bus ride that wouldn’t take 10 hours. I didn’t receive any of those things, but the restaurant proprietor came up to me just then and she smiled at me. Then her young son and his friend came and sat down at the table next to mine and they both smiled at me, in such a genuine way that it melted my bad attitude away.

As I started getting ready to catch my bus bound for Mandalay, I inquired about the restroom and the savior of a restaurant owner took me to the rear of the restaurant and offered me toilet paper. Then when I finished urinating in the cleanest bathroom I had used that entire day, she handed me a hand towel upon which to dry my hands. I could have cried. I morphed from being a sourpuss to an eternally grateful sap within such a short time span that I could seriously have hugged that generous woman. I thanked her again and again, said goodbye, and headed off to find my comfortable seat in the air-conditioned bus. I was shocked that it wasn’t filled to the windows, but I knew better and had my suspicions confirmed when later on, the aisle became unfit for walking due to all of the bodies crammed into it.

I slept a little, watching the darkness pass by the windows, marveling at how there could be such smooth roads through such an under-developed country. About halfway through the ride, our bus pulled into a heavily crowded rest area. I followed the other women into the building where you could purchase snacks and meals of fried rice and noodles and out to the other side to where the restrooms could be found. To my frustration, women squeezed into every space available, making it nearly impossible to even enter the bathroom facilities. Elderly women standing less than five feet tall elbowed their way through the crowd to get ahead, evoking evil looks from younger women, unnoticed by the old women hell-bent on using the restroom no matter whom they had to push out of their way.

Finally, after utilizing my eighth grade basketball skills and boxing out women trying to cut in front of me—call it “survival of the fittest”—I could see the stalls in front of me. Oddly enough, there was one stall which no one would enter, although some women tried. I found this peculiar because bathroom facilities are so unhygienic in Myanmar that they cause Western women to cringe, but to a Burmese women, that is normal. Therefore, I knew that whatever was in that stall must have been beyond revolting. There was no way in hell that I was going to check it out. I tried warning some of the newcomers about the stall, but some failed to heed my warnings and proceeded in, considering themselves lucky to find an unoccupied toilet. No one survived it. One woman reappeared after a few seconds, showing signs that she was close to vomiting. Another came back out of the stall with her eyes wide and mouth covered. I didn’t even want to speculate on what it was they had seen.

After completing a successful urination, I made my way back to my bus, and I realized that all of the traveling I have done has made me an ace at locating buses that are hardly marked in foreign countries. To my credit, I have only hopped aboard the wrong bus once, realizing very fast that it was the wrong one, filled with elderly Korean hikers in a sea of neon-colored clothing, as opposed to a bus of expats and youthful Korean hikers.

The seemingly never-ending day was coming to a close. The sun had yet to rise by the time I dragged my weary body off the bus and into the deserted bus station in Mandalay. Instantly I was met with shouts from local men offering taxi services. This is a common occurrence in Southeast Asia and it’s tiresome. I hadn’t even gathered all of my belongings yet, so I was short-tempered and unresponsive to the constant pestering. Once I had successfully located my rucksack, I sought out someone to transport me to a hostel. I had no clue where Cynthia was staying, but I knew that I could track her down once I had access to WiFi, which was no guarantee, but I was hopeful.

For my driver, I selected a man who looked to be no older than in his late teens. I was unsure if I had made a smart choice, but I wanted to catch some sleep, in an actual bed, and so I wasn’t preoccupied with how I arrived at that bed. I secured my travel bag to my back, tightening the straps so that I could ride comfortably without having to worry about the weight of the bag sending me to the ground faster than a mouthful of betel nut. We took off and I realized that it was the perfect time to be on the back of a motorbike. The sun was just beginning to make an appearance, and it glowed all orange and red in the dusty brown sky. We cruised along and the boy made small talk with me and informed me that he worked for his father’s company and that he was a safe driver.

