When your friends leave (Arrowtown, NZ)



We returned the cocaine van.

3,458 km later. 70 boxes of crackers, 60 U-turns, 50 plays of Adele’s ‘Hello’, 40 McDonalds coffees (each), 30 days of wearing the exact same clothes, 20 shitty sleeps, 10 good ones and 3 dead car batteries later, the van has been put to rest.

We packed up our bags and washed the dishes and brushed out all the dirt from our sneakers and sandals and dusty campsites. We wiped the windows down with baby wipes because we were too cheap to take it through a car wash. We collected all the maps and receipts that had accumulated under the seat for the past 30 days.  

We drove it back, the three of us sitting in the front seat for the last time. We reminisced about the first night, parking in that hostel parking lot and hosting Nick and Oliver for a badass van predrink. We talked about the first people we’d met and the first places we’d gone; our favourite stops and the moments we remembered most. The grumpy, early mornings and the sunrises that made it worth it. The long, long drives with nothing but the same Spotify playlists and an endless stream of ‘would you rather’ questions. So, so, SO many bags of chips. All of us having our first drive on the wrong side of the road. Helping each other along the way; pointing out that they were driving on the wrong side again. That the emergency brake was still on. That we missed our turn back there.

We talked about how genuinely lucky we felt; to not only have this experience, but to have it with each other. Everywhere we went people asked a) how the eff we all slept in that tiny backseat and b) if we were sick of each other yet. And we never were, and I feel so genuinely lucky that that was always the case.

For one month there were 3 of us in a van. One of them was one of my closest friends. The other was essentially a friend by association. And now I feel so happy and honoured to have her as a friend of my own. That I got to know her and loved what I got to know, and it’s just so nice spending time with people you genuinely care about that much. And sometimes you forget how much you need that because you’re surrounded by friends and family and options and you can’t wait to get home to your sweatpants and turn yourself off for the night. But when you live in a 3-seater van relying solely on each other for everything; for entertainment and conversation; for directions and decisions and getting you from a to b. For splitting grocery bills and 2-4’s of beer. You rely on each other for everything. And when that happens, you recognize how much you appreciate being around the right people. How much you need them, and how much you want them around, and how lucky you are that your life led you to this moment and these people and Pam’s potato chips.

For one month there were 3 of us in a van. And we never had to think about what to talk about or how to fill the silence. It was easy. It was comfortable. And you always had someone to figure it out with.  We didn’t have to think about anything. We simply bought duvet covers, an auxilary cord and a map and took it from there. And it couldn’t have turned out better. Well, that’s a lie. We could’ve had a vehicle that was better on gas and didn’t force us to spend a billion dollars filling it up after we went up a hill. But that’s basically it.   

We cried when we took the van back. Stupid, simple tears that quickly turned to laughter. They just kind of happened, as we sat there talking about the month and recognizing that it was over.

I feel sad that it’s over. I feel excited for what’s next and I feel genuinely proud of the fact that I lived in a van for a month. That I learned how to perfect the top-knot without a mirror and get ready in a parking lot. That I learned to trust people and swallow my impatience. That I wasn’t always right and sometimes I was (sometimes there really is a hedgehog in your food). That it isn’t always about utilizing your time and being productive. Sometimes it’s simply about being happy and peaceful. Going nowhere and loving it.

We don’t live in a van anymore, but I think parts of van life shall prevail. I think perhaps I’ll go back to longer showers and appreciating having a real bed, sure. But in this moment life feels very simplified. I don’t care about my jeans. I do care about having an apple handy. And I do care about making sure people know how much I fucking love them.

And I learned a lot too! I mean, I never knew how to read a map prior to this, which is so embarrassing to admit but whatever. We all have flaws, people. And this in of itself deserves a celebration in my opinion.

So, sometimes you return your van and your friends leave. And you miss them and it also makes you miss home a little bit because it was so nice having a taste of that around; having people that you already had inside jokes with. That understood how your brain worked. That you didn’t need to try with. But it also makes you appreciate everyone else in your life. The people who used to be strangers that you ran back into on the road and felt so genuinely excited to see. Random connections from elementary school who happen to be in New Zealand. Messages from people you haven’t spoken to in years.

So your only choice is to simply appreciate what it was, and who it was with, and feel ready for whatever’s next. Because now you know you are very capable. You know yourself inside and out. You know what makes you tick and what got you excited all month; what you missed and what you didn’t miss. And although you had to say a tearful goodbye to some people you love very much, you didn’t have to say goodbye to yourself. You didn’t have to say goodbye to all those weird, beautiful moments and memories and feelings that are stickin’ around in your heart.

So, sometimes your friends leave and you say goodbye to something great. But maybe it isn’t all sad. Goodbye’s are only hello’s the next adventure, after all.



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