by AMANDA OLIVER
Your life is not what you thought it would be. You thought by now you would have a best-selling book or a house or at least a baby. When did you first think these things? Eighteen? Nineteen? Always? After you turned twenty-five life started to feel unreal, like you’d be getting a do-over button any day now. Your peers started settling down and sorting out and you felt misplaced.
Adulthood only mixed things up for you. Responsibilities disrupted the idea of dreams, which were never very clear to you anyway. A book, a house, a baby. You still think about that king-sized bed in Boston and how you discovered your body could roll away from him twice and you still didn’t reach the edge. You still think about driving drunk down the street you lived on, going five miles per hour, sobbing and pleading he would be waiting at your place. Using the rules of The Secret to will it into existence, but you didn’t see him again for another three years and, by then, good riddance. You wandered New York City and cried in crosswalks for one full month and slept with friends of friends and boyfriends of friends. You bought platform shoes.
Your cheeks became surfaces of tiny bumps and your mother tells you, Rosacea. Your mother assures you, Rosacea. Just like her. You plan trips and you travel and it feels good to have something the rest do not. Books, houses, babies do not travel well, but you do. In Nice, you yell “I’m leaving” at the British geologist who asks whether you’ll sleep on the beach with him. You yell it at least twice before you realize there is no tram service or taxis and the inquiring man has thrown his hands up and walked away backwards like it’s a stick-up.
You plod the length of the tram, looking down side streets until you find a driver willing to take you back to your hostel. He takes all of your European money and your American money as fare. It’s late, he explains. In the morning you write the British man an e-mail to apologize and he responds that he enjoyed you. Was intrigued. Will you meet him by the beach you first met on a few days earlier? Whole paragraphs and you never write back. You picture him standing on all of the rocks and squinting into the sun as he tries to look for you. He probably went swimming. He probably met someone else.
In Barcelona your host expects that you’ll be like the other Americans who have come to stay. Party, party, party he explains and tells you a story in broken English about two girls pretending to be “Funny Bunnies”. You stare blankly back at his expectant face when he is finished. “That’s not an American thing, sorry. I’m not sure.” You feel old. Dislocated. You travel. You travel. When you do not, you rotate around routines. Farmer’s market eggs on Saturday, Kramerbooks on Sunday, at least one Smithsonian museum a week. You count the escalator steps, you guess what people will eat for lunch.
You apply to creative writing MFA programs for fiction and you are not a fiction writer. You are rejected from every single one and you wonder whether that was exactly what you wanted. Your stories make no sense to you a year later. You decide to forgive everyone who has ever hurt you. You decide to quit your job. You decide to be happy. Decisions are not your strength — wavering is. So, you waver. You seek the ocean. You come expecting answers and you get waves. They’re no longer the metaphorical things they used to be, but they are still beautiful. You try to see yourself in that, but you’re tired of metaphors and similes and anything that might be related to writing or poems.
You listen to the same song on repeat and words come, but they are not your own. You have written the lyrics. You finally get glasses and you stop traveling so much. You commit to a person and a place. You bake bread and wash the dishes in the sink. Loading the dishwasher will never be your thing. You buy a box of records and only listen to The Carpenters and John Denver. You think about buying a car or a moped or some form of transportation that you cannot sell for 50 dollars on Craigslist when you leave again. You walk every day and use a face scrub on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Your desk piles with new books and you miss several hundred others in boxes back east.
You write, but it is no longer a way of discovering yourself. It is for paying credit card bills and achieving notoriety or at least a Google alert. You write, but you can never decide on endings. You seek endings, but you can never settle. You have memories, but it feels like you weren’t there at all. Like you are remembering stories someone told you when you were little, half-heard whisperings just before you gave into sleep. You commit to a group climbing Mount Kilamanjaro. You look for the cheapest flights to Alaska. Your life is not what you thought it would be.
Photographs by the author.
The Best of Amanda Oliver
Fourteen countries in one summer
Developing a travel notebook
Trying to maintain better posture
Her name on a bathroom wall
Following each other on the website