It was 26 hours ago that I awoke, for the last time, at Le Nautile Beach hotel on Reunion. I’m now in Paris where the sun is just now breaking through the clouds on the horizon and I return home today but my thoughts are purely on yesterday which is still sort of my today.
When I awoke the all too familiar instant adrenaline rush began. This is common when I’m home and I realize I am awake and the fears and anxiety of every aspect of life rush over me; my heartrate increases and it takes all that I have to simply get out of bed. Some days are better than others as some days this constant anxiety is with me all day. The previous 10 days I have not experienced this, and this too is true with the other trips, but today… Today the adventure was coming to a close and this meant, I guess, real life was about to begin again.
The routine of breakfast was the same as the prior week except this time I was fending off tears the entire time. It was actually awful trying to stay composed and it became even worse as a light mist began to fall and a slight rainbow was overhead.
I had done a great deal of my packing the night before because I knew I’d be in a sour mood and I was right. The things I didn’t pack I teared up over as I put them in my bag and the flyers to various things that were given to me along the way, be it a rafting guide or a helicopter tour I savored and put in my suitcase. I found this odd; most people buy souvenirs as a memento but for myself it’s the little things and the pictures in my head (and phone to be honest) that I treasure the most and from the hotel entrance survey that I didn’t fill out to the menu of a pizza place I didn’t try became what most people would call a souvenir.
Still in my room were the fins and snorkel so my first step in departure was to walk those to the front desk. The lady asked if I’d want to pay up for the food I purchased and I did so and as real as it was before it was even worse now.
After paying I went back to my room and got the first suitcase and walked it to my car then I snapped photos of the sign, of the buildings, of the interior, and one last selfie on the beach which a dog photo bombed. Once the photo was out of the way I turned around and stared off into the vast horizon of blue of the Indian Ocean and it was then that I lost it.
Beyond a doubt this was the greatest challenge I have ever willingly put myself through and I didn’t know it was going to be as difficult as it turned out to be. The first few days I felt overwhelmed and was sure I was going to be so afraid that I’d do nothing but stay in my room. Somehow someway this didn’t happen and I feel I truly attacked this trip the best I could. To not speak any French at all on an island that English is as common as finding a 200 karat diamond in your garden and to navigate without GPS and to have had the rocky, and coral, start that I had made the fact that I made it all the days and still was willing to try something new left me in awe and that’s why leaving was so difficult.
It was now 10:30 and mandatory checkout was at 11:00. My flight was at 9:40 and the rental was due at 12:20 so I decided to simply go to the airport. Before that I had to walk out of my room, room 131, for the last time, lock it for the last time, walk down the stairs, through the courtyard where the pool was, and through to the front desk. I took a breath as I took out the key and handed it to the lady and she said, “Leaving so soon?” and I wanted to state everything this place meant from my dream a decade ago to someday be able to visit there on my own to all that I had done and seen and how it wasn’t simply “soon” but rather that I had experienced a lifetime of growth within seven days but instead I simply said, “Yes, I’m going to the airport.”
She responded by saying, “Was everything to your liking?” and I don’t remember what I said because I was fighting back tears and the dam was about to burst so I muttered something, turned and walked out the door, got into my car, and the tears flowed.
The drive to the airport seemed longer than it actually took because I was taking in everything. The ravines which had been dry when I arrived were now raging rivers under the bridges I passed over and pouring into these ravines were fantastic waterfalls. Even after a week on the island the beauty of that place still astonished me.
I arrived back in St. Denis and went right away to Roland Garros airport and returned the car and then it was five hours of waiting until I could check my bad then another four hours of waiting until the flight left. I spent those hours deep in thought and most people would probably cringe at nine hours in a single place, such as an airport that didn’t have wifi, but not I. This time was put to thinking about all that I had done and seen not only on this trip but the previous three. With each trip I got a little bit more confident and the progression of the locations I went were perfect. No two places were the same, no two cultures remotely resembling each other, and had I done these trips in a different order I think the overall success rate would have diminished. However, the majority of thought was on what I had done in Reunion and my terminal thinking kicked in on whether or not I’ll ever have an experience like that again? I hate the “all or nothing” thinking my brain does which is something that seems to go along with Asperger’s, but it really robs the moment. Instead of celebrating the achievement, as the sun now started to set to the west over the Indian Ocean, I began to fret that this was it; this was the last adventure.
