Transitions: India, Argentina, Home, Malaise, and the Last 18 Months

By Jackson Howard

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To everyone who has asked about the last year and was disappointed with my answers like I was disappointed with my answers:

What I really wanted to discuss was Transitions. And Loneliness. And Trusting Yourself and recognizing the cow in front of your house every day by the brown splotch on its nose and learning how to pronounce the double ll’s the right way so the cab driver doesn’t get upset. I wanted to talk about Compassion and Patience and Confidence and instead I bit my bottom lip and pretended I never left.

There were three weeks in India when I was pretty much alone, bedridden with E. coli and subsisting on crackers and Gatorade; I used to imagine the pounds falling off of me like sandbags. I ended up losing 25. It was weird feeling my hipbone poke into my finger when I grazed over it. I listened to a few audiobooks but mostly cried a lot. I was too weak to read.

There was a day in Argentina when I couldn’t find the bus. The heat swallowed me and a vein pulsed in my head and I ran around screaming and asking directions like a lunatic. I gave up and hailed a cab. The driver looked like Danny DeVito and his favorite movie was The Blues Brothers. He had a red and white rosary dangling next to a picture of his daughter. He made me laugh a little.

The night before I went to India I DJ’d at a hotel and got so drunk I threw up on the way to the airport the next day. The night before I went to Argentina three months later I gave a presentation to my family of the photos I took in India that I had made myself forget about as soon as I returned home. I couldn’t look at them. People don’t really want to see your pictures, anyways.

I came back to college after 16 months and cried some more and bought some candles and pulled it together, enough.

Things feel Small now.

I’m writing this and whatever else I write because I don’t know what is going on in my life. I’m in a Malaise. There’ve been too many Transitions in the last year for me to count, I feel them stacked on top of one another in my rib cage like slabs of meat, festering, seeping. There’s been too much Change. But I’m also worried there hasn’t been enough Change, that I haven’t changed like you’re supposed to have changed after being on your own for so long, in so many New Places, with all those letters you meant to write.

I wanted to tell you Stories.

Like about the River. The Ganga. Where the boys play cricket with sticks and the old men bathe and where the shattered Clay Cups lie disintegrating like clouds before a storm or apple cores or old shirts in those mothy closets when we used to live in Colorado.

And the Sun would set in the gold and the red and the smog. And the cars would honk and the smells would rise and the little boys and girls would float Paper Kites through the skies that dotted the horizon like flies.

In the soot and dust of the burning ghat I saw bodies cremated and dissolved as goats trickled by and sweat dripped off of men’s faces into the Black. Some days I would wander into the galis that wove and crawled into one another between the River and the main road. There was a day I ended up alone in an alley, a lopsided building towering over me, watching the laundry swaying with its Purple and sparkle as the river wind washed through and seeped into the gaps in the little road.

My home was the Tall Building. Where at dusk from the balcony I saw the Kites and at night from my window heard the neighbors fighting over the water pump. We lived in a Corner and everyone in the Corner was jammed together and through the windows in the Tall Building I would hear laughter and screams and schoolboy delight and the sound of cows walking by, so loud I was positive it was outside my door, I would jump out of bed and start running up the stairs to only find Darkness and no one home. I even jumped out of the shower naked, letting the 30 seconds of hot water go by, because I could have sworn someone had screamed my name. The Corner’s noises descended into the house and swirled and rose and spread like steam and it was like I was living with one hundred people at once, hearing all of their joy, feeling the weight of their collective routine, smelling the sadness and confusion when the Rain started again.

It’s too Quiet now.

Right outside of my door, there was an Old Man. He sat on a table the entire day, not moving, not speaking, placed down and positioned like a potted plant or an old candlestick. We would nod at each other. His head was shiny and his beard was long and white and I wish I had asked him about the things he had seen sitting there all those years. Or maybe he didn’t always used to sit there. Maybe he used to do things.

And then months later farther down south I walked on the edge of the earth next to a Purple lake and a towering mountain and mossy woods. There was a dead fish sitting in the kitchen of our hostel in Patagonia for all four days we were there.

My room in Buenos Aires was bright Green, the heart chakra, the color of limes. I liked the room because it was always glowing. Sometimes at Night the roof would chip and fall onto my desk like snowflakes. The Nights were my favorite. I would walk out of the apartment building and inhale the air, deep; the smog, the buses, the smell of the asado always just a block out of reach, the clicking of heels on young girls who looked away from me, their long hair swaying with their hips.

