Getaway to the Bay

And suddenly, I was standing in the subtle breeze of the San Franciscan morning, snug in the arms of California once again. The air around me seemed filtered, of a higher quality somehow; and though I had been flying for five hours on three hours’ sleep after the most arduous day I’ve had in a while, everything around me was brighter than it should have been. My eyes were a lighter shade of blue. Everyone was beautiful. The wind was cooling me, refreshing my insides, diffusing the squalor of airport terminals and recycled air to which my body had become accustomed. It was like LA, but better.

My sister Emily appeared through the scattered scramble of people waiting to be picked up at the curb and my eyes adjusted to her presence; I had been scanning the cluster of oncoming cars to find the milk-chocolate Jetta that belongs to her husband Mason, whom I had never previously met but felt like I’d known for years because of both the magic of social media and the fact that Emily just knows how to pick quality people. And yet, she had gotten out of the car to get me, she was hugging me, she was taking my small black-and-cream Chinese Samsonite knockoff. All these gestures–insignificant to some–fused together as one act, one sentiment. After the loneliness and isolation I found in Europe, after going weeks speaking only to waiters and shopkeepers, after flying clear across the world, someone was here to pick me up, here to hug me, helping me with my bag like it was the most normal thing in the world. And really, it is. But to me, at that specific moment, it felt like I’d won the lottery.

It had only been about three weeks since I saw Emily, who moved out to the Bay Area after Mason had received orders to Travis AFB, but it felt like three years. I was so shaken from the hurricane–with its violent storms and calm, serene eye–of the two weeks prior that I fully felt like a different person. The woman that sent her off not even a month before with a bucket of Pomegranate San Pellegrino cans and sunflower seeds (her timeless favorite food) for the long drive from Alabama to California wasn’t the same woman she was fetching from the airport. And yet, no one could really grasp that but me and as we walked toward the car (known henceforth as Loretta the Jetta), I felt the weight of everything, yet again, because it was truly over. I was in San Francisco. I was on the other side of the world. Not only had I gotten through one of the strangest and most soul-revealing times of my life, but it never ceases to amaze me (regardless of how many Skymiles I accrue or in which Delta Medallion tier I find myself) that one time in my life, I was just a daydreamer out in the countryside of Alabama, thinking maybe one day, if all the stars align just right and in a stroke of dumb luck, I would like to travel the world. But then, I would think, reality setting in, that I can’t possibly do that. Traveling is for rich people, for privileged people, for people who have more of a footing in this world. For people who aren’t me. And yet…there I was. Standing on the curb of SFO, fresh off the plane from ATL after having an unexpected tidal wave of an adventure in Europe, including but not limited to: spending the night in a German airport, feeling my way through Portugal on my feet, jumping off cliffs in Croatia. I felt myself, silently, secretly solidifying into the adult I always hoped–eyes dreamy and sky-turned–I would one day build myself to be.

Mason hopped out of the Loretta the Jetta and gave me a hug, exclaiming, “I FINALLY GET TO MEET MY SISTER!” I played it off casually (I hope), hugging him back and saying how awesome it was to be in San Fran, but inside, I was exploding with happiness. This is what I needed: family. Familiarity. People who give a shit about me.

We made our way through the traffic of midafternoon across congested highways and I made the acquaintance of Tyler, posted up in the backseat. I’d seen him in the various snapchats I’d received from Emily and Mason during their cross-country drive; he was Mason’s friend that they brought out to California for an adventure. The five of us jammed to Mason’s spotify account that could have doubled as a gay bar playlist and headed to The Mission, where we decided to eat at a place called Gracias Madre based solely on its name. Getting there and looking over the menu, we discovered (to my delight) that it was all vegan cuisine! Colorful dishes replete with flavor were consumed and after the meal, I was the only one at the table who wanted dessert (because I am fat), and Mason ordered two vegan cheesecake slices so that I didn’t have to eat dessert alone. That’s quality brothering, right there.

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I think it’s time to note that my sister and Mason are gay. Both of them. They are legally married, and that’s their business. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got more family that loves me because of my sister’s atypical home life, and I’m totally fine with that. I love Mason and I love Breanna, her girlfriend. Emily has given me both a brother and a sister, and they are both amazing. So if this bothers you as a reader in any way, just go ahead and click this tab closed on your browser, because I love my unconventional family, and there’s no room here for judgmental or hateful comments.

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love knows no gender.

love knows no gender.

 

I arranged for Breanna to fly in from her home in Staten Island the next day because I love her, and I love Emily, and I don’t want the distance between them to take its toll. The five of us were all squeezed into Emily and Mason’s two-bedroom apartment in Vacaville, two to a bedroom and me on the balcony. In true military fashion, their household goods shipment was delayed, so we were eating on floors and sleeping on air mattresses, utilizing my suitcases as makeshift tables for journaling and laptop use. It was reminiscent of the quintessential “first apartment” painted with high hopes and optimism–the feeling of starting anew and on your own seeping through the walls–despite us all having long surpassed that actual first apartment in our lives. It just had that feeling, that wonderful air of independence and the start of something really, really good.

Saturday, 23 August was Tyler’s twenty-first birthday and around 11pm on 22 August, the guys and I found ourselves on the bright birch of the hardwood floor in the living room feasting on a spread of guacamole with tortilla chips and peanut butter (straight spoon-in-the-jar style) washed down with a most delicious red blend whose label initially drew me in and whose vivacity sealed the deal: Headsnapper. Just before midnight, Mason and I fashioned a mini birthday cake out of a frozen Reese’s peanut butter cup topped with a dollop of peanut butter and two little shavings of salted caramel coconut strips. Taking note of it all now, it seems lackluster, ho-hum perhaps to the casual observer, but under the wine-soaked watercolors of how it actually played out, we had a lot of fun. We laughed. We toasted. We took shots at midnight. We celebrated Tyler and adulthood as a whole: the fact that we came from different places and all lived different lives and yet, we were there–in a near-empty apartment in Vacaville, CA that made us look more like clandestine squatters than people waiting on Uncle Sam to deliver the furniture–chasing vodka with spoonfuls of peanut butter on a windy summer night. We are all on different paths in life, but in the moment, we were intersecting in each others’ lives, forming memories out of variables that, in the sober light of day, may seem random and aimless in their importance but to us, then, as our giggles rang out against the empty rooms of the apartment, they meant the world.

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In the morning, we all came to life at different times, emerging from our holes in the apartment like robots booting up; slowly at first, feeble in our fatigue then in a snap of good company, we all became animated and ready to tackle the day. The five of us piled into Loretta the Jetta and took to the city, playing tourists for the day so that Breanna and I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and get our obligatory photos. The roads whipped and winded up to the viewing point; inundated with people just trying to get that perfect shot where the wind and the light and the shadows all align, but Mason managed to drive us far enough out that when we parked on the side of the cliffs overlooking the Bay and the Bridge and all the majesty in between, it felt like we were the only people in the world. Like everyone was simply gone, and San Francisco was ours, bequeathed to us from the Golden Goddess of California herself.

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The wind whipped through our hair and we finally, after a while, retreated back to Loretta, scenery-saturated and craving city-center chicanery. We headed back to The Mission where I had it on good authority that there was a rooftop bar with “Tyler’s 21st Birthday” written all over it. And I was not wrong.

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Although, of course, nothing worth having in life isn’t without a hefty side-dish of patience…so rather than pile up in the standing-room-only zoo of the bar, we waited about 45 minutes for a table where we could sit down and eat a meal overlooking the lights and the spirit of the San Franciscan Saturday like the classy bunch that we are. Emily and Breanna spent the waiting period gallivanting down Mission Street, popping into the sketchy family-owned stores and the guys and I headed next door to a dark-and-stormy, enigmatic-looking bar called Laszlo. I bought a round of drinks that were orange in color and a deep, vibrant red in potency. You know, to get the night started.

