The rain falls on the rooftop café in Aspen, quickly turning into pez-sized hail. The man and his jack-o-lantern faced daughter run out to play in it – he snaps a requisite shot of her scrawny frame in front of the bubbling pink fountain. Another man, white-haired and khakied, explains how hail works to three middle-aged women in overpriced activewear. A perfectly bronzed woman in a sundress runs out with ipad and baby, seeking the ideal storm selfy – she is proud of her artistry – I think she has been prompted by that viral YouTube video on Facebook. Young, old, rich, fit, floppy…weather wins for entertainment. Gondolas out on the mountain continue their journey as lightning touches down with barely a second between the crack of the thunder. The toothless girl, with her messy ponytail collects hail pellets, handing them to her dad. She feigns fear when the thunder hits so she can climb into his lap and have his arms wrap around her.
It occurs to me that she represents what we all want: someone to pay attention to us, someone to touch us, someone who desires to hear us and speak to us, someone who feels longing when they can’t do those things, someone to accompany us around life’s merry-go-round without getting bored by it all. That seemed so plausible when young: 5, 13, 17, 24…but to keep the landscape fresh rounding the corner of 3 decades? Decades of expectation, disappointment, infatuation, more expectation, more disappointment, less infatuation, more confusion, less expectation, expected disappointment, unexpected surprises, fleeting infatuations…the recombinations dwindle, into jadedness as do the possibilities of reinventing ourselves, overhauling our unfortunate personality traits and adopting those we’ve always wanted. Or so it seems.
On the bright side, this summer I’ve realized I am more comfortable and settled with myself than I managed through my teens, 20s, and even my early 30s. Much of it probably has to do with being unattached, yet busy, with just enough interest on the other end of the line to head panic of solitude off at the pass. But, the desire and longing peers up from below the surface, like a serpent, waiting to pull me under. Meanwhile, the false jadedness I ascribe to myself as I pretend to grow up is like those proverbial last ten pounds, hard to lose and harder to keep off.
How can someone who has spent the last 3 months traveling throughout the west, camping, fraternizing with moose, marmots and mountain goats, downhill mountain biking, backpacking etc. say such a thing?
And the people themselves, they can tell you how great you have it, envying your independence while judging your decisions, preferring their stability, making predictions about your financial situation, praising your luck. They are right. You too envy your own independence, judge the decisions you have made that brought you here, prefer their stability (or so you think), ponder panickedly your own financial future, and praise the luck that strong-armed you here. Despite everything you imagined in those teens, 20s, and early 30s, all those identities you experimented with, cast off, rediscovered on the closet floor, re-engineered to fit your current life, and adopted from other people and places, you are nowhere near what or where or how you imagined. But you’re starting to let all that go: For good? For ill? For irresponsibility? For fear?
Well, that is the conundrum, and I think it leads back to the little girl as she nestles into her father’s embrace. Seeing so many people I know and love from the vantage point of “footloose and fancy-free” can do several things to the psyche. It can show me how far and wide the network of relationships you’ve built over a lifetime extend – mine have brought me across the US from Indiana to California, Nevada, Oregon. I’ve spent two of those months milkshaking my way through. It has shown me how quickly I can resume deep communication and emotional bonding with some, but also how shriveled and strained that relationship has become with others. It has shown me how alone I can feel surrounded by friends, whose side-hugs serve to reinforce the absence of physical connection I am permitted, meanwhile reminding me how you exist seemingly outside of geography and time. I have felt magnetically engaged with new people and drippingly disappointed with old friends. I’ve felt the spark of love, quickly doused with booze and dashed expectations. I’ve felt the warmth of family I forgot I had.
At the end of the day, I, more than many trapped within space and time, have today as my most important day. And today, anyway, I am on this very rooftop, now empty and alone, longing, but witness to this: