I am exhausted. My feet are telling me to stop, but my mind is telling me to carry on. We have been walking for hours, days, weeks, months, years, who knows for how long. At first I felt nothing, but some of my stories, my memories, are tapping into a deeper well, one I didn’t know existed until a grating yell, the sight of an athletic field, the lyrics of a specific song, and the ghost of a name dig it up, and the geyser explodes, and I’m flinching, I’m fleeing, I’m huddling, wishing it would go away, and I feel it all over again. Shame. Guilt. Once again, I cannot live with myself. I cannot bear it.
“I need to rest,” I tell my companions, and we find another bench where we sit, my younger self full of impatience, of inexplicable anger at the world for giving them a mouth that cannot seek, a body full of things others either do not understand or condemn. So days its easier, but other days its harder, and this is one of those days. I hate having one of those days, but it happens, and I’m learning to look at it from all sides. I learning that “just get over it” is an expression crafted by the ignorant, by those who never had to live through unresolved pain, through relentless pain caused by those filled with unreasonable hatred that spreads like wildfire. Trauma. The word is trauma and it comes in many different forms and in many different degrees, but it is there, mistaken as something temporary or acute when really it can be chronic, the flare up coming years after it happened or even daily through the incessant brutality of war and corruption or in a moment where finally, just finally, everything is normal. But nothing is ever normal. Normal is gone. Those who pretend to be normal are living in a lie.
Ah, my apologies for the pessimism. I guess it’s just one of those days. The woman with the beautiful name stares at me, reading my hazel eyes and the stories kept within them. “Are you trapped?” she says in a blanket statement that seems to capture everything in one fell swoop. ” Because I know I am. Some days I want to go back, to try and do it all over again, but I know I can’t, and that hurts, so I’m left feeling everything I don’t want to feel again, and its just another endless cycle.”
“Stagnant. It all seems so stagnant, with no change being made.” She nods in agreement, and as she does, I see the swirling clouds overhead break, exposing a patch of brilliant blue in a sea of grey. Something melts away, and the dark thoughts that try to warp my reality into a nightmare vanishes. I am left with an ironic, if not downright hypocritical, smile.
“Although, sometimes the littlest change is being made. We might be looking for the big change we we sometimes overlook it.”
I dive in right then and there, telling her a story that seems irrelevant, insignificant, but only because I wasn’t looking through the right lens. My younger self listens, intrigued, although their gaze is sky bound, searching for that same patch of blue swimming inside of the grey.
For years, I’ve been wanting, but never moving. “I want to write a novel,” ” I want to see the shores of New Zealand”, “I want to have my own house.” The last one is difficult as the economy is not the best for my generation to own something for themselves. Prices go up, but salaries remain the same, at a fixed rate, making it close to impossible to buy a half a million on less than forty thousand salary, with or without a master’s degree. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying it; I never understood the world at large. The others, however, come from a state of fear. I am afraid to move because I am afraid of change. I’ve always hated change. Even just changing the clock back or forward an hour would send me into a nose dive. So I must take baby steps, small sides, and sometimes the littlest of changes can be the greatest move.
“I was never meant to be ordinary, nor does that mean I was meant to be extraordinary,” I say, trying to sound like a wise owl that has absorbed everything from its perch, and just like that it knows how everything works. My other self looks at me skeptically, so I elaborate. ” I was meant to be other, outside the boundary of where the world says I’m supposed to be. Someone in between and not in between, almost like a vagabond, wondering but not lost, knowing instinctively where I’m going instead of following a map. I was meant to live in a place made for me, a house made for me…”
My other self interrupts with a sharp bark of laughter. ” This is an awfully worded way to say you want a house.”
