The Compass Necklace

Entry #18.3 / 4th July 2022

Apart from the booth itself, there wasn’t a lot to see within the theatre, and after ten minutes of wandering around aimlessly, I headed towards the Peterson House.

                  There was a little line outside for it and I couldn’t understand completely why until I got inside. It reminded me a lot of the Anne Frank House where the hallways were so narrow that you could only go through in single file and some sections were cut off so that only a certain amount of people could go through at a time.

                  Plus, it wasn’t a big area to see. We saw the hallway, the living space, and then, finally, the bedroom where President Lincoln took his last breath.

                  It was weird to see, especially with the bed there (that wasn’t the exact bed he died on but the design is the same). As you imagine, when someone as important as a president, dies, he would be in a big, luxurious room. But… it was just a room. A small, simple room. And I think that was what was the most heartbreaking part. For someone so great and important to history, he died in such a simple room.

                  However, his cause of death was not simple.

                  I just stared at the bed, the room, for the longest time. Trying to imagine what it was like for Lincoln. The pain of the gunshot. Of people trying to save him. The feeling of those who cared for him gathered around for his last moments. Was he scared? Or at peace? Did he feel like it was too soon to go?

                  Both unfortunately and fortunately, I was reminded of other people waiting to get through and move on, the room and emotions staying with me as I moved into the museum area.

                  As I learned about the aftermath of President Lincoln’s assassination and death, thoughts and emotions kept swirling around inside me. Trying to place something together but not fully getting there.

                  It was only when got onto Lincoln’s Legacy part of the museum did it finally clicked together.

                  I do have role models in my life – some people I know personally and others that I have never met. Some are historical and others are in the modern age.

                  The biggest ones are Anne Boleyn, Taylor Swift, John Oliver… and now President Lincoln. And while they all did/do very different things from one another, one thing that they each had in common became painfully clear.

                  They had a voice. They hold/have such a unique and bold voice that they use their own way to speak up for things they believe in because, at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do.

                  Unfortunately, two of my role models got killed for it. 

                  And, as I remembered that moment at the Lincoln Memorial, as all my life flashed before my eyes, I wondered: isn’t that what I always tried to do? I’d admit I haven’t always got it right or even been in the right headspace to get it right, but I remembered in those harsh few years when I first left Joy’s…

                  The family hated how open I was about what happened. It often led them to conclude half of what I was speaking out against was made up or that I was being dramatic.

                  ‘Of course, you were dramatic,’ the responsible voice whispered through. ‘You were a kid, a teenager, you were meant to be dramatic.’

                  ‘But it didn’t mean any of it wasn’t the truth.’ The bright voice also whispered, which was more unnatural than anything else.

                  Truth.

                  I never liked it, despite what the family thought. I never liked talking about it. I shook and sweated as I spoke about it to them, my Dad, the counselors… I hated talking about it. At one point, in a counseling session at school, I sweated so much through talking about it so much, I put my coat on afterward and refused to take it off for the remainder of the day as I didn’t want anyone to see the sweat marks that ran through my school top and a little bit on my cardigan.

                  But I spoke about it because, not only was it me standing up against something wrong and should’ve never happened, but because I thought… I thought that by talking about it would feel better. The burden would feel lighter. That I could slowly recover and move on, and do right by me.

                  It was years after that, but slowly, the talking did help. Slowly I did move on, and afterwards, I felt even more empowered to use my voice. To speak up against what was wrong and for what was right. To used my voice in my unique way so that others would feel seen and listened to as well. So, they too can feel empowered to use their own voice.

                  Not only is it the truthful way to live, but it is the most brave and rightful way to live.

                  Just like President Abraham Lincoln.

***

While a part of me wanted to linger about the Ford’s Theatre museum a little longer, I knew I had to get moving to do everything I wanted to do and get to the bus station on time.

                 As a true tourist, though, I did stop by the Ford’s Theatre gift shop and looked around for the perfect souvenir to cement my time in Washington, DC. At first, nothing seemed to pop out. But then, just near the till desk, there was a hanging station for jewelry made for the museum.

                 One piece of jewelry was a necklace featuring a compass pressed down onto a coin with Lincoln on the back.

                 It was cheap and probably wouldn’t last forever, but it was perfect for me. So I bought it, never realizing that I would hardly take it off in years to come.

