I love you. Thank you for being there for me. I know I meant a lot to you too. When we last spoke, the sun was setting, and since then, it has actually set on our relationship. I said goodbye to you many times and in many places, but I want you to know that I still hope for a sunrise. Maybe the trick is, we don’t know when it will be. Maybe it will never be, except when we contemplate what could have been. Either way, for a while, you were the man of my dreams, and in my heart, the sun will always rise with you. Goodbye, for now, and be well. I love you.
One night, I went to my high school reunion and ran into an old friend. We used to sit at the same table in our 7th grade English/Reading class (my school was grades 7-12, hence why we were at our high school reunion ;-)). To be honest, this friend and I mostly only talked during our English class and we never hung out with each other outside of class. But when we saw each other at our reunion, there was so much love. We chatted for a brief second, and then we shook hands to say bye. There were crowds of people around us, and we were actually in a night club (yes, our school used a club as a reunion spot, lol). He walked past me, but for some reason, neither of us let go of each other’s hand. I never turned to face him, so I can only assume that both of us had our backs to each other. I imagine that his body was probably already lost in the crowd while he still held onto my hand. We held on for what felt like minutes, but it was probably only a few extra seconds. I felt everything in those seconds, but most importantly, it felt like we were both saying: here’s to the connection we had before we let go and say goodbye. And then, just like that, we dropped hands. And that was our goodbye. That was several years ago, and I haven’t seen him since.
You called so we could catch up
You asked how I was doing, given the death of my father
I thought I was fine, so I said so
But I have not been able to feel fine since then
Was waiting for her, but her mind kept pushing and pushing hard against it
She fought for years against people seeing her naked
And when she finally let him in
Her hopes vanished when she realized that he was no longer in it like she thought he was
Like she started to become
Honey oozing slowly from the butterfly’s lips
Let me kiss you before I scream
And wake up from this dream
One day she will have it
Love in its purest form
But for now she works on perfecting her craft
Creating art for the soul, art that feeds hers
Because with it, through it, and by it
She will fall fast, and hard, and find it
And never let it go
Whatever that is meant to be hers
She will love fluidly and fearlessly
And never regret it
Cheryl lifted her hand to caress his face. His irises glowed like Yemaya. “Goodbye,” she said. “Goodbye,” he responded. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” she continued. “I know,” said Robert, smiling. “I know.”
Cheryl turned to leave. She walked towards her cab and turned around once more. “Bye Robert,” she waved before getting inside. Robert stood and watched her leave from his doorstep. She was moving across the ocean like she’d always wanted. He loved that she was so determined to build the future that she’d been craving. Once upon a time, he had felt the same way about traveling. But he was settled now, and he hated the idea of starting over anywhere. Plus, he was determined to start a family with the One, whomever that would be. Cheryl was leaving behind six years of their friendship, of their phone calls, of their dinners together on patio terraces. Sometimes in April, Cheryl thought to herself as she settled into her cab, winter comes.
Robert stood in the doorway of his house as her scent drifted farther and farther away. He turned to walk through his living room and into the backyard. He would plant a new garden that day, he decided. He looked up at the clear blue sky and saw two birds flying overhead. I love the spring, he told himself. He started laying down seeds. His backyard was already awash with budding green leaves and colorful rose buds. The sound of the cab’s engine continued to trail off in the distance. Sometimes in April, was his new favorite thought. Sometimes in April, he continued to think, summer feels like it’s here. That day was Robert’s last day of rehab, where he had been for months. Cheryl had visited him every day and their friendship is what saw him through. They had been through laughter and many tears together. She had fed him when he couldn’t eat and made him cool compresses when he was too sick to get out of bed. He knelt down on the ground in his yard and began parting the soil and planting seeds one by one. The birds he had originally seen continued flying overhead. The sound of the cab’s engine had definitively faded from his street. He knew that wherever she was, Cheryl would have what Robert could not give her. Both knew that a future together was unlikely, but their past had been filled with so many happy memories that neither of them would forget.
