I had the best nap of my life. Everyone had told me, “Whatever you do, don’t let yourself sleep. Push through. It’s worth it.” But after showering the grime of three airplanes and a VW van off my body, I suddenly found myself lying on the thin mattress in my hostel bedroom, the Salzburg sun streaming over me. I smiled in my cloud of wet hair and fell into the deepest sleep I’ve ever had. I didn’t toss and turn like usual; my insides were weighted down to the bed like an anchor, and when I woke up, I knew where I was but I still did not believe it. My first day out of the country and I’d slept three hours gloriously away.
I remember other things about my first day in Austria: the walk I took – alone, American, enchanted, and floating – along the street lined with trees and open fields speckled with feathery white flowers. I thought they were edelweiss, only to find out later they were weeds no one cared about. For one afternoon I lived in an edelweiss dream, and if I’d had a wicker basket on my arm I would have been swinging it. I bought a loaf of rosemary bread and a small carton of blueberries to satisfy my overdue appetite. I felt like a dimwit when I couldn’t figure out how to open the sliding glass door of the supermarket (turns out I couldn’t open it because it was a wall). And the late arrival of my roommate and good friend, her toes dirty from travel, but her eyes alight with Munchen stories.
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I’ve always been fascinated by beginnings, by first things. Maybe that’s why I have a whole computer and numerous notebooks filled with witty story-starts, left to dangle in time, either through my quick boredom or my fear of lying. Because that is what I feel like sometimes – I must only write what I see, not what I make up – and all I ever see are beginnings of things. My friends who are artists and writers do not understand this, and really, I don’t either. Isn’t everything we create something we “make up”? And yet the best writing I’ve done is of the things I have seen clearly, the rooms that create themselves with plush red couches and pottery mugs filled with coffee. Whenever I try to make my own rooms – my own characters – they seem false and flat. Even when I see a character clearly, when I see her desires, her hair, her intense way of speaking, I do not always see much more than that, and it is always harder for me to finish stories than start them. This worries me sometimes, if I start thinking too much. Then I calm my over-excited self by telling her, You’re only young, you know. You haven’t really had many endings, so how could you see them?
The truth is, though, that I’ve had plenty of endings. That day in Salzburg was over in a flash, leaving itself in my mind in yellows and golds and freshness that few other days have given me. Over thirteen years have passed since the death of my grandfather; those long months of his illness are blurry and sharp at the same time. I’ve seen relationships change that I never thought would end, and I’ve struggled to grant forgiveness even when I haven’t been asked for it. I’ve experienced the end of four long years of studenthood – complete with rushed papers, devoured books, and attempts at lofty poetry. This move away from academia is without a doubt the largest change (and harshest ending) of my life. I am stepping out on the path to adulthood, and I’m not sure I like it. I bucked at the idea of moving home, and now that I am here, I close my eyes against the reality that I need to leave soon. I no longer have a classroom to sit in, a professor to meet with, or a project to put off until the night before. I have glossed over all the hardnesses that have littered the last four years, and I’ve shaped my college experience into a beautiful, winding, light- filled laughing thing that siren-calls to me, Do not let this go. You were never so happy, and you will never be so happy again. This is probably the first time I am dwelling on an ending instead of a beginning; it’s a lot easier to feel unchanged when you are looking back than looking forward. But there is little difference between “unchange” and “stagnation,” and I must constantly fight to keep myself out of that place.
I know that endings have a kind of beauty, and I know that the ending of childhood has a melancholy beauty all its own: the close of dependence, the close of naivete, and the lifting of the burden we all feel to be different from who we are. While I can attest to the value of endings, I still think I’ll always prefer the mystery and newness of a beginning. Not only does the beginning hold unknown (and therefore, full-of-potential) events, but you don’t know who you will become in the upcoming story, either. I love beginnings because of the horizonless hope they provide. You do not see the endlessly long plane ride back from Vienna to Boston. You do not see the overwhelmingly sad break-up that leaves you wishing you’d never embarked on the risk in the first place. You do not see that what you’d been studying for years to perfect is, after all, far more difficult than you’d thought. What you see is the world laid out before you, stretching stretching and beckoning you to jump in.