Miss’shitty

I was speeding down I-10 East in a 2014 Ford Fusion as black as the night around me and blasting Duran Duran. I felt at peace, in my element; a big fish in a small pond. The woman working at Enterprise tried to make small talk with me and I ended up inadvertently elevating it to medium talk; she asked if I was traveling for work and I told her no. She was taken aback by my obvious youth in contrast to the itinerary I have lined up for myself, and we parted ways with me feeling a boost of sorts in the wake of returning back to where days are slow and torturously hot. Welcome back, Sarah. People are still shocked by your rock ‘n roll lifestyle.

I arrived in Hattiesburg around 1am, stopping first at Wal-Mart on the off chance that there were avocados inside that we worth a salt. Some guys in ribbed tank tops and snapbacks with nothing better to do were loitering in the parking lot and all turned to look at me as I walked past them with the strut of a woman who, in a Lacoste dress and carrying Kate Spade handbag full of receipts in other languages, just wanted some guacamole and wasn’t having any of their dim-witted misogyny. As I passed them, I could feel their eyes on me and inside I was hissing, willing them to say something to me (because a woman who carries herself well is an unfortunate rarity in this college town replete with females who mainline Nike tempo shorts, oversized sorority t-shirts and those wretched rubber sandals with Velcro straps from the 90s that are making an unfortunate comeback among the youths of today). And yet, they said nothing, for which I was intrinsically grateful. It wasn’t lost on me, though, that I was notably appreciative at not being objectified in a public parking lot; at automatically believing that this was a successful endeavor out into the world solely because unlike most times that I go out in public while also giving half a consideration as to the way I present myself and am subsequently turned from a person into something purely aesthetic, THIS TIME, it wasn’t the case. I walked into Walmart scowling.

Avocado. Peanut butter. Cilantro. Hummus. Tortilla chips. I took those things in first, unlocking the door to my dad’s place (and I guess mine, too) and feeling a sweet and cool reprieve from the insidious mugginess that clutched me outside. I took a moment to survey the apartment, to feel its forged familiarity, to breathe in the not-quite-lived-in smell of its still-new walls. And then, with a deep breath, I ventured back outside, and wrangled my combined 70lbs of luggage out of the trunk and up the flight of unfeeling metal stairs still wearing my Lacoste tunic dress and j.crew bow flats. It was only after the hurdle of this endeavor which, in the light of day and the restful regeneration of a good night’s sleep might have made more sense to someone else, that I could relax. The apartment seemed different after this chore was complete; less of a hotel room and more of a home. After everything, all the feelings and events and panic and smiles, I was back at the beginning of the cycle of introversion and grateful for my own place, all to myself while my dad was on a business trip in Florida. I made guacamole at 3AM and watched old episodes of How I Met Your Mother, awash in everything that is wrong with the average American lifestyle and literally not caring at all.

The next day, I rolled into Stuckey’s around 11:15 to fill up the rental before returning it just down the street and grabbing a cab back to my apartment. I hadn’t showered yet and my jeans still smelled like Germany, but that didn’t stop some guy in dirty boots and a reflective vest over a dirty white t-shirt from glaring at me lecherously. Welcome back to Miss’shitty. The cab driver met me at Enterprise and when he asked me what I did for a living, making small talk to try to sugarcoat the fact that he was taking the long way home, I told him I was a writer. His demeanor changed from a lackluster day on the job to acutely interested, eyes alight with intrigue. He asked me to take a look at a homemade booklet he pulled from the pocket behind his seat and asked if I could write and publish his story. Leafing through, I could ascertain that he had some difficulty in his immigration from Ghana and overcome his obstacles to achieve that fleeting, beautiful American Dream. I took his business card and told him I would see what I can do. He offered me a Butterfinger bar. I declined.

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We Meet Again, County Road 13.

A little while later, I made the interstate journey to see my family in the fairytale of Fairhope. It had been two months since I saw my sweet nephew last, but by the looks of his growth spurt during that time, it felt more like a year.

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There was wine, there was bruschetta, there were talks after baby went to bed. You know, the sort of situation that I live to have. Everyone else can have their nightclubs and bars; I’ll take a meal at home with loved ones and a bottle of wine (laughs therein included) any day of the week.

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I stayed at my grandmother’s house until a little after 22:00, when I finally departed, the burden of a two-hour drive back to Hattiesburg weighing heavy on my consciousness. The prospect of an early-morning jaunt down to Biloxi to tie up a few loose ends with Uncle Sam didn’t sound too appealing either, but it had to be done. And so it was that for the second consecutive night, I drifted to dreamland at an hour more suitable for the West Coast from which I’d just returned, although this time, my sleep was more of a siesta as three hours later, I was up again and getting a black coffee at Stuckey’s, racing the sun down to the Mississippi coast.

The drive to Keesler AFB took a little over an hour, and when I emerged from my car, I felt sick and grimy, as if I needed to wash my hands. Being on a military installation again made me feel like I was taking a step backwards in life; I could feel the rigors of yesterday dragging me back into their squalid depths. And yet, as I approached the building where I was expected to report, the airmen on base were making their way to work with faces twisted in occupational malaise and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction…a certain victory in that I don’t have to do any of this anymore. I may have been there and it may have been required, but it was going to be the last thing. The very last time the government could take hold of me.

the freewheelin' Sarah Pierce

the freewheelin’ Sarah Pierce

I waited in a lobby for an hour and went to a meeting that lasted about 20 minutes. Then, there was the drive back. Then, there was sleep. Then, there was guacamole. Then, there was the unmatched stress and excitement of needing to tie up all my loose ends: organize my newly-arrived household goods shipment, get rid of my car, and pack my bags. I was on the cusp of leaving for the better part of a year.

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Life as I know it has been boxed up and stored here.

After all the boxes were taken to the storage unit, after the clothes were washed and rolled and stowed in my suitcase, after I bequeathed the keys to good hands, I was at the Hilton Garden Inn across the street from Gulfport International Airport having a glass of pinot grigio and wondering, exactly, how all the things in my life could have happened in such a perfect succession to lead me to this point of prosperity. I have my low points of vicious emotional tumult, of nearly crippling existentialism, but really and truly…it’s such a gift to not only to live, but to feel alive. So many are people are walking corpses.

I tucked myself into bed too late and had another nap of a night’s sleep, but with the foresight that in the morning, I would surely spring up with the adrenaline of wanderlust.

bye, bye miss american pie.

bye, bye miss american pie.

No Filter: Reflections on the Weirdest Two Weeks of My Life

Someone wise once said, “Always keep a journal. That way, you’ll have something interesting to read on the train.”

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His name is carved into my brain. It’s not simply a schoolgirl’s nostalgia. It’s years of my mind involuntarily repeating that name, folding it into little tiny creases on the papers of my memory until there’s no other way to think it, say it, remember it other than the way a favorite old pair of jeans fits or how the sentences written in the best book you’ve ever read realign in your brain and you can only go, “Oh yes, this again.”

I immortalized him. Eight years ago, we were children yet also on the cusp of adulthood. I knew, though, that we were closer to being kids than adults. I felt like a fraud, I felt like I was playing a grown-up’s game and foraying into feelings that I didn’t need to have just yet, feelings that I didn’t have to feel if I just walked backwards out of the room in which I had so relentlessly tried to enter, nearly breaking down the door.

before.

before.

