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The Tourist - a story written in Susan Perrow's Therapeutic Metaphor workshop at The Examined Life Conference

     This story was written for a friend whose carefully-laid plans to leave her job - at which she had stayed many unhappy years out of a desire for security - and start a business were upended when she received a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Shortly after that her long-term partner left the relationship. She did not believe she had the strength to fight cancer and deal with the emotional fall-out of loss.

by Jude Treder-Wolff   Follow on twitter: @JuTrWolff
photograph by Al Treder

  The tourist planned her trip to Ireland with meticulous attention. After a tedious, uninteresting drive in Long Island traffic to JFK  in a hired car, she would get on the 6-hour flight. The first hour she would read the book describing Shannon, the city to which she was headed. The second hour she would rest her eyes and dream about the life she would enjoy in this new city. The third hour she would pull a variety of snack items from her carry-on and slowly savor them while reading notes from the people who had come to wish her bon voyage. The fourth hour she would list the activities – with all the relevant details – she was looking forward to enjoying in this new place. The fifth hour she would list these activities in different orders according to different priorities. The sixth hour she would rest once again and shore up her energy for the adventure about to start.

     At check-in she was handed her boarding pass as she watched her bags disappear into the tunnel that would take them to the proper vehicle that would transfer them onto the proper plane. She watched them go, wondering if she had taken clothes for all the possible kinds of weather in Ireland. Cold and wet in the early morning. Cool and windy when she went up into the mountains. Sunny in the afternoon.

   The flight went exactly as planned. She arrived fresh. Rested. Ready. When she stepped off the plane she was stunned to see that the place she had landed was not Ireland. The plane must have gone wildly off course and no one on board had any idea this had happened. All the while she was preparing for Ireland she had been enroute to some other, completely foreign place. And everyone else seemed to think this was fine. Everyone else just went on with their business as if nothing was wrong. She could not find her bags in this place. She could only surmise that they did not make it onto her plane. Or they were placed on the plane that was meant for her while some awful and unknowable error took her onto a different one. Terrible mistakes had been made with her things. Her clothes. Her books. Everything she needed to take care of herself. The things that, when she had them with her, made her feel at home. Everything was gone and no one seemed to think this was a problem.

  She tried calling her travel agent but the call went to voicemail every time. She heard nothing back. She had no information about this place, this foreign country into which she had been dropped with her will, without her consent. And she did not want to know about it. Being here is a mistake. Or a trick. She did not want to know about this place.

   She walked out of the terminal after spending days, she did not know how many days, walking every inch of it in search of an answer. Walking outside, nearly hysterical and desperate for help, she began to circle the perimeter of this enormous structure. The first time she circled it she cried out loud for someone to understand. The second time she circled it she thought she was about to go crazy from loneliness and fear. The third time she circled it she thought about all the people she left behind who do not seem to be looking for her at all, who are just going on with their business as if everything is okay. The fourth time she circled it she thought about how she would get back at those people when this whole thing is over. The fifth time she circled it she spoke out loud to no one, because no one was there, about all the ways people could be made to care about others, all the ways people could be made to notice the pain of others. The sixth time she circled it she imagined how fabulous it will feel when she is a guest on Oprah speaking about her nonfiction bestseller that teaches people how to care about others.  And why they must care.

  Exhausted, she stumbled into a hotel to find a place to rest. Music is playing in the lobby, a song she has never heard before. A song she finds annoying mainly because she cannot get it out of her head once she comes into the room. The song plays over and over in her head. There are no words to this song, just music. Its lodged there, in her head. The first outside sound she has allowed into herself since she landed in this place.

Sitting on the bed she sees herself in the mirror just across the room. She does not know how long she has been walking but while she walked her hair grew long, down to her waist. She has rich, thick black hair, which now features a fat streak of gray that starts at the roots, at the top of her head, and runs down her hair to the ends on the left side. Her legs have become toned and muscular. She feels the tone and strength of her body as the song plays over and over in her mind.
Jude Treder-Wolff is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer after a long career as a creative arts psychotherapist. She will perform her show Crazytown: my first psychopath  at The Pit-The Peoples Improv on Sun. Nov. 3 at 8 pm


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