The cab made its way to the airport as the raindrops on Cheryl’s window began washing away the tears from the faces of the passing houses. Some six plus hours later, Cheryl landed at Aéroport Charles de Gaulle in Paris. When she exited the airport, she hailed a bright yellow cab. The air outside was crisp and cool. “Avenue de la Porte d’Orléans,” she said to the driver, as she opened the back door. Out of nowhere, she heard loud squawks overhead and looked up. She saw two large birds flying high in the sky, first side by side and then chasing one another. “Ha,” Cheryl remarked out loud, before entering the cab. The cab driver took her luggage and placed it in the trunk. Cheryl bundled her jacket tighter before hopping inside. The car took off down the gray cobblestone streets that were lined with café terraces and budding branches of green. Cheryl wasn’t exactly sure where she was headed – believe it or not, she still needed to find an Airbnb – but she knew that she was headed to where she was meant to be. The two birds followed, all the while chasing each other, as the cab carried Cheryl to her destination.
The two birds continued to fly and dance in the air. It seemed as if their dance involved following the cab as it made its way through the city of lights.
Back in his yard, dusk had fallen and the wind had picked up. Robert had finished planting for the day and came back inside where he started a fire. He was really looking forward to tomorrow because a new day would come. He was finally going on a date with someone new. He took comfort in the fact that Cheryl was going to live the life that she’d always wanted in Paris. The street lights shone bright in their respective cities on either side of the Atlantic. Tomorrow would be a new day for both of them.
Sandra closed the book as she finished reading it to her daughter, who had fallen asleep. The buzzing of motorbikes grew loud and faint in a continuous cycle outside her daughter’s bedroom window that overlooked the busy Parisian street. “Legend says,” Sandra said to her sleeping daughter in French, “that one of the birds died of heartache after losing sight of the cab and never finding it. But others say that that’s just an old wives’ tale. It seems that in the end, no one will ever really know.”
Sandra turned off the lights, and with that she, too, went to sleep for the evening.
She wanted so desperately to feel special, so she kept telling herself that she was every beautiful butterfly she’d see flying around. She wanted to make meaning out of everything, because she wanted to erase the times from her past when she felt like nothing. A stranger would smile and she thought that it meant true love. A friend would pout and she thought that she had done something wrong. She was always interpreting things in extremes, because things had to be either good or bad; she did not know how to make sense of everything that fell in the middle. You can imagine her surprise when she learned that life was all about living in the middle: that she’d meet great people who would also make her mad, and that some douche bags would also prove to her that they had hearts (she still avoided douche bags though). She eventually learned to take everything with a grain of salt, even her good feelings and bad feelings. See, throughout her entire life she had only been searching for butterflies. But through her growth and acceptance of things for what they were, she’d come to learn that the caterpillars that became butterflies were just as worthy of being adored. She’d come to accept herself and all her imperfections, all her flaws and rough edges that had yet to be rounded out. She accepted that beauty was all about how she interpreted her experiences and the images that were emblazoned in her mind, and that none of her experiences, whether good or bad, would last forever. And that is how she came to see that she was a butterfly in her own eyes.
She stood at the edge of the lake, staring down at her reflection. She was beautiful. The lake’s ripples sparkled in the darkening dusk. The smell of pine filled the air. She felt serene and one with the trees. Her left foot continued to dangle over the edge of the lake. She stood tall and slender, her back leg extended as a ballerina does when preparing to leap. Her blue and white flowery dress flowed down around her ankles. Purple and pink painted the sky.
As she continued looking down at her reflection, she noticed the pine trees peaking up behind her head in the water, forming a crown. She thought that was funny, and let out a chuckle that echoed in the trees. Then slowly, she began falling forward, as if in a trance. Her body entered the water quietly, lean like a log. Within seconds, she was completely submerged. There, she stayed, never to return.
April 2003. 10:00 p.m. I plopped down onto my seat on a train at Gare d’Austerlitz. I was seated next to a row of strangers, alone with my Walkman, and India Arie’s silky vocals in her song, “Beautiful,” which rocked me to sleep with its accompanying melismatic guitar chords.
I was 20 years old, an international student in Paris, and I was on my way to the north of Spain, ready to begin the first part of my spring break. I was scheduled to arrive at the border of France and Spain, from where I’d continue by taking the bus for another six hours or so to meet my cousin and his wife in Oviedo, the town in which they lived.
