Did the past happen

or does my mind play tricks on me? You guys know the feeling, right? I can’t really be sure I ever did those things or went to those places or met those people or that those people ever even existed. It’s the memory of a movie or a book. It was someone else’s life, surely. Not mine.

I feel that way sometimes, at least. It’s a strange feeling that seems to intensify with age. Who was that man five years ago? He’s not me. Not anymore.

I made friends in New Zealand once — Spanish and Israeli and Dutch ones. Funny how people can enter and leave your life in the blink of an eye and leave a deeper impact than those who’ve been in your life for years. What impact did I have on their lives? Did I have one at all?

I made a different friend in Vietnam. Or, more aptly, I came to appreciate the presence of one who’d been with me all along — loneliness.

It’s funny how lonely you can feel in such a crowded place. It takes on a different quality when you’re swimming through a vastly different culture, though. I was supposed to be an outsider there, so when I felt lonely it was easier to embrace the feeling rather than feel awkward about it. Back home, loneliness means something else entirely. It means maybe I’ve failed socially; I haven’t made enough friends or acquaintances or I’ve neglected social media accounts. It means I’m an outsider in a place where I’m supposed to belong. How do I reconcile that? Maybe that’s one of the things I like best about traveling: I feel more in my own skin overseas than I do back home.

I wandered the length of the country and snapped a photo of lady-with-bicycle and wouldn’t believe she ever existed if I didn’t have this image of her. We’re so far removed from each other we might as well live in different galaxies and yet, for a second — a split second — our universes aligned and two strangers with almost infinite individual experiences, the experiences the planets and stars and stardust of memories, collided and Big Bang’d out this picture.

I wonder what she’s doing now?

I think I lived and worked in Afghanistan for two years in my twenties. But did I? It’s easier to doubt I was there. I was attracted by a large paycheck and everyone around me seemed to think we were doing good things so what was the harm? A win-win. I helped destroy the lives of countless nameless strangers in one of the poorest countries in the world. Maybe if there exists some tangible benefit on the world now — maybe then I could swallow what I did. But I can’t find it.

Still, when I’m feeling cowardly or nostalgic, I think about my twenties and wonder if the past or the future exists at all. The me I know can only exist in the present, can only exist with this exhale, this pulse, this swig of coffee.

If I think about that hard enough, sometimes I can almost forgive myself.

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