“This trip will change you for the better,” Sheri emailed me the morning of my departure. “I just know it.” Her comforting words were not having the desired effect. My hands still shook as I pulled out the pill bottle from my carry-on and we taxied to the runway at JFK.
My Practice Xanax Session the previous night had gone well. Although, I’d forced my friend Veronica to stay on the phone with me an hour after I’d taken it to make sure I wasn’t having any sort of adverse reaction. This made no sense of course, as she lives in Portland and there wasn’t much she could do if something did occur. But I’d procrastinated until around 10pm my time because I was so scared, so it was too late to call anyone locally.
I had come up with a number of excuses of why I couldn’t make this trip. I was getting sick, The Cat would miss me too much and stop eating, The Fun Committee was hosting their first event without my expertise. But I knew none of these would be accepted by my writing partner. He had spent a lot of money on this trip, we needed to get this work done for the book. I had to go. So after I downed the Xanax, I looked out the window as the tarmac sped by and then fell out from below us, settled into my seat and said to myself, “Let’s do this.”
And then I went to Venice.
Two weeks ago, a co-worker, who was also a friend of mine, passed away. He was only 45 years old. He was also incredibly healthy and fit, which made his passing all the more shocking and sad to all of us at my company.
I thought about him a lot on this trip. I thought about how funny he was. How I would find myself many times after our conversations, recalling certain things he’d said and laughing out loud. I thought about how we’d created a goofy greeting to each other because our names rhymed and even though it was not particularly clever, it made me smile every time we did it. I thought about how he always made time for me and my drama by saying, “Trace, come on by anytime and we’ll talk it out.” And when I’d take him up on it, he would stop what he was doing and listen.
The trip to Venice was just as intense as I’d thought it would be. “You are researchers, not tourists,” my writing partner’s wife would say, which perfectly described the situation. I never really got on a good sleeping schedule so it was with a fuzzy head and blurry vision that I took pictures, re-enacted scenes from the book, joined relevant tours and re-crafted our visuals and plot-lines. We trudged through the city for hours on end until my legs were burning and I thought to myself, “I can’t possibly go on.” But I had to go on, there was no option not to. ‘Exhausted, Snippy and Surly,’ is how I would describe myself on this trip. If my hosts recognized this, they didn’t let on. My writing partner and his wife were the ideal travel partners. They made exquisite meals from the local produce and fish-markets and never once made me feel like a third wheel. They listened sincerely as I complained about the perils of being single at 42 and didn’t even balk when I drank more than my fair share of the wine we’d purchased for our dinners. But still, this was not a vacation. It was work.
The last night, we flew to Amsterdam to attend Museum Night. I really didn’t want to go. I’d been so extraordinarily tired, I’d prayed that my travel partners would back out. ‘Can’t we just get one good night of sleep?’ I’d thought with a pout. Museum Night is a city-wide party where dozens of museums stay open until 2am and there are djs and dance performances and light shows and fun foods and customized drinks. Not to mention the art itself. But I didn’t want to go. However, I had to go because we’d already bought tickets.
And it ended up being fantastic.
As I looked over the vast space of the Rijksmuseum, bathed in purple light, watching a group of talented dancers move in sync to the music that thumped its way into my chest, I thought of how my co-worker would have reacted to this trip. He certainly wouldn’t have dragged his feet through the streets of Venice like some sullen child. Nor would he have tried to pray his way out of having to go to one of Amsterdam’s most unique cultural events.
No, he was the kind of person who said ‘Yes’ to life. Always. He would always be out doing exciting and cool things, traveling all over the place and busy strategizing his next adventure. He’d often try to get me to join in his plans. But since I am notoriously inflexible with my schedule, I would decline more often than not. He would persist and persist and I would say no and no and then he’d finally give up and just make fun of me for being such a hermit. But see, if it’s Friday night and I’ve planned to go home and clean my apartment, then goshdarnit – that is what I’m going to do. If I’d stayed up too late writing the night before and was tired, then I was going to go home and sleep. Because that is what I’d planned. So I said no to his invitations to happy hours with other co-workers, Central Park runs around the Reservoir or dinners with his friends and girlfriend at the newest and hippest restaurants that I knew I’d never go to on my own.
When I arrived back home to NYC after the trip, my mind went back to Sheri’s words. She was right. This trip did change me for the better but not perhaps in the way either of us would have thought. I had been forced to say ‘Yes’ to everything on this trip – I had no other choice – and as a result some amazing things had happened. I had taken medication even though I was terrified and because of that, I’d been on four flights in five days without crying or reaching for a stranger’s hand. I knew now that I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, without fear. On this trip, I’d seen things I never would have seen, ate things I never would have eaten, heard music I never would have heard and met people I never would have met. If I’d said ‘No’ to this experience, I would have none of that. I also now, as I set down my luggage in my living-room, saw my surroundings with new eyes. I hadn’t had a moment alone since arriving in Venice and I was so happy to have my own space back, I wished I could somehow hug my apartment. I haven’t been that excited about being home in a long time.
All of these things came about because I had said, ‘Yes.’ But what I’ve realized is that the biggest detriment to continually saying ‘No’ to life, as I have done, is not just missing out on experiences and opportunities that would enrich my life but it’s also missing out on spending time with people, people I care for, some of whom my time with might be taken away at some point. I will not make that same mistake again.
So, this one’s for you C.A. I can still hear your voice in my head: “You gotta get out there, Trace. You gotta live life.” You were right. I’ve done it now, and you were right. Thank you. I will miss you, my friend. I already do.