- Apr. 7th, 2014 at 2:00 PM
The reflection in the window tells me that the pack strapped to my back is small– far too small, in fact, for someone who is on her way to a different country for two weeks. It’s hard to believe my eyes, because I feel like I’m carrying a mountain.
Most people could carry three of my pack without trouble, but I’m adding it to an already-massive load. With all the ghosts riding on my shoulders, there’s hardly room for a backpack. There are the ghosts of Worry About the Future and Self-Doubt, the ghost of Personal Failure, the ghost of Life’s Unfairness, the ghost of Fatigue, and more. They take turns riding piggyback, wrapping their gaunt arms around my neck and digging their fingers into my collarbones. They like to whisper nasty things into my ears. Some of them wear spurs. There’s an ache between my shoulder blades that never goes away, and my reflection in the glass shows a slouch that’s too pronounced to be explained by the small bundle of things I’m carrying.
In a moment of hot panic, Worry and Self-Doubt begin to quarrel. “I won’t have enough things!” collides with “I can’t carry this for two weeks!” But it’s too late to do anything. The bus leaves in three minutes, and Worry is flogging me and shouting that if I don’t make this bus, the next one won’t get me to the airport on time.
By the time I check into the first guesthouse late that night, I feel as though I’ve been beaten. Fatigue hangs on my neck like a ballast stone, muttering quiet obscenities at me. My feet and joints ache from the extra weight. The skin on my shoulders is chafed where the straps of my backpack rubbed all day, and the muscles underneath feel bruised. The constant ember of pain in my back has flared into a bonfire. It’s hard to even sleep.
In the morning, Fatigue and Self-Doubt clutch at the straps and try to stop me from putting my pack on again, but finally I wrestle them down and the weight settles unkindly onto yesterday’s bruises. I haven’t even left my room yet and I want to cry. The pace of the entire day is dictated by my need for periodic rests, and the sightseeing agenda is chosen according to which locations will have a locker or a place to leave bags. I feel heavy and slow and old and Personal Failure keeps whispering that I’m getting in everyone else’s way. This night, even the inferno in my back can’t interfere with my bone-weariness, and I sleep the sleep of the dead.
On the third day, the weight of my backpack is familiar. Deep sleep has erased some of the bruising and tamed the blaze in my back to the size of a small campfire. My body has started to adjust its balance for the weight of the pack. I can move without knocking into things, at least. The ghosts are tired from sharing their space with my bag, and their grip is lazy. The day is filled with historic temples and street food, and the cherry blossoms floating down everywhere are so mesmerizing that I forget to listen to Worry’s whisperings. At night I dream of fantastic foreign landscapes sweeping past my train window.
“I am a turtle,” I think on the fourth morning. “This backpack is my home. All the things I really need are inside it, and I can carry it wherever I want to go.” On this day I can stand up straight, because I have discovered how to be a little more self-sufficient and that makes me proud of myself. Self-Doubt loses his clammy grip as I bump down the stairs, and I leave him sitting alone on the bottom step.
By day five, I can’t hear any whispers, and I strap on my backpack without any cadaverous arms or bony fingers getting in the way. When I’m carrying home on my back, there’s no room for ghosts.