As I walk out my front door, the sound of Enrique Iglesias from my neighbor’s stereo greets me as it floats on a cool breeze in the late afternoon air. I take a deep breath and look around the neighborhood. The trees, with their flowers in full bloom, sway as robins, unseen to me, sing their songs. My other neighbor lays shirtless on his porch, admiring his newly trimmed lawn in the setting sun. Before heading on my way, I check my pockets. I’ve made a habit over the years to keep a small collection of items with me everywhere. If I don’t have them, I go back into my apartment until they’re all in their rightful place. Though all of them, like my collection of notebooks, my pencil, two pens, and a pocket knife have a more utilitarian purpose. The final piece, though frivolous to some, is my favorite and most crucial item. It is the armor to my security blanket, and when times get rough, it’s always there to sooth me. As I pull out this final piece, I inspect the talisman. It’s a small, octagonal piece of white tile, no bigger than a fifty cent piece. Though most of its surface is rough, a smoother section on the center of the face shines in the light of the golden hour. I smile, and as I put it back in my left front pocket, I walk down the street, thinking back to a couple of years ago.
. . .
The smell of coffee, veggie chili, and a hint of stale beer from the night before mingled in the air, as I sat in the front room, taking advantage of the mid-day sun shining through the large shop windows of Cyber Cafe West. I tested my chili: still too hot. So, I took my notebook out and started to write. But I couldn’t help being distracted by the regulars and employees in the other room talking about the books they were reading, and who was going to be playing tonight.
An employee walked into the front room and cleaned the empty tables in the room. They turned towards the table and noticed me. With a smile, she said.
“Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you doing?”
I noticed the sun shine hitting a small piece of glass on the front table, causing rainbows to show throughout the room. “It’s another beautiful day,” I said. “I just came back from tour, so I’m still adjusting.”
“Oh wow! Where’d you go?”
I looked down at my notebook, seeing the empty page and frowned. “I went down south.”
“Ah, you wanted to get away from the cold? Smart.”
“Yeah” I said with a half-hearted laugh. “You could say that.”
She inspected the last of the tables to see that they were clean. “Well, welcome back!”
“Thank you. Be safe.”
With a smile she said, “No promises”, and walked out of the room.
After finishing my chili, I sat for a long time staring at my notebook. Even though it felt good to be back home, none of it felt like a celebration. I felt like I was coming back with my tail between my legs. I failed. Most of the tour fell through, so instead of playing most of my dates throughout the south and Florida, I was nothing more than a glorified tourist, busking here and there, hoping for a few extra bucks. I was drifting through the day and hoping that an afternoon of writing would clear my mind, but as I stared down at the tiled floor, the only thing I could think to write was, “I don’t know where to go from here.”
. . .
I stop at a busy intersection and press the button for the crosswalk. As I wait, cars pass by and blast nameless songs on their stereos. Across the street on the corner was a man tuning a guitar at the busy street corner. In front of him is a large bucket, and as I stood, waiting for the light to change, my mind drifted to that failed tour:
. . .
The sun was high and the air was still as I walked, gear in hand, to the center of a brick-covered courtyard. All around the edges were old trees covered in spanish moss, shading the space. People sat underneath the trees, eating or smoking their lunch hour cigarettes. After setting up my gear, I placed a small container in front of me. The show for the day fell through and I was hoping to put a few dollars into my gas tank for the day, or at the very least buy myself some van food for the night.
As I strummed the first few chords of my set, I looked around the courtyard to see if I created any sort of reaction. Not a muscle moved from anyone. I’ve played basements, bars, museums, cafes, and every conceivable place in between, but this was my first time I ever busked. Through my years in countless cities, I saw people busking, and thought that I could do it myself. The more I played, the more I realized those people on street corners, playing their instruments, singing their songs, creating something from nothing were the true professionals. They were captivating. They were mesmerizing. They were true performers, and I was just a guy with a guitar.
After two hours of playing, and a two dollars in quarters made, I packed up my guitar. I sat in that Florida sun, looking at my notebook.
“Hey kid” a voice said.
I looked up to see a man in a suit and tie standing in front of me. “Hey,” I said. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m doing alright.” He said. “I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your music, and I wanted to give you this.” In his hand was a couple of bucks.
“Thank you so much. I appreciate your kindness.”
“So, are you from around here?”
“No, I’m from New York. I’m here on tour”
“A tour? Good for you, kid. Where are you off to next?”
I froze. Part of me wanted to tell him the truth. Part of me wanted to say, “well actually all of my dates in your state have fallen through, so all I am is a glorified tourist right now.” But I couldn’t say that. I had to, even to this complete stranger, give the illusion that everything in my life isn’t falling apart. That I was going places. So I lied.
“Panama City Beach”
“Oh wow, that’s quite a drive. Well, I hope you have a good rest of your tour.”
“Thank you. Have a good rest of your day”
I watched him walk away, thinking about my real destination, and said to myself, “I don’t know where to go from here.”
. . .
Once again, the water ripples as it flows beneath me, reflecting the city lights. Through those hundreds of thousands of reflections, the lives of 45,140 people in this city still flow on as before, unaltered, unchanged in this river. But below the surface, in the sediment of their lives, I wonder what has changed. I wonder about that person who spent a night crying in their car over their failed relationship.
Have they found love?
I wonder about those high school friends at the bar, laughing the night away.
Are they still here?
And as I think about them and their complicated lives, my thoughts lead back to me. I’m not sitting, freezing in the early spring cold, writing out of fear that I may take my own life.
Have I found peace?
I don’t know.
I always come back to this river looking for answers, and the more I stare, the more I think, and the more I think, the more I realize that, the answers to the questions I seek aren’t big, grandiose statements, but as simple and as subtle as a ripple in the water.
All I can say is, throughout these past years, I’m not the same as I was before. Though the darkness still greets me, even on my brightest days, I’ve found something stronger than the fear and the doubt that consumed me for years. When I was on the beach, staring blankly into the ocean; when I was sitting, busking to an empty courtyard in Florida; when I was in that park in Minnesota, or the parking lot of my old job, I found one thing to be true: I don’t know where to go from here, but I won’t let that fear paralyze me.