The Dance of Light and Dark

Entry #16.6 / 2nd July 2022

For twenty minutes, I wandered within the memorial, exploring and absorbing it’s beauty. Engraved inscriptions adorned the walls, each one capturing my attention as I lingered over them, feeling a sense of significance was over me. I also recorded footage of the surroundings, fully aware that no camera could truly encapsulate the emotions stirring within me.

                  Eventually, once I got out of my awe-daze, I found Janette and Ryan just outside the entryway of the memorial.

                  “Hey.” I said with a light voice.

                  Janette first looked up, as they were both sat down on the top of the steps of the memorial. “You good?”

                  I nodded, about to say something when a sudden clap of thunder, louder than before, echoed through the sky. Moments later, rain began to shatter down, eliciting protests from some of the people on the lower parts of the staircase.

                  “Well,” Ryan began as he leaned back on his palms, taking in the weather changes. “I guess we arrived here at the right time.

                  Silence washed over us three as I took a seat next to Janette. Watching the rain take over the landscape.

                  Gradually, the rain intensified into a full-fledged storm, and as the first flash of lightning struck just behind the Washington Monument in the distance, the entire world seemed to pause.

                  The screaming and rushing crowds had vanished. The chatter of people within the memorial faded into silence. Janette and Ryan were no longer seated beside me. It was just the wind caressing my hair away, the rain drumming against my legs, and the comforting rumble of thunder accompanying the flashes of lightning.

                  My heart was no longer hammering – no longer beating. Mind completely still. And breathing was non-existent.

                  It was nothing. Just nothing but the rain, wind, thunder and lightning. Nothing else in this world. Nothing else existed.

                  There was nothing.

                  And then there was everything.

                  You know that stupid saying that is told to people about dying – how your whole life flashes before your eyes? Yeah, I never believed that shit either.

                  But that was what was happening now.

                  First, it was just the calming tones of the storm, and then memories whiplashed through my eyes.

                  Of course, taking the lead was the dark ones.

                  Memories of Joy. The family. Parts of my school life. The tears. The anguish. The despair. The soul-breaking and heart-stopping pit of engulfing loneliness. The dark fog that never seemed to break.

                  But it did break.

                  Memories, good, the light and, true memories flooded in.

                  The first story I wrote. My first childhood best friend. My first kiss. The theme parks that my Dad would take me to. My times playing around the brooke. My writing times within the Learning Disability area at school. My years with friends at college. Moving to Newport and Cardiff. Meeting Zara. My first graduation. Moving to York – my first proper home. Meeting Jonsey, Mitchy and Evan. My second graduation. Becoming more independent. My first solo travel to Amsterdam.

                  So many memories. The light and dark dancing alongside each other. So much in a millisecond.

                  “I don’t want you to miss out on anything.”

                  Mrs Connors’ words rang through me as the memories flashed away with the next bolt of lightning. And something felt… right.

                  Everything in my life, the bad and good, made sense in that moment. The lightning that was breaking the sky was mending my soul.

                  Because she was wrong.

                  I was wrong.

                  I’m not missing out on anything.

                  I never was.

                  It hit me with the next burst of thunder that I would’ve missed out. I would’ve missed out on this. Seeking shelter within the memorial, watching the beautiful quakes of a storm partying with the Washington Monument.

                  I would miss out on this pause. On the moment when it slowly making sense. I would’ve missed out on this breath-taking moment if I had followed the crowd.

                  And if I had missed out on this, I would’ve never come to this first breakaway thought.

                  I’m moving to Australia.

A Voice of Strength

Entry #16.5 / 2nd July 2022

The next stop on our itinerary was the Washington Monument. While we didn’t approach it directly, I found the distance we maintained surprisingly fitting. Sometimes, stepping back enhances the beauty of such landmarks. It’s like appreciating the grandeur of the monument in its entirety rather than focusing on specific details up close.

                  “We should probably get going now,” Ryan said as we sat down for a few minutes, chatting and taking in the Washington Monument. “It looks like it’s going to rain soon.”

                  Ryan wasn’t wrong. To our left, the sky painted a breathtaking scene with hues of blue blending into soft yellows and light oranges as the sunset approached. However, on the opposite side, ominous grey clouds loomed closer, casting a shadow over our location.

                  “How far is the Lincoln Memorial from here?” I questioned, slowly getting up and thinking plans in my head.

