It was Christmas Eve and I didn’t feel any the better for it. In fact, I felt hollow, like all my insides had been ripped out.
If he was going to stand me up at Christmas, it didn’t seem like I had much of a choice; forfeit the cost of the flights and stay home or go it alone? Well I damn well wasn’t going to mope about all Christmas, but did I really want to sit on a beach looking at the empty spot next to me for three weeks? Or worse! Be the one crying in the corner at a Full Moon party surrounded by 19-year-old gap year students! Agghhh!
I had to go, that much seemed obvious but I didn’t necessarily have to do the trip he planned. One quick swipe of the credit card and I was going to split my time between the 38°C of Thailand and the -25°C of Wisconsin where a cousin was promising me plenty of TLC.
I’d packed the heights of summer and depths of winter into a carry on. With my ski jacket draped over my arm, I waddled down the wooden pier in my flip flops, dragging both the carry on and broken backpack with me.
Another choice: I could either go to the posh hotel my boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, had booked us for Christmas on the island of Kho Phi Phi or to a hostel in the hopes of meeting people.
Winter boots kicked from within my backpack as sweat broke across my brow. The pier was suffocating; locals taxi boat drivers yelled out names of accommodation as the crowd surged off the boat. Jostled along in the flow of people I spotted a man holding a sign to the hotel the Ex had booked. I paused, there was a dot on my phone to the hostel and a man in front of me with a waiting boat to Hotel Romance. All I really wanted to do was sit and cry. Unable to decide, I let the crowd carry me along until I was spat out on what I could only presume to be the main high street of the island.
Completely disheartened, not having eaten in a day aside from some Pringles I’d got on the boat from the mainland; I made it to the hostel door, sweaty, tired and emotionally drained. I didn’t have enough cash and they didn’t accept cards. I was out of energy ‘SCREW THIS! SCREW IT ALL!!! Take me back to the pier, I’ll go to the posh hotel and sleep through Christmas. I’ll live off Pringles and mourn my singleness. I’ll stay in the room like a hermit until this nightmare is over. Feed me to the sharks for all I care! I’m done. I’M DONE!‘ I decided, ready to bolt. But then the hostel manager appeared.
“You seem a little emotional?” she asked in a strong Eastern European accent. That was it. The straw that broke the back. I slumped onto the wooden bench and tried to sniff away my tears. “Oh it’s hard travelling alone, is this your first time?” she sympathised.
I wanted to explain ‘No! No, you don’t understand! I’m actually a very together person! No, really, I am! You see, I’ve a good family and lots of incredible friends and a job! I have a job! A great job, which I don’t entirely suck at, I even like my boss! And my colleagues too, they’re kind of great to be honest, no dickheads in that office! And I have a flat. My own flat! I own it, well some of it at least, ok I pay a mortgage, fine I pay the interest on a mortgage. And I exercise. Sometimes. After excessive chocolate consumption. Ooh I do spin classes!…Once a month. And I cycle to work, every day, see, I’m healthy! And and and I’ve travelled! This isn’t my first time! Oh no, I’ve been everywhere! Well ok, not everywhere, but lots of places! On my own. I’ve travelled alone! Yeahhhh! I’m not usually crying, I’m normally fine, great actually, It’s just, well I let a boy hurt me and I wasn’t expecting it and I hadn’t been prepared to be here, doing this, alone. At Christmas. And I really should have had breakfast and you see? I’m actually a pretty together person! Usually. Sometimes‘. But I couldn’t explain any of this because all I had was an empty stomach, snot and the hiccups.
I think she got it though. She handed me a shot of whisky and it really is amazing how much a shot of whisky helps with the hiccups!
Feeling horrifically embarrassed I transferred my payment for the room via PayPal and sat there trying to look less like a train wreck.
It’s pretty scary when everyone’s a stranger. But then, then a group of girls walked in and this, this is the marvellous thing about hostels. Suddenly, instantly, without even trying, you make friends.
We sat in a small bar sharing our stories, a pair of English cousins, a Slovakian and a Canadian. We got beer and laid on the beach, we were all the same, travelling for one reason or another, there’s always a reason. Returning to the hostel we quickly added to the group, a German lady, Scottish lad and Californian gent. I thought I’d be spending the week alone, reading a book on the beach, burning off the breakup with one cocktails after another, but here I was, surrounded by all these awesome people.
With the group in place, we headed off for Christmas Eve drinks. I’m not entirely sure what happened that evening but I know someone, I suspect Scotland, suggested tequila. When you’re sleeping in the top bed of a triple bunk, tequila is a bad idea!