I nudge them. ” Not just any house. A tiny house, a house I could possibly make with my own bare hands and in the style and design that I want. And as you know, its not easy for us to just go out and do it. The question is always ‘how’ and no one ever gives you a clear answer. It’s like learning to ride a bike. How do you do it? ‘Well,’ they say, usually smugly, ‘ you just get on and ride.’ At no point do they consider telling you ‘Well, first you need to sit on the seat and find your balance. You should sit squarely in the middle, your hips facing forward. When you are ready, lift your feet off the ground. Then place one foot on the pedal, push it forward, then do the same with the other foot.’ It’s all in the details, which no one every thinks about. Nor do they think about those small changes, those baby steps that gradually build into a big change.”
I could have taken my baby steps in my back yard, finding a tiny house right down the street an envisioning myself having a conversation with the homeowners:
“What brings you a few steps outside your home? You’re not an agoraphobe are you? Because exposure therapy doesn’t work- believe me, I’ve been exposed to my husband for thirty years and he still disgusts me,” the older woman would laugh as she rolled up her sleeves, exposing weathered arms used to bearing hard work in the sun.
“No, I’ll in the market, as it were, for a tiny house,” I would say with the bravado of one whose brain isn’t full of messy wiring unable to connect to the right bridges. ” I know next to little, and I was hoping you could tell me all about them, answer a few questions on how to go about it.”
The woman and I would talk for hours over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. There would be a good flame brewing between us, a light breeze easing any tension, adding only a comfortable affability. Again, this is what I’ve sculpted in my mind, but I was never good at pottery. Before I can even raise the clay and shape it to how I wanted, it falls, too saturated, too slippery for a firm foundation. Instead, my words are trapped inside my mouth and I continue trotting in my habits of a lone and withdrawn wolf.
No. Staying inside my backyard would do no good, if only because I had an itch that needed scratching. My scratch off map of the world constantly stares at me, tempting me to go places I’ve never gone before. It’s logical to say I closed my eyes and picked a random place, but I kind of knew where I was going already.
What the hell is in Iowa besides rows and rows of plowed farmland? Is it just another place to escape, to get of the grid and disappear away from crowds, away from people who would have no clue where I am going? Maybe. But perhaps curiosity had driven me to check out the University of Iowa, which I am told has an excellent program for creative writing. To apply for a graduate program, which mainly consists of workshops and studying adjacent classes from another section, there needs to be a compilation, a portfolio of all the greatest hits in the form of a planned novel, several short stories, poetry, or a combination of the three. Looking at it was both an intimidating and exciting prospect, and I faintly pictured whether I could live in Iowa for two years.
So once again, I had packed my bags, hoping to find some hiking trails along the way. Except when I get to Iowa, I lose my nerve, and avoid a pit stop to the University of Iowa. The self doubt knocks me on my back, and the violent whispers land blow after blow:
You are not good enough to be a writer.
You’re writing sucks.
You have terrible ideas.
Do you really think you could live here, so far away from the life you know? Remember what happened the last time you tried to live so far away? How did that work out?
“You chickened out,” my younger self says, and perhaps I am not the role model I envisioned I could be for me after all. If they see me chicken out, so to speak, then they might never have the courage to do what I couldn’t do. Or perhaps they will do the opposite, and find the courage to do what I didn’t do, what I’m not sure if I’ll ever do.
“Yes, I chickened out. Not all was lost, though, because I did see the type of future I wanted for myself, and that is all that matters.”
Tethered hearts, with separate beats Breathe side by side, their life incomplete Without someone to keep them still Against the hurricane that threatens to fill Their dreams, once so bright With nightmares designed to fright And make it so their breaths come so fast Panic surges, and they have nothing left to grasp Their hands, once cold, but now are warm Held to each other, anchors newly born Tethering their hearts, with separate beats Steadying their breaths, their lives made complete The storm moving on, leaving the seas quiet and still And their dreams so bright No longer trembling in fright Tethered hearts, with separate beats Anchored together, inseparable, complete
I arrived in the small town of Bellevue in the late afternoon, driving away from the University without ever going near it, telling myself I could try again someday. The drive took me near the Illinois line; in fact, only a short bridge stood in between the two states, with a deep green river running through it. The further away from the city, the quieter it got, and I knew I smiled, absorbing the tranquility refracting beneath a high sun.
