And here’s the thing. I don’t know what I want. I really don’t. I could sit here and think about what makes me happy, but that doesn’t get me anywhere because I think, I could try to be happy, but is that how I want to define my life? Is that all that I am? Is that all that I really want? Happiness? Is there something better? Or is that all there is? Who am I if I am happy, who am I if I am not?
I remember third grade. Our elderly teacher walked around the room with a smile on her face, those shuffling steps, wrinkles adding weight to her frame it must be. She handed out papers with a purpose, speaking in such a happy little voice. She said today, we got to let our dreams be reality. She said this was our chance to write out all of our hopes on her little pieces of paper. Such little pieces of paper with such thin blue lines to have such important little words. I watched her face, I remember, but I don’t quite get the whole thing, I can just see a smile and clear blue eyes, the kind like sky. She handed a fresh blank sheet to me and spoke, now class, she said, I want you to write a whole paragraph (an essay, at that age) on what you want to be when you grow up. I can remember some feeling inside of me, something breaking, something dropping like my chest was a cavern and my heart found gravity. I must have stared at that goddamn blank page for ages. It was so perfect and white. I could swear I could see my reflection in it, it was so silvery-white and clean and smooth and I just stared and frowned. My teacher asked me what was wrong when I didn’t turn in anything, she said, what do you want to be when you grow up, an astronaut a fireman a policeman the president who? I didn’t answer. Up until that moment in my life, I wasn’t aware that I had to be anything. I thought that I could just be me. I thought that would be enough.Science class now, the ultimate futility, attempting to teach life to teenagers by explaining it at a cellular level. Today’s lecture was on erosion. Our teacher stood like Moses, arms parted, voice high, lecturing how the oceans and rains shaped the land of this Earth. How a small, simple little thing like water can, over time, demolish goliaths of rock and earth. A video played behind him. A great stormy sea reared up like a grizzly over a resolute red stone, then smashed against it violently, and then again, and again, an angry sea, the white crests sharpened into curved blades like a Hokusai woodcut, slashing relentlessly at the shield of the Earth. The footage played faster, and as time passed the stone grew smaller, almost as if bowing to its master, and again and again the sea attacked with tendrils like a barbed whip, cracking and crashing while the stone became sand, and then nothing at all, sunk into the stormy black water, and still the sea was not satisfied, and continued to thrash and howl as it feasted upon new rock the previous rock's fall had exposed, and the cycle continued. It reminded me of the story of Noah, and I chuckled a little. It tickles me that the Lord of Everything and Infinity called for a mulligan. He wiped the canvas of the Earth back to white, slowly drowning every living thing, every creation, forty days worth of torturous waves and thunder, until everything was clean again, and all we got out of the deal were some kangaroos and a lousy rainbow.
The scene switched to a calm beach, a voice explaining how sand is made. I remember going to the beach as a kid and building sandcastles. The first thing you did was build a wall, every kid knew that, so that the ocean couldn’t come up and destroy your castle and rob you of your prize. Everything had to be perfect, all the moats and walls and towers, it all had to be a perfect mix of sand and water, the perfect size and depth, and the tallest tower had to be anointed with a seaweed flag, proclaiming the kingdom as my own. And after it was built, I stood up to survey my creation, wiping the sand from my knees, crossing my arms over my naked chest as if I were on the imaginary throne, feeling the familiar sensation of pride and accomplishment. This feeling lasted about ten seconds. After that, for some reason, the most fun sport in the whole world became the game of destroying my castle. Suddenly I was no longer the protector of the realm, I was Godzilla, I was a Dragon, and I thirsted for destruction and mayhem. My hand slapped across the tallest tower, no longer sacred, and it exploded in a rain of sand and seaweed. I stomped on my perfect walls, crushing them beneath my feet, water oozing underneath the carcass like blood. Finally, with a mighty kick, I destroyed the final protective wall, scattering its contents back to the earth, and the next wave crept up and washed away the face, then the body of my perfect sandcastle, and I felt the same damn sensation of victory I had felt just minutes before.
I’m ready to leave school now. Here I stand, just a step away from the edge. On one side of the pavement is everything that I have to learn, on the other is everything that I have to know. I walk to my car and sit inside, closing my eyes, just closing them and seeing what happens, hoping desperately that something will, but at the same time wanting to just sit there and let the day wash away from me, on the tide of time.
Drifting away is easy when you’re focusing on the twists and turns inside of your head, blood rushing up and down and out and everywhere, through the fingertips and skull. I’m tired of it, really. I’m tired of having to think so hard just to get my life straight. I’m tired of always needing something to keep my thoughts focused so that I don’t strangle my reality and make my own. I open my eyes and look downward onto my right hand, and turn it palm upward, and close my fingers, and feel the blood, and feel the sensation of grasping something so tightly it can’t slip, it can’t fade.
I’m at home again, another day ended, the golden Sun falling to rest, coloring the sky as it passes like water into wine, like gelded carnations floating into the air. I stand and face the glow, my shadow cuts into the soft grass. I feel like it would be easy to take a piece of the sky with me, have a swath of the sunset in my pocket, on my fingertips, on my ceiling. My eyes understand my idea and take in the sight with clarity and awe. I think that’s an important part of life; we can give and take as we please, but nothing will be so valuable as a smile on your face as the tired Sun sets, and your mind that stows the moment into memory, there with you until you die. And even then you can pass on the memory, on paper, in word, speech, and your smile on the sunset will never fade from this beautiful Earth.