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Time passed and so did we; the rest of the dwindling twilight seemed to transpire in fast-forward motion. We did everything faster as another pitcher of sangria was ordered, we spoke in falsetto, cartoonish tones as tapas were scarfed down with a tenacity that suggested that we, perhaps, hadn’t eaten in weeks. And after all the plates were cleaned and the cups were emptied, after the sky faded from teal to turquoise to twilight before our eyes and then inevitably evolved to a rich violet that finally died and deteriorated into black licorice above our heads, after we paid and tipped, we slinked off to the most typical place we, as a unit, possibly could.

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The Castro District was alive with color and clamor, with laughter and lipliner, with knavery and neon. We, as a pack, crossed the street and a plaid-shirted, short-shorts-wearing guy with hair coiffed to perfection looked at me and exclaimed, “GORL!” A few moments later, some guy wading through his public drunkenness gave me a hug outside of some top-rated bar on Yelp and said, “Oh honey, don’t go there.” I asked him where I should go and he recommended Beaux, a bar down the street that, unlike seemingly all the bars in The Castro, accepted credit cards. Mason and I–birds of a feather–were sold. I asked the guy his name and he replied, breathily, “Kevin. And I’ll be down at Beaux in 20. I’ll see you there,” and as quickly and randomly as he materialized in our midst on the sidewalk, Kevin was off down the street in the opposite direction. (Spoiler alert: we never saw Kevin again.)

Beaux was everything you see in movies when it comes to gay bars: loud, flashy, and one thousand percent fabulous. We paid the five dollar cover charge to a guy wearing chaps and got our hands stamped, then headed into the laughing, swinging, mischievous belly of the beast that was Beaux. Through the crowd glimmering with glow sticks, there was a near-naked man dancing for dollars on an illuminated cube, fierce dance mixes of already upbeat songs we stretched our time, and the next thing I remember was Emily handing me my credit card and sternly yelling in my ear (whether she was frustrated in her sobriety at having to take home a gaggle of drunken slobs or just trying to get through to me over the roar of the party, I am still unsure) that she closed my tab and it was time to go.

The car ride home was strange and haunting, and most definitely not my finest hour. Every drop of alcohol I had consumed swirled together and began to conspire against my body as it simultaneously ate away at my mind, chewing bit after bit of my rationale in real time. I regained some mental clarity in the shower when, as I came to recognize the massage of the hot water against my back and appreciate its consistency, Emily bolted into the bathroom and, with the tone of a tired mother whose three boisterous children won’t go to bed, barked, “The air mattress is waiting for you and I got clothes from your suitcase. Get out and get dressed, then go to sleep. Now! I want results!”

Intimidated and feeling like I was back in boot camp, I did what I was told. The next thing that my brain processed as truth was the way the light–once my friend that signified the unfailing optimism of the California sun–came crawling in through the window like a swarm of locusts to smother me with the pain of the dreaded Morning After. My head felt in equal parts like a bowling ball, hard and oversized and heavier than it should, and a peeled grape, vulnerable and easily squished in the harshness of the outside world. My body felt brined-soaked and sun-dried, brittle and creaky in its paltry movements.

And apparently, as my body succumbed to the scathing depths of hungover hell, there had been an earthquake. That was what I gleaned, anyway, from the explosion of text messages that sat idly on my phone, waiting to be read with bleary eyes and a confused disposition. I made coffee, putting my phone on the floor next to my air mattress and waving a flippant hand at it, as if that would somehow auto-respond to everyone. Just as the first few sips of the deep and bitter caffeine passed through me like electricity pulsing through cables deadened by the elements, Mason appeared. “Did you know there was an earthquake?”

“I found out…but I didn’t feel it. Did you?”

“No. But I was just as messed up as you last night.”

“Dear God,” I said, swigging the coffee in shame.

Tyler shuffled out before long and the three of us made the executive decision that a deluxe Sunday brunch was in order. We left Emily and Breanna to themselves in the apartment and made our way to an adorable little diner off the highway in Vacaville that illustrated the splendor of Americana in a way that Norman Rockwell himself couldn’t have painted better. The building was old and its sign, facing the oncoming blur of cars on the highway like a stately old butler ready to welcome you inside, was a pallid version of what it once was after years under the unfailing California sun.

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On the inside, waitresses ranging from the tail ends of childbearing years all the way to blue-haired old ladies with voices raspy from decades of nicotine laid our silverware and took orders on the classic indigo and teal notepads that are mainly just utilized in today’s modern world by Chinese restaurants who didn’t get the memo that we’ve moved past that tired old notepad. The décor hinted at more of a Southeastern eatery awash in down-home charm than a San Franciscan brunch spot as the walls were lined with kitschy pictures of chickens and steaming coffee cups, cementing this place as the kind of establishment that Waffle House aspires to be. The coffee is black and the food is greasy. It was perfect.

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hangover helper.

They didn’t have any vegan meal options on the menu, but I was able to assemble a hangover helper brunch of champions from their selection of sides: unbuttered toast, avocado slices, their signature potatoes (which were, come to find out, fries in the shape of medallions, which totally changed the game on fried potatoes forever for me) and, eyeing the menu with a lust to feel human again at whatever cost, a full plate of sweet potato fries. Make no mistake, I ate it all, but it was a struggle. Afterward, I wanted more than anything to just lay down and die.

So of course, we went to the outlets instead. The sun had never been brighter or hotter. My clothes had never felt so restricting as they awkwardly clawed onto my body. My feet felt like rubber and my eyebrows hurt. Yes, my eyebrows. And yet, somehow, I made it through the day to the sweet and subtle breeze of evening, when we all ate on the balcony as a family, sipping wine and San Pellegrino and taking in the fact that we were adults who were brought together and we were free in our wild whims and ways to do whatever we wanted. It was a dinner among family and it was a dinner among friends. It was something that my soul, crushed lately by the cruelty of others, needed.

I had dragged the air mattress outside the night before, sleeping under the stars and slumbering soundly when the wind picked up like an industrial-grade oscillating fan, Mother Nature mimicking the manmade. Early the next morning, Mason and I were up with the sun and running through the wild winds. He did two miles, I did seven. A shower, a wardrobe change, a banana and a water chug later, we were pointing Loretta toward the slatted and sliced greenery as far as the eye can see of Wine Country. I perused google for a place to sample wines on the way and wound up with a facility that landed itself on many a Napa Must-See list: Castello di Amorosa. It was a winery housed inside a Tuscan-inspired castle that, from every stone right down to the rustic, aged door hinges, was built from materials imported from Europe.

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The castle itself was built in California only a stone’s throw into the past, but the Old World charm it exuded was genuine, soaked in Italian authenticity. We took a sixty minute tour of the ins and outs of the castle, the drafty cellars that housed barrels upon barrels of local wines, and then finally, later on, we were led to a tasting bar where we were given a menu and the chance to try any six wines we wanted. The basic tour and tasting included a five-sample setup, and only for their basic wines. But it’s me, so at the time of ticket purchase, I opted for the Reserve Tour, because Mason and I are too uppity for our own good sometimes. For ten extra dollars, we got an extra sample and the chance to select from all the wines the Castello had to offer. As presumed, we selected exclusively from the Reserve Wines list and chose the most expensive wine on the menu (clocking in at $90 per bottle and close to a grand per case and tasting more like the way a honeysuckle smells than fermented grapes), because Mason and I are too uppity for our own good.

