It is nice, sitting in the sand, with my young self beside me and sharing stories I have not been able to share with anyone else. They lay on their back, their eyes shut as the warm sun casts its alluring spell and bringing them into a soft sleep. I don’t fall asleep easily, yet the sandy blanket wraps itself in such a comforting way that I can let the security guard that is always on alert disappear for awhile. Should I wake them? No, they have come such a long way from a place I suspect wasn’t a good time. Also, my old hands miss writing, miss creating a world where words can escape and play and run free. I have forgotten what I love to do, which is a shame because the things we love are the things we should hang on to, to keep with us as a companion through the rough patch of life’s long road.
With trembling fingers, I grab a blank postcard and a pen from their loose grip. The ink oozes slowly and my unsteady hand drags a sharp black line up, the first letter now slightly elongated from the rest.
When I first went to college, I was bound in chains, my soul belonging to an unfriendly warden who didn’t let me wander too far. Once those chains were broken, however, I had the freedom to chase what previously eluded me. So when winter break came I was able to finally travel abroad and the place I chose was Scotland because they spoke English and I was lacking the confidence in my foreign language skills, and it fell under my major of communications, although later I discovered there wasn’t much relevance to my field of study. This would be my first trip out of the country traveling with a group of people I did not know. If it was anything like the Maine adventure, then I knew it would be a mixed experience which hopefully would not result in three separate trips to the hospital.
The teacher, a nice round face woman who definitely acted more as a chaperone than anything- although she did give us some pointers on Scottish slang and what hand gestures to avoid using, checking off the ‘communications’ box in the university requirements- arranged for us to stay in a hostel in which our rooms were four stories up and there was no discernible lift to be found. I didn’t mind the extra work heaving the suitcase up the flight of stairs, but the other girls, most who were dressed in the same outfit of leggings, brown knee high boots, and a white scarf, were no thrilled by the prospect. Eventually one of the girls would find an handsome Australian to help her out, first by carrying her luggage and second by sharing the bed beneath mine so he could ease the ache in her heart caused by a boyfriend she left at home. Bless the Scottish saints that the beds were too small to get anything done.
The weather at that time of year was consistently cold and rainy. The sun lasted perhaps four hours and each morning began with a grey haze that didn’t disappear until close to noon. Despite the dreariness, we still went out, our collective group shrinking beneath our coats while following our teacher from one museum to another castle, one bus tour to another walking tour. Along the way the other girls-minus the future marine biologist who was perhaps the only one, in my pathetic attempt to gain human connection, that I could fit with- searched for a coffee shop with WIFI and the three lone boys memorized the local bars.
At some point my goals in Scotland shifted from exploring the grassy hillside to connecting with the people, both the group I traveled with and the actual inhabitants of the country itself. Through the lens I captured the people and the places they lived, I stole away the archaic and modern architecture which preserved the past while living in the present, and I watched ceaselessly as the road, devoid of frequent police officers and marked “Look Left/Look Right” for the maladjusted tourist, swiveled and swerved, dipped and rose, sometimes changing from smooth to cobblestone. With each museum or castle or walking tour I lingered, absorbing the statues and paintings and old prisons and falling into a different world where I stepped into the shoes of the long forgotten.
The teacher had assigned us a project that was to be completed at the end of the trip, a project that reflected our experience in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Ideas ranged from photo albums and collages to self made videos via smartphone. In attempt to reflect the culture, I decided to write a collection of short stories based on the some of the places we visited. Although one place I almost didn’t get to visit, which was the Parliament building, because someone thought it was a wise idea to bring a pocket knife into a government building. Yet somehow the lucky cowboy didn’t get retained and we managed to not get kicked out. I rolled my eyes, the thread of human connection spinning thinner and thinner.
” Why couldn’t you connect with anyone?” I can hear them say, their eyes struck by consternation.
” Because not every piece of clothing you try on is going to fit,” I tell them, not adding how long it took for me to realize that. ” Some pieces will fit for the moment, some eventually grow worn and are no longer good for you, and others you’ll have to give away because you don’t have room or you don’t like it anymore, in which case you’ll either be sad to see it go, remembering the all the happy times you wore that scarf or hat or blouse or pair of jeans, or you’ll be happy it’s finally gone and you don’t have to force yourself to be in something that isn’t right.”
They won’t be convinced. ” So nothing will stay. There is no point getting attached to that scarf or blouse or shoe or hat.”
” No, there will come a time where, and usually when you least expect it because that is when the real magic happens, a shirt or hat or shoe will be so perfect you will hang it up in your closet for years, and when you take it out it still fits, it’s still perfect, and people may ask why you still have that old thing and you will say ‘Because it feels right. Not having it wouldn’t be right’. And that old thing will be different than any other thing you’ve had before.”
Because they are stubborn, concocting arguments from any leftover bit laying around, they will still ask: ” What if you don’t get a chance to try them on?”
I will shrug. ” Then I will feel bad for them. They are missing out on an opportunity that may change their life. Yes, you won’t fit with everyone and everyone won’t fit with you but that doesn’t mean the stores are closed and you give up. At some moment, everyone needs a scarf or a hat or a blouse for ten seconds, ten minutes, ten hours. Why deny them that even if it won’t last? So feel bad for those that decide to close your stores. But no matter what, keep yours open.”
They sleep soundlessly, undisturbed by my dream. I pat them on the head and lay down, stretching my arm toward the sky so I can write in the air.
