Having put my head down for a year to get the best out of the second chance that I had fashioned, we went on the trip of a lifetime to celebrate. The route through South-East Asia was well-documented and trampled by Western tourists such as ourselves, but it didn’t seem to have lost its wondrous magic through the inevitable commercialisation that such faraway lands are swept up by.
Of all the places that we ventured into, Hanoi had stolen our hearts. The fascinating history, exquisite cuisine, and warm people was a mix that we had never before encountered. We spent between 10 and 12 hours every day we were there exploring every nook and cranny of the Old and French Quarters, popping into every restaurant to sample a new array of unique flavours. Such was our dedication to see as much as we possibly could that we spent our evenings unwinding rather than drinking at locals bars, haunted by the thought of missing a day of seeing this glorious city through a hangover.
Vietnam was our favourite destination, but I was hoping to make our short time in Bali the most memorable. After a few months of planning and a in-depth conversation with myself, I was ready to propose to my best friend. Being ‘ready’ is a slightly misleading state to be in; in reaching touching distance of any of our biggest milestones, none of us are every really ‘ready’, but we are as ready as we will ever be. That brought me a huge sense of comfort, that the anxiety and nervousness I was experiencing about reaching such a decision was not primarily due to my unreadiness, but rather an unfamiliarity as to whether I was ‘ready’ for this big step forward in my life.
The worrying thoughts that I was briefly entertaining were never about whether she was the right person; it was whether I could give her the life that she deserved. What has bound us together so tightly, having gone through so much together in the time we have known each, is also what I fear will be our unravelling. I have put her through so much, weighed her down with the heaviest burdens and leaned on her to cope with both of the pressures we have faced. Despite all of that, her support of me was unwavering and never in doubt. Seeing her throw herself with me into the hell that I had created without a second thought – how could I have not fallen in love with her?
The moment that she said ‘yes’ immediately filled me with relief. I guess there was always a possibility that I had got the complete wrong end of the stick and, once that had set it, I felt a rush of joy. The euphoria of sitting by the black sand beach with the slow crashing of the waves with the person who has enriched my life immeasurably has yet to subside and I doubt it ever will. We are both children born on islands, feeling our most serene by water. In this moment, we had everything now and for as long as could imagine.
To hear the diagnosis the next afternoon was sickening and distorting. It didn’t feel real, as if we were speaking through the phone into a parallel world. When we were boarding the plane back to the U.K. that evening, suddenly the last month of travelling around South-East Asia had dissipated from our memories, as if it was one immersive dream that was fading into nothingness. Having spent the last 24 hours floating on cloud nine to suddenly being ripped through the centre of the earth stills makes my sudden drop, which is a sensation I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake off.
It further confirmed the painful, yet crucial lesson that I had learnt four years prior; that we are all teetering on the thin line between order and chaos. There is simply the illusion of both states being distinct in our lives when, in fact, they sail together. Our lives are permanently altered at the stroke of a pen, a doctor’s diagnosis, or a miscalculation, all of which is desperately out of our control. This, in theory, should be a source of comfort, but it made us feel increasingly helpless as the seriousness of the situation continued to dawn on us.
When it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road
You start to feel your back on the ropes
You gotta take the highs with the lows
You gotta take the highs with the lows
You’re lost, and you’re runnin’ out of hope
And you lookin’ for the best way to cope
Just know we all been there before– The Highs & The Lows x Chance the Rapper