What do you see when you look at the photograph? Youth? Joy? Maybe someone years later cringing as it resurfaces on social media.
I see fearlessness. And I know that it’s meant to make me laugh, but when I see it and I tunnel my way back to 1998 when it was taken, I can’t help but feel a little loss.
There we were; young, living in Sydney, backpacking around the world, and completely fearless. The photograph appeared yesterday on my Facebook feed and, before I laughed, before I even remembered the joy of the moment in which it was conceived, I thought immediately of what I have lost since then.
Over the past few years I have been shedding what was left of my grit as if it was I was rinsing away dead skin cells in the bath — or maybe the image is wrong and it’s more like I have been putting something on; covering myself with a protective shield.
At 14 years older than I was then, I know that I’ll never live as carefree as I did then. I worry, I have someone I need to at least discuss plans with, and I have dogs. Did I mention that I worry? About money, mostly.
It never used to be this way. I had a little over £600 to my name when I left Scotland for my first solo trip around the world at the age of 19. When I moved to London a year later I had £30 cash in my pocket. In neither case did I have any marketable skills or a plan for what I’d do when the money ran out. I just trusted that I’d be OK.
I don’t have that confidence anymore and I’m not so sure about things turning out OK. Every move up to and including the idea to go to a cafe earlier today (rejected because I’m worrying about money) gets weighed up and second guessed. I am no longer who I used to be.
It’s not a learned response because I never learned not to be carefree. I just kept on doing these things until I just stopped. Things like showing up in strange cities with no plan or resources; flying to someplace like Guam to work at a place I’d only vaguely heard of, showing up at shady clubs in Tokyo’s red-light districts and asking for a job, hitch-hiking in Chile, or moving into the Sydney apartment pictured above with someone I had only met on the internet (a decade before many of my friends became people I had met on the internet).
I thought about all of this while looking at the photograph, all the while delaying my response to the person who had posted it. She had tagged my name in a gesture that said she expected my response; some words after years of silence.
I was thinking too much about myself that I couldn’t see the meaning of the gesture. It wasn’t meant to make me feel bad; it was a simple memory from a time that (perhaps only in retrospect) was filled with joy.
Eventually, I took the photograph, and that moment, for what it was. Everyone has this joyous carefree period in their youth, I am not unique in that. Maybe I was just really lucky to have lived so fully in mine.