Do not stop playing
I’m stuck on a memory, a curious moment, a single pebble of a thought dropped between two easy breaths a few years ago. It is now rippling back.
The thought happened one night in the rainforest, where it’s so dark that you can’t tell if your eyes are open or closed. Laying in a hammock in a hut by the river, a gopher snores from his bed beneath my floor. I could see my feet, one crossed over the other, and that’s about it. The breeze brushed my skin, the hammock wrapped itself around my legs, the light from my flashlight was swallowed by the darkness.
Right then, I realized that I like myself.
I liked that I surprise myself. I liked that I make myself laugh, even after all these years. I liked that my present self, before she becomes a past self, leaves clues and hidden gifts, like five dollars in the back pocket of my jeans, for my future self to find. I liked that even though my past, present, and future selves fight like siblings, we’re more likely to share a joke and a cup of coffee.
Anyway, the picture keeps playing on repeat. I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve laced the memory with traces of pertinent information and compelling clues. Mining memories is like mining for gold with a miniature pickaxe and a tea strainer.
I’m in Maine with a friend from long ago. I don’t remember the terms of our friendship or the secrets we shared, but after a twenty year hiatus, I am drawn to her, and she to me, which is why we are walking through Portland on a Saturday night.
There’s a chill in the air and gusts off the water. The locals stumble through the city shaking off winter, rubbing their heavy lids, and scratching their over-grown beards.
As the sun rises somewhere; the moon hangs here. We roam the streets, the bars, the sidewalks Everywhere, couples walk hand in hand, keeping each other warm. I’ve surrendered my fool’s mission. I’ve given up on finding a date. Kelly, a woman of impossible achievement, with a proud, juicy heart, is not as willing as I am to admit defeat.
“My friend is looking for a date,” she says to a group of guys smoking on the sidewalk.
“It’s research,” I add. I am annoyed by my bout of shyness, but I can’t stuff it to the side. It rears its monstrous, bobbing head at the worst possible moments.
“I’m sorry,” says the man closest to us, “we all have girlfriends.”
“I’ve never been a wingman before,” she says as we walk away. “How am I doing?”
“I’ve never had a wingman before,” I answer, “but I’m pretty sure you’re not very good.”
We drink beer every place we go and watch people talk, flirt, laugh. There’s a picture I drew in my mind’s eye forever ago, before my night in the rainforest, before I met my friend, maybe before I could talk – when I tottered after my older sisters, but never caught up. When I pretended I could read, just so I could sit with them as they thumbed through their books. When I waited outside their closed doors and listened to them play.
It’s a picture of a little girl with her hands pressed up against the windows of a toy store, wondering at all the colorful things she sees but cannot touch, on the other side of the glass.
What that little girl doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, is that there’s a whole lot more going on her side of the glass, and if she just turns her head, just a little bit, she’ll see worlds waiting for her like open books.
So, we’re at a crossroads in the middle of Portland, on the outside looking in, surrounded by stories. My friend tells me a story, then I tell her one and, like threads in a woven fabric, they unravel bit by bit, and wrap themselves around each other, tie themselves in knots. Her stories become mine, my stories becomes hers, little gifts to enjoy in whatever ways we please.
When you stand at a corner in a city you don’t know, filling in the blanks of a life you think is your own but really belongs to every single person who has crossed your path, looking for a new story to tell, you can be blown sideways by the sudden awareness that what you think of as “my life” is “our life.”
Maybe that’s what the gurus mean when they say “we are all one.”
Maybe we’re one big story broken into little bits, a confluence of contexts butting up against each other, so cozy that we forget we’re pices of a puzzle.
Which can happen when you stand on a corner in a city you don’t know, filled with beer.
If you’re lucky, a pedicab driver will pull up and offer to take you anywhere you want, since it’s a slow night and he needs the practice. If you’re very, very lucky, he will be burly with a ginger beard and a thick smile.
We happen to be lucky, Kelly and I, so we climb in.
“My friend is looking for a date,” says Sancho Panza.
“It’s research,” I add.
“I’ll take you to my favorite bar,” the driver says, “but first, I want to show you a few things.”
“I will call you my date,” I say. And then he pedals us away.
“Everyone’s so friendly here,” says my friend.
“We’re all waking up from a long winter’s sleep.” He pulls us around the town before dropping us at a pub.
I hand him a twenty. Sometimes researchers have to pay their subjects.
I waver between thinking of life as a work of art, an adventure, an exercise in patience, or a course in cosmic school of cognizance. There are days when I think I know myself, or a thing or two about a thing or two, and days where I don’t know squat.
Some days, I forget to leave myself treats or arrange nice things for my future self to enjoy. There are weeks where I forget myself and act like someone else. There are whole months, I see things I think I want, but cannot have, or wish I could be somewhere else.
But right now, in this moment, I consider myself lucky.
Instead of being on the outside looking in, it feels like I’m on the inside, looking out. And I like it all.
I blame it on Maine.