The transition from France to Spain was like going from seeing porcelain to sunny skies and women with blond streaks and funky red hair. I rode through Basque territory and later discovered that the graffiti I saw from my window seat was the manifestation of a separatist movement happening in the north of Spain.
My trip to Spain, however, went smoothly. My cousin and his wife went to work in the morning while I stayed behind in their apartment. In the afternoon, they returned for lunch and siesta. We travelled to a mountaintop village called Oseja de Sajambre, a village of only about 300 inhabitants, where the surroundings were so quaint that it felt like I was walking in a big 19th century outdoor living room. I remember sitting with a huge family during lunch, during which we talked and ate traditional paella. Ever so self-conscious of my Spanish amongst natives, I mostly just listened.
I spent those first few days of my spring break in Spain, and then – believe it or not – came back to Paris mid-week to finish working on a political science paper that was due on Friday. Like the weight of a ball and chain, that paper was the only thing separating me from the rest of my freedom. I left Spain by train on a Wednesday, arrived in Paris Thursday morning, spent the whole day in the computer lab working on my paper, and then went to class on Friday morning. I made it back home after class in T minus whatever time it was, and packed in a rush to make it to the airport for my flight to Italy. Scrambling, I realized when I got to the train station that my metro card didn’t have enough money to let me go through. Thankfully, this really nice African woman let me pass through the turnstiles with her so that I could make the commuter rail train to the airport that I would have otherwise missed.
I cursed the train and all its delays as I watched the time speed by on my watch. My flight was about to take off in the next five minutes, but I was still five minutes away from the airport. I secretly wished that all it would take were those five minutes for me to make it to the airport, go through security, and land in my seat before takeoff. Of course, I was dreaming. I made it to the airport alright, but I missed my flight to Italy. Luckily, the airline agent put me on the next flight out without issue. I loved Alitalia because of the fact that they fed us almost three times on a 2+ hour flight. Europeans know how to treat their customers, I told myself.
I was headed to Florence, and I was supposed to meet the rest of my study abroad friends at the Duomo – a name which meant nothing to me at the time – until I got there. I remember getting the email before my trip, and how one of the girls in my study abroad cohort said that we’d be meeting at “the Duomo.” I remember thinking at the time that I had no clue what that was, but was confident that I’d figure it out once I got there.
I had some conversational phrases from my travel guide lined up by the time I landed in Florence. After exiting the airport, I found the right phrase and asked the closest person I saw, quite confidently, “Como se arriva a il Duomo?” The female police officer didn’t skip a beat and started giving me a detailed explanation in full-fledged Italian, which caught me by surprise: “….sinistra….” is the only thing I remembered. I was supposed to take a left somewhere, and I understood that it wasn’t supposed to be far. Not wanting to reveal my ill-comprehension, I said “Grazie,” “thank you,” and walked away, knowing that I’d find it somehow. And I did.
The Duomo, alas, was probably the biggest cathedral in Florence whose brick dome could be seen from anywhere in the city. Turns out it was easy to find because it was such a significant landmark (good pick, girls). So when I arrived, I waited in front of it…until no one came. This was well before smart phones, so a short while after waiting at the Duomo, I decided to walk down the nearest street, and found an internet café at the end of it. I learned after checking my email that the meet-up time had been pushed back to a later time (which was great, considering that I had made it there after the earlier planned time because of missing my flight), so I went back to the Duomo and waited until my friend Erin saw me a distance away. Filled with excitement, she waved me down frantically until we were all reunited in front of the Duomo as a group. From that point on, my friends and I travelled through the streets of Italy – specifically Florence and Rome – à l’Auberge Espagnole.
With travel guides in hand, we went to museums (not my favorite exercise; due to my impatience, I usually breeze through them in a matter of minutes), walked across the Tiber River (and it felt like I was walking inside my Latin book), and had luscious gelato after gelato. I remember meeting Giuseppe, an Italian waiter who told us that we needed to come back to visit him in 10 years (we’re about six years past that time now).