The first thing I past was a national park, and naturally I make a mental note to explore it later. First thing was I needed to find the place, and after several missed turns because the street I was looking for was narrow and thin and more like an alley, I find it on the left of the RV campground where one or two strangers look at me as I park. I ignored them, typing in the code on the keypad and unlocking the gate in which heaven was on the other side. It was designed for me. It had nearly everything I could ever need or want, with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River as an added bonus. The weather was a bit chill for that time of year, so much to my delight there was a hot tub right outside, centered idyllically so the stars and the moon hung overhead. I took advantage of that luxury every night, not just to absorb its warmth, but to let my body relax, the pressure of the weighted world lifted for just a moment. There were no worries or stress, doubts about myself and my future, no anger about the injustices carried out each day, about wondering whether I will survive in a place designed to make it nearly impossible to. Everything melted away, swimming beneath my feet as I let myself soar among the stars and the moon. It was a luxury, one that many cannot afford to take and so the opportunity must be taken if only to escape, to keep everything frozen in place while I hang onto a fresh breathe of air.
Of course, before I could take one step into my new, temporary surroundings giving me a good idea of a new goal I’d like to have- and goals were never my thing, because I always thought they were impossible to achieve, but this I was going to achieve somehow, someday, when I was not afraid to make a change- there was a bit of a snag. I didn’t take the wrong bus or get lost. Instead, I locked myself out, forgetting the combination to the pad even though I insisted I had the right set of numbers. The hostess were not far away, but from the looks of it no one was home, although if my social anxiety would have permitted it, one good knock would have confirmed what I was too stubborn not to try.
Even worse, I had locked my phone inside the house. Any information I needed to unlock myself was on there, and yet it might as well have been floating a thousand miles down the river. I cursed. I shouted ” Idiot!” at least a half dozen times before my head cleared and I remembered I brought my computer along, if not to complete the phony writer’s aesthetic then to actually sit down and actually write something decent. Quickly, my screams of “Idiot!” shifted to ” Beautiful genius!” and I hurried to log on. Unfortunately, I needed WIFI, and it was only in the house, not outside of it, and what little there was had
poor connection. I was in a small town. There were not a lot of places to go. Hunger was settling in, and I had thought about checking out a local joint, a place I’ve never been to before as one should do on any decent adventure. But I needed to get in the house first, so I drove around, searching for anything- a library, a refrigerator, a freaking space satellite- that would give off a signal. My savior came in the form of a rugged convenient store slash gas station: Casey’s.
Once I fetched the four digit code in which I tried all variations except that one, I decided I was too exhausted to do more, so I picked up a few things and decided to cook. It wasn’t by any means a fancy meal, and usually on trips I don’t cook not only because it’s not a skill I’m particularly good at and hesitate to practice, but in a way to remind myself not to get used to this domesticated life, that I’m only borrowing it for a little and its not really my life to have permanently( also exploring was always good, perhaps I should have stuck with that).
” I also wanted to immerse myself in the independent living experience,” I say, and I spot a silver coin glinting at me from a crack in the sidewalk. A natural fidgeter, I pick it up, play with it in my hands and feel the cool edges between my fingers as I continue to drone on and on for a miraculously captive audience. “Never before had I called something my own, and I was picturing myself finally owning a house just for me in an economy that says I can’t own anything. I was picturing myself being successful, accomplishing something that seems so trivial to the world but is the world to me. Which reminds me, no one is allowed to discount your success, no matter what shape or size it takes.”
I spent the night taking in my surroundings, losing myself in thoughts and ideas related to my story, the one I’ve been dedicating so much time prepping to share with the world. It felt like I was on a retreat, living in a quiet house near a quiet river, the sky and stars and rain giving me all the time to think. The thoughts came and went, some staying stuck in one place. That’s when I went to sleep, trying to give my brain a break to refresh and rejuvenate, but my dreams and sudden sinus issues made it nearly impossible to rest. I struggled to sleep, and I begged my body not to jump, not to be so jittery for no discernable reason. But my jitteriness was corelated to my dreams, and my dreams were corelated to my worries and fears, for sometimes when I woke I felt something unwelcome linger, a parasite looking to feed. I asked Bill years ago why this happened, and his voice echoed with words I thought were wisdom but really were dismissal:
Our brains are linked to filing cabinets; sometimes bad memories from our past are going to pop out, the file brought to us when we least expect it.
