The ceiling fan is broken but if I lay on my bed with my head spinning, it doesn’t matter that the fan is broken because one of us is still running in place. It is hot here on the second floor of my mother’s house, even hotter than the summer day that stretches out down Cedar Street and Elm Street and Main Street and Water Street, all the way out to the highway and the cornfields and the cheese factories. The heat is oppressive, smothering itself like a pillow against the willful, screaming mouth of every interesting thing that has ever happened to me.
I can lie here all day, in this room in this house in this town that I haven’t lived in since I was seventeen. I can lie here all day and nothing will change but the hour – and even those repeat themselves.
In living in France it seemed like I could live an entire year in a day, a lifetime in four months. Life really happened every day. One day I was holding hands with a boy while fireworks shot up into the night and fell into the Mediterranean Sea. Then then I was kissing that boy in front of the Eiffel Tower. And then I was dancing the polka in a beer hall in Munich. And then I was swimming naked with my best friends in the Riviera sun. And all the while it seemed that the confetti from the parade that I had joined and danced in at the very beginning of my time in France was still falling and the feel-good music was still playing and I was still smiling and believing that I had finally found it – a life that truly felt livable.
Here in my childhood home in Platteville, Wisconsin with no one but my family for company and nothing but my memories to live (or relive), I worry that both my memories and myself will grow stale and boring before anyone has even asked to hear the story of how when I swan in the sea for the first time I was in Cannes and it was February and I was in my underwear. And the water was cold but from where I was deep within it, I could see islands and snow-covered mountaintops. And I had refused to get out of the water and to return to the warmth of my dorm room because I had already learned the hard way that a first time only happens once. Moreover, so many firsts in life are shared with another person: first kisses, first loves, firsts… This one - my first time swimming in the sea - this was just for me. It was mine to cherish and to do with what I wished and I would make it count.
Here in Platteville, a town which uses a Cold War era siren to announce when it is twelve o’clock every afternoon, it feels like nothing counts but my eyes when they look at the calendar. I have been here for eighteen days. I have thirty four more days to endure.
As I’m counting days I find myself wondering things like: how many days does it take to fall in love? How many to fall out of it? And I think to myself that if I had someone here to discuss such things with I would say that perhaps love is an absence of time and that it is only when we want to prove that it happens that we try to pinpoint a precise moment in which it began. And I would say that perhaps time seems most relevant when love is over and the days until it might happen once more seem endlessly numbered. And so then time matters for, in life, time is never a guarantee and love is a comfort because it feels like forever.
Love and travel are much the same in that they highlight the ordinary to such a great extent that it seems extraordinary. Both love and travel bring me away from myself, to strange beds and new ways of experiencing things. Then, when I have left who I was at my boarding gate or in the moment before my heart grew to accommodate a new love and a new loved version of myself, I find that I have come all this way only to face who I always was.
When both love and travel have ended I feel stagnant and alone, unmoving and undocumented, uninspired to make the daily journal entries that say, “This is what happiness felt like today...”
When I was young and living with my family in this small town, all I did was contemplate meaning. I wondered what life might truly mean and what love might mean and what it might mean for me if I ever found myself in the midst of living the two. And in spending all those years contemplating meaning I became a writer and a traveler and a lover because those are the pursuits that give me an outlet for my heart’s constant queries; those are the pursuits that give me meaning.
Now my writing becomes a cry for help and for meaning – to mean something. This essay becomes a desperate hope that the right person will read it and will understand and will say, “Tell me your best stories and I will tell you how to get through this.” Because here in the smothering heat there are too many days and I have too little means with which to fill them. In thirty four days I will move to New York but until then I stare at the broken ceiling fan, letting my racing, pacing thoughts be the only source of movement in the room. And I long to run. I long to run away or to run back to the silvery Chicago skyline, to the sea or to the moment when I pulled away from a kiss that could have meant something.
I have never been very good at standing still. I am great at moving; great at making a move or taking a trip, great at moving my hips in a dance or in love. And I need to move in forward motion or else my thoughts turn back in on themselves and run through the past while my body remains stuck in a place where the only time that moves is my memories and there is no love to make the world spin, only a broken ceiling fan.