                  “Not too far…” Janette said as she looked at her phone. Most probably the map to the Lincoln Memorial. “Fifteen minutes?”

                  We debated for a minute and a half on whether it was worth braving the imminent rain. Personally, I was indifferent, but collectively, we all agreed to see if we could make it there before the rain showered us.

                  So, that involved a lot of speed walking.

                  At some point, as we walked along the pathway to the Lincoln Memorial, we slowed our pace. Evening was setting in, casting a gentle glow from the streetlights, and serene stillness enveloped us as we absorbed the ambiance of the partially wooded area, where speck of light twinkled.

                  “Oh gosh,” I mumbled as I watched the dashes of light skip around. “Are those fireflies?”

                  “Yep!” Ryan said as he causally whipped out his phone to take footage of the fireflies flowing beautifully in the area.

                  I attempted to do the same, but since it wasn’t massively dark yet, it was hard to capture the fireflies as I could see them on camera. But it was so beautiful – how nature can still overcome any manmade areas.

                  Though, this peaceful moment was interrupted by the low-thunder of the sky in the distance.

                  “Okay,” Janette stood up from the bench she took a moment to sit down on as we took our respective footages of the fireflies. “I think that’s our signal to keep moving.”

                  We sped-walked again through the pathways, looking upon the lake that ran between the monument and the memorial briefly. Then

                  The Lincoln Memorial exceeded all my expectations, unlike the White House. It was larger and more imposing than I had imagined. The staircase leading up to the memorial seemed endless, a surprise as I hadn’t anticipated any stairs at all.

                  A few merchandise carts lined the steps below the memorial, but I hardly noticed them when I first saw the Lincoln Memorial. The hustle and bustle around me, the thundering footsteps, all faded into the background. Once you laid eyes on it, it was impossible to focus on anything else.

                  Midway through climbing the never-ending steps to the Lincoln Memorial, Janette tapped on my shoulder.

                  She gave me a small smile as I met her eyes. “You alright?”

                  It took a few seconds to process what she was asking. “Yea… it’s just…” Beautiful? Breathtaking? Groundbreaking? No compliments I could conjure up seemed  sufficient for what I was seeing and feeling. It was as if… as if everything was falling into place.

                  Janette hummed in understanding. “Did you want a photo quickly? Before the rain comes?”

                  Once again, it took me a few seconds to get it together and I nodded enthusiastically. “Yes please.”

                  After snapping a few quick photos for Instagram, we ascended the steps to the Lincoln Memorial. Despite the growing crowds around us, I didn’t feel as anxious as I thought I would. My focus was entirely on the monument itself. It appeared to expand before my eyes, as if it were stretching upwards, gaining newfound stature with each step we took.

                  But soon, we climbed the last remaining steps and we were in.

                  Wow

                  My heart raced, pounding against my chest as the memorial transformed before me, transcending mere architecture to embody the essence of the world itself. Its design, atmosphere, and the play of light combined to create an overwhelming experience. In that singular moment, I felt both so small and yet so massively big, important. Each breath, each step seemed to connect me not only with the hundreds of people present but those locked in the past. Walking into that space, I felt myself becoming a part of history itself.

                  That made me more anxious than any crowd could ever.

                  In the back of my mind, I was aware that I had become separated from Janette and Ryan within the crowds, but I couldn’t spare much thought for it. My attention was wholly absorbed by the solemn dedication of the memorial.

                  I swallowed hard as I stood in front, and as close as I could get, to the statue of President Abraham Lincoln.

                  It was difficult not to imagine he was looking directly at me, his gaze seemingly fixed upon us. And it was equally challenging to dismiss the notion that others shared the same sensation. The intensity of his gaze, directed downwards at me, at us, seemed almost urging, compelling, conveying a message. The longer I held his stare, the more I sensed something stirring within me, as if each moment fortified a growing conviction, each glance adding another layer to an emerging edifice of resolve.

                  An essence of importance, of a voice, bubbling in the depths of my soul that Lincoln was so well known for. For using his voice – for having the strength to use it.

                  But that voice… it didn’t just come from nowhere.

                  Where did his come from?

                  Where does anyone’s voice come from?

                  Where does that individual strength come from?

                  I startled slightly when someone bumped into me, their muttered apologises prompting a gentle shake of my head accompanied by a light smile. I gracefully shifted aside, allowing others to appreciate the statue.

                  But it was hard to ignore his eyes. No matter where I was in the memorial, his eyes were a burning flame.

