Stepping Off The Edge
In the darkness, I could feel my heart pounding. I had been lying in bed for over an hour, staring up at the ceiling of my hotel room, fighting to breathe against the stifling heat of the Burmese monsoon, which hung over me like a wet towel. I fumbled towards the window and threw open the blinds.
It was in that moment, as the neon glow of Rangoon spilled into the room, that the reality of my predicament finally sank it, and the weight of my decisions came crashing over me like an avalanche: I was alone, three-thousand miles away from home, in a strange, fascist country, with six-hundred dollars in my pocket that would need to last me a month (ATMs are nonexistent in Burma), no ticket home, and absolutely no idea as to what I was doing.
This might raise a few immediate questions. Like, what the fuck is wrong with you? For several minutes, I stood there, staring out the window in my boxers, legitimately questioning my sanity. I grasped for answers. Why am I doing this? What could possibly motivate this reckless behavior? The only conclusion I could muster is that when my mother was pregnant with me, she ate nothing but vodka, sushi, and paint chips.
Only a few weeks prior, I was leading a normal, spectacularly uneventful life on Cape Cod. I had a house. I had a cell phone. I had a junky car that smelled like a nursing home, and an incredible group of friends. While my peers from college had moved on to the likes of New York or Los Angeles, to the glorious annals of success and salaries, I languished in lazy Mashpee, waiting tables and drinking whiskey from the bottle (which was typically plastic).
What terrified me, though, is that I was completely happy. I was content living vicariously through my successful friends, and fulfilling my insatiable wanderlust by masturbating to Travel Channel. I could feel my fiery ambitions for a creative career and traveling the world starting to fade. I’ve always wanted something more in life, but as the days crept by, that thing seemed more and more like beer and chicken wings.
It was on a cloudy, idle Tuesday that I finally declared my jihad on complacency, and in a quiet act of bravado, booked a one-way ticket to Rangoon, Burma. I didn’t really know anything about Burma at the time. I knew that it was cheap, and that the ruling dictatorship had sealed the country off from the outside world for decades. I knew that to visit there would be like traveling back in time. I knew that I was fascinated.
After years of eking out a Spartan existence on chicken, rice, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, working and saving every last penny, I figured I had amassed enough funds to last me almost two years—so long as I spent less than twenty-dollars per day.
The plan I hatched was as grandiose as it was irresponsible. I made the nervous decision to backpack across Asia, alone, for two years, to hopefully spark a career in writing or photography by documenting my adventures with this site, and to generate enough revenue from it to cover my eventual flight home. The cheesy, grade-school adage comes to mind, “Reach for the stars, and if you don’t make it, at least you’ll be stuck in the treetops,” though that hardly seems appropriate in this context. If I don’t reach this particular star, I would probably be stuck in the Philippines, penniless and without a plane ticket home, with no option but to sell my sex for pesos in the ruff-and-tumble streets of Manila. A more suitable saying would be, “Reach for the stars, and you might burn your fingers.”
In the proceeding weeks, I quit my job, packed my life into boxes, and got rid of my house and cell phone. I sold my smelly car and shared sad goodbyes with my friends and family. I even shaved my head, because I love poeticism. At no point was I scared or nervous, because I hadn’t yet clenched the gravity of what was happening. I felt like I was in a fugue state, helplessly watching the events unfold, equally amused and detached. Or I was a lemming, dumbly marching to the edge of the cliff, more concerned with butterflies and my own shadow than the craggy rocks of death that might await me five hundred feet below.
Even as I boarded the plane, I felt in a haze.
To strap on a backpack and commit yourself to a life untethered, to say goodbye to the things and people you care about, knowing that you wont see a familiar face for two years or more, is a surreal and humbling experience that’s difficult to describe. I’d compare it to standing on a dizzying high dive, staring down at a black, icy pool below. You indulge your fear and trepidation for a few minutes, before a random surge of courage forces you to jump. And in that moment, you are weightless. You’re free falling, kicking and flailing as the world blurs before your eyes at a thousand miles an hour. Then all at once, it hits you, as you’re swallowed up by the dark, icy waters. Your senses flair, and adrenaline courses through your veins like fire. And then suddenly, you’re in Burma, staring out the window in your underwear, not really sure how it all happened. All you really know is that the lights of Rangoon look beautiful tonight, pulsating and illuminating the balmy night sky like a thousand twinkling stars; all of which seem easily in your reach….
But who knows, you could just be a lunatic. Watch your fingers.