On the Road, To the Skies, Across the Sea

My Mother drove me to the airport. It was still early. I had barely slept with all the thoughts I had of what lay before me racing rampant and directionless in my mind. The excitement coursing through my veins pumping hot kept me awake. I was soon to embark on an adventure I thought I wouldn’t have seen for some time, or rather one I didn’t think I’d have ever seen at all. The kind of grand adventure you spend hours building in your head like some great architect. This grand escape from the monotony of your life. You draw the plans and as soon as you are about to build on some blank slate you tell yourself, “Tomorrow. Someday. If only…”  You wait on stars to align till the dream dies. Dies before it was even born. But no, not this time.

Driving up to the gates families and friends are seen. Lovers are saying their farewells to one another while lonely businessmen go about their business. Tears are held back as people are held. Hands shake. Smiles crack across weary faces still heavy with sleep. I think to myself how much of a theater airports are. All these people just dancing on this well let lit stage performing the third act of some well rehearsed play. My Mother and I say our own goodbyes. I tell her, “Don’t worry. I will be fine.” I waited inside the airport and sat down to watch the people pass waiting for my friend Nikkita to arrive. This whole trip started because of her. This tiny woman with big dreams and an even bigger smile who one night asked me drunk in my friends backyard if I wanted to go to New York. I had only ever seen a handful of places outside of Orange County. With hardly a thought or a pause I said, “Yeah.”

For weeks I felt as if the trip wasn’t a real thing. As if it wasn’t going to happen. Like a lost friend you say you will make an effort to see but you know you will never call. It must be how men feel before their children are born. You don’t really feel like a Father till you hold the babe in your arms. The reality of it all doesn’t hit you till your are inside the belly of a steel dragon accelerating to a hundred and something and taking to the skies.  When we leave the ground, it hits me. It’s all really happening. Below me, the cities of my childhood shrank and receded till the pacific I love so well swallowed them up whole. The entire backdrop of my life was shot like some precious photograph and framed within my window. I saw clearly for the first time just how small my life and the world I had built around it really is. And then it was nothing but a cascade of blues sparking under the sun until we rose into a whole other white world of clouds.

ny plane

The world above the sky was pure as the driven snow. A porcelain sea as great as the Pacific with clouds so massive you’d swear you could walk on them. Underneath the wings an eternal garden of mountains bud in spite of the winter that beautifully blankets the soil rich with new snow. The shimmering landscape catches the sun like some metal shield and the glare blazes a fire across the horizon. An infinite expansion of an alien world I never knew existed blooms wild and white as far as my eyes could see. All my attempts at capturing the scene paled to the true reality of it’s beauty. The crest of the peaks rose and fell into valleys like some great tumultuous diamond sea frozen in a marble frame. Swell after swell till the last wave of peaks kissed the parched lips of a western desert. Nothing is forever. Not even this seemingly infinite Winterland. The mountains will weep snow at the advent of spring and it’s tears will flow as rivers down into the wide open mouth of the Mississippi. The mountains will shed their winter coats and become dune waves themselves, eventually crashing into the open arms of the Pacific. Physically, nothing is infinite. Where one thing ends only another story begins and Earth and her continents are no different. A few hours and a thousand miles later, darkness falls over a land I do not know. I look down below and a million stars had sprung up from the ground as if the plane itself had flipped upside down. Great American constellations splattered across the black heavens of the plains that blotted out all other stars in the night and shone unrivaled with unnatural radiance. I can see now how moths are so drawn to flames. Eventually, our captain found the right constellation and we arrived safe and unsound half a world away.

New York was fashioned in my mind to be this great city of all encompassing  steel, a constant deafening din, blinding lights and a sea of people you’d have to swim through to get anywhere. It was one of the few moments in my life that I was happy to be wrong. We take a car from the airport and as we are driving along some foreign street I poke my head out the window like some dog and catch all the sights I can. From my window I catch a glimpse of a great skyline. The isle of Manhattan. It’s smaller than I thought it would be. Some glittering crown sparkling far away on a steel throne. Maybe later I’d pick it up and see if it’d fit my head.

