You know that feeling you get? A whole body, mind, spirit knowing? A decisive moment where you listen to that calling without a second thought? Without hesitation? With a full pregnant YES, and from that place take action?
I’ve had a few moments like this, and yet for some reason I am reflecting lately on one in particular.
I was living in Dalian, Mainland China. It was New Years Eve in 2004 and I was standing in the middle of a nightclub sandwiched between young Chinese people dancing, drinking, spinning and spewing up on the floor while their bodies rejected a cocktail of Ketamine and Ecstasy. Elderly cleaners sifted around it all, efficiently sweeping and mopping up the carnage. I had never seen anything like it.
Moments before the countdown to midnight I made my way over to the bar to order a bottle of beer (probably a Tsing Tao) and a packet of local cigarettes. Why I bought the cigarettes I don’t know, potentially to add to the drama, because I have never been a smoker. My boyfriend at the time approached me at the bar and placed a hand on my back. He’d come to wish me a happy new year which caught me by surprise. Somewhere in the months I’d spent there with him, I didn’t think he was that bothered.
I dragged hard on a cigarette and felt the harshness of it at the back of my throat, leaving that odd buzzy feeling on my tongue. "Happy New Year", he said to me. I don’t remember exactly how I responded but I know I looked at him in the eye and told him I was leaving. I was going back to Hong Kong to recover and figure out what to do next.
China hadn’t been particularly kind to me. I didn’t have any friends. I was a vegetarian and didn’t have a nourishing diet. I worked at a school 1.5 hours drive away from where we lived. It was so cold, and I taught with my hat, gloves and scarf on because the government controlled the country’s heating and shut it off during the day. I could see my breath as I taught.
I had ended up in hospital one day after almost passing out while teaching. The one person in the school who spoke English, a young Chinese man who supported my English students, dragged me up a few flights of concrete stairs to a room where there sat two doctors. A line, and I use that word loosely, of people elbowed one another in an attempt to be the next one to reach the doctor. It was the least private examination I’ve had, and that’s including both of my birthing experiences.
I was assessed by the doctor with civilians hanging over my shoulder, before being dragged off again with a slip of paper, none the wiser. I landed in a hospital that I spent the next three days visiting, sat with a drip in my arm. Apparently antibiotics. I squeezed onto one of three rickety old iron beds in the room. This one supported an elderly man, a mother and baby, as well as myself. The mattress naked and stained.
One large window to the left poured daylight into the room illuminating the mildew stained walls, and bin baskets on the floor, open and full of syringes. The same syringes that had left my arms looking bruised and battered after day three of trying to locate another vein. I sat there alone for those three days, without my boyfriend at the time who never showed his face.
I made it out of there with the same young Chinese man who I worked with, who then later came onto me and left me spiralling out of the taxi leaving a pair of possum fur gloves behind that my mum had sent over to me from New Zealand. I remember the long journey home, on two or three buses. Standing the entire time while my head bobbed from one shoulder to the other as I willed myself to stay awake and upright.
So, somehow I had reached this moment in the Chinese nightclub between banging music and vomit, with my Tsing Tsao and foul tasting cigarettes. Not angry, nor sad, nor searching for an answer. Completely and utterly crystal clear. With full body, mind, and spirit knowing that this isn’t how my story goes. I confidently stepped towards a different turning along my path, leaving my money and any attachment to the outcome of what would happen next.
Trying to exit the country proposed more challenges, which is a story for another time, but I made it, after a week stuck on the border, with my wheel-less suitcase and a tired but relieved smile upon my face. I had listened to that full body yes, and what grew from that is the life I live today.