Reading it now, it’s more like the paragraphs of some book that I l found squirreled away in my iCloud notes than something that came from my own brain, my own heart, a mere two weeks ago. I’m on the plane back to Frankfurt, another inadvertent layover caused by booking trips within trips between airlines. And tomorrow, I’ll stand on American soil again for the first time since feeling like I was writing the dénouement of a story eight years in the making.

I forget that people are their own inventions, not the fantastical figures conjured up by my own boisterous brainwaves. Hiding behind high expectations and a drive to succeed was the perfectly valid possibility that it could all crash in front of me; that he not only wasn’t the person I’d invented mentally, but that maybe–horrifyingly–he had grown into a person in the near-decade since we breathed in the same air that I would not enjoy. Social media, video chatting, and text messages can only take you so far into a person’s essence. To be around them, to tolerate their little idiosyncrasies and explore the minutiae of what makes them, exponentially, their own person is a different story, and it’s a story I paved over in my mind with the asphalt of my own imagined version of him. But secretly, in hushed moments of mental seclusion, I wondered, “What if we hate who we’ve each become?”

Because fifteen days is a long time. This could be heaven or this could be hell. I was willing to risk it, though. But was he?

And reading the words now, the words I wrote two weeks ago in a swirl of anticipation and disbelief that it was all actually happening, I’m astounded. In all my nail-biting and nervousness, I never pictured things to occur the way they did. I didn’t expect the reality of what fate actually had planned in my wildest dreams. In the moment, it felt like a nightmare, but looking back, it feels like I’m living a scripted life unbeknownst to me, a Truman Show, if you will. It all seems so bizarre, so over-the-top-terrible. And after the hurricane of horror passed, the eerie remnants of what was left of my time abroad felt ethereal and cleansing in a way that, in stark contrast, seemed too good to be true.

I am not the same person that I was the last time I stepped foot on American soil. This trip changed me, hardened me through and through in the way a squishy-centered baguette with a rigid exterior transforms into a food-grade baseball bat when not eaten in time. And also, simultaneously, I was softened like a thick block of chocolate–bulky and impenetrable–melts into a creamy paste when left out in the sun. I was the bread in Germany, left to stiffen as much on the inside as I always attempt to outwardly propel in the wake of abandonment. And in Croatia and Portugal, I was the chocolate: basking in the sunshine, feeling again the whisper of wonder that life has the potential to sing into your ears if you listen up.

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I didn’t expect to be transformed so personally. All visits to new places have, of course, the possibility to flip you around and make you a different person entirely. Heck, every day of your life, whether you’re out exploring territories uncharted to the you of yesterday or sitting mundanely in your pajamas all day eating cereal in front of a screen (and every type of day in between) have the ability to turn your life upside down. But this sort of personal exploration, this calibre of soul-searching was thoroughly unexpected. I just thought I was going to Europe to see an old friend; have some laughs, some good times, some memories shrouded with a prosaic hue stemming from the fact that it was orchestrated so heavily on my part–insured down to every last detail that everything was to be absolutely perfect. And we all know that anytime a proposed perfection is brought into the equation, things are sure to go downhill. That’s where, I expected (though apparently not enough to redirect my thoughts to a more reality-centered state of mind) things to be lightly lackluster: all fun and smiles with just a hint of longing for something more.

And instead, I got a true whirlwind, world-tour of feeling. I was, at different points throughout this time in Europe, drowning in an anguish deeper than I’ve ever felt: a sadness that sprung itself from the affairs that actually transpired and attached itself to torments of events past, snowballing into a heartache of, essentially, every horrible event that’s ever befallen me, shooting me by mental firing squad all at once. Sometimes in moments dotting the landscape of the past two weeks, I was so soul-crushingly lonely that I felt like pretending to have a good time–writing my own story not as a true account but more like the novel of how I wanted to feel–was the only way to hold on and make it through. And there were times, of course, when I didn’t have to pretend; that I felt, naturally, an elation more vivid and pulsing than my own mind could think, beforehand, to produce. There was nothing mundane about this adventure. It was all tidal waves and tornadoes, not at all the sequence of breezy banality that I expected to encounter.

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All I can do is shake my head and smile incredulously. All I expected was something glossy, something sepia-toned, something enhanced to make it more spectacular than it actually was. This adventure, however, needed no filter.

after.

after.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

-Agatha Christie

Asking for Help

I don’t like asking for things. I like paving my own way, I like laying my own bricks, I like the satisfaction of knowing that I have, absolutely, made something from nothing all by my own hands. I’m a self-made woman, and I want to continue living that way, because it makes me value my hard work in life.

However…

That being said, sometimes, you need to reach out. Sometimes, you can do something sufficient by yourself, but in order to make it great, to make it exceptional, to make it truly and utterly amazing, you need to ask for help. Right now, I’m requesting that helping hand. In a little less than two months, on 12 October 2014, I’ll be running the Budapest Marathon, and I’m not undertaking this athletic event for some medal to hang on my wall or a t-shirt to wear to the gym. I’m using my ability as an athlete, for the first time in my life, to help someone else.

I’m looking to raise a minimum of $500 to donate to Tri For Charity in order further the distribution of water filtrations to those in need. And here, now, I’m asking for your help. Asking for money is an iffy topic, and it’s an incredibly humbling experience for someone so fiercely self-sufficient. Let that speak for itself.

A statistic that stopped me in my tracks: $20 can give a person clean water for life. Twenty dollars. That’s less than the price of cab fare in some cities. That’s the amount some people spend at bars on a Friday night (if they’re lucky). That’s a trip to the movies with a large popcorn and a soda. And it’s the amount that could potentially save someone’s life. Together, we can make an impact. We can make a difference in a world that’s so often coated more with despair than happiness. I’ll do all the work. If you can find it in your heart to donate, any little bit is appreciated more than I can convey with mere words.

Click here if you’d like to help me.

thank you, absolutely, from the bottom of my heart.

thank you, absolutely, from the bottom of my heart.

DISCLAIMERS

-Although I am working with the Tri For Charity team as a copywriter, my race campaign is all my own. I am an unbiased athlete in this endeavor, wanting to raise money because the global water crisis and its impact is an issue that is very important to me.

-My airfare and lodging in Budapest has been booked for months, so absolutely NONE of the funds raised are being directed to my own personal expenses. All donations are done through Tri For Charity’s website, and I never have access. Your dollars are going toward clean and sanitary water, not my travel budget.

Splitting to Split

So, there I was, finally leaving Germany and flying to Croatia, a seemingly random location toward which my wayward mind has been drifting lately. I can’t say why or how, but the Dalmatian Coast has been popping up in my thoughts lately; in my dreams—both asleep and during wakefulness. I thanked the cab driver who dropped me off at the Lufthansa terminal at Frankfurt International Airport and made my way inside the double-doors to the clamoring check-in area that was crawling with confused people the way ants crawl all over spilled sugar. Every which way, there were full families with luggage carts—suitcases stacked on each other in gargantuan towers of baggage—just shuffling around, breaking apart when a child sees something interesting in the distance and runs toward it, much to the ultimate dismay of the parents. And when there weren’t families, there were couples. And when there weren’t couples, there were singular people who didn’t seem to have a clue what to do or where to go and rectified their confusion by simply walking in front of me as if I weren’t there.

