Reader I have lately felt inadequate to the task of writing you.
I am including this very average photo of my breakfast — a cinnamon-laced latte and a ham and cheese croissant, snapped on a phone — because I have all but retired my ‘real’ camera and my ‘real’ photography in favor of this mostly artless, haphazard snapping which, for reasons requiring no elaboration, bugs old souls when they witness it. And I’ve retired a lot more of myself that I believed real, that I believed made me real.
This wild winter. It started with one little reckless act. I saw someone — a man at an airport. I mean I saw him and, over the course of a four-hour flight, subjected myself to millions of what-ifs, a litany ripe with premature panic and regret and loss. The thought of inaction terrified me. So I did something I’d never done before. At the baggage claim I said hello. I shook his hand, slipped him a scrap of paper that held my name and number.
Since that night in November, he has stamped my passport twice. He has seen me through my mother’s illness. Many words, reckless and true, have been thrown out into the static. Sacrifices have been made. The universe has been thanked and blamed, and we have fought cruelly and shaken our heads in awe at our differences, at our story.
Which brings me back to this question of what is and is not real. Of what I am and am not. I have learned that it is not easy for me to be 22 or 23 or even 24, to keep friends while keeping myself, to run in “circles,” to be wild and careless and free. It’s not easy for me because a clock is always ticking. I have a person to become, work to do, something of significance to build, to leave behind.
Writing this, I remember the gentle chiding of my mother: Have fun. Be young. Of my mentor: Give yourself permission to live your life. And I tried to heed them. I have straddled the equator. I’ve worn jewelry and grown my hair long. I have sought the company of those who smoke and sip and swallow their way out of sorrow. And I have learned that none of it can cure mine.
So here we are again, reader. I am home now, home for the first time in months. The swings creak and the waves break. The windows appear to be breathing, wiggling with the heat of the radiator. The questions come as relentlessly as the waves. Still I can’t say what’s real, what I am, what we are.
I know I know less than I let on. I know I’m not what I say I am. Saying it, saying anything, robs us of what’s real.