***

                  Once I left, I decided that after visiting the Capital again, I wanted to go to the Lincoln Memorial. After everything, I felt Saturday evening and everything I concluded today… I felt a connection, and a great debt to the president and, in some stupid and silly way, I wanted to thank him. For not just what I learned over the weekend, but for being… one of the greatest people to ever live.

                  However, things went pear-shaped.

                  I had a choice of either the Capital or the Lincoln Memorial at halfway points but decided to stick to the original plan and go to the Capital.

                  Complete waste of time! It wasn’t open today either, which should have been freaking obvious as HELLO! It’s Independence Day, so it’s a bank holiday which would make the Capital closed for business!

                  When I tried to the Lincoln Memorial with an Uber, the traffic was so bad that I had to give up and change the route to the bus station.

                  Guilt swarmed me when I did. I know it was stupid but… I felt the need to thank President Lincoln in some way. And not being able to felt terrible.

                  Once I got to the bus station, I looked through the text messages I had exchanged with Ryan and Janette. The latest one stated that they were in a McDonalds area of the bus station getting food for now and the journey.

                  It took some time but I eventually found them and smiled warmly at them. However, a bit of sadness vibrated through me when I realized that it was over.

                  The trip to Washington DC was over.

                  But the change in me – that was far from over.

He Fought For What Was Right

Entry #18.2 / 4th July 2022

Since I was going to be in the same area, I decided to go to Lincoln’s Waffle Shop again for breakfast. While there was a line for it again – bigger than the previous day – I was allowed quick entry again for being a one-person party.

                  Benefits of going at it alone!

                  I had spoken to Janette and Ryan about Ford’s Theatre and while they were interested the previous day, they texted earlier to say they weren’t coming as Janette was suffering from pretty bad bug bites.

                  (Spoiler alert – I would soon be suffering too.)

                  So, once I had a fill of a good breakfast, I made my way over to Ford’s Theatre. 

                  I was nervous at first that I wouldn’t be allowed entry with both my backpack and rucksack. But thankfully I was and a group of us were soon led into the theatre itself. 

                  We were all asked to take our seats in the theatre – mainly on the bottom row so we could hear what the speaker spoke to us.

                  Once I took my seat, I noticed some people pointing their phones to the far, upper right of the theatre. Like they were taking photos.

                  Curious, I followed the direction of their attention and saw a booth up above decorated with American flags. At first, I thought: why the hell have they done that?

                  But, after a few, quick seconds, it clicked.

                  Shit, that was the booth he was shot in.

                  I didn’t know how long I ended up staring at it, unsure of what to think, but soon the speaker for this part of the theatre/museum experience came up to the stage. I pulled my attention to it as he began to speak, asking if everyone could hear him.

                  “First things first, welcome to Ford’s Theatre!” The speaker welcomed us all, and in response, we all gave positive mumbles. “I’m Alan and I’m just here to speak to you generally about the theatre’s history, the night that this theatre is famous for, and what happens here in the present day.”

                  And he did. At first, he spoke about the theatre’s opening dates and what performances were normally held here. Then it went to the night that the President was assassinated here.

                  “So, raise your hands if you know roughly the events that took place here on April 14th, 1865?” Alan asked and slowly hands rose, including mine. “Right, would anyone like to offer up some facts about that night that someone might not know?”

                  Everyone’s hands went down faster than the bolts of lightning the other night. Unable to bear the awkwardness of that, I raised my hand back up.

                  Alan smiled at me. “Yes miss?”

                  I returned the smile. “Yeah, well, there wasn’t just President Lincoln’s assassination that night. There were two other planned assassinations – one with the Vice President and the other with the…” I paused for a moment to recall. “The Secretary of State?”

                  Alan nodded, “Yes. That is true, but the people who were tasked with it failed.”

                  “Well, the one who was meant to kill the Vice President got drunk and talked himself out of it.” I said with a slight laugh, “and the Secretary of State was only wounded during the attempt, saved by the fact that a few days or weeks earlier he was in some sort of carriage accident and he had some kind of jaw assistance that blocked the knife from morally wounding him.” To further emphasize this, I made a stabbing motion towards my cheek with a funny face to accompany it.

                  The friendly smile on Alan’s face then turned into a full-on grin. “You don’t need this part of the history lesson, do you?”

                  Feeling my cheeks redden, I shifted in my seat. “I know a lot of weird facts.”

                  Alan nodded and then proceeded to the next hand raised.