European airports seem to have a slightly different setup than those based in the States: they’re more modern, more chrome, more minimalist and open. This translates to travelers from every corner of the world searching hastily for instructions in a language they can understand on what to do with themselves. This didn’t do any favors for my own confusion, which I quickly combatted with common sense: go to a kiosk. Check in. Drop the bag. Go through security. People are often afraid, though, to fly internationally for this specific reason. Airports are hectic. People are everywhere. Security is tight. And yet, all you have to do is have some manners, do what you’re told by security, and don’t be a jerk (that may seem redundant, but the sentiment really needs to be stated as much as possible).

My flight from Frankfurt to Zagreb was the first time I flew with Croatia Airlines (I’m normally fiercely loyal to a Skyteam airline for Skymiles accrual, but no one wanted to fly me to Croatia on the cheap, so they lost that round) and I’m not altogether unimpressed. It’s a no-frills airline, but it gets the job done with minimal stress, which was what I needed at that point. I had a four hour layover in Zagreb during which I paid 100 Croatian kunas (about $18) for wifi. Yes, I should have probably done something more productive with my mind, money, and time…but hindsight is 20/20. Other than rotting my mind by reading the internet, it was just a lonely wait. IMG_1853.JPG
I did a lot of thinking at that point; I thought about the kid who got married because she felt like it was the logical next step, I thought about the sixteen-year-old workaholic that always dreamed of jet setting and international travel, I thought about the twenty-two year old whose life changed forever one sunny day in April. My mind kept toggling through time reminiscing about all the people I’ve been, and I couldn’t help but wonder who I would be later. With every breath, I am changing. I am evolving, I am unsheathing, I am shedding layers of the skin that once served as absolute protection, no longer needing it. Who will think of this time—this time right now—the sun setting in purplish-pink and orange watercolor over the airstrip of Zagreb before my eyes? What will that Sarah be like? IMG_1456.JPG
Finally, I was on the way to Split. It seemed like only three songs on my Jay-Z playlist went by before the golden lights along the coastline gleamed underfoot and we touched down on the picturesque Dalmatian city. Getting off the plane, we filed directly out of the jet and onto a shuttle, making everyone beam with false importance, making us all feel—secretly, inside—like we were Somebody. A capital-S Somebody, Somebody with a private jet. Split’s airport was equipped with free wifi and as soon as I connected at baggage claim, waiting for my signature teal suitcase to file down the belt, I got a message from my airbnb host telling me that they were waiting for me at Main Point. Wherever that is, I thought. I had been informed previously that there were cheap airport busses for all Croatia Airlines passengers that drop off in Split, and to take the last stop. However, I arrived at 22:45, and it was 23:00 before I was reunited with my luggage. Having previously checked the timetables for the shuttle bus while I was waiting to leave Frankfurt, I knew that my flight was past the regular running time and that I would have to shell out 250 kunas for a cab. Whatever, I conceded mentally, just make all the hassle stop.

And so it was that I went to an ATM in the small arrivals hall and withdrew 300 kunas from my checking account. My bank knew I was in Europe, but they thought I was in Paris. They didn’t know about the wrench thrown into my travel plans, and I wasn’t about to turn on my cellular service just to call them. I hoped and prayed that they would just somehow excuse the fact that I was in a vastly different place than I originally said I would be and allow the transaction. When you’re hoping your bank drops the ball on account security, you tend to ask yourself where, exactly, your life is going. Relief rushed through me when my card was spit out of the machine and cash was dispensed: two colorful notes smaller than dollars, one stamped with 100, the other with 200.

I headed outside and the stagnant whoosh of the summer breeze hit me, instantly raising my body’s temperature by a few degrees. I felt the sweat begin to form in my pores, feeling like any minute I would implode with moisture. There were a few others from my flight waiting in the designated taxi pickup area, and yet, no taxis were to be found. As ten minutes of waiting turned into fifteen and the other passengers shuffled off in various different directions, I was alone. Again. Outside the arrivals hall of a coastal Croatian airport, under the garish fluorescent lights that made me look jaundiced, I was by myself and beginning to fret. How was I supposed to get out of THIS quicksand? And what if my airbnb host gives up on me showing up after waiting for over an hour? And what even is Main Point anyway? My mind raced, as Googling “main point split croatia” yielded zero helpful results.

Thinking logically, I tried to hire a cab online, but the internet connection was spotty outside. The heat was beginning to infiltrate even more than before; my jeans became tight on my legs as sweat pooled between my skin and the denim. That’s right, Sarah, get stranded in Germany and then hastily get yourself stranded in Croatia. Real solid plan, my psyche began to play games with itself as the fearless fighter in me was still punching, still kicking, still rambunctiously trying to bust a way out of the box in which it had been placed. I made the executive decision to go inside as not to completely soak my clothes in sweat and hopefully pick up a stronger wifi signal. As I rolled my way toward the ghost town of the terminal, I saw over to my right a Croatia Airlines bus with an open door and lit taillights. I felt light at that moment, my knees actually going a little weak at the good fortune I’d received in the distance. I sighed and shook my head, chuckling; close one, Sarah. Close one.

Except, I hadn’t received the good fortune. Just as I began walking toward the bus, just as my silhouette came into view behind the shadows of the Croatian night, the door closed. The bus backed up. I felt a drop in my chest. No. No, no, no, no, no. I immediately felt like I needed to vomit, or kick something, or scream in the most guttural, frustrated shriek I could muster. I could barely believe it; the seemingly scripted mishaps all occurring without missing a beat like sheet music to some disastrous score was too much for me at that point. I just stood there, in utter shock. This is my life.

And then, like a literal angel from the cloudy, translucent visage of heaven we all harbor in our minds, a cab appeared behind me. A cab actually, out of the blue, simply showed up. Just one cab, on the off chance that a passenger needed a ride. The ups and downs–the mountain-scale and subsequent cliff-fall of emotions–of the previous twenty minutes were too much at that moment, so all I could really do was hand off my suitcase and get in the cab, blinky-eyed and breathing heavily before it, too, disappeared.

“Hello, I need to go to Main Point in Split,” I told the cab driver, who didn’t understand. “Main Point…or, the Main Station perhaps? Is there a place in Split called Main Point or Main Station?” my voice trickled out with the slightest bit of desperation.

“Okay,” the driver replied in an accent thicker than molasses, “train station.”

I didn’t correct him, because he was probably right. He knew the city. I just sat back in my seat and let the uneasiness take over, the existential feeling that something is terribly, terribly wrong. As we rocketed through the Dalmatian night, it kept sinking in that I was probably going to the wrong place, it was closing in on midnight, and my fare was multiplying with every kilometer. Forget going to the wrong place–what if I didn’t have enough kunas? Would he scream at me in the street just as I had been screamed at two days before? Normally, the prospect of people talking loudly at me doesn’t make me bat an eyelash, but after the ordeal in Germany, I just wanted smooth sailing.