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After a few more grape juice flights, we headed back for the hills of Vacaville where, after a few minutes in the solitude of the apartment, we made our way to San Fran just as the world around us was fading into a summertime dream of lemon and ginger, the early evening taking hold and casting blond shadows across our faces as we drove. It was a Monday evening and the atmosphere was branching out into rusty oranges juxtaposed next to the sapphires of the sky post-sunset. Mason drove me to the marina at Treasure Island, one of the best vantage points of San Francisco and the next-door neighbor to a Coast Guard base. As I got out of Loretta, drawn to the sweet lapping of the waves of the bay on the rocks in front of me, I couldn’t help but play “what if” in my head. What if I had gotten this unit instead? What if I had been assigned a completely different billet, what if instead of all the things that happened in the frigidity of Boston–in the air so cold that your ears feel like they’ve been axed clean off the side of your head and in the gulf of disconnect between the people whose attitudes override any sort of compassion–I drifted out here instead? I could see myself smiling, I could see myself taking pride in my job; I could see the little card that said, “This is the start of something GREAT!” that my dad hid in the pocket of my dress uniform when he pressed it the day after I graduated from boot camp actually coming together as truth (instead of what it actually was: just a jading reminder in the kitchen drawer of unfailing optimism being struck down by the blunt force trauma of reality). I stood there, at the edge of the bay, watching the sunlight glint off the rich blue of the water and imagined this elaborate other life; the life I could have lived. With a twinge of bittersweet melancholy, the thought occurred to me that I might still be married. It might have worked if we weren’t subjected to freeze and then thaw ourselves out in attempt to save it…only to be frozen over again in the social tundra that is New England.

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What if, really? I realized, definitively, that I would have been so much more of a person. So much better of a person. I wouldn’t be what I’ve become after Boston. I wouldn’t be so x, I would be so much more y. But, I conceded as I slowly and methodically took a panoramic shot of my surroundings, the city and the sun and the bridge and the bay, that isn’t what happened. I got Boston and I got all the horrible things that living there at that time entailed. I can’t change it. It’s a part of me now, all of it, and I just have to find a way to make it all fit into some box that I can toss in the closet of my mind. And who’s to say, really, that I wouldn’t have faced some of the same things at another unit? Or that here, my mind would simply drop to the point where I would cease to feel that there’s just more out there; more to learn, more to be explained, more to split me open and fill me with new perspective? No one can say, I ended the conversation with myself as Mason and I walked back to Loretta to hit the city.

The stage lights on the world went down as we walked through the Financial District, familiarizing ourselves on foot with the dazzle of the city in which we were both quickly finding ourselves enamored. There was a bar on Yelp that boasted panoramic rooftop views (by now, everyone should be up to speed on my penchant for rooftop bars as I love both drinking and looking down on people) along the waterfront promenade, but we weren’t even able to get a foot in the door to check in for the reservation I’d hastily booked via Opentable on the way over, so we cut our losses and called it a night, especially once we saw that the “panoramic rooftop” was no higher than two stories. We walked and talked along the promenade, both stopping to snap the perfect shot of when the lights along the Bay Bridge danced just right or the angle of the illuminated structure became even more photogenic than it was fifty feet into the past.

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Bay Bridge On Blurpose.

Finally, after a stroll and a solidifying feeling in my soul that Mason truly was part of my family, we headed back to the homestead of Vacaville where we joined Emily and Breanna in a first-look family screening of Beyoncé’s performance at the VMAs the day before (that we neglected to watch because we don’t live our lives around a plastic light box on a shelf). I retreated afterward to my balcony bed, beckoning me through the whispers of the wind, and fell into a sleep fueled by mental exhaustion and the burden of truth that in 24 hours’ time, I would be back in the sweltering, sticky South.

When I landed in New Orleans, I got off the plane last. I didn’t want it to end. It didn’t seem over yet. I had flown straight from Europe to California, stopping only for the planes to catch their breath. I hadn’t been home, or the place where all my things are currently stored, rather. The last time I saw the place that I categorize (loosely, of course) as my “residence,” I was starry-eyed and assuming, setting out for some cookie-cutter Eurotrip and getting instead a lesson on the human race and its potential for cruelty on which you can’t put a price. There was a sliver of innocence to me, a naïveté that I didn’t know I had in the wake of believing I was some big, bad wolf in the world. And now, in New Orleans, I was dilly-dallying with my carry-on bag. I was taking longer than necessary in the bathroom, fixing my hair for no one in particular as it was after 22:00 on a muggy Tuesday and I was headed to an empty apartment in another state. I finally made my way out of the terminal behind the pilots and through the secure area to the open-to-all lobby that was, at this time of night, deserted save for an older couple who came to pick up some girl who was immediately enveloped in a hug by the man. I kept walking, more fascinated by the fact that a ghost of myself from less than a month prior was standing across the lobby, beaming with subtle elation at the fact that I was, finally, after all these years, going to the storied and slightly taboo Frankfurt. That girl across the lobby naught but three weeks in the past was so sure of herself, too happy to realize that she would soon have it drilled into her head the hard way that Sartre’s words are more than a little Easter egg of random knowledge to casually slip into conversation to seem more intelligent: they are real, they are true, and they can crush you to pieces if you’re not careful.

After paying my respects to who I was the last time my feet walked these floors, I grabbed my bags from the whirring carousel and walked out into the black claws of the humid, New Orleans night.

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

Tourist to Traveler

I made my way up to main house attached to my modest yet perfectly comfortable apartment, where my host lived with her family. The door was open in preparation for my arrival and there was a child in underwear shrieking with joy about something; whatever brand-new beautiful thing his mind dreamed up, not yet crushed by the callousness of reality. A friendly woman approached the door when I came into view and smiled warmly, then was accompanied by my elderly host. I handed over the keys and then a man came to the door as well, a man with a face nearly identical to my host’s. He introduced himself as Boris, the man with whom I had been communicating for the past few days. We had a friendly exchange during which he translated for his mother, the host, about how polite and well-mannered I am, and he asked me about my further travel plans. “Portugal is beautiful,” he said with a drag of a hand-rolled cigarette. “The good thing about Europe is the division, you don’t get it in the States.” An exaggerated exhale. “Here in Europe, we all want to be the best. We want to be better than our neighbors. It makes for a beautiful travel experience.”

After a gracious goodbye, I grabbed my bags and set off down the broken cobblestone streets to the bus station, about a mile away. I could have taken a cab, but I needed the exercise. Cliff-jumping didn’t burn nearly as many calories as all the wine, bread and pasta consumed in the previous four days equaled. The sun was beating down on me in the eight o’clock light; a side of the sun I hadn’t seen in Croatia, a type of heat and humidity through which I had always slept. I was, though an ultrarunner, finding myself losing my breath.

Finally, I made my way to the bus station where people were all clotted every which way and suitcases served as roadblocks to foot traffic. It felt almost like the end of the world, or the end of the world as I always imagine: everyone trying their hardest to remain calm but at the same time frantically dash out of town. Everyone was sweating. Skinny girls wore “I LOVE SPLIT” tank tops sold by the vendors at kiosks all over town. Women wore sun hats and fanned themselves with their bus tickets. Men had scruffy, tan faces indicative of a holiday in the sun; far from the oppressive blades of the required razors of their work worlds. And I had on jeans, a long-sleeved popover, and glasses, hair in a topknot. I always dress for where I’m going, not from where I’ve been. And yet, feeling the heat infiltrate my clothes and begin to soak them through, I wondered if perhaps, today, I should have amended my adherence to my own personal protocol. I bought a ticket to the local airport for 33 kunas and waited, silently, among all the other passengers, just trying to evacuate.

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I finally got on the bus, air-conditioned and cushy, and sat next to an Australian. I asked him if I could sit down in the next seat, and he responded, “Yeh, of course,” with a strong accent, yet I knew he was Australian as soon as I saw him. Either Australian, or an American going to great lengths not to be recognized; he had the quintessential Aussie appearance. Shoulder-length blonde hair matted in mussed-up curls, a thick beard to match. A sun-faded red snapback and a dirty white tank top. Cargo shorts. It was everything that the movies depicted of an Australian twenty something. We didn’t speak on the way to the airport. He was too enraptured with the Croatian countryside for conversation, and I took a nap, feeling like I had been tossed in a saltwater brine and laid out to dry (which–I suppose–I was, for all intents and purposes).

