The sun tears through the tent, the light ricocheting off the orange flaps, and my eyelids are blinded by multi-colored stripes. I yawn, stirring. My companion is awake, stiff and motionless from the discomfort of a cool night. There were no blankets, no soft pillow, none of those things we treat as a need when it is in fact a luxury. Not for the first time, although perhaps now it has really sunk it, I understand what it is like to sleep with nothing but the clothes on your back, have nothing but what is made available to you in the moment. This tent was left behind by minimalists who could afford to be so. It’s ironic; campers and hikers praise themselves on living off the bare minimal, but the equipment they carry and use for shelter and food costs more than the bare minimal.
I am allowing my thoughts to wander. I stretch, yawn again, and go out, listening to the sea gulls squall in the early morning. My feet touch the sand, hard and frozen until that first step breaks it, then it is loose. The ocean sings softly, waiting. My companion follows, also waiting.
“We are back to the beginning,” they say sleepily.
I shake my head. ” No. There is no beginning. We are only back to where we started, with sharper minds, or perhaps duller wits.”
We walk around, warming ourselves up as our feet drag in the sand. We say nothing, each of us lost in our own thoughts. A seagull lands in front of us, cocking its head in curiosity: do we have any food?
“Do you want to go home now?” I say softly. “I think there is enough for you to take, if you still want those stack of postcards, of stories half complete, half learned.”
“No.” There is no hesitation, which surprises me, although it shouldn’t. I am made of strong stuff, even if I don’t realize it yet.
“Alright. Let me take you to a place I think you’ll enjoy. As with most places, it should be looked at carefully, through introspective eyes instead of superficial ones.”
The cobble road stretches Down into a night Cold with whispers Haunting and taunting The stranger Bound towards an old house Waiting and fading With the years laid forgotten As the stranger who wasn't a Stranger Left and became one The cobble road is cold As the stranger walks Towards an old oak door Locking and sealing From the stranger Laughter and mirth That once belonged to him Before he left His heart aching To see the other side of The world Instead of those who knew How to make him smile Knock, Knock The light is out Silent and reluctant To answer the stranger Who spent years not answering The old house bound with Laughter and mirth And the blood of two brothers Different but the same Knock, knock The stranger waits The same way his brother Has been waiting For his heart to stop Aching and breaking And finally come Home.
I don’t know why, but it took me awhile to return to a place I had toured as a child: the less modernized, cobble stone streets of historic Boston. The memories are a blur, my childish legs running in and out of a world not of my own making. They stop, however, for a duck tour because they’ve never seen a car act as a boat so it became the only thing that stuck out to me when I thought of Boston. But now something else does, and they swirl together, one collective of happiness and relief. Relief because I found others like myself, others who would understand the most, making the world a little less cold and a little less lonely.
They moved out of 217 into another place, but even that became too toxic for the Batman and Poison Ivy. Naturally, the left it far behind and headed to Boston where the air moved freer even if it was still rank in places. They kept asking me to come on up, to get away, and I kept having some kind of excuse, tied down to the land that owned me.
“But sometimes you need to cut yourself lose and get out there. There might be a better place, a better life hiding. Although you have to be careful; if you keep looking for something better, you are going to ignore what is already in front of you.”
“Then why go?”
“Because a little exploration doesn’t hurt- and I don’t mean literally because yes, the world is a dangerous place where one whim turns into a tragedy, but staying inside as an agoraphobe is equally dangerous,” I pause, catching myself digressing and swaying way off track. ” I mean, other than exploration, there are people worth traveling the entire world for. Besides, they can show you things you would never have thought of, and perhaps you can show them things they never would have thought of.”
For instance, one year I came up there was a hurling tournament right at the Red Sox stadium. It was small, the stands barely filled, yet the numbers were still impressive. They had some small queues offering small souvenirs, the same type of thing that might be seen at a baseball or football game yet somehow better, more informative. A live band played underneath the bleachers, and they weren’t necessarily playing something unique: they were playing U2, an Irish-born band that most Americans would recognize.
