A Decade Gone

Christmas Day, 1998. Sydney, Australia.

Christmas Day, 1998. Sydney, Australia.

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.