Friends, CouchSurfing, and the zombie hospital

It’s been a strange year. Ups and downs, chance encounters. And a whole new legion of friends thanks to CouchSurfing. If you haven’t heard of this site, and you travel at all, go sign up. It’s amazing. I thought I was all alone in the world, or at least one of a slim minority, but it turns out there are a lot of people who think like I do and most of them are on CouchSurfing.

My fiancé (ACK I just got engaged! Still hard to write or say that word…) and I have hosted lots of wayward travelers in Austin . I’d found out about the site through one of my favorite bloggers a few years ago, Leigh Shulman from thefutureisred—her personal travel blog. I didn’t have a house, being a wandering vagrant, so I didn’t really have a chance to participate. Then the man got here, we got into settle-down-mode, and bought a house. Which I’m also still kind of reeling over, by the way. Never having had a place of my own, this is a giant crazy step in the opposite direction from whatever direction it is that I usually go. But I’m taking it slow…anyway, the point is we’re becoming active in CouchSurfing. There is a great group here in Austin , which we don’t get to interact with as much as I’d like but in which I’ve met some awesome people.

My little brother was injured in Iraq just over two years ago. Another casualty of this fucked-up war, this mess of things that makes me sick to my stomach if I think about it at all. I can’t watch the news anymore. I can’t stand seeing the faces of those soldiers who have been injured or killed. My brother has been at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since his injury, getting reconstructive surgery and basically hanging out in limbo. He had a rough time this last month, and it was hard for me because I didn’t have the funds at that point to go see him. I just wanted to be there, give him a hug, tell him I love him. I didn’t have a way to contact him at the time- he was in a locked-down ward. He calls the place the zombie hospital, and I don’t blame him.

I posted on CouchSurfing because I’d had such great experiences with people in the community. I asked for someone to visit my brother for me, take him a letter, and to generally be a breath of cheer in the hospital. It had to be the right person, not a job for just anyone. I kind of left the post alone, not expecting much. I ended up having people of all kinds respond, from a doctor who works at the Walter Reed hospital to another person suffering from PTSD, to others offering to take baked goods. I ended up talking on the phone for quite a while with one particular girl, Whitney. She seemed sweet, interested in the story, and she ended up going to see my brother several times. She just marched on in there with her cheerful attitude and big smile and gave him a hug. She also bought me a plane ticket to go see him. Yes, you heard right—me, a complete stranger. As fate would have it, she’d been to a film festival not long before seeing my post on CouchSurfing, and had seen a film about soldiers recovering from PTSD. She felt that it was meant to be, and that she was meant to help. You hear stories about things like that happening once in a while, but it just really took me aback to be a recipient of one of those random acts of kindness. Whitney doesn’t make much money, in fact, she’d just gotten back from teaching English in Spain and had only just gotten a job and a stable place to live in D.C. It humbles me, that someone can be so good and kind and expect nothing in return. I wish that these were the kinds of stories we heard more often on the news, instead of the daily dose of fear and death we are more likely to hear. Maybe it would mean we would all be a little bit more open, a little less afraid of each other.

So I just got back from a great weekend in D.C. with my little bro. I couchsurfed for the first time with a couple who lived downtown. I got caught up in the mess of the metro, since things were all in an uproar after the deadly accident there. Metro officials were being very careful as they investigated, of course, since word was the crash was caused by a computer glitch, not operator error. I’d heard about it on the news, but dumbass me, didn’t even consider that it might make it difficult to get around. We ended up going to a gay male strip club, for what reason I’m still not sure, and got to see a lot of penis. I entered a tattoo contest at a biker rally on campus at Walter Reed, and won Best of Show. And more amazing than that, I looked across the room at a guy in a wheelchair who had also entered the contest, and couldn’t stop staring. He looked so damn familiar. Turns out, he stared back and we both recognized each other at the same time. It was my old friend from college, Dave! We’d lost touch after we graduated, and he’d gone on to become an Army ranger. It was the strangest thing, I tripped out about it for a week straight. Dave had lost his leg just a few months ago in Iraq, and that day at the biker rally was the only possible day that I could have run into him in D.C. , oddly enough. Any other time we would never have seen each other- but to enter the same contest! I met his fiancé and his baby son. It was the fates at work again, they smiled on my entire trip. I spent a relaxed, happy day with my brother watching movies and eating pizza. And I made another friend. The world gets smaller every time I turn around. It’s one of the most beautiful things about traveling.

3 responses to “Friends, CouchSurfing, and the zombie hospital

  1. Alanna, What an amazing trip with real heart. While words can be inspiring, the actions of people are even more impressive. What an amazing person Whitney must be. We should all aspire to be as selfless and loving as her. I’m sure what you put in motion meant a great deal to your brother and those around him. I hope that his spirit carries him through his ordeal. Thanks for sharing your amazing experience.

  2. Definitely better than the news. And I’m so glad you got to go visit! Tell your brother hi for me, I haven’t kept up with him at all. Also, I wonder if Whitney was doing the same teaching program as I am. Probably, the world IS small. Or as they say in Spain, the world is a handkerchief. 🙂 Good to read your adventures.

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