” It’s funny, and perhaps I was wrong about it, but they adjusted for us. What does that say, do you wonder? Instead of sharing something we haven’t heard of but is the heart of who they are they share something that is more friendly, that still shares their heart yet waters it down, diluting it.”
My companion shrugs, then speaks with nihilistic cynicism evolved from a cycle of self-abuse. “That Americans are simplistic and self-centered, incapable of learning or cherishing other people’s cultures without stealing it and dismantling it?”
“Perhaps,” I laugh, ” And there is a bit of incomprehension, an unwillingness to grow the mind, I’ll give you that. Take the Batman, for instance. They offered to come with me to the tournament more so out of a genuine sincerity, genuine kindness, that I wouldn’t be alone rather than a genuine interest in the sport, in the Irish culture that gives us St. Patrick’s day that Americans love to celebrate as it is an excuse to drink even though it probably, most likely, means more than that( I cannot pretend to assume and could be mistaken since I am no historian on religious traditions and know little on traditions in general). As I sat in the stands, trying to point out and explain, they were hunched over, watching American football instead. I was a bit disappointed, but I hid it, dismissed it, as it was implied later by a third party I was being ungrateful, that I was ruining the Batman’s day because they should be watching football, not being dragged along to something they have no interest in. And I never asked them to come along, knowing they might not be interested but they insisted. So I clamped my mouth shut and blamed myself for being ungracious, and whether or not I actually was I can’t tell. I can’t tell what I am being like anymore, whether I’m kind or a brat, generous or selfish, or just somewhere in between. My mind is stuck on black and white and the switch is jammed, broken, the lights flickering on and off until I’m blinded, my head hurting and left exposed. In these moments, I hate myself, and I fall beneath a shadow that works to weaken me until I can’t breathe.”
They stare quietly at me, and I know they know what I mean. They don’t have the words, but they can feel it.
Still, there was never a truly bad moment in Boston. I met some new people, friends of the Batman and Poison Ivy, who were pleasant to be around, and I learned about bits of their life. I even ran with them in a Turkey Trot around a gorgeous pond half frozen by Boston’s chilly climate. It was nice afterwards, sitting in an IHop eating a warm mid morning breakfast with people I normally wouldn’t be with. Typically, people keep a distinction, a barrier between different friend groups, watching as dutifully as a guard for any infiltration and quickly remedying it. The Batman was quite gracious in extending their circle, opening for others to come in.
“Like I said, I struggle with a term so many people understand. All I know is that it is best to keep the door open; you never know who will wander in, staying for a quick bite to eat, for the night, for however long they need to stay. A shut door rejects the stray dog just looking for a warm place to stay and scraps of food to keep it from starving. And the more shut doors there are, the more the dog starves until it no longer bothers looking for a door.”
The Batman was quite gracious in many other ways. They showed me around museums and aquariums, insisting I needed to do something although I was quite content doing the most mundane things. Yes I want to see the world but I also want to see the little moments: from watching a stupid Christmas movie in which the viewers gradually become invested against their will, rushing to watch our favorite movie in twenty minutes before heading out to grab dinner, to simply walking to the grocery store or walking the dog to a park. For me, it is always the journey, not the destination itself that brings the most memories. I stood in that museum trying my best to absorb the information because I did genuinely want to know, with Poison Ivy also taking her time, absorbing everything she has already seen before, but I cannot recall that information. What I can recall is which exhibit Poison Ivy loved the most, standing outside a beautiful archway resting our feet and laughing at something ridiculous as always.
“It’s funny how the brain works, how selective it can be. It can forget concrete facts about the world, but can hang onto facts about individual moments, individual people.”
“Perhaps,” they say, trying to articulate thoughts so often trapped behind a mouth glued shut. ” There’s learning for learning’s sake; learning because you are told to learn, and then there’s learning to make all different kinds of connections from all facets around you. And in that learning, no matter what shape it forms, perhaps that is what the brain hangs onto.”