I didn’t have any cell service, of course, but my emails would still load. I looked at all the messages in my inbox from my airbnb host and me, and I was able to see that she instructed me at a prior time to go to “the passenger harbor” and walk to the apartment from there. I told the driver and he seemed utterly confused. “Where will you sleep?” He asked, after a few tries in what sounded to me like Slavic gibberish.

“It’s…an apartment,” I replied, “someone is picking me up at the passenger harbor.”

“Okay,” he said, with a shrug. “It’s a thirty minute ride.”

“That’s fine,” I replied, finding ten euro hidden in a pocket of my wallet. After a quick conversion, relief pulsed through my veins as I came to the realization that I had, in essence, 70 or so extra kunas on my person.

And so he took me to the harbor and let me out by the water. The lights gleamed in the black midnight and despite it being Sunday/Monday and about a billion degrees, the street on which I was dropped was alive with people all slinking around in search of a night worth forgetting. I rolled my things to the side of the walkway closest to the street, somewhere out of the way of the crowd, and searched for an open wifi network. There were several, but for some reason, my phone couldn’t connect to any of them. My frustration was, yet again, mounting; stacking on itself until I was this sweating, shaking ball of stress with no idea how to improve my situation.

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So along the harbor I walked. I simply rolled my suitcase in the direction of the hill in the city center, the hill cited in my host’s email as the guide point if I were to walk to the apartment. Once I got away from the docks of the harbor where I was let out of the cab, I came upon a promenade of lights, people, and excitement. And for every twentysomething in party mode along the walkway, there was a cluster more of calm kids under the shielding shadow of night, passing around a bottle of wine along the water’s edge. All at once, it didn’t seem to matter that I was lost along the Adriatic Seaboard. It didn’t matter that I was sweating through my clothes. It didn’t matter that someone, somewhere was waiting to receive me because the energy of the Croatian nightlife seemed to override all of that. I could discern snippets of conversations in English, Italian and Spanish as they passed by me, like radio clips on a spinning FM dial, as well as the husky growl of Eastern European dialects thrown in like pepper to the salt of the Romance languages being spoken.

I finally found a wifi network that let me join, and as the little wheel of anticipation spun and my nerves compounded on each other again, I found that when I had that gorgeous little pizza slice of connection that many a stressed-out traveler has longed to see, my host hadn’t replied to the message I sent from the airport. It had been over an hour. I had already jumped so many hurdles and hoops…and this one final snag was getting in the way of me getting every last duck in a row.

And so, with a feeling of regret that presented itself before the heinous act was even committed, I did what no one with a phone that’s squarely locked into the red, white and blue wanted to do: with a sigh of reluctant acceptance that this was just another exorbitant sum of money down the drain in an effort to get me out of Germany, I turned on my cell service.

And I reached my host. And she was unaware that a message was sent to me stating that I would be picked up somewhere. Rather than investigating the origins of this phantom message, I simply told her I would walk to the apartment. It’s a mystery, it doesn’t make sense, but I was just grateful at that point to have a real person on the line, a person with a key that unlocks a door where I can rest my head. She said to call back in five minutes to make sure someone was at the apartment. I hung up feeling relieved but only slightly; as my phone bill would arrive soon and make me look back on all of this in sullen regret.

I called back and someone else answered, a younger voice. It was hard to tell through the accent, but her demeanor was a little more alert and her English was better than the person I had on the line before. She told me she would come get me and be there in ten minutes, and asked where I was. I told her the name of the restaurant on the promenade that I could see through the vast array of tables and chairs (locked up for the evening despite the steady crowd of people still walking the area).

And ten minutes later, a woman about six feet tall approached me and extended her hand. “You must be Sarah,” she said with a smile.

“Yes,” I said. I realized I didn’t have a clue as to what her name was. All I knew was my host, an elderly woman who was most likely the one who answered the phone first, but probably was asleep by now. I should have exercised more caution, sure, but this woman was warm. I got an intuitive feeling from her that I was safe.

She said her name but I didn’t catch it at first, her thick accent muddled it beneath a blanket of authenticity. And so she took my bag and we walked to the apartment, talking about our shared affinity for world travel. I found out that she was my host’s daughter, coming to get me out of the goodness of her heart. Croatia was introducing itself to me in a sort of reverse-handshake with Germany; I was put out on the street in the north and retrieved from the uncertainty of night in the south.

“You have a beautiful name,” she said with a sly smile. My daughter’s name is Sarah. She’s seven though.”

I smiled and thanked her, despite the fact that my name had nothing to do with my own personal opinion. It just seemed like the polite thing to do.

“I traveled a lot when I was younger, and now when I think about Sarah traveling when she gets older, my opinions have completely changed. I can’t imagine sending my child across the world!! That is why I felt like I needed to come get you instead of having you walk. I thought about my Sarah lost in a foreign city in the middle of the night.”

If you only knew, I thought.

“I really appreciate it, ma’am,” I responded with a head that seemed to bob with my footfalls; I kept looking in every direction, inhaling he energy of Split’s nightlife.

As we took back roads and alleyways, I realized that there was no way in hell I would have found this place on my own. Perhaps it was, actually, for the best that everything fell into place the way it did. When I was “lost” before, I was in the high-security vicinity of an airport and on a promenade full of other people. Here, she and I walked up deserted streets where the only other living souls were stray cats too scared to even look a human in the eye.

“Tomorrow you get lost. Today we take short route home,” the woman said. “You please call me if you need anything. The number you called before was my number.”

I took the opportunity to redeem myself with the Ellen Method of having someone repeat their name: “Okay, perfect, thank you. How do you spell your name?” I said, my phone blatantly displaying the “add new contact” screen.

“S-A-R-J-A-N-A,” she replied, having some difficulty remembering the individual English letters. I pronounced it in Italian by default, and she told me I said it perfectly just as we traversed the final steep hill and arrived at the duplex that I was to call home for the next four days.

I got checked in. I connected to wifi. I texted my dad to tell him everything went smoothly. I looked in the mirror, finally able to feel the full release of the stress placed on my shoulders three days prior. I was out of Germany. I was in Croatia. I was on my own, but not by force anymore. I was with my favorite company: myself. No appeasing, no compromising, no walking on eggshells. Just me and whatever I felt like doing from here on out.

And I immediately grabbed the keys and headed out the door.

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The road I had just traveled with Sarjana seemed shorter now that I knew where it led, it seemed less of a never-ending winding of broken pavement and stray cats and more like a golden, stone-surrounded corridor under a black pearl sky that would lead me to my next adventure. There was something about the way the lamplight cascaded off the bricks and the narrowness of the street; it lended to a bygone era before the industrialization of our world, a time of traveling on foot, on horseback, on bicycle. The stones, weather-worn and dirt-speckled, whispered to me in the darkness, telling me secrets of centuries past, of everything they’d seen: the romance and the heartbreak and the monotony of humanity playing out like an opera all these many years. I was alone, wandering the ways of a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language, but unlike Germany, I felt free instead of panicked. I felt unrestricted, unshackled by the harrowing confines that kept me in a state of anxiety in Deutschland. I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted, no longer carrying the burden of feeling like an unwelcome guest in someone else’s country.