                  Once he got a few other facts about the night from other people, he went on to tell the events of that night. Like he said though, it wasn’t anything completely new to me. The only few new things I learned were the facts about how he ended up at the Peterson House across the street.

                  When he asked if there were any questions about the events of that night, I raised my hand back up before I could stop myself.

                  The friendly smile on Alan’s face returned to a grin. “Yes miss?”

                  “Ugh…” Why do I hate myself? “When Booth jumped from the booth – no pun intended there.” I gestured to the booth in question. “Didn’t he say something on the stage before he skipped off?”

                  “Yes and no,” Alan said, thinking over what to say for a moment. “There are conflicting reports of what Booth said after he shot the president. Some say he said it from the actual booth, and others on the stage. Some say he shouted “freedom” and others say he shouted the Virginia motto: “Thus always to tyrants!”” Alan then gestured his hands in a shrugging manner. “Depending on what witness you believe from that night what he said varies largely.”

                  Then he went on to answer a few more questions that other people had about that night before going on to speak about President Lincoln himself.

                  “Historians often weigh the importance each president has had,” Alan went on, sitting on the stool provided for him on the stage. “And the best way to rank each one is based on the lasting impact of their presidency – whether good or bad – and how they kept and held themselves to the constitutions of the United States. And you know when that is best evaluated?” Pretty much everyone shook their heads no. “You look over the particular president’s time thirty years later. That way you can best see the impact of their legacy and come up with scores from that.”

                  I took that information in, eyes flickering up towards the flagged up booth above.

                  “President Lincoln, unsurprisingly, is one of the top-ranked presidents of the United States. And it can be the top at some points, though it’s a bit of a wrestle with President Washington. And that is based on the fact that historians waited thirty years to see the impact of his legacy on this country.”

                  Someone then raised their hand, which Alan waved for them to speak. “Does that mean we won’t know how bad Trump was until thirty years?”

                  Alan laughed, “Pretty much, unfortunately.”

                  Then there was another round of questions, some I was paying attention to and others I was not. I just kept thinking about the stage, President Lincoln, his impact… My eyes constantly darted upwards toward the booth in contemplation.

                  “Right! I think that’s it for now!” Alan clapped his hands together. “Feel free to explore as much of the theatre as you can before heading over to the Peterson House. Then, after the Peterson House, there should be a little museum that will explain the events that followed Lincoln’s death. If you have any more questions though, please do not hesitate to come over as I’ll be here for a bit longer.”

                  I stayed in my seat as everyone started to get up and go. Some went over to the stage to talk to Alan, and others went exploring the theatre. Taking photos and chatting amongst themselves as they did.

                  Eventually, I stood up from my seat and made my way over to Alan. Luckily, the last person who was there to speak to him finished just as I wandered up.

                  “My best student.” Alan joked as he noticed me approaching.

                  I let out a laugh. “Sorry about that. I am just a download away from being a complete know-it-all.”

                  Alan waved it off. “No, don’t apologize. I’m glad to see someone so enthusiastic about history.”

                  I laughed. “Well, I think in another life I was a historian. I would’ve liked to have been now, but fate had other plans.”

                  We chatted for a few minutes, mainly on the night of President Lincoln’s assassination and we traded additional information we had of that night. But as the conversation bled out, I had one last question.

                  “What do you think it would’ve been like?” I asked, going on when Alan titled his head in question. “If he had lived? If Booth hadn’t been a suicidal idiot and just kept to his acting ways?”

                  Alan puffed out a laugh. “That is a question that we have no way of truly answering, unfortunately. But,” Alan then reached over for the stool on the stage, getting ready to leave. “All I can say is that he is probably one of the greatest men to ever live. And people like him are a rarity.”

                  “Why do you say that?” I knew it to be true, but I wanted to hear his opinion.

                  “Because he wasn’t a man who fought for what was a popular cause.” Alan shot me a soft smile, “he fought for what was right.”

***

The Last Half-Day

Entry #18.1 / 4th July 2022

I woke up earlier than the previous day for two reasons. First, to ensure everything was packed and secure. Second, to make the most of my last-half day in Washington DC. As I got ready, I seriously debated whether to put on makeup, especially since I felt so much prettier on Saturday morning without it. Even when I decided to wear makeup, I wondered if I needed the full routine. Did I really need concealer, foundation and powder? Could I get by with just the concealer and powder – or even just powder, some eyebrow stuff, a little eyeshadow and mascara?