We met up with our host. A hip Asian cat, named Kat who had cats. She too was born and raised from the Golden State and had moved out to Brooklyn for reasons I never cared to ask. She still wore the calm of California about her and talked with a quiet, placid voice thick with the dialect of pacific shores. That slow, drawn out drawl you find in someone stoned and indeed she was high. High off the city she now calls home. I was tired. I was sore and in sore need of a strong drink. Kat bought the first round and I decide we can be friends. After a few well aimed drinks hit the bulls eye in my gut we take off into the cold starless January night. Outside the cold was nothing more than a cooling hand. I pop up the collar of my coat and find the winter embrace to be more akin to a gentle lover than some the harsh blow I was expecting to slap my face. In California there are no seasons. Only an ever fluctuating temperature ranging from seventy to paradise. Here, this cold was welcome upon my tanned skin that has known only short Falls and long Summers.

Downtown Brooklyn on a Wednesday night and not a soul was in sight. We traversed through alley ways older than any man alive where countless streets fights and human parades had been hatched and fought in my head. Cobblestone streets that breathed and pulsated, alive with every shudder of the rail ways roaring down below. And nothing was dark, for all was illuminated by the pale glow of a hundred million lights guiding which ever path you chose on the road. We chose a path that guided us to a park on the bank of the East River, between the bridges of Brooklyn and Manhattan. The park was closed and fenced off but just begging to be explored. Nikkita had probably finished reading off the first sentence of the posted signs denying us entrance when I was already over the measly fence. I didn’t travel an entire continent to be told I couldn’t go somewhere.

ny bridge

And there she was. Up close and in fact too large for me lift. The Crown of the Atlantic. Eternal Flame of the East. New York. The Mother city of so many of my heroes and I was looking right at the holy womb that had given birth to them all. Walking the same streets that they had walked in another life, in another time I wish I belonged to. I was playing  in Holden Caulfield’s playground. An America I had never seen loomed just beyond the black waters of the East river and I wanted to feel it all with every sense. So we traversed the length of the Brooklyn bridge that went inside the open legs of Lady Manhattan. It was three hours into the morning and still, not a soul. Well, save for one man who seemed to be having a rather hostile conversation with himself.  Big cities make small men go mad but at least he was going somewhere. But so was I. For I was full of good drink and Western dreams of Eastern things. On the isle of Manhattan are buildings that would make even the greatest and largest men feel small. Buildings so old you felt ancient just looking at them. Being alone in the wide streets among the countless parks only amplified the experience tenfold. The New York I had envisioned was never empty. It was beautifully eerie and surprisingly welcome. We had the whole fucking city to ourselves.

And day after day we dove into the underground catacombs and traveled wherever we wanted to go inside the belly of another steel dragon that had no wings. I imagined myself bounding across the rooftops I passed, their heads scarred with painted signatures. Rainbows of effigies and pretty things lighting up the blank canvasses of the bricks. Under grey skies with no promise of rain for the trees that were stripped naked by the lustful hands of winter winds. Passing empty churches and crowded streets. The cobblestones coughing up hundreds of souls as I passed; hustling and bustling going everywhere and nowhere to the rhythm of the dragons drum. And down every alley and street was some mortal infinity. An endless possibility of anywhere you could ever go and all you could ever be. I bathed in the rains of an Atlantic shower. Tasted the sea on the other side of the continent. I drank, I ate, I slept and dreamt all under a different sky. And what a dream.

One night I found myself on the floor against the wall of Kat’s apartment. She was in the process of moving, so there was nothing in the vast space of her living room save a table and a window that overlooked the street. Outside the hour was late but back home I’d probably just be coming back from work. The lights were dim like dying candles and the music playing carried well across the floors and empty room. It was only the middle of the night but I wanted nothing more than to lie there and just let everything wash over me. The weariness of walking dozens of miles and the lack of sleep had finally caught up with me. I laid down on some makeshift bed on the floor. Kat’s cats came to lay and dream beside me and I let them be. I looked up at the smooth ceiling and just stopped. Everything…just stopped. It was then in that moment of delectable stillness I stood in the middle of the street that was my mind and let everything hit me.

