I had been living in Australia for the better part of a year, which seemed — on the front end of the trip — to be more time than I would want, but after enduring the 20-hour plane ride, it turned out to be the minimum amount of time I would need before I could face it again in reverse.
I had chosen Australia as my place of study on a lark. Seated in my academic adviser’s office, surrounded by glossy magazines with crisp images of the Great Wall, Stonehenge and the Colosseum splashed across the covers, I murmured, “What do you think about Australia?” He leaned back in his chair, his fingers tapping at his face, as he mentally escaped to a memory Australia had once handed him. A smile played upon his lips before he said, “Well, if you can’t have fun in Australia, you’re not capable.”
That was the word that I needed to hear. Fun. I had spent the last three years in a ruthless pre-med program, struggling to keep pace with foreign exchange students who possessed more intellect in their earlobe than I did in my frontal lobe. Things crystallized inside of that shabby office, and the loftier concepts of history, art and foreign language felt suddenly shortsighted as compared to the more elemental idea of fun.
Moving somewhere for the pursuit of fun proved complicated for someone who had fallen out of practice with it. What does one pack for a year of fun? How much money do I need to have for fun? What level of SPF is fun? Is living without antiperspirant fun?
It hadn’t taken long for the Aussies and other study abroad students I had made acquaintances with to realize that I was a struggling student of fun. My existence within my new university became startlingly similar to the one I had been living in the United States. I could be counted on to attend class and provide notes to those who had slept through it. I would stay sober and drive the revelers home at the end of the night. Let’s just say that everyone knew whose door to knock on when they needed an extra international phone card or some aspirin. They knocked on a different door when the situation demanded condoms or cigarettes.
When the university announced that there would be a week-long break in classes to allow the students time to prepare for finals, I breathed a sigh of relief, glad to know I’d have ample time to collaborate with my study groups. That was until I learned that all of my study groups were going to be collaborating with the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone was heading north to take in the sights and sounds of the famed Gold Coast. Room after room in my apartment complex was evacuating as though the place had caught fire. Hastily packed duffle bags were thrown into the hallways as students frantically called out to no one, “Have you seen my passport?”
I, of course, knew just where my passport was stored. I hadn’t used it since arriving in the country. I pulled open the center drawer of my desk and saw my passport lying across my biology syllabus and my return ticket to the United States. I fingered the small booklet distractedly, mentally tabulating how few weeks remained before I would be exiled home. I flipped open the passport, staring at the imprints collected from trips already taken, the memories of each already yellowed and folding up at the corners in the drawers of my mind. A voice from the hallway pierced my silent musings.
“So I guess we’ll see you in a week then?”
I turned to see a friend paused at my door, bag in tow. I looked down at my passport once more before meeting her gaze.
“Actually,” I stammered. “I’ll see you in Cannes. I’m going to hit Darwin first.”
The landing gear slammed against the pavement and the plane shuddered down the runway just as I had finished thumbing through a guidebook of Darwin. I hadn’t learned anything of import other than that absolutely everything in the Australian city of Darwin will murder you. Be it lightning or spiders or snakes, each one a ubiquitous and lethal foe. While the plane taxied toward its jetway, I glanced at the accommodations section of the book once more and scrawled the address of the first hostel listed across the back of my hand. I was fast depleting my bank account, already taxed before I had spontaneously decided to travel to the land where everything kills. A cheap room bursting with bunkbeds of Danes and Swedes was the only way to keep my ship sailing.
The taxi deposited me at the mouth of a bustling swath of roadway. I trudged along the sidewalk, passing restaurants and nightclubs I couldn’t indulge in, toward the screaming red building that I knew — by smell alone — had to be my hostel. I entered the lobby through a doorway strung with wooden beads. The beat of an American dance song — probably one that had failed to become popular in the U.S. — assaulted my eardrums as I peered over the check-in desk at the top of a head that had not yet swung up to notice me. I cleared my throat. She didn’t budge. I reached over the counter and touched her shoulder. She flew back in her chair, startled, and stared at me as though I was the first tourist to ever check in there.
Before I could inquire about vacancies, she scurried around the side of the desk and scooped up my bag in her wispy arms before turning heel. I worried momentarily that someone might steal my valuables, which were pitiably limited to a bottle of American antiperspirant and a tube top. She dashed back into the room, arms emptied of my bag, and began scooting me toward the door.
“You’re going to be late for the bonfire on the beach!” she screeched.
“That’s okay. I’m not really a bonfire kind of…”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she interrupted. “There’s free dinner.”
Next week: Part 2. Darwinian evolution takes hold
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.