***

Thank God I’m single.

Entry #16.4 / 2nd July 2022

Turns out, I wasn’t the late one this time. About five minutes away from the White House, I received a text from Janette saying they were running a bit behind and would be there soon. I didn’t mind, though; it gave me some more breathing room to fully absorb where I was.

                  Settling down in a garden area near the White House, I sat on a bench and began scrolling through my phone. First, opened Instagram to post some photos, and then I switched to the internet to read the story I was currently obsessed with.

                  However, I couldn’t focus on it for long. Feeling restless and excited, I eventually gave up and pocketed my phone, fully immersing myself in the surroundings.

                  Not too far from where I sat, there was a same-sex couple sitting together on a bench. With arms wrapped around each other, they spoke causally, entirely focused on each other rather than the world around them. They paused their conversation from time to time to share kisses, which brought a smile to my face.

                  Usually, when I see a couple, I feel a pang of envy. It had been years since I had been in a relationship of any kind, and while I had made the most strides in my life while single, there was a part of me – like any single person from time to time – that yearned for someone. Someone to share my day with, someone to come home to, someone to tease me about how far behind I was on films and TV shows. I wanted a partner, someone with whom I could build a peaceful and content-filled life.

                  But, as I observed the couple in the distance and briefly contemplated Janette and Ryan, a surprising thought crossed my mind.

                  Thank God I’m single.

                  It was a sentence I’d only joke about before, usually while watching the dramatic breakdowns of relationships on TV or reality shows. You know, those moments where someone’s heart is getting broken, or they’re arguing over something trivial. But I never actually considered it seriously before – I never truly felt that way.

                  As I watched the couple lost in their own world of affection, I couldn’t help but wonder if I were in a relationship, would I truly be able to savour such moments?

                  I thought back to Daphne – she was in a very loving and strong relationship, but I could see how much she missed her partner. She hated being so far away and avoided certain experiences because her partner would join when camp ended, and she wanted to share those experiences with him. Which was fine but…

                  There was a beauty to doing it on your own – the first time around. So, you could truly take in the experience, understand how it’s affecting you instead of speaking about it with your partner without having that… moment.

                  I was pulled out of my inner musings as my phone vibrated. It was a text from Janette asking where I was, and I sent them a pin of my location.

                  A few minutes later, I heard my name be called and turned around to see Ryan and Janette approaching me.

                  I smiled as I stood up. “Alright?”

                  “Yeah, sorry we were keeping you.” Ryan said with a relaxed smile.

                  I waved him off, “don’t worry, I was just taking everything in.”

                  A few minutes later, we started to make our way to the White House and when it finally came into view, I grinned viciously with a small clap.

                  After a few Instagram photos of it in the distance, as we approached the gates to the building, I couldn’t stop the grin into a frown.

                  “What is it?” Janette asked, seeing my expression.

                  I struggled. “It’s nothing, it’s just… I thought it would be more intimidating… and bigger.”

                  Ryan laughed. “I think that’s true for a lot of things – it’s never what you expect.”

                  As we approached the White House, I began capturing footage and photos, still in disbelief that I was there. However, I was so distracted that I pretty much ignored the happenings around me.

                  “Rose!” Janette called to gain my attention.

                  I paused in my filming to glance where Janette was, which aided me in realising what I was walking through.

                  “Shit!” I muttered under my breath as a scrambled away.

                  I don’t remember fully what part of it I was walking through (either due to pure embarrassment or just because everything happened so fast) but I either was walking behind the group of speakers or in front of them as they were speaking towards a camera pointed at them.

                  I quickly sprinted away after shooting out an apology, Janette laughing as I returned to both her and Ryan.

                  “It’s times like these I really hate how oblivious I am.” I cursed again when I looked back to the group who appeared to be unaffected by my momentary interruption and saw the sign of what they were most likely talking about. “Right, now I feel like even more of a dick – they’re talking about the invasion of Ukraine!”

                  Sorry Grandpa.

                  Ryan waved it off. “It’s fine, it wasn’t that long. They’ll cut you out.”

                  After another ten minutes of getting photos and footage, we started to walk away from the White House and onto the next location.

                  Filming on the camera I had, I pointed it towards Ryan.

                  “Hey Ryan,” I waited for him to briefly turn towards me. “How are you liking your Washington DC day?”

                  “It’s amazing.” Was his answer.

                  “Say that with more enthusiasm.”

                  Ryan then turned up the volume of his voice with a big, fat grin. “It’s so amazing!” He then ratted on with sarcastic nonsense that had me in giggles and Janette quipping in here and there.

                  “I felt like there was an American accent coming out there.” I said as he finished, somehow managing to breathe through my giggles.

                  Just then, as Ryan was about to go on, we passed a bunch of people on the pathway. Most just ignored us, while one slowed his walking and turned to me directly.

                  “Are you filming right now?” The man asked.

                  I stopped filming, automatically thinking he was going to tell me to stop or to tell me off for filming. “Yes…

                  “Can you get this for me.” The man said.

                  Huh? I thought but my brain wasn’t connected with my body in that moment and started to record.

                  The man then went into a big rant – a rant about some kind of legalisation in government or something political. I was so confused about all of it but kept on recording.

                  When he finally finished and told us to look up what he told the camera, the three of us continued our walk.

                  “Why the fuck did I film that?”

***

Settling In

Entry #16.3 / 2nd June 2022

We ended up going to Popeyes for food – a place I had never been to before and felt a bit nervous about. Trying new foods or new places wasn’t always a great experience for me. But amazingly and easily, I trusted Ryan and Janette when they said I would like it.

                  And I did.

                  I didn’t order anything over the top – just chicken and chips. The chicken had a bit of spice to it, but not so much that it overwhelmed my senses.

                  I had a great laugh with both Ryan and Janette. After we finished eating, we decided to head to our respective accommodations (me at the hostel, them at the hotel) and meet up later at the White House.

                  Upon my return to the hostel, it was time for the full check-in process. After retrieving my rucksack, I took the lift up to my shared room. The atmosphere of the place was reminiscent of a mix between student accommodation and a hotel, defying traditional stereotypes.

                  “Woah…” I mumbled as I entered my shared room and took it in.

                  I was assigned to a mixed four-bed room, where the beds were built into the walls. They appeared exceptionally comfortable, even more so than the ones back at the university campus, and each had a curtain for added privacy. Below the bunk beds, there were drawers, each labelled with a number corresponding to the allocated beds.

                  Unfortunately, it seemed I was assigned to one of the top beds, while both bottom ones were already occupied. One had its curtain drawn open with belongings scattered across it, and the other had its curtain tightly closed.

                  Aware that someone might be asleep on the other side, I moved quietly as I placed my rucksack on the desk across from the beds, which had a mirror hanging just above it.

                  Just then, a door to the left side of the room opened and I jumped slightly.

                  “Hi.” The man smiled gently at me, walking the short distance to the drawn open curtain lower bunk bed.

                  I pushed passed my nervousness and returned the smile. “Hi.”

                  I’m not sure if it was because he saw how nervous I was or because he was just a friendly guy, but he moved an inch towards me and put out his hand. “I’m Justin.”

                  I let out a breath and shook his hand. “I’m Rose.”

                  His smile turned into small smirk. “I’m guessing you’re not from around here?”

                  I nodded, “And I’m guessing you aren’t either by your accent… or why else would you be here?”

                  He had laughed lightly which put me more at ease.

                  We spoke briefly about where we were from; Justin mentioned he was from Germany and had come to Washington DC for a diplomatic event or business meeting (although I’m not entirely sure if he said he was an ambassador, so don’t quote me on that). I mentioned my job as a camp counsellor, explaining I had weekends off to do whatever I wanted.

                  As our conversation came to a natural end, Justin nodded towards the bathroom he came from. “It’s free now if you need to use it.”

                  I grinned, “thanks. I probably stink from travelling!”

                  With a few “see you laters” to each other, I got some of my belongings from my rucksack and headed into the bathroom for a well-deserved shower.

***

Hours later, I had showered, dressed, and applied a light layer of makeup. Fortunately, I managed to get ready on time. After a few glances in the mirror, I left the shared room and the hostel, following Google Maps to the White House.

                  I decided not to take the bus, preferring to stretch my legs and soak in the realisation that I was in Washington DC. It still hadn’t fully sunk in – not just the fact that I was in the heart of the capital, but also that I was in America in the first place. It was difficult to imagine that roughly this time last year, I had entertained the idea of doing Camp America.

                  Now I was here, and still in utter, complete disbelief.

                  Walking down the city streets, I spotted a Sephora shop on one side and paused in my stride. Checking the time on my phone, I debated internally. I had enough time to browse in the shop, as the walk to our designated meeting area would take about twenty minutes, and I still had forty minutes left. However, I didn’t want to year the label of The Late Girl.

                  That is not something I aspired too.

                  But… I just wanted to check something. It wouldn’t take long and I’ll be in and out in five minutes.

                  With a determined nod, I crossed at the traffic lights and reached the Sephora shop on the other side of the street. Luckily, the shop was open, and I entered leisurely, absorbing the atmosphere. It immediately reminded me of the Superdrug shops in the UK, although Sephora had its own distinct identity – the bold black and white striped wall designs, the well-planned layout, and the spaciousness of the store.

                  Plus, it wasn’t like Superdrug that was trying to be the next Boots.

                  After anxiously looking around for a few moments, I ran into a shop worker and plucked up the courage to ask what I was looking for.

                  “Hi,” I began nervously, though my voice held confidence. “Do you guys hold Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty brand?”

                  The woman smiled, “yeah, of course, I’ll show you.”

                  I let out a breath of relief as I followed the shop worker to the designated area. I smiled when I saw the brand for the first time.

                  “Do you need any help with it?” The woman inquired, obviously knowing that I didn’t know much about the brand yet.

                  I hesitated before I shook my head. “No, not today. I just wanted to check that the shop had it.”

                  The woman nodded, “no problem. If you need any more help though, I’m just back over there.”

                  I smiled and nodded in return. “Thank you!”

                  Browsing the Rare Beauty brand for a few minutes more, I left and headed back in the direction of the White House. Determined not to be late for the third time that day.

***

Welcome to Washington DC

Entry #16.2 / 2nd July 2022

Fortunately, the bus station wasn’t too far from Times Square. Unfortunately, there was a massive line for our bus, resulting in tighter seating arrangements. Janette and Ryan mentioned they were planning to sit at the back, which aligned perfectly with my natural inclination – a win-win.

                  We snagged seats in the back, with Janette and Ryan occupying two seats on one side, and I taking the adjacent seat next to someone else. I felt a bit uneasy, given my tendency for motion sickness, especially since I wasn’t seated by the window (which usually helps). However, I had my earphones handy, hoping that music would help distract my mind during the journey.

                  However, after a brief rest break during the bus journey, as we settled back into our seats and the air conditioner made me feel colder than I anticipated for a bus ride, boredom set in. I grew weary of sitting still and tired of the music I had chosen to listen to.

                  So, glancing down at my phone, I pondered how to quell this boredom. I couldn’t read or stare at my phone too much, wary of triggering motion sickness. Nonetheless, I had to do something – my restless body drew a few glares from the person beside me.

                  As I flickered through my phone, I saw the application for Voice Memos. Opening up that, I saw a few recordings on there. One of them being “Tarot 7/8/2021”.

                  Given my interest in tarot and all things weird and wonderful, I naturally sought out a professional tarot reading for my birthday last year. It was actually a few days after my birthday, but it still felt like a birthday treat.

                  It was one of the many reasons I was so hyped about going to New Orleans. I wanted to see if a professional would say something different, add anything new, or give the same reading as the tarot reader (who later became my mentor) did.

                  I remembered most of what the tarot reader said to me, but it was always good to refresh my memory. Plus, I was bored and still had another three hours of bus journey ahead of me.

                  So, I clicked on the recording and listened to the tarot reader’s predictions.

                  Halfway through the reading, I straightened up, eyes narrowed, hands clasping the bus seat, my mind elsewhere. Back in that room, with the tarot reader gently holding my hand, reading my palms, examining my life line, seeing what the future held for me.

                  I glanced over towards Janette and Ryan briefly as the tarot reader’s words echoed through my mind and soul.

                  ‘Dude,’ the bright voice mumbled once the recording ended and I tugged my earphones out. ‘That can’t be a coincidence.’

***

Thankfully, I managed to shake off any lingering thoughts about the tarot reading and its potential implications by the time we reached Washington DC. And even if I hadn’t, the moment we stepped out of the bus station and into the city would been enough to distract me.

                  Although we didn’t witness anything jaw-dropping, it was still an amazing feeling to be in the heart of the country, somewhere I never thought I would ever be able to go.

                  There was a small debate on what to do first, and it was decided – since I had a rucksack – that we would stop by my hostel first and drop off my bag. We hailed an Uber to the Generator Washington DC, but encountered a few confusing detours by the Uber (I’m not sure he knew where he was going, even with Google Maps), before finally arriving there.

