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A Backpacker's Guide to Exorcism

The reflection in the window tells me that the pack strapped to my back is small--  far too small, in fact, for someone who is on her way to a different country for two weeks. It's hard to believe my eyes, because I feel like I'm carrying a mountain.

Most people could carry three of my pack without trouble, but I'm adding it to an already-massive load. With all the ghosts riding on my shoulders, there's hardly room for a backpack. There are the ghosts of Worry About the Future and Self-Doubt, the ghost of Personal Failure, the ghost of Life's Unfairness,  the ghost of Fatigue, and more. They take turns riding piggyback, wrapping their gaunt arms around my neck and digging their fingers into my collarbones. They like to whisper nasty things into my ears. Some of them wear spurs. There's an ache between my shoulder blades that never goes away, and my reflection in the glass shows a slouch that's too pronounced to be explained by the small bundle of things I'm carrying.

In a moment of hot panic, Worry and Self-Doubt begin to quarrel. "I won't have enough things!" collides with "I can't carry this for two weeks!" But it's too late to do anything. The bus leaves in three minutes, and Worry is flogging me and shouting that if I don't make this bus, the next one won't get me to the airport on time.

By the time I check into the first guesthouse late that night, I feel as though I've been beaten. Fatigue hangs on my neck like a ballast stone, muttering quiet obscenities at me. My feet and joints ache from the extra weight. The skin on my shoulders is chafed where the straps of my backpack rubbed all day, and the muscles underneath feel bruised. The constant ember of pain in my back has flared into a bonfire. It's hard to even sleep.

In the morning, Fatigue and Self-Doubt clutch at the straps and try to stop me from putting my pack on again, but finally I wrestle them down and the weight settles unkindly onto yesterday's bruises. I haven't even left my room yet and I want to cry. The pace of the entire day is dictated by my need for periodic rests, and the sightseeing agenda is chosen according to which locations will have a locker or a place to leave bags. I feel heavy and slow and old and Personal Failure keeps whispering that I'm getting in everyone else's way. This night, even the inferno in my back can't interfere with my bone-weariness, and I sleep the sleep of the dead.

On the third day, the weight of my backpack is familiar. Deep sleep has erased some of the bruising and tamed the blaze in my back to the size of a small campfire. My body has started to adjust its balance for the weight of the pack. I can move without knocking into things, at least. The ghosts are tired from sharing their space with my bag, and their grip is lazy. The day is filled with historic temples and street food, and the cherry blossoms floating down everywhere are so mesmerizing that I forget to listen to Worry's whisperings. At night I dream of fantastic foreign landscapes sweeping past my train window.

"I am a turtle," I think on the fourth morning. "This backpack is my home. All the things I really need are inside it, and I can carry it wherever I want to go." On this day I can stand up straight, because I have discovered how to be a little more self-sufficient and that makes me proud of myself.  Self-Doubt loses his clammy grip as I bump down the stairs, and I leave him sitting alone on the bottom step.

By day five, I can't hear any whispers, and I strap on my backpack without any cadaverous arms or bony fingers getting in the way. When I'm carrying home on my back, there's no room for ghosts.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2014 05:33 am (UTC)
This reminds me of Wild, in a good way. Great work! :)
Apr. 8th, 2014 07:05 pm (UTC)
I'm actually not very familiar with Wild, so any similarity is coincidental. Thank you for reading!
Apr. 8th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC)
It's one of my favorite books, about hiking the PCT. It's pretty awesome, if you ever want to read about something similar to what you evidently lived through. :D
Apr. 8th, 2014 06:05 am (UTC)
I loved your closing line!
Apr. 8th, 2014 07:05 pm (UTC)
The closing line is actually the first thing I had. It's the reason I wrote the piece. Thanks!
Apr. 8th, 2014 09:26 am (UTC)
"I am a turtle," I think on the fourth morning.

This was a beautiful, liberating turning point.
Apr. 8th, 2014 09:26 am (UTC)
Also, excellent title.
Apr. 8th, 2014 07:07 pm (UTC)
I think this was the moment when I fell in love with my backpack.
Apr. 8th, 2014 11:04 am (UTC)
You had me at the title. XD
Apr. 8th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
I think the title might be partially due to having just finished an anime series with a lot of exorcism...
Also, I didn't realize until after I posted it that it's essentially a rewording of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Apr. 9th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
I like Worry's voice, all dry and scrabbly so that, when his concerns fall on ignoring ears, the humor behind his ranting becomes more audible. Nice personification.
Apr. 9th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
That dry, scrabbly voice is less humorous when it whispers in the dead of night.

Apr. 9th, 2014 01:01 pm (UTC)
As someone who spends way too much time worrying - I loved this.
Apr. 9th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
I do highly recommend heavy loads for silencing worries. Thanks for reading!
Apr. 9th, 2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
I liked your title. I also liked how you were able to exorcise all those ghosts. :)
Apr. 9th, 2014 11:31 pm (UTC)
They don't always stay exorcised, but packing the bag and going somewhere is still a great way to make them shut up for a while. Thanks!
Apr. 10th, 2014 03:28 am (UTC)
I loved how you thought of yourself as a turtle - carrying your home on your back wherever you go.
Apr. 10th, 2014 03:57 am (UTC)
It's really kind of a comforting feeling, to be able to be at least a little bit at home anywhere. Thanks for reading!
Apr. 10th, 2014 08:30 am (UTC)
*hugs* This is lovely. :)
Apr. 10th, 2014 04:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Apr. 10th, 2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
You're welcome.
Apr. 10th, 2014 08:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, I really liked this-- the self-nagging (rooted in truth), and the way confidence pushes it farther and farther back until you are read to rise above. Lovely style, throughout.
Apr. 11th, 2014 01:34 am (UTC)
Thank you! I've always been a worrier and a re-hasher of past events that are beyond my control, so it was very liberating to find something that let me turn those voices off for a while.
Apr. 10th, 2014 11:55 pm (UTC)
I love the way this ends.
Apr. 11th, 2014 01:34 am (UTC)
Me too! An ending without nasty ghosts riding my back is much preferable. Thank you!
Apr. 11th, 2014 01:49 am (UTC)
I really liked the way you personified the different emotions and fears. The evolution you experienced is so well told, too!
Apr. 11th, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I think this is an evolution that will never be finished, but it's definitely had a great impact on how I live.
Apr. 30th, 2014 08:37 pm (UTC)
left the window open forEVER but glad I did.
this is wonderful.
...and makes me want to travel alone again.

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )