Thursday, September 16, 2010

Traveling with Baggage

When things start to get rough in life, people often advise you to “take a vacation,” in order to get away from it all. In a recent issue of Cosmopolitan, an article stated the best way to get over a break up is to grab a few girl friends and travel to a far-away place. Often, people choose travel in order to escape from their stressful or painful past. For years, I also have fallen victim to this idea that traveling offers you a retreat away from your past. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve begun to question this idea. Does travel offer such an escape?

The summer of my freshman year of college I went through a bad break up with my boyfriend of three years, Mike. After going through an entire summer of home life without him as my boyfriend, the only thing I kept telling myself was that “I need to get back to school.” In my mind, school would be my retreat from the misery of getting over my first love. I counted down the days until I would be back in Baltimore and off of the Mike-invested Island. Finally, on August 31st I arrived at Loyola for my sophomore year; and I felt great. The first few days, I didn’t think about Mike at all. However, once “Syllabus week” ended, I realized, although I may not be home, I’m still the same girl with the same problems. Unfortunately, it took me the entire semester to get over the kid.

Mimicking my failed attempts of deleting the memories of my ex-boyfriend from my life, the nameless protagonist in Wendt’s Black Rainbows struggles to succumb to the idea that “no one has a history” (28). Throughout the novel, the reader watches as the nameless character tries to abide by the Tribunal and delete all memories and characters of his past, exclaiming: “Histories can be erased, I remembered the Tribunal telling me. Erased and replaced with histories that please us” (65). As we follow the character on his journey, we realize that the protagonist cannot let the Tribunal’s water drown him completely (24). In a moment marked by Wendt’s beautiful imagery, the protagonist wakes up from a dream gasping for air, unable to let his past fully be erased.

When the protagonist is let go from the Tribunal, members congratulate the character saying, “It’s what we all dream of, mate. To be free of our past, our guilt” (33). Like many travelers of the present day who attempt to run away from their lives, Wendt’s protagonist is technically “free.” However, like all travelers, the protagonist has a hard time letting go of the memories that define him. Although the protagonist is free to travel, he cannot free himself of his past. As he speeds in the car on a quest to find his family, he puts on his son’s favorite cassette (45). As he gets further and further along in his journey, memories of his wife flood within him and he says, “every night the Hotere clock ticks in my sleepless head” (54). Although he travels from one place to the next with his Tribunal reference in hand, the character has not drowned his history. Like all individuals, the past has shaped his identity.

Although there were many times I wished I could delete the Mike relationship from my mind, I realize now that it’s a part of who I am. There were things I learned about myself during the relationship and during the break-up period that have made me who I am today. When things get rough, people turn to travel for the wrong reasons. Travel cannot make your past go away, but it can help you learn about yourself and realize what has shaped you into who you are today. As Wendt’s protagonist embarks on his journey, he cannot forget his past because it is the only thing that defines him. The things he remembers, such as his family and the Hotere clock, are things that are the most important to him. Instead of travel being looked at as an escape, it should be looked at as a way you can travel within yourself. Although travel cannot erase your past, it can help you discover and appreciate how it has molded you into the person you are today.

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