                  “Wow,” Janette said as we entered the Generator reception area. My eyes widened in shock as I took in the surroundings. “This looks amazing. Where did you find this place?”

                  I blinked, taking in the modern but cosy look of the hang-out spaces near the reception area. It looked more like a student accommodation building than a what you think a hostel should be like. “On Hostelworld app. It was the same for the first hostel as well, but this one appeared to be more reliable.”

                  “And probably much more nicer.” Ryan commented, “how much was this place?”

                  “Around hundred and fifty dollars for two nights, give or take.” My body relaxed further as we approached a sofa area and I tugged off my backpack. “It looks like its worth the cost as well.”

                  Janette sat down on the sofa with a big sigh. “Yep! Definitely is!”

                  Once I retrieved all my documents from my backpack, I approached the desk and spoke to the receptionist. Though it wasn’t quite time for me to complete the check-in process, they took the remaining payment I owed and check in my rucksack for me.

                  When I returned to Janette and Ryan a few minutes later, they were both on their phones and I gave them my internet access codes so they could quickly answer a few messages.

                  “Hungry?” Ryan said after a while of us just sitting and catching up with our phones.

                  “Definitely!” I exclaimed that caused the two of them to chuckle and we slowly made our way out to explore.

***

Instead of settling on a specific place to eat, the three of us opted to explore and see if anything caught our eye. Midway through our stroll through different neighbourhoods, I gasped as something came to mind.

                  “Okay I know this is going to sound weird,” I began as I stopped by one of the houses in the neighbourhood. “But could you guys take a photo of me sat on the steps of this house please? I’ll explain in a bit!”

                  Ryan and Janette wore expressions that blended confusions with amusement, but Ryan took my phone. After I removed my backpack and settled on the steps, he kindly took the photos for me.

                  “Thank you!” I said, delight compassing my whole being as I flicked through the photos Ryan took.

                  “Was it because of the sign?” Janette asked as we slowly started walking again.

                  I frowned. “What sign?”

                  “The ADT security sign.”

                  I frowned further. “No… My sister asked me to take a photo of myself sitting on some neighbourhood steps so she could live vicariously through me. As she sees dozens of photos of random people in America on neighbourhood steps. She mainly meant in New York though, but Washington DC could count too.” There was a pause before curiosity caught up with me. “Wait, why would I want a photo with a security sign?”

                  “Because of the ADT killer.”

                  I widened my eyes. “What?!

                  “I don’t remember if was that security company,” Janette went on, “but there was some kind of security service man who went on to become serial killer which was aided by his profession.”

                  My mouth was ajar, trying to digest the information but unable too. While I was big watcher of true crime content (mainly those who focused on the victims, like Kendal Rae), I literally never heard of a serial killer who was security service provider.

                  Looking back at one of the photos with the security sign in the background, I struggled to process. “Okay, I really don’t know how I feel about this photo now.”

***

Something to tick off the bucket list!

Entry #16.1 / 2nd July 2022

I’m not one to be negative,’ the bright voice chimed in as I hurried around, trying to gather the last of my belongings as quietly as possible. ‘But you’d be late for your own funeral.’

                  I was late for my own birth, I quipped back, so best to keep to tradition I suppose.

                  ‘Tradition?’ The responsible voice now came in, ‘if that’s another word for unpreparedness, then sure, tradition.

                  It was rare to have the bright and responsible voices in agreement, and what made it more frustrating was that they weren’t entirely wrong. In recent years, I had improved my time management skills; I even completed my master’s degree dissertation a week in advance (same for my bachelor’s degree now that I think about it). However, when faced with unexpected situations or unfamiliar environments, my time management skills crackled under pressure.

                  I was running late. Not as late as probably the angel and devil counterparts were making it out to be, but I still had to pack a few last-minute things.

                  Since I had to get up so early in the morning – three thirty in the morning to be exact – I decided against putting on makeup or trying to look too put together. Well, I looked decent, but not as polished as I did on the plane to America.

                  While the journey to Washington DC wouldn’t be as long as the one from England to America, it would be by bus. Which meant it was going to be ten times more sweaty and hot.

                  So, I dressed in a loose charcoal top with the printed words ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ on it, and my cycle shorts, and my white trainers that I designated to be my “out of camp” trainers. It was comfortable, something I knew I could endure for hours on end as I likely questioned my life choices.

