I wrote this during my recent spontaneous escapade to San Diego.
It is a dialogue piece about adventure and escape. As I pensively sipped my iced red-eye at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, a mere coffee-bean’s throw from the cliffs, a young woman sat next to me. No words were exchanged.
“Oh, I’m not from these parts.”
“Yeah, I come from a land far off and distant.”
“Wow, I would have never guessed. You could pass as a local.”
“Haha, appreciate it.”
It is harder than I thought to look in her eyes. She’s pretty.
“Well… What brings you here then?”
“So you’re not sure why you’re here?”
“Sometimes, you don’t know why until you actually go.”
“Hm. I see. Well, are you making any progress?”
“I think so. I’m still figuring it out.”
“That’s fair. What do you got so far?”
“Well aren’t you quite the inquisitor.”
“Hey, I already shared my story. Don’t leave me hanging. Besides, what are the chances we see each other again in the future?
She looks at me and I quickly turn away, in an attempt to steal back my glance.
“Alright then. Just for you. Shall we?”
As if in unspoken tradition, we raise our beer bottles towards each other once again and toast. Clink. After a deep swig, we continue our aimless stroll on the warmly-lit streets of the downtown labyrinth.
Her eyes widen.
“Like… a fugitive? What did you do?!”
“No no, not like that… I ain’t like your FBI Most Wanted felon or anything.”
“Oh. How boring.”
“Hey, you asked for it.”
“Okay fine. So what are you running from? Or who?”
“I’m running from life.”
“I’m not quite sure I understand.”
“Well back where I’m from… things aren’t looking so great right now. And I don’t want to be there right now.”
“Hm. Must be pretty bad, huh. For you to run.”
“Yeah. It’s hard to look out the window sometimes. Some mornings, it seems as if I’m waking up blinded. Like one of my eyes forgets to awaken from its slumber.”
“My city… we live in shadows. It’s quite dismal. Imagine not being able to see one color for the rest of your life. You don’t fully realize its beauty until it’s lost. Or, the color blue. It isn’t as blue anymore. It’s not a rich cerulean substance with flavor. It’s just… blue. Without the depth. We’re losing something precious.”
“The worst thing is… I don’t know if anyone else notices what’s happening. Or cares.”
“Have you tried explaining it to them?”
“I’ve tried. I talked to my family, my friends, Hell, I’ve even talked to the governor. I published articles and what not, trying start a movement or something.”
“So you’re a writer.”
“And nothing. I mean, they’ve tried to respond and ‘fix’ the problem but I don’t think it’s been very helpful.”
“Well, if your doctor gives you the wrong diagnosis…”
“…He’s gonna give you the wrong medicine.”
“Ah. And you think you have the right diagnosis?”
“That’s the thing. I’m not even sure myself.
But… I’m sure as hell more knowledgable than they are.”
“What makes you so confident?”
“I’ve lived here the longest. Even longer than the governor. This is my city. I know every street corner, back alley, secret passage, you name it. I know the underground networks better than I know grade school math. I practically built a good portion of it. I own these streets. My blood runs in the city’s veins and the city’s blood runs in my veins.”
“They should have elected you for governor.”
“Nah, that ain’t me. I belong on the ground-level. On the streets. Front lines, you know?”
“Mm. Can’t you change the city if you know it best?”
“That’s the thing. I need the resources from the higher-ups to make some sort of real change. I can’t do it alone.”
“But they ain’t buyin’ it.”
“They ain’t buyin’ it. I’ve tried to start something on my own initiative but I don’t think it’s possible. I can’t sustain it for much longer. The fatigue is starting to cement in my soul and my soul is hardening.”
“No one understands.”
“No one understands.”
She looks over at me.
“That sounds painful.”
“You have no idea. It’s unbearable. Seeing my own city in flames. Ash clouds trace the skyline. People have been inhaling smog for so long they’ve forgotten what’s in the air they’re breathing. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my city without the haze.
When the city burns… when the city bleeds, it’s not just the city’s blood that flows.”
“It’s your blood.”
I nod at her.
“Damn. I can’t imagine that.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot.”
The pace of our step slows.
“So… you’re escaping. Escaping your world, escaping the pain.”
“Yeah. I suppose I am.”
“No shame in that. It makes sense.”
“Mm. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that.”
“Yeah. Many people think otherwise. People at home, I mean.”
“Well, they clearly don’t get it.”
“Yeah. …Yeah. Thanks.”
We make eye contact at last. Mutual contact, that is. Something about her gaze pierces me, through my burning tears, through my dark, fathomless eyes, through my soul.
“You know, I feel honored. Special.”
“You picked my city. You could have gone anywhere in the world but you picked my home. Even if it was to escape.”
“Well, I was just… I guess I just wandered here. I didn’t have a destination. Just far away.”
“But something told you to stop. Here. Of all places.”
“Hm. I guess so.”
She looks at me again and gives me a soft smile, the way that only your closest friends would give you a soft, yet strangely loving shove.
“I… I have to go back. I can already feel the bleeding.”
“This isn’t your first time, is it?”
“No. How did you know that?”
“Just a guess. I can almost see… tethers. And they’re latching onto you, almost like chains, and whenever you leave, no matter how far you go, they eventually pull you back.”
“Damn. You’re good.”
“Do I have to leave?”
“I can’t make that choice for you, my friend. You have to decide that for yourself.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Again, that’s your choice. It’s your city.”
“Sometimes… it seems like the only moments when I feel like I belong are the moments when I am far away. When I am traveling to new, unfamiliar worlds. When I am discovering the treasures of distant lands. When I am wandering. It is in times like those that I actually feel like my soul is in tune with my body. I get that sense of ‘Yes, this is right’-ness. Like I should be here… when I’m not here. Does that even make sense?”
“Ah. You have the heart of a wayfarer.”
“Have you ever gone somewhere and felt a deep yearning for a place you’ve never known? A homesickness for a land you’ve just set foot on?”
“Rarely, but yes.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“Is it that you don’t want to leave, or that you don’t want go back home?”
“I can’t tell.”
We made eye contact again. Not nearly as intimidating but even more powerful.
“I can already feel it. The… tethers? They’re pulling me pretty hard. It’s almost suffocating.”
“I guess this is it, then.”
We approach the platform. I board the train hesitantly.
“This conversation was not long enough for my taste.”
“Hah. We’ve been at it for quite a few hours, bud.”
“Man. Is that so.”
“Hey, if you ever need to run away… if you ever need a place to escape to, you know where to go. My city’s gates are open.”
“But will I ever see you again? Will you be here if I come back? How will I find you?”
She gave a gentle smile.
The train’s doors closed between us.
As the speed of the train crescendoed, the sight of her face waned into the horizon, gradually, yet still too quickly. She disappeared from view but I continued to stare out the window.
The tethers tightened their grip around me and dragged me back into the nauseating timelapse of life.
Why am I here?