He accelerated and I imagined that I was riding along with a mysterious lover in some foreign land. No doubt, I was in a foreign land, but this stranger was only playing, unbeknownst to him, the role of my romantic partner. I smiled at the silly thought and chalked it up as my imagination becoming overactive after a lengthy period of going without quality sleep. All of Mandalay was asleep and my first impression of this city with the exotic name was that it sure was dusty. It seemed very different than Yangon, which to me embodied western influences amid an almost-Indian atmosphere trickled with Buddhist temples and other structures. Mandalay, on the other hand, seemed like an afterthought, as if no one was really sure what to do with the city. Should they westernize it, should they even bother paving the roads, should they let the dusty desert surrounding it consume it to reclaim it as its own?

The motorbike rolled over the ground and I braced myself by gripping onto my driver more tightly as we encountered potholes. He did a good job avoiding the spots where there was road damage, but when it was inevitable to drive over it, the motorbike bounced slightly and then resumed its course. As the sun climbed higher into the colorful dawn sky, we came across young monks with heads shaved and deep red robes walking in a line barefoot across the street. Mostly elderly women came outside to meet them on the street to give offerings of rice and other staples. The boys accepted the offerings and placed scoops of rice into the jugs hanging over their shoulders. My driver stopped the motorbike to allow the monks to cross ahead of us. Some of the boys looked no older than prepubescent and they trailed behind a much older monk with hardened skin and a malnourished frame. I felt like all of the monks walked similarly—as if they were forever moving and there was no need for instructions from their brain to guide them any longer; their feet already knew exactly where to go.

Relying on your instincts and common sense are vital when embarking upon a solo excursion to unfamiliar lands. I find myself typically hailing taxis and asking them to take me to a hostel, hoping that they understand what I’m asking them and then leaving the decision in their hands. I’ve learned how to trust others by traveling the way I do, and on this swelteringly hot early morning in Mandalay, I was relying on this youth to get me to a suitable place of accommodation. He brought me to a guesthouse that seemed fair enough. I booked myself a single person room with a questionably clean cot and a fan. I showered, at last, scraping caked on debris from my skin and washing dust and god-only-knows what else from my hair. I approved of my state of cleanliness and hopped into bed. I was out like a light. The longest day concluded just like that. After having ridden on motorbikes and in buses, pickup trucks, and dump trucks, I had braved the heat of the day, repulsive squatters, a harrowing expedition up to the Golden Rock, and Burmese cuisine. I saw golden squares flitting across the ground, being blown away from the gravity-defying Golden Rock, monks walking in procession collecting their donations at dawn, buses playing a mind-boggling game of Tetris in the parking lot of the bus station in Yangon, and smiling faces blurring past me as I caught sight of them from the back of a Japanese pickup truck. It was an exhausting day, a hot and busy day, and a beautiful one all around.

My First IUD (A little tale about contraceptives in this day and age)

Around 10:15 AM on July 16, 2014, I had my first IUD inserted. I’m 26 years old and no stranger to using birth control, but Mirena is a whole different beast, let me tell you. I actually know quite a few people who have been the bodily recipients of an IUD (intrauterine device)—either Mirena or Paraguard.  All the women I’ve known to have them or to have had them previously had one thing in common that I do not share: they had all birthed a child. *Gulp* Back in the day, there was a myth that any childless soul such as my old maid self should not have an IUD implanted due to the risk of sterility. As it goes with myths, this was proven to be false, and as my OB/GYN so honestly stated during our visit this morning, “I put these in lots of teens and women who have never given birth—those who need it the most” “Those who need it the most”—right on, doc.

Therefore, I was ready to give this new form of birth control a shot, after recently having formulated a theory that perhaps the birth control I had been taking for the past eight years, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, might actually be causing me to become susceptible to blood clots in the near future . . . but that’s a whole other issue. I figured that I had nothing to lose and only something to gain. Oh, and the best part about it is that although it’s wickedly expensive (in about the 800 bucks range), my health insurance –should fully pay for it—thank god for preventatives. But damn, the things women do to keep themselves from getting pregnant. Regardless, throw me in with the responsible broads and give me that birth control and NOT a baby. Nothing against babies (although they do resemble aliens)—I’m just not at a point in my life where I’m ready for one. I’ve got this old-fashioned notion that I’d like to raise a child with the help of a significant other. And as of this moment, I haven’t met an eligible gent to meet my standards AND quite frankly, I am really enjoying living the life of a “selfish” 26 year old woman who lives for traveling around the world and embracing instability.

