I can hear the water crash against the rocky mountains. No, wait, that can’t be right. There is no ocean near the mountains. Where am I going?
Back. I am going backwards. Bright yellow lights replace the dull blue and grey. The chirps of the tropical birds pierce my ears. Where am I?
I don’t know if it is the fog that has filled my mind or that I have taken too many trips to remember it clearly. How is it that details can slip, falling into an unreachable chasm, and become overlooked? Perhaps because there is only so much I want to keep and pocket, and the pocket only has enough room for so much stuff. How do I know what to discard? Worse, why do I discard the good instead of the bad?
I don’t remember stepping off the plane, probably because it was mundane at this point. I can see the car, though, the blue Ford Escape or some such- I can never identify cars well enough to be any help or provide any satisfaction- shining in the bright light. It was always bright in Puerto Rico, with a warm breeze tickling my hair. We parked in front of a gorgeous villa with bright yellow walls- like I said, everything was bright- and a spiral staircase that led to a rooftop that overlooked the valley. On top of the rooftop was a hot tub, which we took the opportunity to use regardless of how warm the weather was. It made the nighttime more idyllic; the soft bubbles played between our toes as the stars looked on from above, shining with a striking brilliance that made our minds freeze, abandoning the thoughts trying to make themselves heard.
Sometimes it is okay to indulge, so indulge I did. And for the first time in a long time, I had the Rover to indulge with me. It was strange, having them there and sharing a room, and that strangeness tingled, making my skin itch with discomfort. I was not used to bringing anyone around my family and that left me exposed, not to shame or embarrassment that comes when I parent reveals things you are not comfortable revealing, but to a sort of acceptance: I was letting the door swing open, unlocked, and allowing someone to step inside. No one usually is allowed inside. I keep it shut, other side padded with locks and chains so not even the simplest of questions (“What book are you reading?”) can slip inside. Have I always kept everything under close guard?
The skyscraper pokes through the canopy trees, the serenity replaced by the hustle and bustle of an over packed city. Through the fog, her voice comes, hissing like a snake and full of the same venom.
You have five minutes to get yourself together and get inside! I do not want to see you crying!
GET OUT OF MY DREAMS! I will the bright green leaves to shroud the landscape, shoving any sign of industrial life behind its dense thicket.
I can’t remember what caused it, but something happened- someone or something provoked me- and I stormed out of the living room, past the inflatable Christmas trees since pine trees don’t exist on an island, to the balcony. The Rover quietly joined me, not saying a word, much to my relief because I did not want to ruin this trip over something I could not explain. It was better to paint on a smile, and stuff the ugly and the bad away to be looked at another time, back in reality. I do not want to see you crying! You have five minutes to get yourself together! I do not want to see you crying! Stop crying, stop crying!
Trips, in essence, were supposed to be an escape. How could I escape if I just brought everything with me? Why can’t the bad things just go away?
But some baggage can’t be avoided; the more I kept the fake smile on, the more the mask began to crumble. Fortunately, the Old Man was there to pick the pieces up and put them back, nice and organized, among the shelf full of rocks and stones, shirts and books, I’ve collected over the years. Once I cut the rope binding me to perfectionism, I could finally breathe and roam the way I was supposed to, breathe the way I was supposed to.
I shrink, the crowd too thick To push through without A mask Their mask A mask of blue and gold But all that is left sitting Alone and untouched is A mask In red and silver and striped Instead of spotted. If I take the mask They will see I do not belong at a ball Where red and silver is despised Above all else So I walk, alone Through empty stone roads Where I do not have to wear A mask At all.
I teeter on the edge of a seesaw, my legs finding the balance between two worlds: the world they want me to me in, and the world I want to be in. At night, in the privacy of our own room, the Rover and I get to do as we please. Or perhaps the Rover does, and I must go along with it. If I don’t, then I get one of those cues in which I do not know what it means but I know it is charged with an angry buzz. Even my own world is sliced up into another, one where I carefully abide by their rules, rules that if I used myself would be unacceptable. Sigh. When can I win?
Small victories did come, as elusive as they were; they floated like bubbles and I snatch at them, wanting them to pop in my hand. Finding and keeping such a bubble can boost the morale and heighten the self, hurdling over the obstacles that seem insurmountable at first. Although no matter how hard I try, speaking Spanish fluently is going to be a hurdle I repeatedly trip over. I take consolation in the fact that at least I didn’t try to great a local in Italian, using “Grazi” instead of “Gracias”. If I am going to attempt to speak with the locals, I’d rather use the right language and the wrong word than the wrong language. To be fair, saying “my pope” instead of “my father” in Spanish is equally horrifying. I quietly thank my dreams for not reproducing such an image.