I was headed back to Frankfurt for the night before departing for Porto in the morning. The snag here was that my flight to Porto is a Ryanair flight, and they’re too cheap to operate out of the whale that is Frankfurt International Airport (FRA). Instead, they use a smaller airport (HHN) that, despite having “Frankfurt” in the name, is closer to Belgium than Frankfurt. My original plan was to just stay in FRA overnight, utilizing the luxury of a 24-hour Delta Sky Club, and take a bus to HHN in the morning. And yet, my fatigue and general weariness was winning the battle against my brain. The Sky Club was in the opposite terminal, and I wouldn’t be able to get there without going through security. I conceded to hotels.com and looked at the silver lining: at least I could get a reward night and some extra reward points on my credit card. I booked this random airport hotel with a €7 unlimited shuttle, which, in the jam-packed departures terminal of Split’s airport, took me about thirty minutes on the spotty wifi.

Soon enough, I was Copenhagen. I’ve had an unrequited love affair with Denmark for the past few years, ever since I read that it’s the happiest country on earth. I’ve wanted to move there, to start anew, to cultivate this happiness that seems to flow through the airwaves and innately affect the Danish people, for a while now. Just being in the airport made me feel lighter, more ethereal. I had a nearly four-hour layover, and I didn’t mind at all. I came to a sort of mental clarity while I waited for my flight to Frankfurt. I did the thing I swore vehemently that I would never do: I contacted all the people that I had deleted from my life in hasty attempts to improve my mood at the time. I can hold a grudge until I die and I’m stubborn to a fault. But I realized in the airport in Copenhagen that holding all that negative energy doesn’t translate to me cutting people out of my life like cancer; it becomes a cancer in itself. And so, I made amends. And while some of the people didn’t want to hear it, the fact that I did my part to improve the social climate made me feel better. The ball of humility was no longer in my court.

And then I locked eyes with Daniel Radcliffe.

I saw him and he saw me. My brain registered, “Oh, Daniel Radcliffe, okay,” as he walked by with two men. And then, I made an immediate U-turn in my steps, following the trio in a manner that I hoped was subtle but was, more than likely, humiliatingly obvious. He pointed outside and they exited through a door to the sunny smoking patio. I went to the door and decided to ask him if I could bum a cigarette. Then I remembered that I don’t smoke. I thought that it might be worth it, just for a picture, just for the story. Then I realized that that was 100% crazy. I backed away from the door, bought a pack of Malboro Reds (my sister’s brand) labeled with a government-ordained “SMOKING KILLS” label, and a hot pink lighter, heading out to the patio.

The wind was whipping around me, a perfect excuse to stick my face in a corner and pretend to light the cigarette. I lit it, refusing to inhale, then turned around to this posse of people to whom I couldn’t relate, an outsider wondering if her behavior was utterly distinguishable as that of an imposter. I walked up the stairs to the second level, wondering what to say, how to mingle. And yet…there was no Daniel Radcliffe. No two men. There was a separate stair on the other side of the upper level that led directly down to the airstrip. Sighing, I realized that I was not going to be able to talk to Daniel Radcliffe. Oh well, he looked into my eyes. I stamped out the cigarette and put it in the disposal bin, tucking the cigarettes and lighter in a zipper-compartment of my purse.

Hours later, I was checked into my hotel in Frankfurt and headed back to the airport. I didn’t want to sit in the room. I wanted to go out, I wanted to walk in the lights and the night. I bought a subway ticket and waited for a train underground, studying the daunting map of Frankfurt’s metro system. I took the metro before, but I was led around by Patrick. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, but I referenced the catalogue of my memory to a street in the city center where we went a week prior and got off there. The scene was drastically different from the society-soaked street I was shown seven days beforehand. It was about 22:30, and the sidewalks were scant, inhabited, it seemed, only by those under the age of thirty in search of a good time. I made my way up to the panoramic viewing platform to get a view of Frankfurt by night. It was chilly outside, and my stomach was growling. After a quick survey of this city and all its illumination, I headed back down to Hauptwache in search of food.

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blind me baby with your neon lights

 

The street was damp and in its wetness, it gleamed under the golden lights of the street lamps. It was picturesque in a cinematic sort of way: a woman walking alone in a different country, on a different continent than where she was born, just trying to breathe it all in. That’s really what I was doing. Even if I hadn’t found anything to do, even if every business establishment had shut its doors for the evening, all I really wanted to do was walk and feel the city streets beneath my velveteen French bulldog flats. Walking gets me back to what’s important in life, walking is primal, it’s the best way to get to know the unfamiliar; be it a new city or a new person. Go take a walk and learn something new.

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I found a Thai restaurant on a side street and despite the kitchen closing in fifteen minutes, the owner graciously welcomed me. He turned away a potential four-top, but I was ushered inside. I ordered some sort of vegetable/tofu/noodle dish and sipped lychee wine, talking and laughing with the owner as the clock ticked along to midnight. There are no pictures, because this was the kind of meal and company that transcends petty images captured with an iPhone, only cheapened by the pause for documentation. As I made my tipsy departure into the black Frankfurt night–a far cry from the last time I ventured into the night alone in Germany–the rain began to fall. The owner of the Thai place popped out and gave me a newspaper to hold over my head until I could get to the dry, underground train station a block or so away. In that moment, Frankfurt was transformed in my mind from a place of unceremonious discord to a place where a near-stranger cared enough to run out into the rain to give me a makeshift umbrella for a 100 meter walk. The kindness of man will always prevail, if you let it.

Within the dry and welcoming arms of the Kornstablerwache subway stop, I studied the map of the local railway; how it branched out in different colors and directions like Frankfurt itself had veins. I didn’t know the different between S-Bahn and U-Bahn, and I didn’t know what the colors of the subway lines meant. Everything was, of course, in German. But the thing with subways is that, regardless of country or language, they’re all the same. They follow the map, and you just have to crack their own individual codes. Find where you are, find where you want to go, and follow the lines. I looked at the digital arrivals screen and located the end destination on the map, noting the code next to the German town name and realizing, all at once like a bump on the head, that the code denoted the color of the subway line on the map. Using this information, I was able to unlock the mystery of which train I needed to take and waited eleven minutes, getting on and sitting down, careful to subdue my satisfaction with my late-night critical thinking skills. It may not mean anything to some, but I spent my formative years in rural Alabama. The first time I rode a subway was in 2011 when, in a swirl of trepidation, I had my eyes glued to my routing app as I rocketed underneath Boston on a day that was simply too icy to complete my usual MO of just walking wherever I needed to go. Now I’ve navigated my way through Prague and Frankfurt, two countries where the landscape and language escape me, and to me, that means the world. Literally. It means being able to see a city in a different way; the way locals see it.

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“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.” -Erol Ozan

 

And then, sitting in my seat and looking as entrenched in existential malaise as all the Germans with whom I was sharing the train, a couple got on and sat in the two seats opposite of me in the four-person pod. They were blond and gorgeous, each of them. They looked so typically German and yet, as they looked around them, their expressions were shrouded in confusion. Maybe they were tourists in their own country. The husband spoke English in a thick Southern accent and I felt a blast of nostalgia for my hometown. Not that I wanted to return, per se, but a reminder that it exists. That I used to be there, under the Alabamian sun, and now I’m here, on a German train in the middle of the night at twenty-three years old.

They were lost. I kept my distance, wanting to help but fearing that I would come up unsuccessful, just as confused as they were. Finally, the wife asked me if I spoke English. I smiled a knowing smile and said, “Yeah, I’m American too. Where are you trying to go? I might not be of much help, but I can try.”

They were going to the airport as well, so I told them to stick with me. I explained the color key on the map, and their graciousness was on par with how I felt when the restaurant owner gave me his newspaper. And me, feeling like I could help someone else find their way around a place that’s just as foreign to me; I felt, in that moment, like I had really and truly graduated from tourist to traveler.