I remember the night I knew the the scarfs and hats and shoes didn’t fit. It was a night after we took a whiskey tour in which I was the only one who didn’t drink because I don’t like to. That blatant irregularity kept the distance wide and I was, as often I am, tempted to drink with the rest of them to have a common ground. Later, we stop at our first genuine Scottish restaurant that served Scottish food and we all had a piece of haggis, which I found delicious but everyone else was disgusted. There it was again, that irregularity, however small it was. Our teacher decided to leave us early seeing as we are all adults and can manage ourselves, so we head out to first a dive bar in which no one wanted us there and we promptly left, then what was called The Globe where everyone near and far gathered for a night of karaoke. It was here I met a drunk, yet pleasantly polite, Scottish man who minutes previously had been relieving himself in the ladies toilet. Still, I accepted his offer to slow dance to a rearrangement of Frank Sinatra because it’s not everyday someone becomes interested in you. He would be the beginning of the men I would share a brief connection to as I traveled around the world.
Throughout the dance, I caught the other girls staring and smiling, which should have made me happy because I was finally doing something normal. I was happy, until the drunken man pulled me outside and asked rather politely if I would come home with him. If I was normal, I would say yes and have the other girls cover for me. If I was normal, I would feel pleasure in his soft kisses which unfortunately were covered in a layer of smoke. But I am not normal; I wasn’t happy with the offer not only because it seemed like a bad idea( hello, stranger danger) but it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. So I leave with one of the girls and one of the guys from our group, leaving the others to carry out illicit affairs and accidentally stumble into bubbly gay bars( the next morning at breakfast, three guys came down with glitter plastered over their dumb grins).
I redouble my efforts to compose three well crafter stories. If I remember correctly, one had to do with a mysterious phantom wandering the jail cells of a decrepit castle, the other involved a ghost haunting a survivor of the bubonic plague, and the last had to do with a cursed jewel at the bottom of a lake that turned its victim into the Loch Ness monster. These stories, unfortunately, have been lost to the University in which I submitted my work but it never returned, similar to the Loch Ness monster. That was an area in which I yearned to escape from the group and explore the folds of the snowy mountains and glistening lakes. I wanted to stand at the edge of the water and stare into the wide expanse in which the crisp air would consume me, locking me in a place where I was myself and nothing else. Time was not on my side and we only had eight hours up and back from Edinburgh. Traveling with the wrong people was a constriction. Not for the first time I wondered when the right people would come.
Eventually we were given a day to ourselves, the chains holding us together unlocked with a key granting temporary freedom. Naturally, I drifted back towards the sea, taking a tram outside of the city into a serene beach town. By this point I had finished my stories and finished looking for a human connection. Instead, I connected with what I knew best: the sand and the water, two halves that are incomplete without the other yet aren’t helpless either. The waves relish in independence and wild storms which let it play unrestrained while the sand is content with the silence, the calmness it reserves for itself until the wave decides to crash in, begging for its company. I do not beg, not anymore, and instead wait, writing away as the waves come in and out.
He stands there, unblinking Day after day As flocks fly past The cast iron gate Blocking the entrance to a world Separate from their own He doesn't move, he doesn't smile At the child who has come to stay And sit at his feet for a while Poking the rusty armor that Has lost its virtuous gloss And picking at the broken sword He grips so tightly. "Surely you have a home," The child asks politely As he walks toward the gate Blacker than the night "Surely they won't leave you Here on your own" And the knight, unblinking, watches The child unfasten the gate, Unfasten the promise he made So long ago When they left him All on his own He doesn't move, not at first Not until the child sings, His voice so light and soft Like the angels who said They would find him one day And bring him home To dine in a hall where The biggest feast would Alight his eyes And fill his breast, mending What was broken apart "Who are you?" he asks The child who smiles sweetly As he sings a song Known to the knight So long ago " I am lost, just like you And I want to go home Will you come too?" And he moves, his stone laden legs Finding a willingness to follow The singing child through The cast iron gates.
The day ended too soon and I was forced to go back, but not before dipping into a local cafe for some tea and biscuits. My taste palate doesn’t like to branch too far out of familiar territory, yet for some reason I was more audacious. Unfortunately what I ordered was bitter to my mouth; the tea was bland and unpleasant while the biscuit too hard. Who am I, Goldilocks?
I re-joined my group for the evening where we decided to go watch a rugby game. I was astonished; no one indicated such an interest previously. Of course, they had no idea what it was and while I should have taken the opportunity to explain I was still new to it and caught inside my own web of awe and admiration, for I had yet to see international rugby live. They all assumed it was like football, but the thoroughly enjoyed it enough, especially since the players were not bad to look at. Surprisingly, I found myself happy. Here I was sharing in something that gave a human connection, however briefly. Because in the end, when paradise ended and the magic faded, when the blazing sun hid its beautiful colors in a trunk and the stars refused to step on stage, we all went our separate ways, some of us never speaking to each other again. The thin bonds established were frail, the coat was never supposed to be anything more than a temporary replacement for the one I left at home.
We took one last journey up to Arthur’s Seat, an arduous hike up a stoney hill which overlooked all of Scotland. Some of the girls didn’t make it that far because their knee high brown boots and heeled shoes weren’t meant for the steady incline. Once again I was captivated by the view and once again I wanted more time. We left for England shortly, another trip in which the lack of time would hound me like a rabid dog, aggravating me to no end.
My arm aches and I let it fall gently to my side. I turn to myself and they begin to stir, but not enough to fully waken. I slip the postcard into the loose shoulder bag tucked beneath their hoodie. I return to my back and gaze up, up, up, where a pelican soars over the water, a fin tail poking from the side of its beak. Before I drift to sleep, I press play and let the song take me where peaceful dreams wait.