            In the end, those were experiments for another day, and I ended up putting on the whole shazam.

            Another debate that followed was about my rucksack. I considered leaving it at the hostel to pick up later so I wouldn’t be carrying it around like a crazy person. However, when I looked at my plans for the day – visiting Ford’s Theatre and going back to the Capitol to see if I could get any closer – I knew there wouldn’t be time to return to the hostel, especially since it was nowhere near the bus station.

            So, with a heavy sigh, once I was ready to go, I picked up my rucksack and left the shared room.

***

Rock Creek Park

Entry #17.3 / 3rd July 2022

The conversation continued for a while longer, delving into other things I’d been up to and how he was doing. Just before we wrapped, he practically demanded I send him photos so he could feel even more jealous.

            Shortly after I ended the call, I received a text from Janette saying she and Ryan were at Rock Creek Park and asked if I wanted to join them. I replied that I would be there soon.

            Since it was quite a distance from the Capital to Rock Creek Park, I decided to get an Uber there.

            Then, almost twenty minutes later, I arrived at a car park of the park and text Janette to send me her location.

            A few minutes later I groaned out in pure frustration.

            It turned out they were on another side of the park, and it would take nearly thirty minutes to walk through the park to get there.

            It’s fine. I thought as I tugged out my camera from my backpack. Just another jolly walk through nature again.

            Normally, it wouldn’t be too bad – I love walking through woods and parks. Sparking the photographer skills in me. But the major difference was that I was on my own. And I’ve watched way too much true crime content to know what happens to girls in the woods on their own.

            I’m literally my own worst enemy.

            Straightening my shoulders, I marched into the woods, and after a while, it was easy to forget that I was on my own. Nature had that effect on me.

            I took photos, captured footage and simply immersed myself in the natural beauty surrounding me. Though at times I felt a bit unnerved, as if someone were watching me, encountering other hikers put me at ease.

            I made sure to smile and say hi to them. Because you never know.

            Following Google Maps proved to be difficult at some points too. Sometimes it would say I was going off the pathway (which I wasn’t) and other times it would say I was swimming in the flowing river (which I most definitely wasn’t). But it did give me the gist of where to go and which directions to take, so I couldn’t condemn it completely.

            (Google Maps get your shit together.)

            Eventually, I found Janette and Ryan at a picnic table, enjoying the sunshine washing down on them.

            “Good day?” I asked after hellos were exchanged.

            “Kinda,” Ryan replied, “the zoo was a bit of a let down though. All the animals… they looked so depressed there.”

            “Ugh, that sucks.” I said as I sat down with them. “Have you guys eaten yet?”

            Janette shook her head. “Nah, not yet. We were waiting for you to see if you wanted to go out for something to eat.”

            Feeling how empty my stomach had become with the day’s events, I nodded. “I’m starving!”

            We hung about in the area for another ten minutes or so before getting a refill of water nearby and heading to the bus stops back into the city centre.

***

Once we returned to the city centre, we wandered around before settling on Taco Bell for food. I thought – hoped – it would be the same experience as Popeyes. That the uncertainty would turn into a good experience.

            But I was wrong.

            I couldn’t find anything I would particularly like, and when I did order something, I ended up hating it.

            The joys of being a sensitive taste buds.

            Fortunately though, after the Taco Bell disaster, we stopped by a Krispy Kremes that had a special deal going on.

            “Since you guys are wearing the colours of red, white or blue, you get one of the flag doughnuts for free.” The till operator informed us with a wide, friendly smile on his face.

            I frowned. “But why – oh, Independence Day tomorrow.”

            Janette snorted, “as you can tell, we’re not Americans.”

            “But we’ll be enjoying betraying our country by celebrating Independence Day tomorrow with you guys.” I commented, “because, you know, good for you guys.”

***

Eventually, the three of us went our separate ways. Janette and Ryan were considering going out for dinner with me tonight, but later I received a text from them saying they were having a night in. Considering the amount of walking I did today, I was grateful for the chance to rest.

            As I was lounging about, exploring the hostel and contemplating how to spend a relaxed evening, I noticed the entrance to the outdoor area of the hostel, where the swimming pool was located.

            Feeling it would be a good time for a good ole fashioned swim, I grabbed my swimwear and headed for the pool area.