We talked the entire ride about traveling; the wife used to live in Frankfurt when she was very young, and the husband was enjoying his first trip across the pond. As we got more deep into out conversation (as the airport was a good few stops into the black and rainy distance), they asked where I’ve been. I started listing countries and their eyes widened. “You’re really a traveler, aren’t you?” the husband said. I chuckled, laughed it off, but the truth is that it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard it. In Montréal, sitting on the terrace of a bar in the company of two strangers with whom I struck up a conversation (one Canadian, one Lebanese), I was told that I was really “well-traveled for an American.” The truth is that while I have traveled, I have seen different pieces and parts of the world we all share, I don’t consider myself well-traveled by any means. I still feel like there’s so much more to explore, so much more to uncover; that I’ve only scratched the surface. But, unfortunately, for most Americans, I would be considered well-traveled. And yet, in my mind’s eye, I’m still the dreaming kid from Alabama, poring over maps and planning vacations that I knew, as a teenager, I’d never have the chance to take.

IMG_2768.JPG We said our goodbyes and I slinked back to my hotel, awash in the energy of the night and feeling a new relationship to Germany and life as a whole. My, how things can change. Also, Daniel Radcliffe looked into my eyes.

 

Cool Blue Reason

The sunlight flowing through the blinds sang a song of late morning as I came to consciousness and the disheartening realization that I had, once again, slept until an unspeakable hour. My phone read 11:10 as I groaned, rolling over, knowing that the midday heat would suffocate me if I tried to run under the Croatian sun. “Well,” I conceded aloud and to no one but myself, “I guess it’s time to hit the beach.”

Realizing in the mirror that I didn’t look as puffy and elephant-like as I felt, I put on my bikini and began to pack my beach bag when I heard a knock at the door. Trepidation jilted its way up and down my spine; no one knocks on doors anymore. Those days are over–replaced by texting beforehand–and furthermore, this wasn’t my door. Who would visit me here? My fear of the unknown that lay directly on the other side of the wooden plank hinged five feet away from me was radiating around me. Slowly, with a caution that felt almost paralyzing, I unlocked and opened the door.

It was my airbnb host, an elderly woman who spoke next to no English. She was holding tomatoes and smiling. I greeted her graciously, hoping that my smile and welcoming demeanor would override the fact that we do not speak the same language. Manners, though, are the universal language of all people. I took the tomatoes and she made a square with her hands. I kept smiling, unsure of what to do. Did she want money? I didn’t want to buy tomatoes. And moreover, all I had in cash was a 100-kuna note. These tomatoes were lush and delicious, but not worth 100 kunas.

After some more pantomiming and awkward chuckling (respectively), I got the message that she wanted my passport. Reluctantly, I handed it over and followed her up the stairs to the main house where she lived. She signaled to me to stop, that I didn’t need to come inside. I asked her, slowly and with overblown gesticulations, why she needed my passport. All she said was, “police,” and disappeared inside.

The utter terror of that moment can’t possibly be pinned down with a string of words. I grabbed my phone, waiting at the base of her stairs on the patio, and googled “my airbnb host took my passport.” Nothing was useful, as all the results were pertaining to airbnb’s new ID verification system. I began, once again, to feel that drop in my stomach, that stab to my soul that things had gone terribly awry and that, despite all my hurdles thus far, I would end up in some kind of danger. What had I done wrong? Why did the police need my passport information? Was there some law that I broke without knowing it? Was I going to be tossed into some Croatian jail cell?

Having seen too many episodes of Locked Up Abroad and having a mind that never sleeps, my thoughts were racing, dreaming up all sorts of scenarios, all of the “worst-case” variety. It felt like half an hour that she was up there with the one thing that you’re never supposed to lose when you travel, the critical piece of documentation required for international mobility. What if it’s nothing? What if it’s just something required by law? Or, alternately, what if it’s everything? What if my life is about to take a sure nosedive into turmoil? In the moment, it was difficult to be rational, but I sat there waiting, keeping my head on straight. If the police really were after me for some reason, they would be here. An elderly woman wouldn’t casually knock on the door and offer me tomatoes if I were thought to be some country-skipping fugitive.

And, after time slowed to a crawl in the midst of waiting, I saw her come out of the door at the top of the stairs, passport in hand. I breathed a sigh of ultimate relief as she handed it back to me. I asked slowly, cautiously, “it is okay?” and raised a tentative thumbs-up as my voice went falsetto at the end of the question. She didn’t understand, so I tried my luck another way. “È bene?” my thumb still raised to the sky, still wondering what was going on.

She smiled and returned the thumbs up, then began speaking Croatian. I smiled the smile of a person wanting to be polite, a person not wanting to interrupt, a person who didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. She motioned to the street and said “mercato,” and I began to nod enthusiastically, hoping she could speak Italian, hoping that we could have a shared connection. And then, she looked to the sky, wondering how to translate and finally said, “pickle.” I smiled again as she motioned toward me, toward the street, and then said, “patate, pasta salad, mercato. Zwei minuti.” Her cocktail of languages made me wonder how old she was, how many years and decades of stories were locked up in her brain. “Grazie mille,” I said with a wave and took my passport back inside the apartment, hiding it in a compartment in my suitcase. I sent a quick airbnb message to Boris, the English speaker who handles the account associated with my apartment explaining what happened and asking for a little more clarification.

I set out along the affluent marina of the Splitska Riva, where all the wealthy docked their yachts and went for cocktails on the silvery-blue sea. I knew that there were beaches along the side of Marjan Hill, the enormous green divider between the city and the sea, but I didn’t quite know where. I simply walked westward, following the water line. I could have gone to Bačvice beach, but after seeing it in the periwinkle early-morning light after clubbing there, it didn’t look all that special to me. And so onward I walked until finally, I saw tan bodies splayed all over cliffs above the water. I saw people jumping, I saw people lounging in the sun, I saw people squirreled away in shaded corners of stone reading books. I kept walking, wanting not to settle, feeling like there was more to see. I was right.

I think I'll stay.

I think I’ll stay.

Finally, I stopped along a secluded rocky cove where the water was teal and the sun was shining. I set up shop with a beach towel I had purchased on the way over for 50 kunas and fashioned my lifeproof case onto my phone. I sat on the rocks for a little while, surveying the sea below me. It was shallow and rocky for the first few meters, then an endless exhibition of blue. Feeling the heat of the sun on me, crackling my skin, I finally thought “just do it” and made my way into the Adriatic.

The rocks in the shallow water were covered in a fungus of some sort, they were slippery with what felt–disgustingly–like wet moss. My skin crawled as I scrambled off the rocks and into deeper waters, swimming until I could no longer touch the bottom. I peeked under the water to see that the drop-off from the rocks was a steep one; that all of a sudden, I was swimming in a 50-foot-or-so sea. To see straight down to the bottom gave me a sort of existential scare; it reminded me that I was a guest in this vibrant habitat, that this world where I was treading water wasn’t my own.

just floating in the open water. no big deal.

just floating in the open water. no big deal.

I took a picture with my lifeproof case and realized, to my horror, that the lens was foggy. I saw the trickling of water beneath the screen and immediately swam back to the jagged cliffs, back to the slimy rocks that served as my only ladder out of the Adriatic Sea. In my haste to get my phone to air as soon as possible, a serrated bit of stone jutting out cut my thigh and I began to bleed, but it didn’t matter. I needed to get my case off and turn off my phone immediately.

Miraculously, everything was fine. My phone is still in perfect condition despite the leak in my case. I didn’t question the good fortune and continued to relax along the coast, sipping wine and listening to Coldplay.

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we live in a beautiful world.

