Freedom is Bought With

by southwardtide

I was twenty-three years old when I broke up with a long term boyfriend in Cairns, Australia. Six years together, I felt dead, suffocated, spit up and rehashed. On the great Australian expanse, I was walking in a cage. I thought it was him.

After the cataclysmic breakup, I travelled south, alone and against the advice of my family. Previously vegan, I started smoking cigarettes and living off ice cream and beer. I lost weight. I tanned brown. Somewhere along the Gold Coast, I hitched a ride out of some crappy backpacker town. It was a long road to wherever we were going next, maybe a day’s drive. The driver’s name was Pip. He had red hair and was kind. I cannot remember the others but the station wagon was full. Pip drove through a straggled eucalyptus landscape, a pale orange earth, snakes sunning on the strip. Sometime after dark, we pulled into a rest stop. It was dangerous to drive through the bush at night, animals on the road, kangaroos smashing fenders, cars in ditches, no ambulances for miles and miles. Pip fixed up a hammock above the picnic bench. Underneath, I rolled out my sleeping bag, a feeling of giddiness in my heart.

No one knew where I was. Not my family, not my friends. I was thousands of miles from the last memory of me and for the first time in my entire life, all the expectations, all the stories and lies disappeared. I was relieved of myself. Under the southern hemisphere sky ablaze with stars, a feeling of total freedom crystallized and with it, concurrent, at the exact same moment, I suffered the loneliest feeling of my life.

The following morning Pip took me aside and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Why?”

“You have barely spoken since we left town. But last night, you were so happy sleeping on the bench. You even smiled.”

“I just broke up with my boyfriend of six years,” I told the half truth and he seemed satisfied. Truth was, it was not the boyfriend that was breaking my heart. It was life with its gaping mouth and awful truths: freedom is bought with self. The freedom we crave is the freedom of little deaths. We pay with pieces of ourselves – the triumphs and failures, the dreams and delusions, even our loved ones, even our names. And without me, what else is there? Freedom is a feeling best left for the gods.

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