I raise my brow, amused, but do not reply. Instead, I reach down where the sand lays listlessly and pick it up, letting it run between my fingers. It is funny: all the things out there that can be learned. I can learn that sand, when there’s enough concentration of certain material, becomes glass when hit by lightning. I can learn that two plus two equals four, or the water evaporated becomes vapor, and that it is easy to tell time without a clock by following the rising and setting of the sun. I can learn that some people are hypocrites, not always saying what they mean or doing what they say, that it is hard to forgive and forget without the chance to process and self reflect. I can learn that it is easier to love others than it is the self. But all this learning comes with questions. Why does sand become glass when hit by lightning? Why does two plus two equal four? Why does the sun rise in the east and sets in the west? Why do people make all sorts of rules that don’t make sense? Why are feelings never simple? Why, why, why?
I sound like a two year old always wanting to know why. They say there is no such thing as a stupid question, and that applies to two year old’s. Why? Well, they are asking the right questions, we just might not know the answer because we were never taught the answer. The sun is the sun because it is the sun. Do not question it. While in Boston, there were several things I didn’t question because the sun is the sun after all, but in hindsight perhaps I should have.
Boston is a city, and for city folks it has a lot to offer. Do I necessarily know what it all is? No, because I am not a city person but I try so hard to be one. The Batman, as gracious as they are, perhaps overdid it on the hospitality by taking me to places we both didn’t like but they assumed I would. It can be difficult to balance different friend groups with different personality’s. The Batman and I like to please, so without question we went to a gay bar, which honestly are a whole lot better and more fun than non-gay bars. But neither of us were comfortable, my only saving grace being the dance floor, something that could be made anywhere. The Batman tried, but struggled; as with most people, dancing is a self conscious act.
“But I learned in New York, if you like something, do it, especially not with the stipulation of someone’s approval. Do it, even if you’re terrible because in the end it doesn’t matter. Dance like a fool because you’ll feel better if you do, so untethered do you become, so carefree. Play like a fool. Draw like a fool. Be as untalented as you like, be as goofy as you like so long as you enjoy it. You’ll be so much freer. So get that buffalo hat out of your closet, wear that leopard skin cowboy hat, dress in a Gorilla costume or all gold spandex as you replicate the Olympic torch. In the end, it doesn’t matter. And those people who are bothered by it, aren’t your people. It’s better to be alone than surrounded by those who won’t let you be yourself.” I stand up, letting the last of the sand fall off my fingers, then walk away, not daring to look back.
I know they follow and try to keep up. I’ve adapted my pace to that of the Batman’s , who was always a fast walker. I’ve had to jog to keep up, something I have constantly done since my brain wasn’t programmed with what most people automatically know how to do. Still, I slow and wait, looking over my shoulder to see the shadow of the pier and the thin line of the roller coaster looping closer to the horizon.
Down on hands and knees The maid dug Looking for silver Left by angels cloaked In light Through sand thick and charred By demons cloaked in Dark Laughing and snickering On what they stole From her Down on hands and knees The maid has spent Her time Pushed down a dark well Clawing, climbing Clawing, climbing For the silver taken From a promising Young mind Filled with stories And maps To take her to all places Light instead of dark Instead of here Down on hands and knees The maid who wasn't Dug and dug Looking for the silver They had no right to Steal And the sand grew deep The dark walls coming Down And she found it After the years burned And chipped and spun her Around and around On a carousel to Nowhere She was finally going Somewhere
One after another, bar after bar; it was the thing to do in Boston, besides baseball and football games in stadiums with a interesting history. Bits and pieces come back to my old mind; we toured around the stadium, eating at the Bleacher bar where diners could get an excellent view of the field. We somehow toured around Cambridge- perhaps there was another museum we wanted to check out or that was where we caught a movie I traveled hundreds of miles to see because I’d rather see it with them- crossing paths with Harvard and making disparaging jokes about how we could never get in there, our intelligence small and poor compared to the elite. But who determines intelligence? Harvard is just one kind, a box wrapping those who see the world at a higher level into a confined and limited space where access could be allowed depending on how much money is shelled out. Harvard smart, while appreciated and merited, is not the only kind of smart. If we want to get technical there is the theory of multiple intelligences-linguistic, mathematical, interpersonal, and so on- but even that can be broken down. A single university doesn’t highlight all the strengths and weaknesses out there; if so, everyone would be crowded into the same university. Sometimes being crowded together can be a bad thing, limited growth and development when the fumes are all the same: toxic and strangling. But it can be good when the air is fresh, clearing the head for new ideas that only benefit, never hinder.
