On Hawaii, Ambition, and the People We’ve Been Before

“No I have never found a place
where I could say
this is my proper ground
here I shall stay…”
– Philip Larkin

She had me pinned by the wrists in the grass of the Kipahulu Campground. She was saying “You were such a punk. Always fucking up people’s shit. I used to really like you.”

I wanted to tell her that I was different now, better, less violent, but people have a stubbornness in them—they are often more loyal to their ideas of people than to the actual people themselves. People don’t want their friends to change. We are all the people we have been in our past lives, but we never fully remain what we once were. Try telling that to someone who knew you in high school.

“I want you to come and live here,” she said.

“I can’t move to Maui,” I said. “I’d never leave.”

“You’d leave,” she said. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve seen plenty of people come here and say that and they all leave eventually. I’ve been here for ten years. Do you want to dance?”

Then later, lying in her mobile home, in the comfortable, loose dialogue of pre-dawn, I asked her “what do you see when you see me now? I mean, what did you think I was going to be like now? Can you tell that I’m different? Do you see me as changed or just less? Because sometimes I feel like it’s just less.”

She slid open the window and said, “Isn’t traveling amazing? Did you see Venus out there? And Saturn? And Mars? You can see all three of them right now.”

As teenagers, my friends and I, our worst fault was our vandalism. It was also what unified us and kept us interested in the world, but it’s hard to explain what drives small town boys with good parents and good role models, no real problems to speak of, to acts of destruction. You might say we felt too young and too powerless to change our environment save for attempting to destroy it. You might also say we were assholes. We know that now. But we didn’t see it that way then.

When protected by the armor of the mind and memory we choose to remember people in absolutes. They were either Funny, or Beautiful, or Stupid. The impression is formed by how they made us feel, then reinforced by selectively remembering those moments that reinforce that feeling. Many of us are at the mercy of unbidden memories. Even more of us aren’t in control of how we feel about people.

People write you off for an untold number of reasons and you know when a person has written you off without them saying a word. It’s in the way they listen to you. In their eyes, the corners of their mouth. If you don’t know the person well it can be hard to see coming. When the time comes they go nasty and you’re at a loss for what caused it. Because they don’t know either. It’s the crazy ones that talk the most shit, and are often closest to the truth. People can fuck you up with something as easily uttered as a simple line. It’s amazing that we choose to speak with people at all, especially those we don’t know. That moment when a single malicious comment throws you off balance for days exemplifies the curse of living for meaning.

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  • Gordo

    Thoughtful and well-written, a joy to read.

  • rajnibarbosa

    I am different? Can you see me changed, or simply less? Because sometimes I feel that it is less.

    Motorcycle Parts

  • http://twitter.com/jessdutschmann Jess Dutschmann

    As we taxied for take off, I wasn’t worried I would fly back to Korea, as I had from the bookstore in Paris where the kids slept on the shelves, tortured by the idea of leaving the place behind.

    Really beautiful

  • Hannah

    “The hedonist never made a good artist” – what about Oscar Wilde? You can be well-adjusted and still struggle.  That may even be more interesting in some cases. I guess I don’t really get the point of the article.  It’s necessary to settle but you still want something more impossible. So like, try anyway?

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