                  Once I gathered the last few items I needed, I swiftly – and quietly! – left my dark dorm room, carefully closing the door behind me.

                  Stuffing the final items into my rucksack, I slung on my backpack and hoisted up my rucksack as I hurried down the hallway of the university dorms toward the building exit.

                  “Sorry sorry sorry!” I said in a rush once I caught up with both Janette and Ryan who started walking on slowly when I raced back into the building for the last bits. “Sorry… First trip away here and I’m probably overpacking.”

                  “Ya think?” Janette teased as she eyed my rucksack in my hand.

                  That’s when I realised that they didn’t have the same type of luggage as me. Only Ryan supporting a backpack on his shoulders. “You’re fucking kidding me… You managed to fit everything in there?”

                  Ryan nodded. “We don’t need much.”

                  “My sister is the same…” I stopped to allow some oxygen to enter my body from the sprint. “She can literally pack a whole two weeks trip in one backpack and still have room.”

                  “I’m guessing light packing gene skipped you then?” Janette questioned, her tiny smile reflecting her further teasing tone.

                  “Well technically we don’t share the same genes. We’re not biologically related really.” They both shot me confused looks and I gave a light wave of the hand as I continued to catch my breath. “Long story short – blood doesn’t define family. Zara is my sister, my big sister, and that’s the end of it.”

                  Janette nodded. “Yeah, I know people in my life who are pretty much family as well.”

                  I nodded in agreement, unable to speak properly now.

                  “Just to make sure,” Janette eyed me warily. “You did remember to bring your inhaler this time right?”

                  “I knew there was something I forgot.”

***

Amazingly, we arrived at the train station with time to spare. I felt my body relax as soon as we stepped onto the air-conditioned train, and I gazed out the window absentmindedly while Janette and Ryan conversed nearby.

                  For the first time since arriving in America, I didn’t feel obligated to keep the conversation going. Yes, as the train journey continued, I chatted with Janette and Ryan, joined in on the conversation, but it felt natural, relaxed, no pressure.

                  That’s when I realised how comfortable I was with both of them, and how, after feeling so unlike myself for the past week, they helped me feel more like myself again. Janette’s blunt and outspoken nature reminded me so much of my sister, and while Ryan had a calm and collected demeanour with a wealth of travel stories and advice to share.

                  It really put me at ease. Knowing how differently my brain was wired didn’t faze them at all.

                  Soon, we arrived at Grand Central Station and after a brief toilet break, we started walking through the streets of NYC.

                  If I thought it was beautifully messy in the middle of the day, it was definitely stunning in the early hours of the morning. There weren’t many people mingling around, only the morning workers, and, sadly, the homeless. There was something absolutely gorgeous about seeing the City that Never Sleeps covered in the quietness before the storm.

                  There was a small debate between the three of us on what to get for breakfast – since we had a bit of time to kill – before it was decided on the old classic – McDonald’s.

                  “Wow,” I mumbled as I looked over the breakfast menu on one of the self-order screens at a McDonald’s. “They have much more of a selection than the UK does… I don’t know if that’s a good thing though.”

                  I just settled for what I knew – a sausage and egg McMuffin with an extra hash brown and orange juice.

                  The McDonald’s where we ended up getting food was parked right next to Times Square, which, like all of NYC at nearly six o’clock in the morning, was pretty much deserted. After getting our orders, Janette and I found Ryan in the middle of Times Square, seated at one of the red picnic tables.

                  I grinned as I sat down and took in the area.

                  Breakfast in the middle of Times Square.

                  ‘Something to tick off the bucket list!’ The bright voice exclaimed with unflinching excitement.

                  I really need to sit down and write down this bucket list.

                  We chatted about the past week, the upcoming trip, and what the others had planned for the long weekend. I was still wrestling with the feelings I had about it all. While I was excited to see Washington DC, I felt unsure. Maybe… Maybe I was making the wrong choice. That my own independence was getting in the way of making memorable memories with the others that I maybe pushed myself away.

                  I couldn’t shake off the feeling of complete selfishness. The people-pleaser in me didn’t like that I was going against the grain, that I wasn’t following the crowd, that I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing.

                  I felt selfish that was I wasn’t adding to everyone else’s memories.

                  ‘Would they see you there as doing as such though?’ The responsible voice questioned. ‘And plus, why can’t you be selfish? Why is it such a bad thing to create a memorable memory for yourself?’