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I didn’t know where I was going to end up, but I kept walking nonetheless. My insomnia was striking in full force, but I didn’t mind. Once I made my way back to the promenade along the harbor, chairs were chained together and the music that blasted beforehand was turned off. With every step, Split was becoming more and more of a ghost town. The lights of the city, though, were still turned on, illuminating the stone architecture to look as if all the buildings were, in fact, made of jagged gold.

I wandered down through the empty promenade and into the winding labyrinth that is Diocletian’s Palace. I knew next to nothing of the place before I booked this trip, and only loosely educated myself on the structure through the perusing of Instagram hashtags (the new Google Images). The brilliant feat of ancient Roman architecture that held me then, in its twists and turns and winds and whips, was a leviathan of beauty in the face of its digital depiction. I was in awe of the details, the size, the fact that a place like this exists in the same world where people live in towns with overgrown grass whose only buildings are a gas station, a grocery store, and a post office.

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I stayed there for a while, alone in the golden silence of night, taking it all in. I couldn’t get my mind off this one time when I was seven and I accidentally stabbed my right hand with a pencil in first grade, pulling the pencil out in a reflexive moment of shock only to lodge the lead in my hand. I kept looking at it, there on the steps of this gargantuan castle, rubbing the place on the surface of my skin that was punctured sixteen years prior. That experience had absolutely no relevance to the present time, and I hadn’t even thought about it in years, the little grey speck of lead beneath my skin blending in after almost two decades, reducing itself to a mere freckle in my mind. And yet, I have been so many different people since then. So many things have happened–minute things, little breezy occurrences that hardly register on the scale of importance–and all those little things rolled together with the growing snowball of Big Things in life to create an avalanche of reality that I rode all the way to where it spit me out: completely alone in a state of unmatched serenity on the steps of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia at 01:25 on 11 August 2014.

After a few more moments of savoring the sights, breathing in the history of the place–What happened here in this exact spot? Who stacked this particular brick? What was his name? Did he have a wife? Did he ever dream up any ideas that we use today in our modern lives?–I headed out of the arms of the palace, which was easier said than done. To a first-time visitor, it’s a maze of continuous corners and pockets ready to engulf you and get you even more turned around than you already were. In the light of day, the fluid motion of tourists strolling at a leisurely pace could keep a person in line, as you’re all in a flowing row like blood cells in a capillary. And yet, in the pensive, somber night, my footsteps reverberated off the high stone walls and turned me in every wayward direction.

Not that I really minded.

After expelling myself after about an hour in the solemn corridors of Diocletian’s Palace, I began to inadvertently follow a group of people in their mid-twenties with every sort of accent ringing out in humid night air. I still didn’t know where I was going, so I just decided to walk aimlessly and distance myself from them as not to appear creepy. And then, I heard the words “beach party.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to eavesdrop,” I said, approaching the group, “but did you say ‘beach party?'” I asked, not really caring how I came across.

“Yeah, join us!” said a Turkish guy whose name I found out was James.

And so we (one Turkish guy, an American, a Canadian, two Australians, and four French) made the 3k trek to Bačvice beach, where lights and music beckoned us forward and up to a club that looked like the absolute portrait of youthful entertainment on a humid summer night in a seaside paradise.

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And when I had had my fun for the night, once my quota of acting my age had been squarely hit, I said my goodbyes and made my way back to the apartment, following the seemingly infallible illumination of the supermoon. I opted to walk back through the palace instead of the promenade, easily navigating my way through this time. We were old friends by this point, the palace and me.

And then at 04:30, soaked with sweat, gin, and relief, I fell victim to the trance of sleep, already feeling my heart shift a little; taking the pieces of my soul that had been so recently broken and placing them back together as dreams of Dalmatia danced in my head.

Homelessness: A Journey

This morning, while registering with the AFAR app, I was faced with a question that I found impossible to answer.

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I’m currently holed up in my father’s Hattiesburg, MS apartment. Save for a candle I’ve been burning on the coffee table, the place still smells like the beige paint applied to the walls, like the fresh cut of the wooden cabinets, like cleaning products. He’s lived here less than six months after taking a promotion and leaving behind the place where I grew up; his tiny and quaint apartment in Alabama with a twentieth-century charm that’s a rarity around these parts. The bathroom had a vintage black and white tile scheme reminiscent of the 1920s and the bathtub was actual porcelain. The hardwoord floors–the same floors that held my footprints through years and stages and phases of my life–were beginning to buckle under the stress of eighteen years of watching children and adults grow. The walls were smoke-stained from my father’s (now rectified) propensity to light up. And yet, here I am, in this minimalist, crisp apartment with its amenities and its convenience; a far cry from the captivating little apartment hidden in Mobile: that charming flat that, with its paint-chipped windowsills and baseboards, felt more like a home to me than the actual houses–cold and unfeeling–where I lived with my mother when I wasn’t on my every-other-weekend retreat designed by the divorce courts of Alabama to somehow “enrich” and “stabilize” a child’s life.

I’m only here in Hattiesburg for one more day. Sure, it’s where I receive my mail. It’s where the United States Coast Guard and the Veteran’s Administration places me on a map. It’s where the home-library I began to collect once I made the foray into adulthood resides, waiting for me to return. And yet, Hattiesburg is just a checkmark, really. It’s a vapid answer to a question whose intentions are usually rooted in something just as transparent. If I list my home in Hattiesburg, it’s always for some sort of document, some strip of red tape. It’s not really my home, it’s just the big red pin on a map that satisfies the digital field I’ve got to complete, or the long, lonely blank on an intake form somewhere. It’s a location, it’s a coordinate, it’s a physical building with running water and a couch and food in the fridge.

And yet, home is more than just some position on a globe.

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I’ve been mentally wrestling with the definition of HOME since I separated from my ex-husband in March. My entire life has been spent with a very solid idea of what it means it be both at home and the place where one originates. My home was my apartment in Massachusetts, dressed to the nines in little bits of décor collected through the years, painted in colors that revitalized me every day, little trinkets of significance stashed in various places to remind myself that this was a place I created. A little over a week ago, I was sitting on a couch in that apartment, my art and knickknacks and books still displayed prominently in wait for the government-hired movers to pack it all up and take it away. Mail that needed to be shredded was piling up on the kitchen counter. The little chalkboard key holder next to the front door still retained remnants of a message I wrote to myself in the midst of smudged chalk from notes past.

And now, it’s just a memory.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Currently, I’m sleeping in a spare room of a place that neither my father nor I consider familiar. In a week’s time, I’ll be in Paris…but not before breathing in the air of New Orleans, of Atlanta, of Frankfurt. And after Paris, it’s Porto. And then, only time and fate will tell where I’ll find myself.

The subject of HOME seems to be on repeat in my mind, coming up in seemingly every conversation I have. From the skeptical, “You ain’t from here, are ya?” slur of a Southerner to the uptight and shrill accusations of down-home hillbilly origins, the last four years of my life–the years I’ve spent living outside of the box in which I was raised–have been leading me to redefine what I always knew to be true of the word and all it encompasses.

What is home? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? Is it a person? Is it my mind?

Sitting in a vegan café on the Fourth of July with excellent drinks and even better friends, I began to wax poetic about the personal meaning of home, or lack thereof. I began to feel a sort of lightness, a tingling on my skin that seemed like I had cracked the backbone on an unsolvable riddle. I felt like life was less of an enigma, and that home isn’t just the place where you reside or the letters on a birth certificate, but a place where everything seems right. A place where it all fits, where the grooves of your soul click together in tandem with the world around you.