Anywho, back to my hoo-ha. I arrived at Planned Parenthood nice and early, wearing a cute, blue dress (nice and comfy for the insertion) and real underwear for the impending panty liner that I would undoubtedly need post-surgery. I thought I was ready. Nothing to fear except for the dilation of my cervix, or so I had been told by all the moms I knew who had IUDs. “Well, at least you’ll know what having your cervix dilated is like for when you give birth,” they said. Sheesh, because I was really itching to feel that.

Honestly though, I wasn’t worried. I’m pretty good at dealing with pain. When I get immunizations, I do my best to avoid any flinching or making any movement at all. I’m an ace at it. Back in high school when I contracted a mysterious infection, in my clitoris of all places, at the hospital I had my blood drawn so many times that one morning when a nurse drew my blood, she actually expressed concern over my lack of acknowledgment that she had just stuck me with a syringe.

Therefore, I felt like I had my pain threshold in check. I also figured that if so many other women were able to go through with this procedure, then I could do it too. So I sat in the examination room and then one of the receptionists came in to go over my medical history and to fill me in on what was about to happen to my nether region. All was going well until she asked me if I had ever felt faint or passed out during a blood draw. Oh god, and there it was—a flashback to being a strapped for cash, recent college grad in Salt Lake City, venturing out to donate plasma to earn a little extra dough. My kid sister was still in school at the time too and she donated on the regular, so I felt inspired to give it a go. She’s not the bravest person around, so I thought I had it in the bag. I could do this too. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even make it past the initial finger prick. The nurse stuck my finger with a needle and then I watched as she squeezed and squeezed my poor little digit and the blood jetted out of my body faster than fire out of an imaginary dragon’s nostrils. The wooziness overtook me and I felt my skin become clammy. I became brutally hot and then . . . I woke up beneath the table upon which I had surrendered my tragic finger. And it didn’t end there. I proceeded to purge myself of the bad memory in another examination room—into a garbage can. I sat there, releasing myself of what felt like every meal I had ever consumed and then finally, it was over. The nurse who witnessed my embarrassing display of projectile regurgitation informed me, sadly, that I would probably not be able to come back to donate plasma for a little while. I dramatically whined out that “I am never coming back here.” Bodily fail.

So that’s when my nerves set in. I stayed calm, but looming in the back of my mind was that near-plasma donation experience that never quite inspired me to try again. But this time, I wasn’t going to get sick. I would be fine. And so began the procedure. The doctor had me place my feet in the stirrups—no, we’re not going for a horseback ride, ladies—and I reclined back, with my lady parts all exposed underneath the white paper sheet I had placed over me. It was go time!

Jessica, the doctor, spoke to me throughout the entire process and that really helped a great deal. One of the first things she had to do was measure my cervix (gotta make sure that baby fits! The Mirena, I mean. Of course.) and so although that was sort of uncomfortable, it was okay. Then she had to clean my cervix and even now just thinking about that makes me feel a tad sick. I recently read somewhere that “most” women lack sensitivity in their cervix so that they’re unable to even feel when cotton swab is inserted inside. I would like to meet these women with vaginas made of steel.

But besides that, it was all going smoothly. I was attempting to breathe normally, even when I felt the two “twinges”—the sensation that comes about when the “T” shaped Mirena is inserted into the cervix. Essentially, the doctor has to “click” each top section of the “T” into place. After that though, I got some bad cramping, which is normal. However, I didn’t realize that it would begin instantaneously. My breathing increased and despite trying to steady my breathing, I knew I was failing. It was frustrating because it was out of my control and I was minor attack of hyperventilation. The doctor found me a brown sack in which to inhale and exhale from and that slowed my breaths, luckily.