How do we get rid of them? How do we make them go away so they never come back?
He had no answer for me.
When morning came, it was a slow start. There was no alarm set, no urgency to complete tasks, no specific plan. That can be good sometimes, having no plan and having all the time in the world. Ironically, that time is spent quickly, and it disappears as rapidly as two hundred bucks on a new jacket. I sat and ate from a bowl of cereal while whipping out my computer and writing again, my self doubt and confidence was again mingling in a strange sort of dance, a cross between a foxtrot and a waltz. Eventually, I pulled away, wanting to explore the few hills Iowa had to offer.
I drove out of Bellevue, away from the river and onto flatter roads winding through flat plains and cornfields. There was something idyllic, tranquil even, about being out on open roads with a broad and clear blue sky guiding my way. Any inner storms were calmed, and I was drifting along, a faint voice rasping its dread of the kinds of people I would find here. But there were no suggestive flags broadcasting their motives, so if there were any animosity, it was well hidden, and I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse. Perhaps better because I’ve spent years masking and hiding and pretending to be something I’m not, and I’ve done it so much I do not know who I am without it, preferring to glide among shadows. I can fake a smile and pleasantries to those whose motives I do not know, I can fake who I am, too, because I don’t know and perhaps I shouldn’t know. But it hurts to hide, and perhaps knowing who is going to hurt me will make it hurt less. I know that hardly makes sense, but neither do those wicked people.
First stop: Maquoketa Caves State park. I wish I could say more, but when I arrived I immediately saw smoke. The little I learned about the park was that it housed several bats, perhaps a few different species, and they were in hibernation, sheltering in the backs of the caves behind the stalagmites and stalactites. The caves were off limits, closed during the season, but not the trails. I managed to walk around for about an hour, surprised there were small hills in a place I thought had nothing.
“But I realized if you look around enough, you can find gems in a field full of straws,” I say, and my companions nod, perhaps even sigh. Maybe they’ve heard this before but it is worth repeating. Sometimes things need to be repeated in order to make it stick.
Most of the time, I visit places and hardly stop to talk to people, and they don’t talk to me. The gem, however, is found in the unexpected moments where two people just find themselves being, an a conversation flows. As the fire grew throughout the park, with hardly a ranger nearby, my curious also grew: why was no one doing anything? I start to approach a trail lightly aflame when a voice stopped me.
“I wouldn’t go over there if I were you. I was just there, and it’s practically engulfed in flames,” she was a young college student, taking pictures for a class project she was making at a university an hour’s drive away.
“So what are we doing mulling about then?” I asked. ” If the whole place is on fire, shouldn’t someone be doing something?” But then I remembered, and whispers from long ago came floating back, swarming my head like bees. In some instances, fires are purposely set, in order to protect the habitat, clear out any invasive species, and just sort of act as a sort of spring cleaning.
I could tell the girl needed a confidence boost, so I pretended to let her educate me, although the information was slightly off. She didn’t believe me when I gently inserted this could be purposely set, especially since we watched a ranger walk calmly down the smoking path. But it didn’t matter. The fact that I was striking up a casual conversation with a total stranger mystified and excited me, made me feel accomplished. Of course this wasn’t the first time, but it was one of the rare moments where it came natural, where I didn’t have trouble searching for the words to say, where my body wasn’t strained and tensed, sweating inwardly as the muscled tried to contract into a semblance of a warm smile. It was easy, and conversing was never easy.