Driving down from one place I once called home to another in the wake of my discharge from the USCG, my sister and I began to bounce ideas back and forth on what it means to be home. The RAC remix of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was playing beneath the baritone of our voices, setting the scene for a heart-to-heart between the two of us that would have made our past selves, entrenched in constant bickering, recoil in horror. “Home is everything inside you,” she said wistfully as we crossed the Staten Island bridge. “Home is everything you already have.” For a 21-year-old, she struck me as incredibly wise at that point. And then, of course, I remembered myself at 21, and gave the world around me a sly smile for setting such a pretentious, smart-ass example.

Speaking face-to-face through the wires and waves of the world wide web to people whom I knew previously only through the opaque walls of Instagram and iMessage, we drifted toward the subject of home. “You don’t seem like a typical American,” one of my new friends said, and it was flattering. I smiled and replied that I’ve worked very hard to create a first impression that is not of where I was raised, and that America’s never felt like my home anyway. I went on to say that I’m still not sure where I am completely at home, or what home actually means to me. In the places I’ve lived and loved in the United States, home has seemed more like the satisfaction of a red tape requirement than a feeling of belonging, I explained. “I’m still searching for that place, that idea, that feeling,” I told my new friends, who seemed to just get it.

In a world of vapid soullessness, of people getting up to go a job they despise in order to pay installments on a loan they acquired for something they thought they needed–something they thought would make them happy–in a world of “if I do x then I will feel y“…it was heartwarming to share a real conversation with real people who saw me in a real way, not just some façade of American contentment finger-painted on my face.

What does home mean to others? What words, what feelings, what memories are conjured up when someone really stops to think about it? I took to my snapchat feed and posed the question via a video: What does home mean to you? What do you think about when you are asked to define “home”?

The results were exhilarating and stirring.

Most of my snapchat friends mirrored my method of messaging, opting to send me a video of them speaking, their voices curving out the words and their faces displaying micro-emotions that they themselves were probably unaware were present. The responses were basked in Saturday morning comfort: women were fresh-faced and glasses trumped contact lenses, pajamas were prevalent and there was an air of raw honesty to each message that is so rare in this day and age of technological overload.

Home is, according to the data collected by my snapchat survey, a place of comfort. It’s a physical place where one can go in which pants are not required. It’s a place of connection, a place of family, a place of passion. It’s the place you share with the one you love. It’s a place where your creativity flourishes. It’s a place where you feel–undoubtedly and unabashedly–you. It’s a state of mind in which you can do whatever you really and truly desire. It’s the eyes, the words, the soul of a person in which you get lost. It’s that special place where you can breathe in the air and know that despite all the negative aspects of our world, in the face of any hardship or adversity, it’s the location or the feeling or the person that can make life worth living.

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I am still searching for it. I’m currently sitting in a sea of clean laundry splayed out around me, waiting to be rolled to maximum tightness and stuffed into a suitcase. I’m clicking a little star on a gold iPhone to save a location across the globe, adding it to a digital itinerary that I’ll more than likely ignore once I’m actually there, soaking in the panache of the place and the presence of the people with whom I’m sharing it. I’m on this mission to find where I truly fit, where all the pieces lock and click into place, where I was made to exist.

Maybe I’ll find it this time. Maybe I’ll walk onto some foreign soil and sigh with relief that yes, I’ve finally found the place where I am, undeniably, at home. Maybe a person will walk into my life and change it forever. Maybe I’ll be able to say, without a doubt, that I belong.

IMG_0080 But until then, here’s to homelessness. The journey is probably the destination on this one.

 

Wrapped Up in Red Tape: Becoming Sarah Pierce

I’m sitting in the first class cabin of Delta flight 1059 from Detroit to New Orleans with an extra ten pounds around my midsection and a divorce decree in my Herschel backpack. It’s stuffed in the pocket of the combination clipboard/notebook whose pages are cluttered with haphazard, left-handed scrawls from years past of my own lofty ambitions for our relationship: flight itineraries, day plans for foreign lands, to-do lists before trips to ensure that everything would go smoothly; that all Matt would have to do is walk onto a plane and go. And now, here, the juxtaposition was almost chilling. I’m dropping everything, flying from the top of the country to the bottom yet again just to restore the most basic sense of self I’ve ever known, and he doesn’t have to do a thing. And meanwhile, our divorce decree is placed precariously in the pocket of my vacation planner among the ghosts and remnants of memories we shared. It’s damn near poetic, in a way.

I’m scouring the roof of a parking garage under the unforgiving Louisiana sun in July for a car that’s only been described to me. I’ve got my sister’s keys in my handbag–a minimalist ring with only a signature switchblade Volkswagen fob plus two other small, nondescript keys, one silver and one gold–and I’m dissecting every vehicle in every row of the parking lot as sweat beads permeate my forehead, searching endlessly for a car I’ve never actually physically seen. Finally, the brown Jetta comes into view after what felt like twenty minutes of aimlessly traipsing. Pulling the keys out of my bag, I tapped lightly on the UNLOCK button to see, much to my relief, the tail lights flash. It was a match. I let out a sigh of relief and loaded my suitcase and carry-on bag into the back seat, then tore out of the parking lot, paid the $98 parking fee, and headed east to Alabama the Beautiful, feeling like I’m living inside a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

I’m stopping at a Texaco outside New Orleans and feeling like a foreigner in my head-to-toe adornment of j.crew and Kate Spade New York. The cashier had a neck tattoo and a bowl cut and greeted me with a sort of bewildered skepticism reserved for those unlike him, those who didn’t find white t-shirts acceptable forms of daywear. It smelled like my great-grandmother’s house inside the gas station: some sort of food that’s appetizing only if you’re really hungry mixed with cigarettes, and the hum of daytime television mingled in the background of conversations between locals that sat inside talking to each other through spaces in their mouths where teeth used to be, because they had nothing better to do today. I turned on my Southern accent (which I normally force to lie dormant, for reasons of which I’m not entirely sure) to ask Neck Tattoo, “Hi, y’all got a bathroom I can use?” He smiled and pointed around the corner, which was remarkably clean for a public restroom in a wetland town east of New Orleans. After I washed my hands, I posted up at the coffee station where the options for caffeine were “regular” and “strong.” I went with “strong.” I grabbed a Smartwater from the cold case along the wall and paid Neck Tattoo in exact change. He raised an eyebrow as I gathered the $2.67 from my beige and black striped KSNY wallet and asked the heart-stopping question, the question that lately has made me internally recoil in horror and uncertainty: “Y’ain’t from here, are ya? Where ya from, baby?” Having dealt with my fair share of sexist remarks since debuting a fresh, rockless left hand, I had to ascertain my geographic location and remember that this man probably didn’t mean anything by the punctuation of his sentence, and anyway, I had bigger fish to fry here; where was home? Certainly not Boston. And definitely not Alabama. I felt, in that moment, an intense longing for a place I’d never even been, a greener place which had only been described to me as the storied rest of my life. “LA,” I repLIED with a smile, my feigned accent dissolving. It’s the place I’ve felt most at home in the United States, but explaining that to a stranger with a bowl cut and a neck tattoo sporting a white t-shirt in a gas station east of New Orleans would just take too much ancillary time and effort.