Once my breathing was regular, I had a severe urge to go to the bathroom. Even earlier on, when Jessica had performed a pelvic exam on me, I felt the need to defecate. Weird, because I’m not one to typically be unable to control my bodily functions and especially in public places (doctor’s office, included), I’m not one to go release my fecal matter.

Once the insertion was complete, that’s when the real pain, discomfort, and inability to breathe at a normal rate began. The cramping was intense. I felt like I was close to fainting. Just like before when I had tried donating plasma, my skin got very cold and clammy, the beads of sweat popped out of the pores on my face at an alarming rate, and even my thighs were producing repulsive droplets of sweat that caused my backside to stick to the paper-thin sheet beneath me. I bent my knees, I spread out completely, but still, the cramps hit my lower abdomen with something similar to a menstrual cramp, but relentlessly, and without any pauses in between.

I had to get to the bathroom. The doctor had enlisted the aid of the receptionist to come sit with me. I was a pathetic sight and I felt awful for her having to remain in the room with me. I let her know of my desire to expel myself of solid waste. She told me that I could go—right there—on the bed. I quickly did a mental calculation of the mechanics of taking a shit while lying down and about how not to soil my dress while doing so and I informed her that I would be able to make it to the restroom. Both of us were immensely relieved. The act of sitting up was slow and steady. Along the way, the girl asked me if I felt faint. I was okay, not feeling like I could run five miles, but I sure as hell was getting to that beautiful porcelain seat down the hall.

The underside of my hair was soaked with perspiration. The outer portion of my mane was frizzed out like I had been electrocuted. I hoped the sight of me wouldn’t terrify any newbies to the offices of Planned Parenthood. I felt like this is what someone must look like after having an abortion. Thankfully, if all goes well, then I can check that one off my list of things that I’ll ever have to do at the clinic.

After having relieved myself in the bathroom, I checked out my reflection in the mirror. I had absolutely no color in my face. I looked like hell, there was no question about it. In just five minutes, my pre-surgery appearance had been completely transformed. I desperately wanted to leave that clinic, but even just walking took its toll on me. The cramps were debilitating and so I knew that back in the examination room, I’d be taking another lie down before I was able to be on my way.

I’m not certain if I imagined it or what, but I felt a bit rushed. I managed to lie down once again (and put on my underwear), but after a bit, it was time to go. The doctor had asked me if I had taken any medicine before the procedure and I had told her no. She advised me to pop some Ibuprofen after leaving the office and there was nothing I wanted to do more than that, except for falling asleep on my friend’s couch where I was spending the night. Later on, when I was reading up about other women’s experiences with their Mirena procedure, I realized that I was the only person who hadn’t taken anything to help with the surgery—no Ibuprofen or Tylenol or Vicodin for this girl. From the many conversations I had had with the staff at Planned Parenthood, not a single mention of self-medication had been made. There was also no mention of how I wouldn’t be given a panty liner after the procedure or that I should have probably had someone else drive me from my appointment. Oh well.

I finally left the clinic and hopped (okay, rather dropped my keys and then eased myself into) my car. I sat there for a bit, hoping the cramps would subside, but they didn’t. Then I set off, to the nearby grocery store. I realized that I probably appeared to be a junkie coming down from a high or seeking the next fix when I walked into the store. I was still sweating, with matted hair and a pained expression on my face, I imagine. I wanted to get that Ibuprofen, some water, and a snack and then get the hell out of there. Jessica had told me to take the Ibuprofen with some food naturally, so after snatching up a bottle of water, I strolled into the nearby aisle which had shelves filled with cookies and crackers. I cringed at the thought of eating chocolate chip cookies or Wheat Thins, so the idea of Fig Newtons entered my brain randomly. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased Fig Newtons before, but I spotted strawberry-flavored ones and the decision was made.