During the days I sat in the parks where the flowers fell and the children played and couples sipped mate like I couldn’t because it always burnt my tongue and got drunk a lot and felt people’s Breath in the morning crammed against my check on the bus. Sometimes I dreamt of high school and Purple Daisies.

One day I was walking to the park and a homeless woman spat on me. The busdriver who watched it happen laughed heartily, not necessarily at me, I knew, but just out of the situation itself. I know what it looked like, a pretentious city kid with his nice shirt and nice arm covered in homeless spit, which is dirtier than other spit, right? I did nothing. I wiped the spit off my arm and my shirt. I stopped on the sidewalk. The homeless woman waddled past, screaming and flinging her arms, sending dolled up society women sprinting to the other side of the street and leaving me watching, considering, not sure what to do next.

I wrote in an email to a friend: I’m happy I was the one spit on. I don’t know what someone else would’ve done, someone maybe with less patience, or with tighter boundaries for what is considered disgusting or not, what is considered right or not. I work with what I’m given. Getting spit on comes with everything being fine most of the time. I can accept that.

And then I wrote: I ate some cold pizza today and it reminded me of hebrew school. The herbs annica sent me in the mail reminded me of ojai. The feeling in my stomach right now as I write this reminds me of when grandma told me that the school she went to in boston for two years when she didnt speak english, the school for french candian girls to get an associates degree in management or administration or something depressingly vocational, got closed down. She looked sad and laughed it off and I watched her face change and I had the same feeling in me that I do now, I don’t know if it’s self-pity or a feeling of helplessness for how fast the world moves, how bad people can be, how artificial intelligence is going to fuck us all, how people have sex with other people in ways they don’t want to, how I don’t really understand how cars work. I don’t know.

I was so alone. I am still so alone, we all are, but I had never felt aloneness like this before. It was chilling and humbling. I watched the pit in my stomach do backflips when I couldn’t fall asleep. These Places made the experience what they were but really, as it always is, with all of us, it was about me, and what I felt, and saw, and loved, and cried over. I confronted myself – my prejudice, my self-hatred, my fear of failing – in ways I had never done before. I was alone, but this time I tried to embrace it and cultivate it and I failed a lot and gave up too many times but I can say with confidence that I squeezed everything out of myself that I could have. It hurt.

I became comfortable in the discomfort and it was nice for a time. What got me through the lowest moments of traveling was what I learned in Bodhgaya at a Buddhist retreat, my body crumbling, the trip almost done, I forced myself to listen when the Nun, the Most Venerable Nun, actually, told me that everything was impermanent. Nothing Lasts.

Yet since I’ve returned I find myself still trying to make things last. And the more I try the more things and places and people seem to slip through my fingers. I wasn’t looking and suddenly my childhood Home with all those Secrets on the palm tree-lined street, and my dog with his Wisdom and his big ears, and my car with the sand between the seats, and my mom’s boyfriend who sipped tequila at night and shared clothes with me were all gone and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Chapters are closing.

Sometimes it feels like Clouds are coming.

I’ve been floating.

I’ve never been less grounded. My mind still sees train stations in Kolkata and arid hills in Jujuy and the pit in my stomach sucks in more and more every time I drink or listen to That One Playlist or when I was shaving in September and felt the warm wind float through the bathroom window, for some reason. I’m teetering on the edge of committing to life right now and this interim in between when my mind decides to or not is crushing.

My walls and computer are filled with other people’s words. Krishnamurti and Badu and Emerson and Hemingway and Rilke and scattered op-eds and my father. Words on how to be happy and how to Love yourself and how to let go and how to Accept. None of them are mine and none of them feel Real anymore. I’ve either internalized them all or rejected them all and I’m starting to think that maybe those are the exact same things.

This piece is going to end as scattered as it began because I don’t have answers and there is too much to say. I don’t have a lesson to share or a thesis to present or any souvenirs to show you, really. I’m still figuring out what happened in the 16 months in between the end of my sophomore year and the beginning of my senior year. I’m still figuring out what is happening now.

But I know that Transitions are crucial and rewarding and that getting too comfortable anywhere is dangerous; that being alone is beautiful and sacred and that actually there is never too much Change, just a refusal to accept it. I know that Erykah Badu’s live album saved my soul when I had E. Coli and that listening to Young Thug every morning on the bus to school in Buenos Aires was for whatever reason extremely inspiring.

It’s not really clear where home is right now, but I think that’s the point. It’s anywhere and everywhere I want it to be because that’s what growing up means.