I’m rolling down Government Street under the canopy of oaks that I tried never to take for granted in the twenty years I lived in Mobile. The lush green of the trees welcomed me back, as per usual, in their unchanging sheltering way as I spotted the stark, white, newish building bluntly labeled Social Security Administration shining brilliantly in the sun along a block of old, decaying Mobilian shells of enterprise and ghosts of thriving businesses. I came all the way to Mobile to change my name because it felt right to do it here, because Sarah Pierce Brown belonged to Boston and Sarah Cecelia Pierce was made in Mobile. And also, when you’re wrapped up in red tape, you want to do what’s familiar. It’s hard to believe, but getting on a 05:45 flight and driving for two hours after that to your hometown at the other end of the nation to a building where you’ve already been once before, a mountain you’ve already scaled and waters you’ve already charted, is actually easier than locating a federal building in one of the most abrasive cities in the country for the first time. I passed the SSA on my left and got in the left-hand turn lane a block ahead, fully submerged in déjà-vu from four years prior, when I was navigating the insane grid of one-way streets that make up Downtown Mobile, wondering if I was going the right way. Today, there was no question. I shook my head and laughed, making the turn, thinking about all the living I had done in between the last time I made these exact same moves; these twists and turns in a car to get to this parking garage, to park in this exact spot, to walk down this sidewalk, through this door, across this lobby, to change the name associated with this social security number. Back then, I was a scared girl faking it ’til she made it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so unsure of myself, so incredibly generic. I was a shining example of what I never wanted to be, and yet, I never saw myself fading into it, either. I was a girl the last time I was here, although I couldn’t really have known. I was wearing business casual attire and trying to get my name changed before having to work an 11-8 shift at a call center. I sat up straight in my chair while everyone around me slouched. I had closed-toed shoes on my feet. I was, for all intents and purposes, the classiest person in the room. But I was a teenager. I was literally a child. I was a child in a hurry to grow up, following the same timeline and mindset she always had: This is what you have to do. In the present, I clutched my divorce decree and I was feeling, for the first time, like myself. Like I was free. Like I didn’t owe anyone anything. I walked the same steps along the same sidewalk that I took in 2010 to be another person–a surreal sensation that no man will ever have to feel–and glanced down lovingly at the paperwork in my hand, the paperwork that is saving me from this blasé prison of a marriage in which I barred myself. I walked through the lobby, unchanged from four years of commerce, exactly as I remembered it…to see that it was all locked up. An hour early, without explanation.

It was a perfect example of seemingly everything in my life lately: me giving 100% only to be given absolutely nothing in return when it counts.

I’m waiting at the DMV the next day, especially self-conscious about my thighs touching each other again in the wake of my injured foot weight gain, but I have noticed that some females have very nice bodies and their thighs still touch, so perhaps I can pull it off, too. These are the things I think about, these are the thoughts my mind strings together, as I’m waiting my turn at the DMV to have my new license issued to me, my brand-new license that beautifully states Sarah Cecelia Pierce as my name, Class D driving and organ donation as my game. I’ve run a brush through my hair for the occasion and I’ve worn a blue and white patterned dress which has become shorter with the new, post-injury addition to my backside (a fact of life all women with curve know to be true), which added to my trepidation about my outfit being inappropriate. Was my dress too short? Was my butt too big to wear a dress? What about my thighs? Should I just wear a cardboard box and call it a day? I should probably just stay home forever and order everything from Amazon Prime, kissing the light of day goodbye. It was one of those days, as the looks and leers from others instantly, in my jumping-to-conclusions female brain, became about me. It was, at at moment, that I stood up and smoothed out my dress, letting my arms fall relaxed at my sides. The old, “Is It Too Short?” trick. The hem of my dress was a solid two or three inches past my fingertips.

I won’t say that I was getting worked up over nothing. I was channeling the immense stress of both divorce and separation from military service (both of which will give you grey hairs in their own right, and both of which I’m having to conquer by myself, all at once) to a fashion faux pas among a sea of down-home Alabamians at a Southern DMV. Once I realized that no, the people around me weren’t glaring at me in disgust, I walked my pink pointed-toe j.crew flats back to a chair and sat down next to a girl whose name I forgot and whose face I only remembered because she was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a navy polo: our high school uniform. It was such a blast from the past that I wondered if she was even real; I wondered if I was having some sort of strange panic attack, if I were hallucinating, seeing some girl whose face I vaguely remember in a sea of my 600-person graduating class. She looked at me, knowingly. My hair was the same length and style as it was around the time I graduated. I looked different, older, I had lived more; my eyes had seen more things and I had gained a few more freckles on my face but she recognized me and we shared this moment during which we both intrinsically knew that somehow, we knew each other. She was there with a skinny man in his early twenties wearing jeans and a red t-shirt with a snapback on his head and a fat little girl about five years old.

I took in this scene, these three, sitting at the DMV together, and began to realize the answer to my personal age-old question: when does a girl become a woman? I still feel seventeen sometimes. I feel like I just be-bop through life, living each day and doing the things I’m supposed to do, making decisions based on what I know to be right, not necessarily because I’m an adult or because I’m aging or because one day I’ll die, but because it’s just right or wrong. But there, in the DMV, I checked my Kate Spade New York watch and saw that I had been waiting thirteen minutes, which was fine because I was by myself and I didn’t have to entertain any children or other people. I didn’t need anyone to wait with me or be with me to help me. My divorce paperwork and proof of name change was sitting in my Kate Spade handbag, and I was standing up straight, surveying the scene. I felt, for he first time in my life, like I had hit the threshold of being a woman. Not right then, but sometime before then. I was totally, completely independent. I didn’t need anyone to help me do anything. I was 23 years old, decked out in j.crew and Kate Spade, feeling like an expat already, with ten marathons, three ultramarathons, two novels, a marriage, a divorce and a military tour in my pocket, as well as the rest of my life to write and love and explore.

As I approached the window, my skin glowing with excitement to return to my real name and be who I actually am once again, the sour-faced, underpaid woman behind the desk informed me that there was a 24-hour waiting period and to come back tomorrow.

More red tape. Time to get out my machete, I thought, as I my thoughts drifted more and more toward running off to my next life, a life in Europe with someone special from which I hope to never return. 20140718-113021-41421913.jpg

Boston’s Been A Place of Blues


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From the bright-eyed girl on the avenue
To the jaded shell of a woman who can’t be wooed
Yeah, Boston’s been a place of blues

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From blizzards to sweltering summertime hues
From the bustle of a mini-city to international news
Yeah, Boston’s been a place of blues

IMG_9743 Boston’s been a place of blues
I came here as a wife, so fresh and so new
But to a man who couldn’t care less, I lost that too
Yeah, Boston’s been a place of blues

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I found myself here in a fit of views
Growing up, growing older, paying my dues
Yeah, Boston’s been a place of blues

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I lost myself between the pews
They told me I shouldn’t have anything to lose
Yeah, Boston’s been a place of blues

IMG_8975 Boston’s been a place of blues
It was here that I came apart at the screws
Living here toughened me in a way I couldn’t refuse
But yeah, Boston’s been a place of blues.