“You didn’t need a piece of paper or anything?” my younger self wonders, bewildered, and I nod knowingly. There was a time when my best conversations were the written conversations, and I would write notes to people, notes about random stuff I cannot remember but allowed me to get vulnerable, allowed me to express myself in ways talking never could. Of course, they smiled, amused, or flat out laughed, unsure what to do with the information or my unique sense of communicating. I had stopped doing it because I was consciously aware how weird and strange it made me, and I was trying desperately to blend in, to do what I was expected to do, therefore I needed to communicate the way I was expected to even though it was sometimes downright difficult, if not outright impossible.
“No, I didn’t. It’s like something changed, something shifted, and the river was no longer blocked, and the things that were supposed to float, floated,” I remember all the times I ran against the dam, trying to push through but my words were flung back, lodging themselves further into my throat. I used to think it would be cool to be a werewolf where I could just howl endlessly into the night and release my anger by tearing up the trees- or, I suppose, innocent bystanders and create an heinous act of violence that simultaneously scared all the townspeople. In reality, I was more like a banshee, always screaming because it was my only way to communicate when the words were trapped away. It was frustrating, unable to have access to the words and then unable to talk and express myself. It was more frustrating when people initiated the conversation and I had no satisfactory follow up, relying on a rehearsed script I’ve mimicked from others to get me through it.
Diamonds I came home empty, carrying a bucket Full of dull rocks That will pay for nothing No clothes No food No new timber for the wood That burned because I didn't know How to pour out the water "It's simple!" he yelled And my cheek turned red "You just throw the water And make it go out!" But he never showed me how To throw The only thing I can do Is dig Beneath the earth full of diamonds And those will pay For food For clothes For the timber I let burn So I went out with the bucket With each day carrying nothing But rocks I went out once more, carrying a bucket To the furthest mountain Covered in mud and snow And monsters that spit and bite Searching for the elusive diamonds That have yet to fall in my sight "Whatever you are looking for, you won't find it here" she crowed Flicking the dirt And it landed on my face Dry and cold From walking so far For diamonds that don't exist Above the earth I came home empty, carrying a bucket Full of dull rocks Meant to replace the roof If it won't pay for nothing else No food No clothes No new timber that burnt Because I saw the poison Spreading side to side Ready to take our breath And seal it with the diamonds Beneath the earth And I said nothing as I watched The smoke rise, the fire burn "It's that simple!" he yelled Not knowing it was far more simple To set a match, let it light Than to throw water and smother Our life.
My afternoon cut short, I decided to get out of there, the fire making it impossible to continue further. I drove, the windows down and the wind whipping across my face, making my way to the nearest town for some food. Ironically, there was nothing there, nothing open despite the signs saying they were. I thought I was in a ghost town, but it wasn’t completely lifeless. A few construction workers stood outside a church, digging away at the pavement while wiping their brows of the few beads of sweat dripping not so much from the heat but from the vigorous work load. The church, I noticed, waved a rainbow pride flag, and I couldn’t help but smile as my heart filled with hope. Flags mean things these days, and certain flags radiate hate while others ensure hope and safety. When roaming the back roads of West Virginia, I noticed many signs of hate, but here it has been more discreet. To find blue in a red place was reassuring, for it meant that there were decent folk in the toughest of places fighting for the simplicity of loving thy neighbor no matter who they are.
My stomach was growling, and the frustration grew: how was it impossible to find something to eat around here? Then I remembered it was the off season, and everything operated differently. I spent most of the day driving around, finally stopping at an off brand Taco Bell which was surprisingly delicious and better than Taco Bell, although that’s probably unfair because I’ve never actually eaten at a Taco Bell (I know, I know, not even in college, and its quite blasphemous to some who hold it as a sacred ritual to pull up at the drive thru at two in the morning drunkenly asking for the biggest burrito they have to offer).
I didn’t have much of a plan afterwards. Most people that travel have some sort of itinerary to fill their days, but I didn’t, maybe concocting half baked ideas of where I would like to go, and avoiding the places I should have gone. I drove back to the tiny house, choosing to explore Bellevue and the surrounding neighborhoods. Within walking distance was one half of a National Park, and of course I gravitated towards it, choosing the back way to approach it instead of wasting gas. I walked through an idyllic neighborhood, the houses lined up perfectly spaced. There were trampolines and toy jeeps scattered throughout the yards, signs of ordinary life carrying on with business as usual.
The park laid beside a stream that ran around in one giant circle before eventually going back to the river. I walked along side it, watching the soccer game take place in a spacious field. Of course, I didn’t get too close; they were children, and it would be weird in the bad kind of way if I leered at them, a journal in one hand. Instead, I just followed the trail, making my way across the bridge and up a steep hill where it split in two directions.
I wanted to explore as much as possible and sweat as much as possible, so I took the steeper route first, winding my way along the ridge that overlooked the plain valley below, extending all the way to the water’s edge. It was perfect up here, and I didn’t pass a single person, which in this case made it more enjoyable.
“Sometimes its nice to have company, sometimes they distract you and you miss out, unable to fully absorb what’s in front of you. Besides, if the gears aren’t turning, or you are stuck on a thought that won’t go away, the quiet can loosen it for you, and the thought can free itself from the jam, in return freeing you.”
I avoided having any conversations with anyone, which further proved how much everyone in the town just minded their own business. I continued exploring outside, returning only for an little dip in the hot tub and then writing again. It was a routine, the gears moving like clockwork, and I began finding a rhythm. Some places I cannot wait to leave, but in others I almost become a permanent resident. I had to remind myself, pull myself away as roughly as pulling off a band aid, that this was not a place to be a permanent resident of. Temporary, maybe, but never permanent.
“Why was that?” my younger self asks.
“Because I have something back home worth returning to. Or so I believe on the good days, when serotonin and dopamine haven’t abandoned me and I still feel something.”
“But I’d rather feel nothing. If I feel nothing, I wouldn’t have to feel like…”
“Like what? Like a firecracker has been set off and your heart has just been blown to a million pieces? Well, it may take time, but its possible to collect those pieces and make your heart whole again. It won’t be perfect; there will still be cracks hardened with glue, but it won’t be so easy to fall a part again. What can be built, can also be rebuilt stronger, and the scars are there to remind us how far we’ve come, not necessarily to always reopen.”
“And what if it happens again? What if it blows up again?”
“Then you’ll just have to rebuild again.”
There was this small walking trail that ran riverside along the edge of the town. It eventually lead to a small park, no bigger than a pond with a few benches and a water fountain. The water fountain was dedicated to two teenage boys who died over fifty years ago in a car accident. It was curious; there seemed to be nothing particularly remarkable about these boys except they were members of the local American legion. Of course, their families were devastated, their own hearts blown apart, and erecting a monument was a way to rebuild, to mend the wounds made and left behind. Perhaps it would be egregious to ask why there was a monument dedicated to those who did not do anything remarkable. Just two white boys, who during the time period may not have been the outstanding gentleman they were purported to be in everyone’s eyes. Still, they mattered to someone, mattered enough to be remembered despite the nihilistic view that everyone will be forgotten eventually.
It’s only the select few whose footsteps are large and noticeable, those few who usually mark the pages of history books. But the world is full of history, big and small, and of lives, big and small, that matter. I didn’t think Iowa was a land that had any hills, and yet there were some, most notably in an area known as the Mines of Spain. As the name implies, it was an area devoted to lead mining, mostly worked by the Mesquakie, who also carried on fur trading with French voyagers, or so I was told through a sign near one of the trail heads. There were fifteen trails that theoretically went in one long loop, totaling roughly fourteen miles. Theoretically. The map says otherwise, with all the backtracking to be done in order to cross to another trail.