Christmas Day. I should have been waking up in Hotel Romance, just down the shore, exchanging Christmas presents with my boyfriend, smiling across at each other over breakfast whilst contemplating what adventures we could find for ourselves that day. Instead I awoke to the sound of Slovakia and Canada complaining about Scotland’s snoring. “Oh come on, I wasn’t that bad” he protested, turning to look at California who pushed his glasses up his nose and tried to politely disagree.
I should have been feeling sad, there was a sliding doors moment of how things should have been but then our merry crew boarded a party boat and before you knew it, Maria Carey was belting out the Christmas hits, beer was flowing and I really didn’t feel that sad after all.
It was a bit alien to me. I’d forgotten what it was like to really let loose, to not care. When the others swam in the turquoise waters, I pulled back, offering to sit with the bags, I knew I should go in but fear was gripping me. I felt too vulnerable, too raw, like everything was sitting on my skin for all too see and no one had seen my skin in a really long time.
Other people don’t care about this though. The boat parked up in a cove, California and Canada climbed into one kayak, Scotland and I in another. I can confidently say, Scotland was the worst kayaker I have ever seen! Within seconds he was in the water. California thought it only right I join him, rocking my boat back and forth. But he didn’t know who he was dealing with! I clung on in there….that was until Scotland tried to get back in the boat and straight over I went. It wasn’t long before all four of us had toppled in.
Back abroad the main ship, we drank and danced and watched the sunset. There were definitely worse ways get distracted from a breakup!
Once docking back at shore, my flip-flops were nowhere to be seen, “these are not my shoes!” I yelled, slipping into the only remaining pair on deck. I’d come all this way and now my shoes had deserted me too!
Returning to the hostel for a quick freshen up before hitting the bars, we did what all Millennials do when abroad, we got right back on WiFi and melted into our screens.
Phones buzzed with the sounds of Christmas messages flooding inboxes. Amongst the family and friend Christmas cheer that I was too drunk to reply to, came a message from the Ex. ‘UGGHHHHHH!‘. In his defence he couldn’t have won, I’d have been mad had I not heard from him but it sure did anger me when I did!
‘Happy Christmas. Hope you’re having a good time wherever in Asia you are‘ he’d cheerfully typed I presumed. ‘AGHHHHHHH FUCKKKK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!! ASSHOLE! YOU BLOODY LEFT ME TO DO THIS TRIP ALL ALONE! AT CHRISTMAS! AND IT WAS SHIT! (Well until I got here). FUCKING SHIT! I CRIED. PUBLICLY! AND NOW YOU’RE ALL HAPPY, HAVING CHRISTMAS WITH YOUR FAMILY, NO CONCERN IN THE WORLD FOR ME OR WHAT YOU’VE JUST PUT ME THROUGH. YOU DON’T GIVE A SHIT! YOU’RE A SHIT! AGHHHHHH‘ obviously I handled his message entirely rationally and did not in any way over react.
I turned my phone off without replying “I need vodka. NOW!” I declared to the room.
And with that, we were off again.
I know there was skinny dipping. Not me. I was far too shy and sober for that. But I did venture into the water. I lasted all of 30 seconds before I tore my knee on some rocks and returned bloody back to shore. Thankfully, booze makes you quite unconcerned about such things as blood, a quick plaster and I was ready for the pool party.
We dried off and wandered through the streets, I’m not sure whether we were heading home or to another bar but in my excitement, I spun around, tripped over the flip-flops that were not mine! And face planted into a pile of trash.
Now, there are moments in life when you think you’ve reached a low, like getting dumped at Christmas for example. But then you fall face first into a pile of trash, in front of a whole bar full of people. There is always a trapdoor to the bottom of the well, I fell right through it. I leapt up “oh dear god! I need alcohol!” I didn’t but what else can you do when you’ve just been lying in the rubbish?
Usually, back in England, after a hard days work two drinks would give me a hangover but in Thailand? No! Apparently you barely need to eat and can drink as much as you like and you’re just fine and dandy the next day. Sadly Scotland departed for his next destination first thing that morning, he snuck out before the rest of us had awoken. Some people leave big impressions and his presence was missed. But, that’s hostels for you, brief encounters and fleeting moments in time. It was Boxing day, so off to the beach we went.
Beaches are scary places, full of tanned, toned bodies and suddenly every piece of cake you’ve ever had is sticking it’s calories to your hips. Everyone else seemed perfectly comfortable with their bodies and instantly stripped down and sun creamed up. I stood there unsure, weighing up the comments from ex-boyfriends long gone that were less than complimentary about my physique. I’d taken to wearing a t-shirt over the top of swimwear. The ex hadn’t said anything but the deterioration of the relationship had left me feeling more and more uncomfortable in my skin until I wore my entire gym kit on our last holiday ‘it’s sun protection, I burn’ I lied, covered head to toe upon entering the water.
