Travel as ecstasy

In college I heard an urban legend that has stayed with me for almost two decades:

Supposedly there was a guy who had sex while high on Ecstasy, and it was so mind-blowing that it ruined regular sex for him. After just one time, his mind and body flipped a switch, and sober sex became so lackluster in comparison that he could no longer get it up without taking E.

That story, and its perhaps unintended warning about being too greedy with pleasure, popped back into my head recently when I thought about the prospect of moving back to the States. After a year of heightened experience while abroad, living in the land of my upbringing now seems so much… not like living.

Hyperbolic, yes, but also true to form. When I was four and a half, my dad’s job got transferred and my parents moved our family from the New Jersey suburbs to central London (and, to be fair, to the London suburbs soon after). It was the mid-80’s, there were punks and new wave rockers everywhere, and the sights and sounds of England were wondrous to a little kid.

A year and a half later, we returned to the States, and we eventually settled right back in to the same house we had lived in before the move. Eight years after that, teen angst hit me hard, America no longer cut it for me, and I became obsessed with my time in England. I hated my bland suburban existence and fantasized about moving back to London where everyone was more interesting, witty, good-looking and stylish. Granted, my anglophilia coincided with the dawn of Britpop, which made everyone want to be British. But it also had to do with my burgeoning sense that life was best lived outside of one’s home country.

We used to go to Israel every couple of years to visit my dad’s family. Since he had been in the Israeli army before moving to the United States, and since soldiers are considered re-call-up-able until a certain age, my father had to get written permission to leave the country each time our vacations ended. Before heading to the airport, we’d go to the army base, and while sitting in the car waiting for my dad to come back from whatever office he was in, my mother would wistfully say, “I hope they make us stay.” Then the kids would threaten to go back home alone. But secretly I always wished that we’d get stuck in this land of my cousins and grandparents, of very few seat belts or rules, of an exotic language and biblical-looking scenery, of complete foreignness mixed with assurances of belonging. Instead of going back to my boring school I’d get to continue being on vacation, indefinitely, in a strange and wonderful place.

I suppose I still have the naiveté of a child, because being abroad this year – even on days when it has sucked and been nothing but a hustle – has still felt like vacation. Everything is new and different and exciting, even when it’s sort of not. I suppose if I stayed away another year or two, it might lose its luster and go back to being just like regular life. But at this point in time, it feels like being on (really amazing) drugs, and I fear that it has ruined me for America.

[The photo is from the Mauritanian desert.]

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