I have to say that my Italian comprehension was so good, that after scoring well on a jeopardy-type quiz at one of the museum exhibits (and putting all those Latin lessons to good use), the person behind me asked me a question in Italian to see if she could go next, I presume. Stunned that she thought I could speak the language and not wanting to give away my cover, I just nodded yes.
During that time in my life, all I needed was a map to guide me as I walked all over the cities I traveled, visiting all the tourist spots that those travel guides told me to see. La Fontana di Trevi, Piazza dei Populo, Piazza Navona (from whence I bought these two belts that I have barely worn to this day)…I walked it all, by myself, and spoke to natives in the limited Italian I picked up, and understood them from the Spanish I knew.
I remember calling the hostel I was supposed to stay at in Rome on a pay phone, and struggling through my conversation with the owner as he proceeded to explain to me in Italian how to get there once I arrived. I figured it out, more or less (or probably not at all), by communicating back to him in Spanish and asking him to repeat himself numerous times. I knew he was frustrated. So was I.
In Rome, I remember the time that I got lost late at night while I was walking back to my friend’s apartment. I was in a web of alleyways, and there were so many twists and turns and little streets to go down, that I got completely turned around. Luckily, I found a pay phone, called my friend, and he directed me back to his place. But it was always all good. I was never afraid of not finding my destinations because I knew, somehow, that I’d find them. That was a time in my life when I had no fear, just unbridled curiosity and passion for adventure.
When I was a student in Paris, all of Europe became my backyard. I was lucky to always be down to go on a trip somewhere. When my American friends told me about their plan to go to Italy for spring break, I was down. I had a Brazilian classmate who had said that she was going to Germany for a weekend, and I was down. All I had to do was go to the bus station and buy a ticket; it was that easy. So we went from having class in Paris on a Friday, to taking the bus that night to Germany, where we (mostly I) stayed up talking about American politics with a Frenchman (or maybe he was Canadian) and a German. My friends and I visited Munich; we stayed in a hostel, and we took the tram to a concentration camp in Dachau (that is a whole ‘nother story to process). By Monday, we were back in Paris.
In Paris, I saw the movie, L’Auberge Espagnole, with my American friends. It was about a group of students who met and lived together in Spain during their year abroad. They were all from different countries in Europe, and Spain had become their home for that brief period of time in their lives. During their time abroad, they experienced friendship, heartache, adventure, and comical confusion as they tried to navigate an educational system that was completely foreign to them in all their different languages.
I watched L’Auberge Espagnole with my friend, Kuon, and other friends in a French movie theater. I remember feeling that the actors were literally living our lives on screen: the parties, the dinners, the outdoor escapades, drinking wine in the street, sitting on the steps of Sacre Coeur with all of Paris’ university students after finals, and then walking back home with a friend after midnight through all the neighborhoods, cobble stone streets and cafés (Erin!).
Studying in Paris was my L’Auberge Espagnole. Living in that city for six months became my real-world experiment of discovering new friends, places, and different parts of myself. It was the place where I created memories that have lived on with me to this day. And for that, I will always be thankful.
I must go.
I don’t know where I head, but I know the time has come. When you wake up only wanting to hang out with your friend instead of doing the work that needs to get done, you know that the time is now. I’m not sure where I’ll go, but I know it will be anywhere but here. I’ve been dreaming of this for far too long, and each time I get a chance to leave, I become fearful. Of committing to another case of settling.
So now I refuse to try at all, and as a result my urge to live has begun to wither from behind the glass wall where I keep it encaged. Seeing the life I want on the other side, but being afraid to try and attain it.
I must go Rick, before the drug of you runs out and is no longer able to sustain me. The mountains are calling and I must go. Thank you so much for being there, but the bell has rung and uncertainty awaits me. I must leave you now.
Maybe when I get to my happier, you won’t be afraid to join me either.
I hope to see you again.
As I dream it, so it will be.
Commitment is scary
when you don't want any responsibility
So you stay stuck, asking what is 1+1+1?
Hoping that the answer won't be 3
You lie, trying to figure out the shadow behind every corner
Nothing makes sense
But the only thing that does
Is knowing that if you really wanted something
You would not hesitate to go after it
Because it would all make sense
No one would need to convince you
You would just know
So if you can't commit
Ask yourself, how bad do you really want it?