Everyone has that place they go to when the world is too much with them. Or at least, near everyone. Mine is dark, like the sea, and it’s full of stars. It’s not quiet. It’s endless and orchestral, swirling with symphonies that I haven’t quite heard yet, symphonies that are always just a galaxy out of reach.
And sometimes it’s full of fields. I’m from the city, but they feel like home. They circle me and the sky is blindingly blue and I count my breaths: One, Two, Three, and so on. Until softly the wind blows and there I can imagine a different sort of song -- it doesn’t elude me; it consumes me. It’s there in the breeze, in the drifting bits of dust and pollen and tiny particles of sunshine. It’s great and beautiful and the first song that anyone ever heard.
And every so often. Only every so often. That song changes. It’s still within reach, but it’s a different tune. The song is light with floating, glowing ash; it’s heavy with a million voices and laughs and other songs; it drips with summer drinks and rushes through my soul. I am not alone in some black, celestial ocean or alone in golden labyrinths; home is no imagined place, nor are others just comforting phantoms. I am with them. It is more breathtaking than the stars, and more blinding than the sky.
It was like this that my summer began. In musical swells of escapism, visions of melodramatic beauty, grander than my true surroundings. It was built up like Fitzgerald crafted the West Egg, and it nearly ended much the same way; a journey homewards marked with disillusionment.
First came the traveling. I had hoped to find something I’d lost, and started out my search in the throbbing streets of Barcelona, saturated with sunlight during the days and at night with the sounds from sports bars as the football games ended, or young lovers’ laughter along the clear, black Mediterranean coast. Even the most hushed, winding alleys were full of something; perhaps this was just some magical element I conjured to make every moment new and original.
In Spain I found sea food and chilled beer and a bright rose to color my cheeks. I found churches crafted with dizzying dedication, art that made my heart stop, that somehow filled the world with its own sort of symphony.
Then came Paris. There was wine, red and deep and romantic, wine that Hemingway might have brooded over, or that Audrey Hepburn could have brought to her lips on some glamorous getaway from her Roman home. I found walls too, covered with Degas, with Monet and Manet alike, with Da Vinci and the rest. I discovered what it feels like to survey the Luxembourg Gardens on a July day, from a high shady point where despite denim shorts and a boulangerie sandwich, you’re aware that you’ve been graced with something that holds a euphoric regality.
And finally came a trip to Maine. On the shores of Bar Harbor I saw the endless pines and clear blue waters that spelled out the promised land for the first explorers. Atop Cadillac Mountain, as I burrowed into my father’s jacket and hid my face from the wind, I found the stars, as endless as I’d dreamt. They danced for me as for Van Gogh and I could have died up there. I found cool mornings to be filled with walks to rocky shores, and tea and berries and books. There was a different quality here than had been in my European travels. It was introspective and quiet aside from the chirps of crickets and birds and the laps of waves on dark cliffs. I loved it.
Each place held its own collection. Sand and shells and Spanish fans; metro tickets and corks and long linen dresses lightened on the bottom from the waters of the Seine; sea glass pulled from the harbor and dream catchers and endless dog-eared pages. Physical, tangible, ephemeral things for me to grasp onto. I added them to my character, grafted them to my bones, made them my own.
But what use is imagined significance; I hadn’t grown or changed or even learned what it was I had been looking for. I was several weeks older, I had seen a few more corners of the world, granted meaning to trinkets and decided they added to my worth.
It was August then. Shorter days for fluttering leaves and the understanding that nothing separated me from the person I had been aside from the hours between us. Direction in life can’t be dreamt up, it’s earned. It’s what you’re allowed to have after you’ve fallen down and picked yourself back up. I fell, but chose to imagine a new self in faraway places where my troubles couldn’t find me amidst the breezy, sunny crowds.
The cobblestone Parisian streets, the docks of Barcelona, the coves of Maine; they were only where I fled to when my own world was too much with me. When I couldn’t find any use in continuing as myself, I invented a girl laughing on the edge of l’Arc de Triomphe, wading quietly into the inky mystery of the warm sea, or hiding in pine forests with a copy of Wuthering Heights and a serious demeanor. She was the same girl that lost herself into empty fields and dark oceans of stars.
Only one thing stopped the self-absorption that had claimed me that summer. It was nothing fateful; nothing original. I didn’t traverse the world to see this, and the experience was not mine alone. It didn’t hold any old hollywood glamour, nor was it the topic of any of Hemingway’s books. Or maybe it was. It was true, after all. It was the truest thing I did the entire summer; it wasn’t adorned with portraits or cathedrals or soaring landscapes because it didn’t need to be. Hemingway, I think, might have liked that. What I’m going on about now is that Every-So-Often moment. It doesn’t stand lonely in my memory, like so many of the others might. It’s brimming not with strangers and false romantic visions, but with the company of those souls you’re allowed to feel like you’ve known for your entire life, for more than your entire life. The sounds of empty seas and shapeless symphonies have no part; instead, there’s the strumming of guitars with songs so familiar they place an ache right in the core of you. You ache because that moment, full of bonfire and friends and song, is becoming you in a way that nothing else could have (for all of your efforts). It’s a beautiful ache, the one you get when you’ve come home after a long time spent lost and away.