With all of these thoughts all day I was exhausted and I was really hoping for another upgrade to the premium cabin but I got one better. No, I didn’t get upgraded to first class but the row I was in in the main cabin was empty so I could lay out flat and sleep. And sleep I did! When I awoke we were just passing the end of the Mediterranean Sea and had just two hours left. I slept nine hours on the plane which is rare for me to sleep at all in a moving object but this showed me just how much I pushed myself on this trip; not only with the events I did but with writing. In my writing career I’ve never had a more prolific ten days as I’ve written over 31,000 words and these words, the words you’ve read about this trip, have been the easiest words I’ve ever written. I haven’t had a writing experience like this in nine years which was another reason I so badly loathed leaving because writing this deep, this profound, and with a slight flair of humor isn’t the easiest of things to achieve.
My flight actually landed at the Orly airport as I did do a schedule change to shorten this day of travel by 8 hours, and to avoid passing through Antananarivo, but I had to take the Air France bus to get from Orly to De Gauelle and on that ride I weighed how this trip fared with the others. The biggest change was independence with a car. Was this a good thing? For one this did minimize contact with others but on the other hand this trip would’ve been impossible without a car. Buses are scarce, taxis are far and few between as well as outrageously expensive and to get around and see what I saw the only way this would’ve been possible is with a car. I don’t think this made this better or worse but rather a needed difference. One thing this did do was it did cut down on my note taking. I took a dozen pages of notes when I went to Norway but no so on this trip. I had the first three days but then my notes I had were actually done by memory by the roads I had traveled. The other thing is language; in Tokyo some people spoke English but those that didn’t were equipped to handle the situation unlike some I encountered in Reunion. So does this make it better or worse? I think by far this was a plus because, in the other trips, Asperger’s really wasn’t part of the overall equation, but being on a place that no one (or rather a select few) spoke the language and weren’t prepared for the encounter was a stark resemblance of my everyday life. Part of that anxiety I spoke of at the beginning of this chapter is the social anxiety of not knowing, exactly, where I belong or the proverbial score of the friendships I have. I don’t know where I stand and if you travel abroad and go to a place where no one speaks English then you will have a slight glimmer of insight of what everyday life is like for a person with Asperger’s that tries to socialize and yet has no idea of what the meaning of some actions, or words means. Just like me in a social situation you’ll hear words but can’t makes sense of it.
So here I am now, in Paris in the Air France lounge (one perk of flying a lot), awaiting my flight to Atlanta then onward to Saint Louis. As it stands now this book will have one more trip, but this won’t occur until August. However, I won’t be planning this trip but instead a consortium of people will and I won’t be made aware of where I’m headed until I get to the airport. I guess that will be an adventure, but can it be the same as what I experienced? One thing that I feared when after Tokyo was that, if I got too good at this, then there would be no hardships or anything worth writing about. This trip to Reunion certainly showed me that where I had been had been a mere cakewalk compared to what it is like truly going out of the comfort zone and into the unknown.
That’s the thing, I don’t know what’s next nor do I know where. When it comes to the social life I’m still at a loss as to what to do. I hoped this trip would bring some clarity, which it didn’t, but one thing I learned is that I’m stronger than to allow one person dictate happiness. Now whether or not I live by this is another thing, but I know I’m capable of so much and just like the experience up on Le Maido I have no idea what clouds will lift and what will be shown which had be hidden away. The next trip is six months away and maybe I’ll be in the same place as I am now which will give me something to write about and then again maybe the landscape will be much different beyond anything I could’ve imagined. Regardless, my flight home is in an hour and six months from now it will be time to truly put what I’ve learned from the first four trips as my destiny will be decided by the consortium.