I have settled down. For four months I wandered—fearfully, but happily. And then somehow I ended up back where I started. With a house, a car, a full-time job, a local bank account, a library card, a handful of close friends (that’s an exaggeration). My clothes hanging loosely on wire hangers. A watercolor on my desk. A new white waffle-weave bedspread.
I don’t know how this happened. I don’t even think I consciously decided that I would live here for a year. I wasn’t intentional about it—it just happened. Everything simply fell into place.
How do I feel about this? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t cried in four months (since the Bookmark Incident of February 2016). Which means everything is going swimmingly or something is very, very wrong. I repeat: I have not had a good, solid, can’t-breathe-it-hurts-so-much cry in four entire months. Me! My standard is at least once a week, so we should all find this very alarming.
But I can’t seem to find anything wrong. And it’s not because everything’s perfect (it is), it’s not because I finally feel comfortable and stable after traveling for four months (I do), it’s not because I’m avoiding what’s next (real talk: I probably am). It’s because it just feels right.
My friend Lachlan asked me why I was staying in New Zealand—wasn’t the whole point to travel around and see the world? No no no, Lachlan! The whole point was to not have a point. To not have a plan, to go wherever I found myself going, to stay if I found myself staying. I’ve found myself staying. I can’t explain what makes me stay—I was not seeking stability, I was not tired of traveling. I simply felt my roots growing deep into this rich New Zealand earth, and before I knew it, I was stuck.
I am certainly not staying because I’ve fallen in love with Queenstown. In fact, Queenstown and I could not be more different. It is such an insular, transient, wonderfully awful place, but it is so alive. This town has a heart, you can feel it beating. At night, you can hear the electronic dance music luring lustful and intoxicated foreign teenagers into the clubs. During the day, you’ll find American families in matching ski jackets browsing the overpriced wool shops and arguing about where they should go for lunch. At any time of day, you can study the behaviors of Queenstown’s most common yet most fascinating species. They are typically bearded, likely displaying a few tattoos, definitely wearing a beanie, something plaid, a shirt that screams “RIDE,” and of course communicating in their dialect: “You shreddin the gnar today man?” “That 360 was so crunchy.” “You ride park?” “Supposed to be fresh pow this weekend!!” … Which explains why my favorite time of day in this town is before sunrise, running in the cold while all of Queenstown is asleep. No plaid, no gnar, no tourists, no teens. Just me and the quiet and the stars (and the occasional drunk British straggler who’s still trying to find his hostel even though he’s walked by it nine times).
It’s obvious to me (and probably everyone else) that I don’t belong here. Once I made the mistake of dropping my stack of library books all over the floor of one of the twenty local outdoors stores here. People looked at me as if I had just dropped a nuclear weapon. I may be the only young person within a 30-mile radius who knows what a book is. And there are no old people here! Not one person over the age of 70, my age range of choice. Trust me, I’ve looked for them. So you can see why Queenstown and I are not a perfect match. Meaningful interaction is hard to come by in these parts, but luckily I’ve found the select few who don’t quite belong here either:
Chris is originally from New Zealand but belongs literally anywhere else in the universe. “I hate Queenstown today,” he says every day. He is strikingly handsome but covers it with a massive red beard and a coffee cup that I believe is permanently glued to his face. He is an upholsterer, and he is perhaps the most cynical, sardonic person I have ever met. I don’t know why, but I have this feeling that a cynical upholsterer is a rare breed. I feel like upholsterers are meant to be bubbly and enthusiastic. Chris is the antithesis of bubbly—he is creative, moody, and dark, and this is what I love about him. We often have long and complex conversations, and when we enter that world, there is no coming back, there is nowhere else but where we are at that moment. Like when we were discussing the virtues of polyamory at an ice cream shop right next to a family with small children.
Maranda is my American flatmate (read: soulmate). At five feet tall, what she lacks in size, she makes up for in personality. She is witty; she is unforgettable. She doesn’t have an inside voice. She has more ideas per day than one person can think of in a lifetime. She is very talented at art, in the kitchen, and with people. She is so real (except for the time when we drove to Christchurch to get her tattoo and before we walked into the tattoo parlor she said, “Quick, we need to change clothes. Lose the Patagonia fleece, Anna!!!!!”) She tells it like it is—a refreshing quality. We communicate via text 17 hours a day. When I’m upstairs in my room and she is downstairs in her room, we will text each other what’s happening on Floor One and Floor Two (it’s important to stay current with local news). “Sounds interesting, Maranda. Meanwhile, on Floor Two…” Then I hear her iconic laugh gallop up the stairs to my room. Then I laugh. Then she laughs more. Then we continue texting. Our other flatmate Derek (also American, so our house is aptly named the Freedom Fortress) isn’t sure what to do with us. “What’s so funny?” is all I have ever heard him say. We often go to his music gigs (he’s in like 12 bands, I don’t even know) to be supportive, but we end up talking amongst ourselves the entire time and pretending we’re VIP: “Um, we’re with the band.” “WE KNOW HIM!” “Do you even know who we are?” They don’t.
It’s difficult for me to describe Patrick in words. He has freckles and wrinkles. The only thing he complains about is my reckless American driving (really I’m just efficient). He has seen every film ever made. He is very self-aware, and he has many guilty pleasures (he probably doesn’t feel guilty about them, but he probably should). He goes to movies by himself, and he appreciates silence. The first time we met, we brought our books to read in case we felt awkward. We share minor anxiety about many things: small talk, social gatherings, snowboarding. We went up the mountain together last weekend, and after every (five-minute) run, we rushed to sit down at a table and take off all of our gear and debrief (for an hour). I think he gets me. He makes me feel less alone in the world.
Although this is a place where I don’t belong, this is a place where I don’t feel lost. But I’m not sure if this is a good thing. With stability, comfort, and routine, I feel my anxieties returning. My list-making has increased exponentially since I moved to Queenstown: potential road trips, potential second jobs, things to buy, things to do, things to improve, friends to email, restaurants to try. I’m exhausted already. I’ve even created a makeshift planner in my journal. Am I regressing? Am I back where I started? Is it simply in our nature to settle? To establish roots? Even if we don’t think we are seeking it?
I won’t be here forever. I don’t think I will be anywhere forever. I am not a wanderer or a nomad at heart; I don’t fear commitment or stability or anchors. But I am an explorer. I will always embrace change, movement, challenge, waves. I will always seek uncharted territories. For me, right now, this is where I need to be. I find movement here every day. These mountains are still undiscovered, my relationships are still young, my work is still unfamiliar. This life is providing me with the setting to challenge the parts of me that need challenging. I am finding myself doing things I never would have done before, like buying a season ski pass so I can be gnarly and training for a half-marathon even though I hate running and interviewing for the most random part-time jobs (men’s fashion style advisor being my absolute favorite).
I may be back at the beginning, but it’s a different beginning. And, as usual, I have no idea how it will end.