ny floor

I had traveled a world away with just a, “Yes”. I was the farthest from home I had ever been and it took next to nothing. Nothing but a willingness to go somewhere new and a fistful of paper. I was so lost trying to comprehend just how goddamn easy this all was that I didn’t even miss home. How I had stepped off the carousel that is my life with little but a nod. How beautifully simple it was to just…go. Anywhere. Cause I realized I could go everywhere! And while all that hit me, the happiness I tasted being where I was and where I was going; I completely forgot who and where I was. Words fail to describe the true nature of the moment but it was almost as if I was experiencing something so much greater than myself that I no longer was myself. I wasn’t on the floor anymore. I was floating. I was out of my body in some zen state. Stoned off the unknown and I never even took a hit. Completely lost to this illusion of grandeur and wanderlust that I realized was no illusion at all. We are just brought up to believe it is. Like it’s some difficult thing to uproot ourselves from the comfort of our safe and comfortable lives because we are bound by this great and invisible chain of familiarity. In my mind I was walking in a wilderness I had never seen under clouds so blue you’d swear it was the ocean turned upside down on you. I was in Portland, Seattle, Maine, London, Paris, North, South, East, West it didn’t matter. I could have them all. For I realized then that nothing bound me. My meager possessions, my home, my car, my job…they were all weights I could cut at any time. I was the goddamn wind and a storm of youth. The bubble I had been born inside of finally burst and everything and nothing made sense all at once. And the feeling has stayed with me, long after I returned home.

We are all groomed to believe that the lives set out before us by our predecessors are the correct paths to choose. Growing up you already got your whole life planned out for you. And you nod and take on that mission to make these architects proud and be accepted doing what is expected. But I am older now and far more wiser to see things with open eyes as they really are. I look at those who live to work and work and work to pay for all the things they work for, only to come home to throw themselves on some overpriced piece of furniture behind a television till their eyes close. They probably dream in commercials. Rinse and repeat. For a two week vacation. The possibility of pension. And the golden dream of a retirement so they may spend the rest of their lives as they should have all along living life on their terms till they die. And that’s the awful truth of it all. So tell me…how is this all supposed to make sense to me? To anyone? When I have walked in wilds that spoke only truth. Walked among the titans of the redwood forests. Seen cities that lived and breathed all their own filled with people who just got it! Read works that were no works of fiction telling of crazy souls who dared to find another life. When I have traveled thousands upon thousands of miles to get lost and find myself somewhere I have never been? How can that make sense when every sense I have has experienced something so profound that the very notion of surrendering to anything less than my own terms of life would mean death?

Blessed is he who has no sense, common or otherwise. Who is blind to the beauty of life, deaf to the beat of his own heart and mute to not speak his wants. Blessed are those who go through life with slow, quiet hearts and simple minds. Blessed are the ignorant, for the bliss of not knowing what awaits us inside the open arms of the world is life’s sweetest kiss.

Let the ignorant be safe. Leave them to their homes and fences and comfortable chairs and quiet lives. My bed is where I lay my head and my home is wherever I take my heart. There is a whole world out there beyond ourselves that needs to be seen. I don’t know when it will be enough, or if it ever will. I don’t know when my insides will stop burning with a hunger for a greater life. I don’t know how much longer I can suppress it and I don’t know what is the next step is to getting closer. I know only that I am here. That I am mad and mad about life. My heart beats twice as fast as it should. I couldn’t live that quiet life even if I wanted to. I have seen far too much to even hope to turn back. I am thankful for that now. For years I have gone through life thinking that something was incredibly wrong with me. For I could not find a place, or a time, or someone where I felt I could belong. And now I know that people like me need to make those places for ourselves and make them with our own hands. They cannot be some cheap and freely given thing. I have many more roads to walk and more paths to tread to find this great thing I am searching for. I don’t even know what it is but that’s what makes it so damn beautiful! New York and all the wildernesses I have explored are just the beginnings of an even greater adventure. One worthy of writing about. A story worthy to tell.

For love and death and everything in between, I will die at the end. Scarred, smiling and empty for I will give it all of me. You leave pieces of yourself along every road you take and part of the road you take with you. The people you pass by or pass through will give or they will take but they will always take what you have to give. Their stories became a part of your story and your stories become a part of them. And maybe we die simply because we run out of pieces to keep us alive. When we give and take to fill that great voracious hunger for life that roars within us till we can consume and lose no more. When every fiber and fabric of our being has been stripped to keep others warm. Till we are naked and shivering left to die alone in the cold. When the many roads we have walked searching for that great something leaves us broken, battered, and bruised until our strength fails us at the last stoplight. For what a sad death to die without scars. What a sad life to live without love.

–  HOWl