I slid into the first checkout line available, behind a guy buying a number of items, including cat food. I braced myself against the conveyor belt and waited for my turn to purchase my items. The cashier was an elderly woman and she began conversing with the man ahead of me. She asked him what kind of cat he had—I don’t about animal breeds, but he said some sort of Russian type, and the lady proceeded to talk to him about her own feline friend that she wished was on her lap at home right now.

Normally small talk doesn’t bother me, but I so badly wanted to get horizontal on a couch a twenty two minute drive away that I wasn’t having any of it. I shut my eyes and waited. The woman didn’t talk to me—perhaps she mistook my pain for hostility. Either way, I just wanted to get out of there.

After the longest drive I have ever made—all twenty two minutes of it—I was back at my friend’s place. I swapped my dress for a tank top and some shorts with a stretchy waistband and posted up on the couch. I laid on my right side, sprawled out on my back, flipped over to the other side—it didn’t matter how I positioned myself because the cramping wasn’t ceasing. I just wished that I could fall asleep. The constant stomach pain continued for an hour when I had the brilliant idea that maybe I should try walking around to relieve the cramps. I stood up and actually felt been, so I walked over toward a Lovesac in the kitchen area. It looked so comfy that I got plopped down on top of it after a mere second. But just as I did that, a wave of nausea overtook me and I knew I was going to vomit. I rushed to the bathroom where I proceeded to rid myself of the Everything Bagel and half of an avocado that I had scarfed down right before leaving for my appointment that morning—yet another thing I hadn’t been told: don’t eat much before the procedure, but perhaps that one was common sense. Throwing up an avocado is not fun. It’s one of those foods that’s fully recognizable in pureed form, most likely because it so easily becomes guacamole. It’s even less fun puking it up when you manage to somehow get it stuck up your nose during your private session with the toilet bowl. After that, I truly believed my days of loving avocados were over.

Fortunately though, I did feel a tiny bit better after ridding myself of breakfast. At around 5 PM, I felt immensely better. The cramps had subsided and because I’m not one to hang around indoors for an entire day (I’ve only done that two times in the past eight years), I took advantage of my improved state of health and set off to a local grocery store to pick up some dinner and yogurt. I still bled throughout the night and during the following day, but the flow wasn’t heavy and resembled the discharge of blood you expel during the first hours of a menstrual cycle. It was brownish and mostly remained inside of me until I wiped myself after using the restroom.

Although my first seven or eight hours of having my Mirena weren’t the most fun, two days prior to the surgery, I can say that I feel just fine. Even the next day, I felt wonderful. I still took some Ibuprofen to prevent cramps if I felt them coming on, but really, I was back to being my old self. The people at Planned Parenthood even informed me that I could go swimming and cliff jumping the day following the implantation. That had been my original plan and although I didn’t end up doing either of those, just knowing that I could get back to physical activities pronto was a relief.

We shall see how well Mirena sits with me, literally. But at this point, I’m glad to no longer be taking an oral contraceptive. Onto something new!

UPDATE: It has now been nearly ten months since I had my Mirena inserted and I think I have finally lost my period. Yay! Before this latest “period,” I had super short periods, with light bleeding that lasted maybe four days, at the most, once it became regulated. The premenstrual cramps I had with Mirena were barely apparent except on the rare occasion. The only complaint I have with this IUD is that I do feel abdominal pain after I complete strenuous workouts, like runs exceeding more than an hour or circuit workouts involving lots of sprinting. During my last “period,” I experienced horrendous cramps, so bad that I actually had to lie down for several hours, but I think that they happened because it was my body’s way of saying farewell to dispelling menstrual blood, but in reality, who knows?

I was told that I am supposed to check to make sure I can feel the strings of the IUD inside of my cervix, but I believe they clipped them very short because I tried for months to locate them, but failed miserably. During a follow-up appointment, I was told that it wasn’t really a concern of theirs because my IUD was in place and I’m positive that it is still up there because of the abdominal pain I feel after working out, which I never felt prior to having the IUD. Overall, all is good and I feel terrific. And the best part is that I don’t have to go through that procedure again until July 2019. Phew!