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Independence Day

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The song in the car reminds me of you
As the wind whips through my hair
It should evoke a nostalgia so blue
Yet I’ve chosen not to care

Because I really like this song
With its beat so airy and light
Fitting the moment, nothing is wrong
As I speed through the LA night

Going back to my house, where I’ll have some wine
Create a page or five
The stars are out, the weather’s fine
To me, this is being alive.

Planning trips around the globe with a face I haven’t seen
Since I was scarcely more than a girl
No more than a blubbering, lovelorn teen
Eight years later, we’re traveling the world

I didn’t think life could feel this way
So breezy, so carefree
All I had to do was wait in the grey
Until I could live my life for me

And what a lovely existence it is
For the power to be in my hands
To float from one place to another like this
My life blooming in spontaneous plans

I am my life’s captain, I’m steering this ship
As colors explode through the sky
Never have I felt so confident, so equipped
As I did on that Fourth of July.

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Zero Six Two Six and the Ensuing Twenty-Four Hours

“You don’t need to come in tomorrow,” my boss said to me, off the cuff, on Thursday around 10:00.

I looked up from my malaise of seat-warming for the federal government in disbelief. “Really?” I asked, already kicking myself for being so gullible and waiting for a swift blow to my ego that only a just kidding! can bring.

“Yeah, you’ve got to check out with the Chain of Command during your leave time, and that counts as work. Take tomorrow.”

“Roger that,” I squeaked, attempting yet failing to contain my utter joy.

Suddenly, that was that. It was my last day in uniform, the day about which I used to fantasize when I was in the most pain, languishing in a hospital bed, even just walking down the street, freshly disillusioned with the world around me and the way that society (especially those my age) has morphed into this vapid, creaky-voiced, despicable race of people.

I was a few hours away from the freedom to do what I want, when I want, where I want. I was a mere stone’s throw from having my life back.

(I think it’s important to note here that “what I want to do” really just involves copious travel. I’m still active duty and on leave until 23JUL2014, but I’m not the sort of person to go out and do drugs–the usual celebratory medium of choice–because quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about getting high. I just want to paint my nails and see new places without anyone having an issue. That’s my kind of high.)

I sat there as the clock ticked on my last working day racking the mental Rolodex for how to make the day special. It just felt ordinary, splashed with only the most subtle, muted excitement. That’s how it always goes: the days that are really supposed to mean something seem to fall into the blend of the blasé whereas sometimes, an incredible day can spring us from sleep and we’re catapulted suddenly into the best day ever. How was I supposed to plan for this? Last Sunday, I was lamenting to a friend on Cape Cod that I had literally no idea how long I would have to remain here. Fast forward to Thursday, and I’m being told that I never have to come back. It was such a switch that I almost felt dizzy. Life is strange.

I was taking a bag of the contents of my locker down to my car; the bag tossed over my left shoulder and a spring in my step reminiscent of those old cartoons of wayward children running away with only a red polka-dotted sheet tied around a stick containing their belongings. I was already aware of my happiness-gushing gait, but I had a hard time walking in the regular, rigid demeanor that the military demands…and an even harder time finding the urge to care.

I was passing by a fence and I was overwhelmed with the urge to just lightly skim my hands along the bars; a childlike nod to a simpler time when military bearing wasn’t a constant determinator in my behavior. Nope, can’t do that, I thought to myself. Just move right along. But then it hit me: why can’t I? Who’s going to care? What will the Coast Guard do…kick me out?

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And so it was that I brought my hand up and touched the stark metal, warm and dirty from the outside air. And then, I glided my hand along the succession of bars, each one flitting against my fingers and causing my mouth to curve upwards into the slightest smile of pure, free satisfaction. With each bar that I touched, the reality of my life changing became more true, less of a pipe dream that I didn’t allow myself to believe. I was taking my things to my car. That very day, in the time span of a few short hours, I would drive off the base and leave my military obligations behind forever. I felt ethereal in that moment; as if I could simply blow away with the wind. And really, that’s not too far off from my vagabond plans (or lack thereof) as it is.

The next day, I found myself alone at Mayflower Beach on Cape Cod. I wasn’t alone in the sense that there was no one else there–quite the contrary. The beach was flocked with wayward bodies all languishing under the cloudless cyan sky, all searching for that elusive bit of time under the sun that transforms their marshmallow skin into a s’mores quality color. I was alone, though, in the sweetest sense, the sense that I didn’t know anyone: surrounded by a sea of strangers next to a sea of saltwater. I laid in the rays with my vintage edition of The Sun Also Rises, re-reading the words that have imprinted themselves along the waterlines of my brain for years but whose sharp outlines always seem to fade away after enough time has passed, like footsteps in the sand washed away by the waves and waters of life’s distractions.

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I was washed over with melancholy at that point; bathed completely in the beauty around me but alone, needing to rely on only my power of conveyance to get the point across at just how spectacular the world was at that moment. The sun, the sand, the sea, the sensational stringing together of it all…it was heartbreakingly perfect. I sat there in the quiet, subtle waves for a long time; long enough to realize that the waves had drifted backward, the ocean had retreated into itself and I was left on the new de facto sandbar, so lost in thought about the simple beauty of nature recoiling into itself in our hectic calamity of a lifestyle that the irony of it all had become lost on me. I thought not only about nature’s sweet kisses to the soul but of the times in my life that I felt nothing satisfactory was ever possible again, the times when I was on autopilot because I had no choice but to be, the times when I was simply existing and not living. I thought about the places I had been and the things I had seen up until those moments, the unfiltered present: I saw the good times flash behind my eyes like bandits, the mediocre moments moseying around, taking up space, and I saw all the horrible memories in full force, parading through my brain. I saw some of the lands I had traveled and how although I had a traveling companion for most of them, he wasn’t really there. He was too sucked into his phone, or work, or his own desires to get home and be the person that he couldn’t be around me.

I thought about all of this as the sunlight danced on the waves in front of me, illuminating the magnificent shoreline and I simply said (aloud, but in a tone that was masked by the crashing of waves and the joyous shrieks of children on the sandbar),

I MADE IT.

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The rock candy’s melted, only diamonds now remain

 

I AM A WRITER

This is for everyone who knows the roses of life to be a little more fragrant and the garbage of existence to emit an odor a tad more pungent. This is for everyone whose potency of perception has, even just once in life, scared them.

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I AM A WRITER.

I AM A WRITER, unapologetically so
I get higher than high and lower than low
The feelings my soul conjures are that of elation and woe
Whereas normal souls feel stock happiness and sadness as the status quo

I AM A WRITER, romanticizing every day
Feeling life in tsunamis, washing myself away
Carrying a brick of emotions that gravely outweigh
The lackluster minds of others, so mundane and blasé

I AM A WRITER, my mind is a thunderstorm
Horrifically lonely at times with only words to keep me warm
My brain is a swirl of different people combined in an artful swarm
All clamoring for a say in who I am; waiting in the wings and hoping to perform

So if you, too, are a writer, do not be afraid
Your brain will twist this prosaic world into a serenade
Others may call you melodramatic, refuting the perspective you’ve conveyed
But the fact of the matter is that YOU ARE A WRITER and it’s just how you’re made.

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