It seemed disrespectful. How dare we leave what our parents had worked so hard for? How dare we push aside the values we’d grown up with? How could we shirk the unspoken responsibility of continuing to build our family’s stability? We were supposed to be the fortune-makers.
We were out to make our own. We had visions. What they were at the time, we weren’t quite sure. There’s never any way to know quite for sure what you’re looking for. You stumble along in some direction that feels right. You go through the tunnel whether or not you can clearly see what’s there at the end, flooded in light. You have to go. You have to move toward it. You have to know something of what you want in this world, whether it is for everything to turn upside down or for everything to stay just the way it is or for some combination of the two. Flail wildly if you must. It might be just a few moments more before a wind catches your back and sends you soaring.
We soared in the middle of rush hour traffic eastward. We passed towers of ceramic and metal, jutting out into the sky brightly. We wondered what it was. Some state-commissioned monument? No, it was too rough for that. There was something wild and free about the way it stood. Metal and glass and the trash of the past held together with cement and determination. I learned later that an Italian man had built it decades before with his own two hands. Just because. He made it just because he wanted to. It was not a matter of whether he could or could not; he simply did. He built. He poured cement. He collected scrap metal, broken plates, junk, and turned them into something utterly new. To some people, it was an eyesore. In other ways, it was a symbol of Pablo Picasso meant when he said “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist when he grows up.” We looked at it and saw beauty. We looked at it and saw something raw and intoxicating in it. Someone built this, just because.
This city was full of color, arranged together in the shape of the dwellers’ dreams. The urge to make beauty was as strong here as anywhere. The world is given the utterly false impression that everything about this city is false. That was another secret that we longed to learn: where were the real people, the people who make the city work, the people who truly inhabit it, the people who make a life that is so rarely truly examined. The people whom advertising companies attempt to lure into desiring more and more and more and more. Into consuming more and more and more and more because it would make life look or feel just a little bit more lush than it actually was.
Eve and I were looking for something else. We were not looking to disguise ourselves. We knew what we had come for: to find our way. Sometimes it takes getting lost to discover the real destination. Sometimes it takes stumbling and falling to find what was missing all along. It didn’t make sense to me before Eve. It didn’t make sense to me before we came to the city. Why the need to leave home to “find” yourself? In what way could we be lost that we had to do leave? How far could our selves have wandered from us?
Eve didn’t do it because she felt lost. She knew what she wanted: to discover. She was so hungry. Soul-hungry. Her eyes were ravenous. She wanted to leave because she knew that there was more to be seen, and she meant to see it. And a visit would not be enough for her. A few days, a few weeks, a few months would not be enough for her. She had to know more, more, more. She had to absorb a place into her bones. At least a part of it. She had thirsty marrow.
I was intoxicated by the hunger I felt emanating from her all the time. That is what drew me to her in the first place. She said that I seemed to always be on the edge of something, and she wanted to be there to see me move past the edge. She wanted to be the one to bring me over.
She loved to discover, and she loved to bring other people with her. That light in her eyes. That intense, warm, dancing light. I could see things I hadn’t seen before when I looked with her.
I didn’t have the same hunger. I came with her because I loved her, and because I didn’t know who I was without that love. Strange how someone can be so separate from us, how people can be so separate, but that once we come together, some kind of alchemy happens and we are no longer quite exactly as we were. We cannot help but change each other. We take bits and pieces of each other. Every kiss becomes an exchange. Every embrace is a trading of some small part of us. We find newness in ourselves whenever we allow ourselves to become close to another.
And Eve changed me. I could never fault her for her whimsy because it was so pure. She simply wanted to know. To go somewhere, to learn something new, to talk to a stranger. She did not have the fear of strangers that we are socialized to have. Each stranger, to her, truly was a friend she simply had not yet met. She was so certain that there would be something in common with practically everyone she crossed paths with, and she meant to do her best to find that commonality as often as she could, before she breezed out of their lives again, or them out of hers.
I was lost except for Eve. I was lost until Eve. It is strange to say. It doesn’t seem fair to place so much weight on one person. But she was the anchor that I grasped onto in the roiling sea I was in. I knew better who I was when I was with her. It is unfair, yes, but it is truth.
Of course I left with her. Of course I had to. I had to follow the anchor. Wherever she went. I came to this city because I had to hold onto the self that I had come to know.
I loved her then, and I loved who I was, then.
Unfamiliarity can be transformative. That is why it is sometimes necessary to leave a place to find ourselves. We discover who we are when there is no one to remind us of who we were.