So, in the middle of tightrope walking across a beach on Gili Air last night, a thought crossed my mind: I wonder how much my FICO score has increased since I paid off and closed all those credit cards last month.
I said I was tightrope walking! On an island only a few square kilometers in size that I’d never even heard of before Emily decided we were going. That thought about my FICO score never came within arm’s length of my mind. Nothing else did in that moment.
Instead, my mind was like an empty bowl near some front door, ready for Ben — French tightrope owner and hand holder — to fill with what keys I’d need to make it even one millimeter across without falling: Breathe. Bend your knees. Look at a spot without movement. Only one foot at a time. Lean more to the side. The center line of balance is here.
The last two days have been full — packed with so much more than either of us had anticipated upon planning our excursion. What started as an indulgent trip to a nearby island to bathe in the sun with tropical cocktails for three straight days morphed into something neither of us can fully grasp yet. Only appreciate.
As such, it’s hard for me to really focus this post on one thing (there may be a theme forming here, I’m afraid).
Our last evening on Gili Air began with Emily suggesting we head to the West side of the island for our sunset-viewing ritual, cut through the village to explore a bit on the way.
She followed her intuition for where and when to turn and I followed her. We walked through dirt paths between land where trees were mostly cleared out, locals’ homes were generally dilapidated, and beautiful new bungalows, likely for Westerners with money to spend and to make on the island, were being built by villagers in the empty spaces.
Earlier that day, we heard someone say they stopped walking through the village because they always got lost. Note to that person and to many people: Follow the sun or find yourself an Emily and follow her.
Down the final narrow road through fine sand that painted our legs with evidence of our mischief, we were deposited out onto the opposite side of the island.
We washed off the dirt in the ocean and began walking barefoot, looking for soft spots to place our feet, dodging the rough debris of coral reefs. The moment I spotted it, I plunged my hand into the sand to pull out my buried treasure, whose corner had been sticking up just enough for me to notice.
Something deep inside me knew what I was stumbling upon before I dislodged it. I remember when I was here two years back, I was talking to my villa’s owner, Janny, about my experience with the manifestation of things in Bali — the way experiences, people, and objects would appear after I had spent time thinking or dreaming about them.
“It happens very quickly here; it’ll take you by surprise at first,” she said, without blinking at my claim of miracles and magic.
I held my Indonesian phrasebook and dictionary up into the sky like a torch: “I fucking knew it!” I shouted to Emily. She joy-laughed with me, mouth gaping with understanding.
I had spent the last two weeks dreaming of finding the perfect Indonesian language book to study with. Obsessing over it: something simple, something brief, something cheap. I had even been thinking about the book as recently as cutting through the village on our way to this beach. I had resolved to doing some Internet research when we returned to Bali to find which book had the best reviews, as I had seen many, but none seemed quite right.
My book in hand, Emily and I continued walking until we found a perfect spot to nestle into for the sunset and a Bintang. In front of us, we watched a man walk in ankle-deep ocean 30 meters from the shoreline, an illusion that still made us do a double-take every time we saw it. Behind us, one-by-one, people were balancing on a makeshift tightrope strung between two trees.
“I want to do that,” we both expressed with urgency, referring to different things.
So, Emily went off to walk on water and I went off to walk across the tightrope, alongside my new, if temporary, friends. It was incredibly difficult, I was terrible at it, and I loved it for that.
As the sun began to set, the whole island seemed to pause in silence for its moment of glory, like bowing our heads in prayer before supper.
By the time we left, energy was coursing through me — the most I’d had in months. At our next stop, I couldn’t sit still, so I began doing handstands in the sand. Sometimes very poor handstands on the uneven ground. Sure, there were a few people around; yes, I probably seemed foolish, proper adult woman I was meant to be, twisting and tumbling and slipping. But I didn’t care. I needed more activity; I needed to feel alive on a very physical plane.
I was suddenly determined to land in a backbend — a move I hadn’t attempted for 20 years. “Place your hand on my lower back?” I asked Emily, explaining my plot. She indulged me, and after three handstands, I allowed my body to curve over, landing on my feet.
I was ecstatic and continued trying without her help, sometimes crumbling or crashing into the sand, but not dying, never dying.
The long-held fear of these small risks is like a mom seatbelt when the brakes are slammed — you know what I’m talking about: her whole right arm across your chest, pinning you — just some extra reinforcement when you were probably already safe and, even if you weren’t, the seatbelt/fear was never capable of saving you.
But none of this was killing me. I was very much living.
We were on a mission now. We headed to the next spot, and Janny’s it happens very quickly here echoed again as we stumbled upon the bonfire Emily had been wishing for aloud for the past few days — the first we’d seen, right on cue.
More Bintang, more laughing with strangers, more crystal clear night sky, more handstands and — oh, headstands — and now fire and music.
Emily was singing along to a barely audible song on her iPhone when the woman approached from the now-dark shoreline: “I’m sorry? Are you saying something to me?”
“No, I was just singing,” Emily assured her, head still swaying.
The woman was from Hungary and shared her recent travels after she sat near us, once we had all smoothed the surface of the sand between us with a few minutes of small talk.
Fruzsina knew she was searching for something, she told us as we dug into her story with our questions, but on the day she left, she still wasn’t sure for what.
“And now?” Emily asked, her voice like a shovel clinking against the bottom layer.
“I discovered I am afraid of being alone.”
Our heads slowly bobbed in a knowing nod, in synch with the fire before us.
After more conversation, I collected her contact information, as I’d be in Europe soon.
We were light-headed. Maybe from the beer, maybe from the encounters we had just had with our own manifestations, with people we didn’t know but understood, with the parts of ourselves we were completely out of touch with. Whatever it was, we needed to keep going.
And we needed to eat.
Heading back to pay for our Bintang, we noticed a group of attractive men already at the bar. Our new friend was immediately engaged in deep conversation with one of them and we were on the road again.
We knew she was going to be okay.
We had our dinner in a familiar place and returned to our room. We were grateful for this perfect evening, perfect ending, as we had no idea there was more in store for us before we’d leave the island. We couldn’t imagine that anything could top this, but it would…