The cut on my leg eventually became just a memory corresponding with the dramatic red slash on my skin that closed itself with the passage of time. Soon enough, my entire leg was becoming pink and sun-soaked, and I decided that it was probably a good idea to feed the nagging monster of paranoia in my brain, the sinking, stabbing feeling that something could be wrong at my apartment given the occurrence of the previous few hours.

I walked back along the marina and my phone buzzed in my hand unexpectedly as I passed a waterfront café where I had stopped in for a quick drink earlier in my time in Split. My phone automatically connected to the wifi and Boris had responded that he was sorry for the misunderstanding, that by law in Croatia, hotels and vacation rentals must take down the passport number of guests for tax purposes. Again, I rode the roller coaster of worry and subsequent relief as I realized that—standing off to the side of this cafe and borrowing their wifi signal—I didn’t have to make the trek back home. Back to the beach it was.

blue are the life-giving waters, they quietly understand.

I didn’t go all the way along the shoreline to the spot that I found before, just to the cliffs where young people were draped every which way, tanning and talking and smoking and drinking. Sun-splashed bodies dripping with seawater stood on cliffs and laughed, yelled at each other in indiscernible words from different dialects before leaping into the sea without a care in the world. I set my things down on a piece of flat rock and took off for the side of the cliff where I stood, gazing down at the expanse of blue stretched out before me, dancing in the sunlight, calling to me. And then, with no real warning, my legs developed their own mind, thinking a thought that propelled me upward and forward, down in a thirty-foot free fall toward a mighty splash of seawater. And in those few seconds of falling, I felt that familiar drop; that gravitational pull of uncertainty when all your insides feel fluid and cold and I became, suddenly, one with the water into which I crashed. And then, of course, there was the release that is always guaranteed to occur after a tension—any tension, be it a leap into the Adriatic Sea or a friendship-ending fight or any other example from the myriad of life’s rigors—and I flung myself around under the water in a maze of bubbles, springing around like a wayward rubber band flicked into the distance. I came up for air, salty and clear at the same time, and I realized that those few seconds when I was airborne were the most carefree seconds I’d felt in years, possibly ever.

they love to tell you "stay inside the lines," but something's better on the other side...

they love to tell you “stay inside the lines,” but something’s better on the other side…

And I did it again. And again. And again.

I kept jumping, doing cannonballs into the ocean until it all blended together: the sun, the sea, the sugary-sweet scintillation of summer. After jumping to my heart’s content, I retreated finally to my towel and the radiance of the afternoon sun, exhausted from leaving so much of my soul in the sea. I used to think that while money couldn’t buy happiness, it could buy security, which was better than happiness. Lying on my towel in the sun after hours of excitement that didn’t cost me a single kuna, I saw just how wrong I was. I remembered the child in the Frankfurt airport that brightened my day on the way out of Germany by bouncing a balloon in the air, never letting it touch the ground. I remembered the kindness of someone who sent me an instagram direct message offering to help me out with accommodations should I ever need them (you know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart); a message that renewed my faith in the kindness of strangers during a time when I felt like people as a whole were inherently evil. These are the things money can’t buy. These are the things that can’t be put on an AmEx, or procured from Amazon Prime in two business days. These are the things you need to go out and get for yourself, to uncover from the earth and claim as your own experiences.

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blue are the life-giving waters, they quietly understand.

Traveling alone is 10% exploration of the world on the outside and 90% of the caverns and mountains and oceans within. You self-reflect. You think. You find the real you. You may think you know yourself, and you may think you know how you see the world, but chances are that if you go somewhere new all by yourself, spend a few days not talking to soul but only observing the strange and beautiful surroundings in which you’ve placed yourself, you’ll find a different person standing in your skin on the way back. You can’t be the same after you’ve spent time totally alone, handling things all by yourself, making your own bonfire of entertainment. And it’s a sad fact that a lot of people will never attempt this feat, this leap of loneliness. Perhaps loneliness, though, isn’t the right word…because while you’re alone, as long as you’re alive and breathing with brain cells firing, you’ll never really be lonely.

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I finally left the cliffs when the sun began to turn orange with fatigue and walking back to the little apartment in the Old Town, the city center of Split was doused in fiery hues with a backdrop of purple against the mountains. I could only shake my head and fall even more in love with the world around me, wondering what more sunsets in strange places awaited me in the years to come.

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Having not eaten all day, I stopped in a little bakery on the way home and, in broken Croatian and mostly a silly pantomime routine, bought a fresh baguette, still warm from the oven in my hand. It was a steal at five kunas juxtaposed next to the fifty kunas I’d paid for pasta and tomato sauce the day before. Going home, I cut up the tomatoes I had awkwardly accepted from my airbnb host and, with olive oil and a little salt, recreated the meal from two days before for a fraction of the price. I purchased some Croatian red from a market earlier for only 13 kunas, conceding to the notion that it would probably kill me, leading to it being so cheap. And yet, it blended perfectly with the meal set before me. This was a scene played out so many times in so many locations across the globe: the go-to vegan meal abroad. I did a little research and then, finding my answer and feeling satisfied with the result, filled a glass with water from the tap to add to the spread.

After dinner at the small kitchen table of my rented apartment, I fell into a carb-laden sleep from which I fully anticipated to wake weighing a full fifty pounds heavier, and didn’t exactly care because of all the fluffy feelings of euphoria in the wake of all the white starches I consumed overrode any worries of weight gain. The United States is a place for running, a place for vegetables and moving around and keeping a routine. Europe is a place for wine, a place for carbs, a place to forget. And with that, I floated away in the flirtation of fatigue.

A Vegan in Deep-Fried, Butter-Laden Hell

“I have a reservation,” I said to the exhausted woman at the front desk of the opulent hotel in New Orleans (whose name is redacted due to the content of this post), as if it weren’t blindingly obvious. “Take a breather,” I replied immediately, with a smile, feigning an amicable disposition. “I’m in no hurry. Just take a moment to catch your bearings,” I said, establishing a casual rapport as the backdrop against the stunt I was about to pull.

“I didn’t think I would see the end of that check-in line,” she confessed with a chuckle. “I’ve been checking people in non-stop since 3 o’clock.”

A quick nod to my classic “Escape the Ordinary” wraparound watch revealed the time to be 20:18.

“Oh, girl, take a break!” I implored, buttering her up. “Like I said, no rush here.” I punctuated my sentiment with a smile and let her just have a minute to herself, which I understand from years past of working retail, is essential.

“What’s the last name?” she said, after a moment of self-preserving reflection.

“Pierce,” I replied, feeling the foreign sensation of returning to the person I always was. A few clicks of her keyboard later, she asked innocently if I was my sister who, despite being two years my junior, could pass as my twin.

“Yes, that’s me,” I stated, matter-of-factly.

“Okay, cool. I’ll just need to see your ID,” the woman stated, rummaging behind the desk for keys to magnetically program.

“Well, here’s the thing,” I replied, a look of desperation on my face and a slight Southern twang in my voice, “my wallet was stolen here in the city,” I confessed. I made sure before entering the lobby that my iPad shielded my black-and-beige KSNY portfolio wallet. “as you can imagine,” I continued, “it’s been a hell of a day. I do have this photo of my ID that my dad sent to me, if you can accept that.”

And with that, I slid my phone across the front desk, the Camera Roll open to a grainy photo of an expired ID belonging to my sister, an employee of the chain that owned this particular hotel. A cursory scan of the phone later, the woman smiled and told me I was good to go. Relief washed over me, and a slight shock at the fact that I–the most socially awkward person I’ve ever met–could hook myself up so seamlessly.

IMG_0191 IMG_0200 I made my way through the luxurious corridors to the room in which I was placed, a spacious upgrade from the bare-bones standard room I originally reserved with a panoramic view of New Orleans. After spending a solid two minutes gazing out at The Big Easy by the sparkling glow of neon and nightfall, I decided–hair in a topknot and glasses on–to head out and get lost in the world around me.