There wasn’t a whole lot of time for me to explore and dig myself into the history of one Julien Dubuque, a man I never heard of but in this area he was made memorable at the national park level. I cannot remember the reason why I had to hurry, but I hurried, walking my way across rolling plains until I reached Horseshoe Bluff. It wasn’t a huge mountain or anything, but it rose high out of the ground, overlooking the Mississippi River that continued to wrap itself through territory that possessed a simple beauty, one that made it easy to forget the bad that may or may not have happened. When I think of Iowa, I tend to lump it in with the likes of Ohio and Oklahoma, Mississippi and Missouri, states notorious for maintaining the status quo of the 1800’s. But Iowa was quieter, not so monstrous and hopeless with its pockets of bad people that can be found almost anywhere. I guess after spending so many years in hiding, I want to be able to come out in a place where I won’t immediately be burned at the stake.
Of course, I took the longer route, the more difficult route, the route that require me to climb almost vertically uphill. When it came time to come down, I would do the same- take the route that required more effort. I liked the challenge, the thrill of climbing like a monkey up, up, up through the rocky trail. It was a way for me to prove something to myself, although what that was is still unclear.
I’ve always told myself: if I can find a way up, I can find a way down because I must come down. “The same can be applied to whatever slump you are in right now,” I say, reflecting on where my younger self is at the moment. They are reaching the end of the road, a road which splits off into many different paths, and they don’t want to choose any of them. Instead, they will reach for the pill bottle and it will make the choice for them. Except that choice becomes to live. ” Whatever you get yourself into, there is always a chance to get out of it. I know it doesn’t seem like it when you’re high up on the ledge and its too steep to go down so you think you have to jump. But if you wait long enough, give yourself time to breathe and to think, you’ll find the gentle slope hidden behind overgrown branches, and you’ll find your way out, a safer wait out.”
They don’t reply. Instead, myself stares at the ground, probably trying to smother their tears, their rage, all the things they are feeling and they don’t know why. I sigh,
I spent most of my time thinking out there, thinking of stories, of dreams, of my own difficulties keeping me bound in dissatisfaction, keeping me separated from everything else. I am an alien in a strange new land, navigating with what I have, which is missing a lot of the standard packaging everyone else has. The clouds grew close, and the rain came down, gentle at first, then persistent, pouring through the evening and into the next day. I was landlocked, unable to get to the other National Park that was right next door, and I promised myself I would go towards the entrance and work out, stay in shape and work on my speed because the pressure was there to do so. I couldn’t get a run in, so I stay in the tiny home, testing if I had enough space to do a body workout. I did, and perhaps the pressure was too great for I may have pinched a nerve in my shoulder from going too hard, too fast, believing I needed to push myself to be good enough for the team that waited for me back home, the team that expected so much that I couldn’t fail them.
It’s all your fault that we lost.
You were supposed to be there and back me up. You left me.
I better not see you crying. You are just going to bring everyone down, and we don’t need that negative energy.
After so many years, their voices still carry into my head, and the blame tears at me viciously. I shouldn’t let it, but the depth in which my spirit has been wrecked knows no bounds, and the ghosts continue to haunt me, although from a further distance then before.
I decided I needed to get out into the rain. For once, I was going to explore the city, and Dubuque was the closest one, an industrial one from the first glance. An old train ran through it, and some of the shops and restaurants were in buildings once reserved for factories. Yet there was a distinct comely appeal; there was something about it that was reserved and nice, not overcrowded and boisterous, although again it could be due to the off season. The rain let up just enough for me to explore and wander, and once again finding food was difficult, with places that said they were open actually closed. I hunted like a wolf, stalking down a place that would meet my need after spending the afternoon walking in circles, circles that showed me corners I never would have seen otherwise. Eventually, I end up at a restaurant that typically wasn’t my style; it was the kind of place people went to after work, still dressed in a suit and tie or a cocktail dress. Yet the food was delicious, the quality beating out the price and portion size.
I spend the evening walking around a bit, wondering if I could truly live a city life. But I start to think that maybe I was not made for one life or another; rather, I was meant to live them all, to live several, to take bits and pieces here and there and make it my own, something that didn’t reflect the typical but reflected who I was instead.
“We are our own painting,” the girl with the beautiful name comes to the same realization as I did, much earlier than I did. ” We paint with the colors we want, and some of those colors need to be mixed before we can spread it out on a canvas in a way that we see. It’s not always going to be straight lines and shapes; there are going to be curves and shadows and angles that make it a unique copy rather than a carbon copy.”