Unfortunately, or perhaps thankfully, you can’t sit under the palm trees your whole life. Gingerly I peeled off the layers, asked California to sun-cream my back and stood there in full bikini glory like it was no big deal. I’d spent nearly a year with the ex and not once been in a bikini, but two days in Thailand and there I was, exposed to the world. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was freedom, either way, I took a quick glance up the beach and didn’t see any pointing fingers or people laughing! Who knew!
We went out again that night. I wasn’t drinking much, just a few small ones, a quite night. You know how those nights end!
Now I’m not entirely sure what happened, it all quickly turned into a blur but I am confident it didn’t involve any bin diving so that’s something I guess. I was definitely on the beach drinking a bucket of something and then things sort of disappear and I found myself back in my top bunk at the hostel “I NEED HUGS AND WATER!” I declared to the room. “California, come hug me!” I think the careful, sophisticated image I’d managed to craft over the week meant everyone knew not to question my demands. California very kindly clambered up the ladder to my bunk for the emotional support I apparently needed.
Just as soon as his hand slid around my waist and all was being reassured in the world, something didn’t feel right…I sat bolt up right, like Frankenstein’s monster coming to life “I’M GOING TO BE SICK!”.
When you’re on the top bunk, the sudden realisation you’re going to throw up the evening can’t help but bring with it, a sense of panic. Will you make it? Will you puke on all those below you? Who knows! Anything could happen!
Well, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear I made it to the bathroom. Must have had some bad ice in that bucket? Yeah, that’ll be it. I slowly climbed back into my bunk, California, now wisely, having returned to his own. I lasted all of five minutes before being sick all over my bed.
The rest of that night was spent on the bathroom floor. I’d have felt worse had California not shortly joined me. Unbeknown to us, the English cousins upstairs were also throwing up in their beds and taking turns in the bathroom. You’ve never quite bonded with someone until you’ve spent 14 hours throwing up together on a hostel floor! I’ll remember it fondly.
Things calmed down a little after that, we were all a bit fragile and in need of a more restful island. Koh Lanta it was! Beaches, smoothies and massage. Actually the massage wasn’t all that relaxing, it’s hard to relax when someone is walking on your spine, cracking your shoulders and tutting at the stress in your muscles.
Lying on the beach, getting over food poisoning meant no drinking, which meant thoughts rushed in. It seems, no matter where you go, all those worries and pain get packed up along with you. California did a pretty good job of letting me moan for hours on end as we bobbed about in the ocean but the ex, ughhh why does he have to be an ex, he bobbed right along side us in my mind. I pictured him, spending time with family at Christmas, going about his daily business, doing stuff, stuff I wasn’t part of. Why was it so easy for him? Here I was in paradise, with great company and yet he was still twisting my thoughts.
Everyone I met, we were all the same. Going through the same things. Well maybe not the exact same thing, not everyone got abandoned at the airport and falls in the bin, but variations of it. The self doubt, the insecurities, the fear. Questioning our millennial status. The promise we grew up with that we could have everything, do anything, that we’d graduate and get a ticket to instant happiness, only for the realisation that life is hard sometimes and happiness isn’t a destination or something guaranteed. It appears, we all feel a little lost sometimes.
I flew out to Wisconsin a few days later. Another three flights to contemplate things as I flew over the world. I stared down at the water beneath me, imagining life as this great ocean, each of us a pirate on our own little ship. Sometimes the sea is smooth, sometimes it’s rough as hell and you think you’re sure to drown. We meet people, and we let them board our ships, hoping to sail out the days together. But the sea is a tempestuous mistress, when the waves are high and threatening my vessel, I want to be hanging off the rigging, screaming into the wind “COME AT ME!” but you won’t get very far if your partner is leaning over the side being sick! And I was starting to think, maybe I should have made him walk the plank before he’d crashed me into the rocks!
Somewhere on the other side of the world, there are a bunch of strangers meeting in a hostel, all a little awkward, a bit freaked out, hoping someone else will start the conversation to give them an ‘in’. They’re probably awesome people who are just like you. Sometimes you have to run away to work your way back again. Falling in rubbish helps too, apparently.
I didn’t wear jeans our entire relationship. Not once. It’s not that he said anything negative, the more indecisive he felt towards me, the more unattractive and uncomfortable in my skin I felt.
It was New Year’s Day. I bought some jeans.