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I weaved my way through drunk people in t-shirts clutching Hurricanes and yelling about what a great time they were having to a location somewhere on Bourbon Street, undisclosed to even me. It was refreshing enough simply to be there in The Big Easy, making my way through the neon all around me, breathing in the atmosphere and feeling alive. Every place I’ve gone since I began terminal leave has seemed brighter than it ever had before; all the colors are more vibrant and the smells are more fragrant. There’s a certain grandiosity to life that I never knew before.

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I found myself slipping through the open doors of a piano bar on Bourbon Street and sidling up to the bar, placing an order for a Tanqueray and tonic from a bartender who waxed his mustache to look like Dali’s. “Want a double?” he asked. “Yes,” I responded firmly. It was a Sunday night in Nawlins, I didn’t have to slog into some fluorescent hell of an office the next day, and I was in my favorite company: by myself but far from alone. A double sounded like a prime idea.

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I lingered around the piano bar for a bit through renditions ranging from sheer beauty (“Yellow” and “With Or Without You” were especially heart-tugging) to utterly obnoxious (when can we, as a society, discontinue the widespread fondness felt for “Sweet Home Alabama”?). Finally, a few icy-translucent plastic cups of gin and tonic later, my phone was due to die. I grabbed the plastic cup that held my final drink and closed out my tab, leaving a 40% tip before traipsing out back into the bustle of Bourbon Street. I was lost in the lights with my gin and tonic in tow, sipping measuredly to make it last until finally, the sound of air being propelled upward against little pebbles of ice through my straw was all that was left. I tossed–literally threw–the cup and ice and straw of drinks past into a nearby trash can and got a nod of approval from a group of drunken bros corralled nearby in Guy Harvey t-shirts and LSU snapbacks. I followed the lights back to Canal Street, feeling my way around without the use of my phone. I knew that my hotel was literally around the corner, and I had just reduced my iPhone’s data plan from the luxurious 10gb maximum to a single scant, lonely gigabyte in preparation to spend the next few months almost exclusively abroad and on wifi. I saw the neon red signage of the Canal Street CVS, a towering monolith on the far corner of Canal and Bourbon that looked like Christmas and old-school California rolled into one building replete with all the random things one could want if they’re stumbling drunkenly through the French Quarter. At that moment, seeing CVS emerge into view, a pain in my stomach began to permeate the alleviation brought on by the alcohol. Sharp and stabbing and burning and jarring, I realized at that moment that I hadn’t eaten all day. Into the CVS I stumbled, searching for hummus and San Pellegrino and leaving instead with Tostitos and Dasani. We’re not in Kansas anymore, I said under my breath. If only Kansas were a taste palette of highbrow and hipster hybrid proportions.

I also, in my empty-stomached drunkenness, purchased a little bottle of purple liquor with some weird name featuring a Q just because it was on an end cap I was passing and looked interesting. The night morning, I saw the bottle perched next to the ice bucket and that familiar old question raced through my head, the question that people the world over have to ask themselves about one thing or another that they wake up next to after a night of drinking, “Why?” I shrugged it off and decided to give it to Patrick when I got to Germany. I was in New Orleans in the first place to begin my journey of air travel hiccuping through the United States before finally reaching that transatlantic flight I’ve been waiting to take for the past eight years. MSY to ATL. ATL to JFK. Layovers stuffed between these flights like little party favors–tiny trinkets of fun in a world where roaming through airports with the general public is a party. Until finally, at some point during the evening of 05AUG2014, one-third of my life later, I would get on a plane that would take me to Frankfurt. I used to wonder whether I would ever see my old friend Patrick again and for years, I accepted that I wouldn’t. And yet, life is funny that way. You make things happen, and then they come undone, unlaced, unhinged, and everything falls apart but the debris of what you knew before falls into a perfect mosaic of something else; something that you didn’t know you could ever have.

And so, I was in New Orleans waiting for my day of dotting different destinations on a map. I ran on the hotel treadmill and afterward threw on an empire-waisted black dress that laced and tied in the back and had eyelet daisy straps. It was simple enough to be casual and complex enough to display a fashionable intricacy of sorts. Paired with my usual jcrew pink pointed-toe bow flats and my classic rose-gold and pavé idiom necklace, I was off to gallivant through the French Quarter, wet hair and “forget you” attitude and all.

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I popped into the swankiest Starbucks I’ve ever seen to grab a cup of black coffee and the women in front of me in line had about fifteen dollars worth of coffee and baked goods as well as a credit card that kept getting repeatedly declined. The two women were a sight that’s no stranger to the brazen streets of the Quarter: puffy-eyed and bloated, hair wrangled back in topknots and flip-flops on their feet. They squinted in the light of the day. They wanted bread. And they had, as far as the public could tell, spent a little too much at the bar as the barista kept asking for an alternate form of payment. By about the fourth insistence from the owner of the card that there is, indeed, an available balance, I discreetly offered to pay for their order. The women were falling over themselves in gratitude, and I remembered a time in my life that $15 at Starbucks might have caused my card to decline, too. I thought about pulling myself out of the vicious cycle of fiscal disadvantage. I thought about the fact that I didn’t have a job and I wasn’t the slightest bit worried. And then, I thought about coffee. I ordered a Malawi roast from the Clover machine and was pleased to receive a partner discount on my own total for what I can only assume was a silent expression of the barista’s gratitude at no longer having to politely argue with the customer who didn’t have $15 to spend at Starbucks. It was just a very nice, win-win moment for all parties involved.

Exiting the Starbucks, my dress flowed in the subtle breeze and a voice from someone loitering on Canal Street called in my general direction, “Hey lil mama,” which I, sunglasses on and outside world off, ignored. The same voice rang out again in the wake of my nonchalance, only this time with a more aggressive tone, “Well forget you then, bitch!” I just smiled and lightly shook my head at how women can go from lil mamas to bitches in the span of ten seconds without ever saying a word. Traveling alone as a female, I’ve become accustomed to my fair share of harassment. Heck, I started familiarizing myself with the ins and outs of catcalling just by walking around my hometown as a sour-faced teenager. It doesn’t phase me anymore to hear me go from Person Walking On A Street Minding Own Business to Object Placed In Front of a Person Brazen Enough To Yell About How Aesthetically Pleasing It Is. It’s just a sad fact of life these days. I do, however, maintain a strict awareness of my surroundings in the wake of these verbal attacks. But do they stop me from traveling? Do they prevent me from solo exploration? Hell no. This is my life, and no hard-headed man who thinks it’s okay to objectify a woman to her face will ever stop me from living the life I want. And so, I continued on my stroll, iron-faced and self-aware, but not remotely alarmed by the incident (note to the males out there: catcalling isn’t a compliment. Telling a women to smile isn’t cute. It’s unwanted sexualization and it is something that, unfortunately, will never quite click in the male brain. Don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy).

I made my way up to the roof of my hotel to do some writing al fresco while the coffee was still hot and my mind was ablaze. Working outside is nice, I thought, as my fingers clicked the keys to form the words that someone might read one day, the sentences and paragraphs that could permeate someone’s mind and change their life; just as certain words from others have aligned themselves from the flimsy pages of paperbacks past to something magic in my own mind. I realized there, on the roof of a hotel in New Orleans that doesn’t even know my name, that people all just want to live forever. We’re all searching for some sort of footprint to leave behind, a stoic sense of sheer existence in a world of rapid growth, of perpetual withering and dying. For most, children are the answer. And yet, for me, words always made more sense. Children grow up with ideas and dreams of their own before they, too, become victims of the cycle of life. And yet, words are whatever equation I can twist and carve to create. I make my own destiny and leave my own legacy with words. Words immortalize me.