***

A Daughterly Call

Entry #17.2 / 3rd July 2022

It took me an embarrassing ten minutes to realise that I was, in fact, exploring the Rose Garden at the US Botanic Gardens. I wasn’t sure if this was the same Rose Garden I had heard about in numerous press conferences during my previous fascination with American politics (probably not), but it certainly piqued my interest.

            At one point, there was this huge, artistic, branch design in the mist of the garden called “O Say Can You See” that I had fun walking through.

            It was so nice to be surrounded by nature and all the beauty it can bring to a day. So, it was only natural that I would go onto explore the Botanic Garden as well.

            Luckily it was free admission and after being given a map of the building, I was allowed to go in.

            Did I learn anything? I made an effort, but I’m not particularly a big science nor plant person in general. Some of the signs I tried to read were too technical for me to grasp. If my Dad were here, he’d likely encourage me to learn and insist that I read every sign we encountered.

            That being said, it didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate the beauty and the amazing designs of these natural natures though.

            So, I wandered around, simply taking in the various smells, sights, and textures of everything around me. At one point, I even explored the upstairs area, though I didn’t linger long as the heat was unbearable.

            I spent a full hour here, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The atmosphere was relaxing and refreshing, which truly brightened up my day.

            Continuing to follow where the day took me, still on the path towards the Capitol, I passed through the Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens area just across the street. It was intriguing to explore, and I managed to get a good photo with the fountain with the help of a stranger. In return, we engaged in small chat that evolved into a conversation about a bit of history between the British and Americans (after he realised I was British). It felt really good – having a random chat in the midst of my day and sharing a laugh while doing it.

            Eventually I made my way to the Capitol, and I was a bit disappointed to see the area closed.

            It must be because it’s a Sunday? I thought and when I looked up times of its opening, Google said it would be open the next day, so I guessed Sunday’s are cursed.

            But I didn’t let this deter me, and I managed to snap a few good selfies. Some strangers on the street even helped me get a few photos too. It was really nice – to witness where the most important decisions of the country were made.

            As I wandered around the outside of the Capitol grounds, I came across the Neptune Fountain just across from it. Just above, the steps leading to it, was the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, that was closed as well, and I didn’t think they would allow tourists in anyway.

            As I took a break, sitting down on one of the picnic tables just outside the library, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride wash over me. I had seen and accomplished so much, and it was only midday!

            Sitting there, though, I couldn’t help but feel a bit lonely in that moment. I was glad to have seen it all on my own, but I didn’t have anyone to tell. I could text my sister and friends, but verbally…

            That’s when I realised that I did have someone.

            I grinned as I reached for my phone and looked for the contact I was intending to speak to.

            The phone rang, rang, and rang and I was worried for a moment that maybe he had left his phone at work, or left his phone at home whilst he’s at work.

            But those worries were soon dashed when the call picked up.

            “Hello?”

            “Hello father!” I examined with the usual phrase I held whenever we had phone calls.

            He had a light chuckle as answered with his usual phrase. “Good day daughter!” I smirked in response. “How you doing?”

            It was then I realised, somewhat selfishly, that this was probably the first bit of contact I’d had with him since coming to America. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, though. I had a lot to adjust to, and since my Dad was one of those old-generation technology people, he didn’t have Facebook or WhatsApp that I could easily contact him on. I did send him a text saying I was safe at the camp, and he did send an email asking how I was doing and if I could send any photos of my adventures.

            But I hadn’t replied to that email. Not because I couldn’t be bothered or anything, but because I had been so overwhelmed. Since the last week had been emotionally challenging, I didn’t want to accidently say anything that would worry him.

            It’s different now. Right now I was doing something that was making up for the bad parts of the week and I really wanted to share it with him.

            “I’m doing good! You?”

            “Yeah, can’t complain.”

            My lips widened upwards as I looked out towards the Capitol. “Guess where I am right now.”

            “Oh, um.” Dad paused to think. “New York?”

            “Nope!”

            “New Orleans?”

            “Nope!”

            “Uh…” I could practically see him scratching his head. “I dunno. Where?”

            I pushed my lips together in effort to contain my excitement. “Washington DC!”

            “Yeah?” Dad asked, his own excitement and curiosity coming through more strongly.

            “Yep!” I confirmed, “to be exact, I’m sitting directly cross the Capitol.”