I thought about this as once again the Batman asked me to move to Boston. The idea was enticing; I’d be surrounded by those who made me feel good, those who understand some of the struggles I am still conflicted with. I can’t emphasize enough how nice it is to watch a show and a movie and when a sexual scene comes on, Poison Ivy skips it. We’ve both had enough and can’t tolerate it in the moment. We both don’t mind, in fact even enjoy, romantic comedies, but we get the point of a scene and unlike most people don’t need to drag ourselves through it for five minutes. Again, I can tolerate it on most days because it is expected of me to not only tolerate it but enjoy it even when I don’t. I’ve learned to pretend, but the more I pretend, the more it hurts until I cannot do it anymore.
“And the thing is, I blame myself for making anyone uncomfortable for making me uncomfortable. I keep doing it. I keep apologizing for something I shouldn’t apologize for because I’m afraid they won’t want anything to do with me. I adapt, they don’t” I say wryly.
“Maybe you should move to Canada. I hear they apologize for everything all the time,” they smirk, and I can’t help but chuckle.
Boston is a pretty city built with a historic feel that isn’t like any other city. Perhaps I should go here; I can handle and navigate the trams, certain areas are quite convenient, and again I’m around people who I don’t have to worry about saying “hey, I don’t identify with this, I might be this,” and can live my life the way I want to. There are downsides, however, such as the cost of living and the fact I am not a city person.
“I like it right here, on this empty beach, where I can see the water and the night sky twinkling, where I’m not surrounded by people every five feet. I love my space. But for so long the things I thought I wanted was what other people wanted. Do I really want to settle down and get married? No, that is what I am told by family, by society, by media. Do i want to drink? No, that is what I am told by family, by society, by media, and for a couple years I tried it, getting berated for drinking while simultaneously getting subtly berated and excluded for not drinking. Do I want to live in a city? Again, no, that is what I am told by family, by society, by media who each glamorize one way, a specific way, of living. There is no right way- I mean, so long as you aren’t a serial killer and living homeless with no sense of security may not be ideal, but hey, to each their own.”
“And don’t forget is Boston any safer than anywhere else?”
I scoff, letting the bitterness edge my voice. ” In America, no place is safe anymore, unless you are a specific kind of person. Lucky.”
“So where can anyone go anymore if so much of the ground is tainted with blood?”
I let the question linger. The beach stretches on for miles and miles, endless. Grey clouds start to drift in, the wind kicking up a spray of water that licks my hair. I run my hand down its shortness, its rightness. ” I don’t know. But there is a good place out there, somewhere, even if its scrunched in with the bad. Like with every story, every movie, there is a struggle between good and evil when in reality everything sits squarely in between the corrupted and pure. And everyone gets caught in the middle, caught in a web they can’t get out of, kicking and screaming in a pattern that forever repeats itself. I don’t know; maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe I just complain too much, never satisfied and always looking for a place that doesn’t exist.”
“Maybe its because we have to make the place that we want ourselves. A place that is good and happy and uncomplicated.”
Oh, the idealism. It is few and rare in a younger self plagued constantly with doubts and shadows squeezing every bit of happiness. We walk, grabbing onto the happiness pouring through the yellow sunlight. That’s all anyone wants to be, isn’t it? Why does it have to be so damn hard then?
An empty postcard flings itself loose, escaping like a prisoner and bounding over the restless blue water. Out in the distance a ship floats, bobbing up and down, carrying what I hope is another supply of tea, ready to be poured and destroyed as a new uprising begins.