We gathered on the rooftop during the evenings, the sun bleaching the sky a vivid red. The board games were out and so was the laughter. I laugh softly, secretly enjoying a simple thing that could happen in any place, while blending in with the background, remaining unseen and shrinking into my own world with my own rules. Back and forth, back and forth, the seesaw sways. I drift like debris through a current that can’t decide which way to go.
I wish they saw me. I wish they saw me.
Down in the bars the stray dogs came, begging for scraps or pets or just hanging around watching with curious eyes. I sat on a stool, sipping a Sprite while listening to the sweet melody emitting from guitars and drums. In front of me the golden sun blazed, licking the tops of the trees softly, and the waves lapped against the shore. Sand wiggled between my toes, as there was no real floor to this bar, and I smiled for I had no idea what anyone else was doing; I found my spot, my world, and I danced in it, swaying to the song while dreaming up stories of romance and adventure.
Not every venture is going to be full of gold, yet there is satisfaction among the silver and debris. It is easy to forget the privilege and the honor of living a lifestyle that can be far apart from others. I look at the locals and wonder how many of them ever get a chance to go off the island. On the outside, Puerto Rico is picturesque, but there might be something underneath the fine wallpaper and colorful paint. Looking back through the window, how is it fair for the non locals to wander about while somewhere someone, some family is struggling for power or water or so many things we’ve promised but never delivered. At the time, that didn’t dawn on me because it was another vacation. I was lost inside myself, struggling with what was ultimately inconsequential. Yet so many times those words echo through the beautiful patterns weaving a warm blanket, trying to stain it with bumps and ugliness: Consider yourself lucky. You have it pretty good, unlike others. There is no reason for you to be upset.
Something pushes back, smoothing the bumps in the blanket: Your journey is your journey. No one can make you feel bad about anything you shouldn’t feel bad about. You make and shape and mold things the way you see.
Paddle, paddle, paddle. I jump on the board quick, gliding swiftly through the waves in order to make it past the reefs where they waited, their curls peeling gracefully. I ignore the jellyfish, tucking my body flat against the board as I took a brief rest. My muscles needed to be strong. They were. I miss the first few, the fear telling me I will drown, but eventually I climb the wall and jump over, falling into water and then flying like the seagulls.
One by one they Crash, crash, crash And rise again, tall Like the mountains Again and again I fall Head first, the water Swallowing me whole and Vowing not to let me go Kick, kick, kick I breach the surface and Break its cruel grasp Only to see its brother Crash, crash, crash Over my bobbing head Which knows how to evade One by one I crest their hills and Wait,wait, wait To catch its fall and Glide across its face As we move as one With a delicate harmony that Ends when it finally falls And stays still And I have to go back Over the hills as they Crash, crash, crash To catch that harmony Again
There is nothing quite like surfing in Puerto Rico. There is an elegant and grace which is different compared to all the other places I have tried. There is also not a challenge quite like surfing. I am going against nature, testing its boundaries and limits, and with each fall I either succumb to its might or get back up and fight again. I have fallen and nearly suffocated, the water pulling me under and flipping me like laundry. I have been bruised and battered, nearly breaking a board and an elbow. With each fight, there is a newfound respect which brings the unity between nature and human closer. In order to accept the challenge, I must understand the challenge.
The Rover watches me from afar, swimming alone in the tides. A slight guilt tugs at me; I should not be abandoning them. Your journey is your journey. No one can make you feel bad about anything you shouldn’t feel bad about. You make and shape and mold things the way you see. Do what you want. Have you ever allowed yourself to do that?
No because I am a brat if I do so. I have to branch out anyway, even if they don’t. I can’t win.
Small victories come in unexpected places. There are certain things that are acceptable to venture into, such as horseback riding- which we never did do, much to my disappointment because apparently the Great Boss refused to ride anywhere that wasn’t along a beach- and others that are not acceptable, such as drinking alcohol or eating beans and anything with a strange sauce. Odd, but nevertheless true, is discovering certain paint can be used to cover up scratch or dent in the rental car so we don’t have to pay extra. Ethical? That is debatable, but I laugh and take note of the creativity. It will be needed in future problem solving.
Where I am? I can see the lizards crawling across the floor, startling me but not scaring me, for it is a welcome companion I am not accustomed to having. I can see the sun casting a beautiful glow as the ships sail beyond the evening. Where am I going?
I wake up to darkness. Sweat gathers on my forehead. I am still in the hotel.
I get up and reach for a blank postcard stuck inside my bag. I write haphazardly, scribbling all the details before I forget them all. I have already forgotten so many.
I slide the postcard under their arm, then return to my own sleep.