            “Yeah?” Dad repeated, now becoming more impressed than anything. “Very good. Who’d you go there with?”

            “Ugh…” I struggled momentarily. “Well, technically I came here with two people from the camp, but I originally was going to come on my own. And I’m on my own now as Janette and Ryan wanted to do their own thing.”

            “Yeah?” Now he was shocked, which I didn’t know whether to take as an insult or not. “What have you done then?”

            I proceeded to tell him about the day before, about the hostel I’m staying at, seeing the White House, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. While I told him about the storm that took place and how beautiful it was, I purposely left out about the Australia part. Not only did I want him to freak out and start fearmongering me (he’s done that in the past), but I knew if I told him that I was advised by friends at the camp to go, he wouldn’t believe it was my own independent decision.

            A common theme that ran through the family and then, eventually, my Dad, is that I don’t know my own mind. That any opinions, thoughts, and decisions had to be influenced by other people.

            As I got older and matured, not only did it become really degrading, but I saw it as a way for them to avoid acknowledging the reasons behind my opinions and decisions.

            The family was known for constantly burying their heads in the sand.

            ‘Probably why they liked going to Spain so much,’ the responsible voice quipped.

            My Dad, however, I don’t think it came from a place of avoidance. I believe it stemmed more from parental concern and his lack of complete understanding of me.

            He was initially the weekend Dad. Even then, those visits were infrequent as I harboured a fear of staying over at his place after hearing about a string of burglaries in Joy’s neighbourhood (my brain works in strange ways). So, he was the Saturday Dad for a while.

            But then life took a turn – bad things happened – and at the age of fourteen, I moved in with my Dad. By then, I was a teenage girl grappling with a lot, so he didn’t have the chance to really get to know me on a day-to-day basis amidst all the chaos.

            It took years for our relationship to begin to form, and that was amid my last year of undergraduate studies. It was when I started to prioritize my mental health and focus on my well-being and academics at university. I believe that’s when he began to see me more as an adult.

            I won’t deny that I haven’t been influenced by making this sudden, whiplash decision, because I have. Conversations with Ryan about Australia set the wheels in motion. Then, the experience of traveling and witnessing various things added to it. And hearing that tarot card reading again…

            But then there have been other things that have influenced that decision. My entire life influenced that decision.

            That was something I couldn’t articulate to my Dad over a phone call. I don’t believe I could ever explain it to him because… I couldn’t entirely explain it to myself. The instant the thought, the decision, surfaced in my mind, I knew it was right. My soul, my entire being, resonated with a resounding yes, this is it!

            And how could I explain that to my Dad who would often say about himself: “I’m as deep as a puddle.”

            So, as the conversation turned into what I was doing today, I went onto the next day plans. “Guess what I’m doing tomorrow!”

            “No, I can’t, just tell me.” Dad laughed, probably understanding there will be more forced guessing games in the future.

            I showed mercy. “I’m going to Ford’s Theatre!”

            “What’s that?”

            “Well, from my understanding, a theatre is where people host performances and get paid for it.”

            I could hear him roll his eyes. “But it doesn’t sound like you’re going to see a performance.”

            I shook my head. “No. It’s actually the place where President Lincoln was shot.”

            “Yeah?” Dad replied, with a huff shortly after. “I didn’t realise he was shot in Washington DC.”

            “Same here!”

***

The Lincoln Waffle Shop

Entry #17.1 / 3rd July 2022

Describing my slumber on the mountain-like feather-light pillows as merely peaceful would be an understatement. Whatever material the beds at The Generator are made of, I want to know their contact as soon as possible. That was hands down the best sleep I’ve had in months.

            Enjoying a bit of a lie-in, I gradually emerged from my sleepy state around ten to nine (which, given the early starts I have on camp days, felt like a luxury). Getting out of bed was a bit of a struggle initially, but duty called.

            After freshening up and preparing for the day, I couldn’t decide what I was more excited about: the sightseeing ahead or the prospect of returning to bed later tonight.

            When I said goodbye to Janette and Ryan the previous night, they mentioned they were planning a relaxing day at the hotel, and we agreed to meet up later. I was eager to explore the Capitol and let the day unfold.

            I’m not sure if it was the excitement of being in Washington DC or my determination from the night before, but I found myself embracing the solo-traveller spirit. After getting ready in comfortable clothes and light makeup, I left the hostel after ten and set off into the city.