“But what is unique, anyway?” my younger self shoots back with bitterness. ” No one is unique; there is no such thing.”
“It’s not about being unique, its about being you, and that may or may not break from the millions of paintings done in the same way. You could have Picasso’s portrait, but the nose is made different.” I know they are too young to understand; hell, I’m not sure if I understand or even make sense, but it makes sense to me, and that’s all that matters. It will make sense to my younger self in their own time.
One of the things I saw in Dubuque was a museum-aquarium, a combination I never knew existed. Part of the exhibit started out with a display of artifacts culminating in the history of the town, the tribes that lived by the river, and the methods used to get by in a time verging on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. Then it broke of, almost like a train, and each compartment held different things, such as a boat making shop to see how the different boats were made, until finally it was time for the animals to appear. Some were outside, the winged birds that needed the air and the tortoises that needed the water. It was one community made of different parts that worked well, and this kind of life was what suited them- at least, I’m lead to believe until a salamander speaks up and protests the indignity of being put on display or there is a flat out riot in the animal kingdom.
In the nighttime they crawl One by one Monsters by day Unwanted by the light They roam the empty streets Basking in their own delight In the nighttime they come out One by one Stuck behind a veil Smothering their dreams Battered and broken And gone unseen In the nighttime they are free One by one Doing as they please Unafraid of the monsters they are called For the real monsters sleep In their own halls In the nighttime no one looks As one by one They take off their masks Dancing, singing, playing In those empty streets Finally feeling whole, alive, unbetraying
It’s funny, I’ve been told, how a lot of people can’t seem to go somewhere without someone or without having something planned out, like a vacation must be a vacation in some sort of way, bustling with grandiose, life changing activities. That does not need to be the case. Sometimes a vacation can be simple, something used to just go find who you are, what you want to do, how you want to live. I used to think I wasn’t complete without someone, and in a way I was right- I am not complete without myself, the most important person in my life because I’m the one I’m going to be with the longest.
I discovered the tiny house was for me. It fit me as perfectly as my favorite baseball cap. The next step will be to figure out how to go about establishing my own tiny house in my own ideal area. Do I want to build it myself? Do I want to buy one off another? Am I financial capable of having one? So many questions, yet I know it’s the type of life I need, the type of life I have been exhaustively fighting to find.
So yes, I am exhausted. I am exhausted of the world telling me what I should do, how I should be, how I should live. I am exhausted of trying to fit inside the wrong box, a box that’s too small or too suffocating. I am exhausted of not seeing my stories, my experience, reflected in the media consumed on a daily basis, alienating me further. I am exhausted for others, who fight on a daily basis just to be able to breath the same air, to eat the same food, to live without dying a senseless death caused by ignorance and fear. When I am tired, when I am exhausted, pessimism takes the opportunity to dominate and I no longer wish for it to dominate. I will with my abled body take it on my last walk through the park and toss it over the hill, watching it float through the stream and past those playing soccer. It will not go away completely, but it will not dominate.
“You will have your heart stripped from you. You will be broken and battered, staring into a mirror and trying not to cry. You will cry, but you will wipe the tears away and continue on as silent as the wind. But you will learn to live again. You will smile and laugh and dance and do all the things that were taken from you. You will be lost, but you will find your way back to where you were supposed to be all along. And it won’t be your fault you got lost. The world threw you upside down, disorienting you, and you were given no map to return.” I finish scribbling on the postcard, the words dark and bleary as I rush and smush them together. The words don’t matter as much as the picture they have formed, a picture of myself dressed the way they like to dress, my hair the way I want it, my body marked my tattoos yet to come. I hand the postcard over, and they take it, their eyes looking anywhere but at me.
They don’t say a word. They don’t need to. My companions sit in silence, listening to the world moving around them. The day is clear and bright and warm, and it won’t always be like that. But days like these exist, and we have to try to let the pessimism sleep still within them.