“Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind?
You should change your soul, nor your sky. Do you ask why such flight does not help you? It is because you flee along with yourself. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.” ― Seneca, Epistles 1-65
I did a lot of translating from Latin in high school, and although I’ve forgotten most of it, this one maxim is still burned at the forefront of my mind, as if I’d read it yesterday for the first time.
The actual first time I read it was in High School, and I remember how my friends all laughed because oh Anna, isn’t this funny, oh Anna, doesn’t this remind you of someone.
Me, it reminds me of me.
I’m the One Who Runs Away.
When things get tough my animal instinct has always been to run for the hills. To give in to the voices in my head when they get too loud – the ones that likes to think life will be so much easier once I’ll find another town where people won’t know my name and restart from scratch.
When things go right, sometimes I get so scared that running for the hills is the only option.
There was the Australian stunt that went wrong in 2011 and the New York one that went off without a hitch in 2012. There’s my parents’ house in that small town by the lake where nobody knows my face and nothing ever happens, which has been my life saviour since 2009.
There’s that time I packed my bags at 19 and moved to London to be a new person, if we want to get technical. That counts, too.
I run away because it’s what I do best, and because staying is difficult when you’ve gone your whole life wearing your heart on your sleeve and you suddenly decide you want it back. If everyone knows your colours, they’ll always hold a piece of you. If nobody does, well. You’re safe.
You settle in, get a new mirror, light a few candles, pick new routines. Make new friends, change your hair, and change your accent, too. You sing new songs and name your favourite spots in the city and there’s big clouds coming but you’re safe.
There’s a restlessness in your bones and the routine got old. You dream of different lands and play with paper airplanes, the sun doesn’t feel as warm and words acquire a different taste. Small and quiet and almost whispering, you tell yourself you know this feeling, you’ve felt this feeling. There’s big clouds coming and you’re not safe anymore.
I’m not safe. I’ve not been safe for a while now, but I’m trying to change my ways, you see. I ran away in winter because I had to, but I came back.
I didn’t have anything but five brown boxes to come back to, but I did because I’m trying this thing called being a grownup these days and I’m told that facing life is what grownups do.
It’s spring now, and I still don’t know how I feel about it.
My feet are itching and my colours are showing, bit by tiny bit like I always knew they would. I don’t know what to do with my hands and I don’t know how to stop them from booking that flight. There’s an impatience in my eyes and I’d like to think it’s new but it’s the same me I’ve always known. It’s the me from the pictures, the one who runs away.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s a sign that better things are on their way, if maybe leaving a life behind is really all it takes to get better. If I could make it work.
But I remember my high school friends laughing at me and Seneca laughing right along with them, and I remember Australia and I know what I’m trying to do.
I still have those boxes in the back of my closet. “Ready when you are”, they seem to say, and I don’t want to hear it but I will have to listen at some point because the only other alternative is staying. And I know I said I’m trying to change but I remember how good it felt to leave.
I remember how I kissed my best friend goodbye at 1AM in front of the Duomo in my home town the night before I left, and how I felt so powerful because the Duomo was destined to stay but I was done and I was free and I was flying.
I sat on the steps and played Sweet Disposition and cried bittersweet tears and got my movie ending.
What’s it going to be this time? London, show your hand. Show me how to stay, and we’ll get our movie ending some other way.
Pink skies and butterflies and a girl trying to find her footing while her feet tap away, as if they were ready to go. As if they were gone already.