                  Luckily, I didn’t have to answer the responsible voice’s diplomacy as Ryan asked if I wanted anything else from McDonald’s as he was going back.

                  I thought about it. “Could you get me another sausage and egg McMuffin and orange juice?” I asked, then rushing to add in: “Not to eat now! But to have for lunch later!”

                  Janette smirked a little. “You don’t need to explain yourself you know.”

                  I smiled slightly as I gave the money. “I think I’m gunna put on a few pounds in the next few months.”

                  “You’re in America.” Ryan pointed out. “That’s pretty much guaranteed.”

***

Disclaimer

This blog is a personal diary, and the content shared here is based on my own experiences, thoughts, and opinions. I am not a professional in any field, and the information provided on this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only.

I do my best to ensure the accuracy and validity of the content I share, but I cannot guarantee the completeness or timeliness of the information. The content may evolve and change over time as I continue to learn and grow.

Please keep in mind that any advice, tips, or recommendations I provide are based on my personal experiences and should not be considered as professional advice. Before making any decisions or taking actions based on the content of this blog, I recommend consulting with qualified professionals or experts in the relevant field.

I am not responsible for any consequences that may arise from following the information provided on this blog. However, I will do my best to ensure any sensitive topics will be warned prior to each post. Your use of this blog and its content is at your own discretion and risk.

I value respectful and constructive discussions, so I welcome comments and feedback. However, I reserve the right to moderate and remove comments that are offensive, spammy, or violate the blog’s policies.

By accessing and using this blog, you agree to abide by this disclaimer and all applicable laws and regulations.

Thank you for visiting and reading my blog. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

I want to belong.

Entry #15.2 / 30th June to 1st July 2022

I wish I could say Friday was a breeze. I wish I could say I was settling more into the role and it was becoming less hectic. I wish I could say I wasn’t running around nearly as much as I was on Wednesday and Thursday.

            Those were things I wish I could say, but it wasn’t the case.

            However, the confidence I slowly felt building on Thursday continued to grow on Friday. Plus, with the impending long weekend upon us, the running around didn’t seem so bad today.

            Although, there was one point where my group leader banished me to the shade for a while after I admitted to feeling dizzy, ordering me to drink water and eat a cookie.

            But there was a moment, near the end of the camp day, when a thought occurred to me. As I contemplated my plans of going to Washington DC with Janette and Ryan, contrasting with the rest of the internationals’ plans for their NYC weekend, I couldn’t help but notice how little it bothered me. It was a struggle between feeling like I should want to be part of the larger group and have the typical NYC weekend involving people getting ridiculously drunk and staying up until who knows how late, and desiring a different experience outside of that.

            It wasn’t until I was walking down back to the bunks with a group of children when the thought came to me.

            I don’t want to fit in, my nerves died down suddenly and calmness and peace replaced it. I want to belong.

            And isn’t that one of the cores of life? To belong somewhere, to someone? I’ve always yearned for that. It’s why I made efforts for so many years to alter the hue of my camouflage, not only at school but also within my family. I attempted to shape myself to avoid standing out, to alleviate the feeling of solitude in a room full of people.

            To not feel as abnormal as I did the previous week. As I have done throughout most of my life.

            But it never worked.

            I often recalled Mrs. Connors’ words to me – how she expressed her desire for me not to miss out on anything. It wasn’t the first nor last time I had heard such sentiments, and that concern weighed on me even more when I released that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

            I eventually found that sense of belonging with my sister Zara, and my best friends, Jonesy, Mitchy, and Evan, as well as the friendships I cultivated with other people I met during my masters’ degree. I also found it with other close friends and gradually with my Dad over time. As I built a life in York, while it never quite felt like my forever home, it did feel more like home than anywhere else I had been.

            That’s when I realised. Mrs. Connors might have been concerned about the possibility of missing out on these connections I’ve built. And I couldn’t help but wonder – did I miss out on this back at school? And am I still missing out on it now as I pursue my own path?

            Yes, I was developing bonds with both Ryan and Janette, but could my stubbornness of not following the crowd and my anxiety over the clique situation be stopping me forming the same bonds as I had with my sister, my best and close friends and even my Dad?

            These were questions that followed me into the evening, as I watched everyone get ready for their night out. Declining, when asked, if I was going out that night.

            “We have to leave early for the bus tomorrow.” I stated to one of few people who asked if I was going out.

            It was true, but apart of me was struck by the confusion I felt.

            Am I missing out?