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After this revelation, I decided it was high time to act my age and promptly strolled down Bourbon Street, crossing at Royal, and making a quick turn onto Iberville where I was ushered through the door of the Hotel Monteleone by a large bellman who looked at me like I had just walked out of the glossy pages of a magazine. It was a far cry from the juxtaposition of the catcall from earlier, and I smiled back at him, thanking him for opening the door for me. Once inside the lobby, I marveled at the sheer lavishness of the classic Hotel Monteleone. I had never been inside, only read about its luxurious atmosphere. Everything was over-the-top in terms of grandeur, and all the clients of the hotel hanging out in the lobby–drinking, talking, laughing–were exuding affluence. I made my way to the Iberville Street elevators and confidently pressed the top button, taking me straight to the rooftop pool and panoramic sun deck. No one questioned me, there were no salty accusations that I wasn’t a guest in the hotel. I simply walked right in and did what I wanted.

it's amazing what a twentysomething girl with confidence and a well-fitting dress can do in her spare time

it’s amazing what a twentysomething girl with confidence and a well-fitting dress can do in her spare time.

Once I arrived on the sixteenth floor rooftop deck, I just glided out of the elevator and up to the poolside bar like it was the most natural thing in the world. I ordered some pink cocktail awash in girly cliché called a Summer Breeze because as I scanned the menu, I read “Summer Breeze” as “Summer Wind,” causing a phantom roar of big band and Sinatra crooning within the confines of my mind, persuading me with every rise and fall of brass and bravado. And so there I was, on the roof of a fancy hotel that was squarely outside of my price range, demurely paying cash for cocktails that reminded me of Sinatra and basking in the picturesque panoramic views of New Orleans in August. It was one of those stellar experiences that you hear about, you see in movies, you might dream up in a moment of occupational malaise.

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After reaping the rewards of the roof for a good few hours, I drifted downstairs with the intention to stumble back to my own hotel, but after a huge carousel inside the lounge just off the lobby caught my eye, I was hypnotized into having a little more alcoholic fun.

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By the time I closed my tab at the Carousel Lounge, it was dark o’clock and my stomach was taking the cold stab of neglect out on me. Not exactly feeling up to a repeat performance of the previous night’s bottom-of-the-barrel fare, I took to yelp on the off-chance that there was a place in the Big Easy at 11pm that would provide me with some sustenance that did not come from an animal…but fully braced myself to wind up back at CVS, bag of Tostitos and chunky salsa in hand.

I asked the internet, and boy, did I subsequently receive.

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Felipe’s was set up like a Chipotle in that you informed the person behind the glass what you wanted on your meal, which made my vegan order a seamless process. Off to the side of the dining room was a full bar and extra seating. It was fast, cheap, and quality food. Basically a little slice of Mexican food heaven pocketed at the edge of the French Quarter.

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There were, in fact, other vegan places I had lined up before alcohol seduced me with its promise of enhancing the atmosphere to twinkly and carefree proportions. I’ll visit them on my way home for sure. Unless, of course, the rooftop and carousel of the Hotel Monteleone beckon me back louder than the somber song of a salad can muster.

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.

 

My Californians


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“You begin to come back so often that eventually, you just stop leaving,” my good friend, Eric, told me last Friday as the two of us plus Jazzy waxed poetic about life and its ability to turn on a dime in the blink of an eye. He brought his pint glass of beer–amber and fizzy, sweating as much as can be expected in the pocket of paradise where we were geographically located–to his forest of beard and sipped, allowing me to take advantage of the pause and digest the absolute truth in what he’d said. The three of us were drinking at an outdoor café in Culver City on the Fourth of July, picking up right where we’d left off when I made my way out to the West Coast five weeks earlier. The sensation of having friends–people who actually want to see my face and interact with me–was chilling in the nicest of ways; it’s something that’s so scarce to me in the East Coast town I’ve been forced for the better part of the last four years to call home. In Boston, no one wants to make an effort; there’s always too much traffic on 93 or too much snow or the humidity will ruin your hair.

Eric was speaking, of course, about Southern California.

There’s something in the air here; a whisper of whimsy that I haven’t been able to pin down anywhere else in the world that I’ve traveled. There’s something about the rawness of Dan Auerbach’s strumming in my ears juxtaposed to the killer sunlight singeing the pavement beneath my feet. There’s something about the carefree lifestyle here, about breezy hair and no shoes, about saying “No Worries” and meaning it.

I wasn’t supposed to be here now. I was supposed to be sitting in a swirl of Bostonian blasé with my hair pulled back, waiting for the rest of my life to happen. And yet, in the span of time it took to send an email, everything was different for me. I didn’t even have to finish out the week; I was simply…done. The world had opened up. I was free to go and see and do and love.

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Painted nails: a luxury so minute, so taken for granted, yet so sweet.

And then, of course, I headed out West with my headphones on.

My Airbnb host had mirrors outside for optimal selfie-taking. She gets me.

My Airbnb host had mirrors outside for optimal selfie-taking. She gets me.

I came out to Cali this time riding the coattails of something that I thought could be great; an opportunity for a kind of happiness I haven’t had the pleasure of knowing in a while. And yet, as life is so inclined to do, I was swiftly informed by the universe that that on which I had set my sights was not to come to fruition, and that, my friends, is a shitty feeling. In my constant crusade for eloquence, in all my years of leisurely dictionary-reading…I can safely say that “shitty” is the best and only way to describe the taste left in my mouth when I was faced with Plan A not working out. I gave myself a day, I allowed myself to feel, unabashedly, what my spirit was simmering, I allowed my soul to sing whatever kind of song it wanted. I can sit here, iron-faced and pretend that negative emotions aren’t a thing, but when you’re happy, you never feel that way. When you’re on a high of elation, you never stop to think, Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling this…it’s pathetic. And so I gave myself the day to process the pain of rejection…and then in true Sarah fashion, I blasted “Clarity” by John Mayer, donned a slick pair of shades and got over it.

by the time i recognize this moment, this moment will be gone.

and i will pay no mind, worried ’bout no rainy weather

Genuine shitty feeling notwithstanding, SoCal is still my favorite place in the country. I have more friends here than anywhere else, and they all think I’m the bee’s knees. It almost doesn’t feel real to me how connected I am to these people, to My Californians.  And yet, I am. And I’m not refuting it. My friends here have shown me a different side to the humanity I once perceived to be all conniving, all evil and only looking for personal gain: I’ve been shown that in a short time, with a few shared interests, people can interact together. People can laugh. People can make jokes about the dumbest topics and not even care. To say that my little circle of friends out here in LA have enriched my life is a grave understatement; this fierce, people-despising introvert feels revitalized every time she’s around Her Californians. And here in the past year I had made the assumption that all people are terrible and allowed the sun to set on my world. Oh, how wrong I was.

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There was food, there was alcohol, but more than anything else, there was an authentic sense of camaraderie. In this world of fake friendships, of hurting others to get ahead in life, of vapid, soulless existing…this is the stuff.

 

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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

 

Tipsy and Fruity in One Fell Swoop: Blueberry Mojitos

Look guys, it’s summer. The temperature is high and the stress is low.

Well, for me anyway, seeing as how yesterday was my last working day in the United States Coast Guard!

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(More on that topic later, when my brain has fully wrapped itself around the reality that is currently too good to be true)

Right now, let’s all just take a moment to treat ourselves and toast to how awesome we are. I’ve created a drink for that exact purpose. À la vôtre!

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Blueberry Mojitos
Author: 
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • ½ cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup ice
  • ½ cup sparkling water or club soda
  • 2 shots white rum (I used blueberry Bacardi because I wanted this to be poppin' with flavor, but please note: regular white rum is a-okay)
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
Instructions
  1. Using a mortar and pestle, potato masher and a bowl, or just the sheer force of your bare hands, muddle the blueberries.
  2. In a shaker, combine all ingredients and stir until well mixed.
  3. Optional: add in a few frozen blueberries for extra coldness on hot summer nights drenched with conversation, laughs, and memories on the porch.
  4. Drink and enjoy life!