            Before heading out, I searched for nearby breakfast spots and decided on Lincoln’s Waffle Shop, conveniently located in the same direction as the Capitol.

            Following the directions from Google Maps, I strolled through the streets and stumbled upon a food market along the way. Knowing that I’m probably going to have a very unhealthy weekend, I decided to buy an apple to eat on the way to the waffle shop and OH MY GOD!

            Hands down best apple I’ve had all year.

            ‘Bet that’s something you thought you would say.’ The responsible voice chimed in for the first time since…

            Huh. I thought, realising it was the first time either of two voices spoke up since I arrived in Washington DC.

            It wasn’t unusual for me to go without hearing the two opinionated voices chiming in. To be honest, as I got older, matured, and recovered, their appearances and opinions became rare. They would express themselves sporadically when a situation – whether emotional or humorous – arose, or during a creative project, and sometimes engage in minor arguments over trivial matters. However, because I’ve been so immerse in this new experience of coming to America, I hadn’t fully grasped that their constant opinions had become less frequent.

            And now they hadn’t piped up much was the new weird thing.

            If there was a hidden meaning to it, I couldn’t dwell on it too much at the moment, as my growling stomach, after finishing my apple, reminded me that I needed much more fuel to get through the day.

***

The Lincoln Waffle Shop was bustling with activity, evident from the line outside. Fortunately, the wait wasn’t too long, especially for me. Being a solo diner, I managed to secure a seat at the counter relatively quickly.

            Feeling the adventurous side of me come out, I decided to order waffles which, surprise surprise, I had never tried before. I’ve had pancakes, but waffles and French toast? I never tired either before coming to America. And I guess, looking back, there was really no opportunity to try either. I didn’t even have pancakes that much, just here and there.

            Turns out, waffles aren’t half bad. They may not rival my love for pancakes and French toast, and certainly don’t compete with a bacon and egg sandwich, but I wouldn’t turn one down if it were offered to me again.

            However, when I briefly lined up for the waffle shop, I noticed another queue across the street labelled “Ford’s Theatre.” I had no clue what that was, but I was intrigued. So, as I waited for my waffles, I looked up Ford’s Theatre.

            I think my jaw may have dropped when I realised that Ford’s Theatre was the location where President Lincoln was shot, and the Peterson House, directly opposite the theatre, was where he died.

            First of all, I had no freaking idea that the theatre he was at when he was shot was actually in Washington DC. I don’t know why, but I didn’t even really consider it was in Washington DC. Secondly, I literally had no idea that the theatre was basically a museum, along with the Peterson House.

            Thirdly, this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

            So, looking at the museum times for the next day, keeping in mind what time I would need to catch the bus back to NYC, I booked a slot for around nine thirty in the morning. It was around three dollars as well, so nothing overly expensive.

            Satisfied with my breakfast and for tomorrow’s plans, I paid for my food and set off for the rest of the day.

***

I didn’t have much of a direct plan for the day. I knew I wanted to see the Capitol, but anything else? I wasn’t sure, and to be honest, I didn’t want to overly plan my day either. Ryan advised me to see where the day took me, which was both a good and scary idea.

            I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going on. I like the known.

            I hate the unknown.

            But isn’t this the point of the Camp America experience? The point of travelling? To expect the unexpected. To walk into the unknown.

            So, I followed Google Maps towards the Capitol and would see where the day would take me from there.

            There wasn’t a lot to see, and at the same time, a lot to see along the way.

            I walked by the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building, where a dozen American flags waved in the breeze. Then, I passed the Archives of the United States of America, followed by the National Gallery of Art, which boasted a massive fountain out front that could rival the opening shots of FRIENDS. Next, I noticed the Canadian Embassy building. Finally, I was trekking past Union Square Park.

            As I walked, there were things to see along the way, but simultaneously, you can appreciate that they’re commonplace. What I mean by this, in my own unique way, is that they’re just there. For people who live here, they’re simply a part of their home that they probably see consistently throughout the year. But for travellers, they represent a whole lot of something.

            As I continued to follow Google Maps weird directions (why the hell was I trusting this thing?), I came across a garden centre. It began as a maze with many people going into it and I was curious.

            I looked at the time first before I realised – wait, I have no plans. Nothing in solid timing anyway. I can get to the Capitol whatever time I want.

            I grinned and, once I adjusted my backpack straps, I headed into the maze of the garden centre.

***

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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.