Do you forget, like I do, when the red curtain was pulled up on your life?
It’s like connect the dots. I can’t exactly remember, but if someone traces my finger over the path, the memory starts to take shape. An old study abroad friend and I met for drinks the other night, and memories covered with dirt unearthed themselves. Still, I was 22, and that semester in Prague seems like eighteen years ago. I have trouble distinguishing what might have happened from what actually happened. But I do remember the way the castle heaved magic over the city. I remember the gongs of church bells and passing trams like white noise under spire shadows.
I ditched class one day, took the tram to the train station, and boarded a 7:30 bound for Berlin. Rivers and countryside like paintings passed outside my window. Sleeplessness scratched the space behind my eye sockets. An Austrian couple said it wasn’t safe to travel alone, and felt that. Hyperaware and on alert. When I got to Berlin, I headed to the Brandenburg Gate right away. Rain poured down, and smells of wet concrete and cigarettes charged the air. Thousands of people crowded under white tents filled with beer gardens, pretzel stands, and reporters. A very drunk Polish man grabbed me by the arm, held a bottle of vodka in front of my face, and said, “Have some pretty girl.” A group of Australians swooped in then, pried his fingers from me, and said “Come with us.” They called me Nat and we had dinner together at an Italian restaurant with WWII bullet holes etched into it’s exterior. They helped me find the church my Dad asked me to take a picture of and said their goodbyes, asked me if I would be okay, etc. I knew I would never see them again. Maybe one day I will write down how the rest of the night went, because it’s a damn good story. I loved Berlin. I loved the forested parks, the cafes, the empty quiet streets. Berlin is a city dipped in sadness, but there is something intoxicating about that. She doesn’t try to be something other than what she is.
John Updike wrote, “Each day we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead.” And it’s true. We die all the time. Littered across our pasts are corpses of the people we once were. Into our futures wait crowds of men and women we will be.
For most of us, there have been too many pleasurable relationships, hangovers, and second chances to say this is the beginning. I am still young, but this is far from Act One of my life. Certain days bled into the next when the world was drained of wonder. Other hours I joyfully, reckless, peacefully lived in the world out there.
There are people I once was that I don’t like so much. Like the painfully shy middle schooler who was not as pretty as her friends. Or the recent college graduate with an ankle in two pieces. There are certain selves we’d like to file away, but it’s best to be on nodding terms with all of them.
I am jumping out of an airplane today. That’s my magazine assignment this morning. Maybe one day my charge will be dragging myself out of bed at 2 a.m. to give my baby a bottle. Or maybe I will never be a mother. I don’t know what’s going to happen next week and or next year, but there is treasure in that. Maybe only in youth we find mysteries like these. A never knowing that is lost on us in older ages. Jack Kerouac said “Be in love with your life,” and as I write from bed, I am in love with mine. As a writer, I stumble in the dark, get lonely from time to time, but I love to write.
They say wanting to write can be tragic for writers because sometimes they have the desire, the “I HAVE TO WRITE,” but not the talent. Or, they have the talent but not the “I HAVE TO WRITE.” I’ve got the “I HAVE TO WRITE,” I won’t touch on the talent. There are a million reasons that writers write. Personally, writing helps me understand my mind. Writing helps me live something twice. If the world looks lack-luster when I sit down to write, by the time I get up, it’s regained it’s brilliance. My pen is a passageway from darkness to light.
I just want to write like Joan Didion or Dani Shapiro. That’s all I ask, Universe. Thankfully, writing is something you work at. Very few are born writers, and most of us have to work at it. This is comforting for me, because for no explicable reason, I just want to be a better writer. I’ll be a surf instructor like Paul Rudd “You sound like you’re from London” for the rest of my life is that how I have to make this work. It’s the weirdest thing: to start to acknowledge a desire you never knew you had.
A friend recently said I was not as he remembered me. That makes sense because the person he knew died a long time ago. We change, the people we love change, and what we will and will not put up with changes, too. Any story that is good is going to change, and though the roads we follow are dark, the darkness just might be the best part about it.