The place could be a city, a job, a relationship. The place could be California. Wherever you are, it is beautiful and you don’t want to be there. Distrust the reasons that lead you here. Read an article about how the clinically depressed are more realistic. Trust that instead.
Find yourself hating the things you thought you’d love. Hate his laugh, hate the way she hums when she stretches in the morning. Or hate sunlight. Really hate sunlight. Begrudge the sky for shining, cringe at the brightness of day – or his smile, or her eyes – whatever warmth it is that holds you here in the morning, kisses you on both cheeks and keeps you complacent. Call for rain, perceive a drought.
Watch restlessness manifest throughout your body. Feel it begin as a twitch between your shoulders when you sit still for more than twenty minutes. Feel it slip down to your stomach, settle as nausea, ferment into a dull, grey ache when you hear mention of ‘commitment’ or ‘consequence.’ Feel it shift to your knees when you walk a familiar path for the umpteenth time. Feel minor tremors in your toes.
Declare impatience as your greatest virtue. Treasure it, cultivate it. Picture patience as an elaborate spiderweb in which everything waits to be devoured. Grow incapable of carrying on another inane conversation about the rise in prices at the nearby coffee house, about how ‘totally smashed’ everyone was on Thursday night, about how excited we all are to be so young, to be so in love, to be here. After every conversation that lasts more than three minutes, feel as though another ounce of palaver will drive you to rip out the tongue of the next person who talks to you about something so menial and useless as ‘potential.’
Feel out of place and determine, incorrectly and inconsistent with the evidence of your past, that there is a place where this would not be the case, that there is a place where your face carries a kind of beauty it does not here, that there is a place where your voice carries a cadence more forceful, an echo more resonant than here, that there is a backdrop upon which you would appear opaque.
Experience the same kind of prophetic certainty towards the names of other cities that
pregnant women must feel when they hear the names of their future children. Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Dubai. New York. Obsess over there. Recall the poster framed above your childhood bed, the lit-up skyline there at night. Ignore that this print has hung over thousands of other slumbering teenagers. Imagine that, unlike this beautiful place alluded to in proverbs, unlike here, there is gritty and cold and ruthless and just for you.
Dream of there and point to it on a map, name it in every conversation you’re forced to carry. Speak its name like a prayer, a promise, an ultimatum.
Detach. Receive news of unanticipated tragedies via text message. Experience apathy as a reflex, rather than a defense meant to counterbalance your tendency for hyperbole; settle into passivity as a norm, instead of a retreat taken from your residence in the extreme. Fail to realize that indifference is its own extreme, a sharp tangent off the safer grid-lines of ecstasy and sorrow.
Engage in a series of shameless clichés. Incorrectly assume exoneration for doing so hyper-consciously. Act on your impulses because impulses are fleeting. Cling to them like kite strings.
Take up an even number of vices. Stop eating, start smoking. Stop holding the door for strangers. Write a series of stories that all end with the word GO. Listen to the same songs on repeat, grow fluent in the lexicon of elsewhere. When your bus to the city makes its scheduled stop at the airport, summon all of your energy to stay in your seat.
Observe the growing distance between your actions, your self, and reality with the earnest, scientific fascination of a third grader launching his first bottle rocket. Jot notes in the margin of your mind. ‘Inconsequential.’ ‘Weightless.’
Grow bored of even your vices. Throw away your cigarettes. Walk fast. Forget the taste of regret. Ignore your tired conscience as you would a broken speedometer.
Send out a resume, a transfer application, an SOS. Compare the costs of one-way flights. Click through images of studio apartments. Feel daunted by the prospect of purchasing furniture. Read posts on Craigslist and marvel at what a weird and lonely place the world is. Feel anonymous. Feel free. Press the ‘purchase’ button on the cheapest non-stop flight. Let the ‘confirm your payment method’ screen stay up. Close your laptop. Feign sleep.
Wonder how much of your stuff you would bring along. How did you end up with so much goddamn stuff, where did it come from, the Mardi Gras beads and souvenir paperweights and solo stud earrings missing their pairs, the oversized t-shirts and instruction manuals and shrink-wrapped design books you’d meant to give as gifts, how did it all get here, would it all follow you there? Feel weighed down by what you own. Wonder if this is why most people stay in one place: all the crap they’d have to sort and pack and lug around if they did as they pleased, if they chose to leave.
Consider what you will take when you go. Decide on nothing.
Imagine that there is probably something that could ‘snap you out of this.’ Maybe another boy, another girl, right, because that’s always the case, another instance of falling in love or lust to keep you sane and solid and sleeping through the night. Or maybe it’s a piece of art. That is, after all, the one inch of you that hasn’t yet dissolved: your quiet faith in the ability of a performance or sculpture or song to ‘move’ you, to make you stay.
It could be Van Gogh’s Starry Night, not the most famous one with the spiraled pinnacles but the Starry Night Over the Rhone, yes, that one. It could be something else. When you are restless in a beautiful place, anything can rake up the dregs, anything can will you to disappear. It could be a flawless woman’s smile. It could be a skinned knee.
But maybe it’s Starry Night Over the Rhone.
Come across it on a Friday night, in a gallery with overpriced admission, crowded with foreign couples and families with perfect bone structure. Plant yourself in front of the image that will nearly destroy you. Let it come into focus with a clarity absent from the past half-year of your life. Look at the thickly plastered shades of blue, each stroke applied with fierce attention. Witness, first hand, the unabashed adoration given to the night sky, which man can neither possess nor make love to, can only watch from afar. Feel as though you have been robbed of some entitlement, something sacred, something promised here.
Spend a few days in bed, or in the hospital.
Receive a plastic wristband. Receive expressions of concern. Receive farmed wild flowers from your parents with a note that reads ‘We’re here for you.’ Leave the hospital. Wince at sunlight. Return to your routine.
Meet a stranger for coffee. He will ask you what it is, exactly, that you are so restlessly seeking. He will ask, Have you ever experienced it, the thing that you are looking for? Do you even know what it is? Look away. Sit very still. Let the question simmer. Let three months pass. Avoid eye contact, avoid art.
Open your email in April and receive the opportunity to leave.
Prepare yourself to go. Believe that this is the courageous decision and thus the one that you will make. Walk through several uneventful days, existing almost entirely in your head. Try to bring a final choice up to your lips. Fall asleep at night with an undeclared resolution in your chest. Try to do right. Try to choose well. Try to be brave.
When people ask you what happened, you will be unable to articulate what it was that changed, incapable of even writing yourself into an explanation. Maybe it was the sense of possibility that arrived one morning, when spring brought rain. Maybe your depressive rationality was overtaken by that persistent human rash, optimism. Maybe it was the friend who forced you to watch Youtube clips of baby monkeys whenever you muttered that you were going to ‘go and think.’ Maybe it was the realization that courage doesn’t always mean leaving, that courage is not running away.
Or maybe it is the nondescript day you walk outside and see, for the millionth and for the first time, sunlight.
You see sunlight and you feel something like an enormous tidal wave, like undertow, like the first breath of restored consciousness in a hospital bed at 4 a.m. You feel gratitude. Feel gratitude like the catching of an emergency parachute, like bodies jerking out of nightmares, like falling in love, again and again. Feel gratitude spread like a massive shadow lifting, like the tremors of an earthquake, like wildflowers. Feel gratitude like sunlight. Feel sunlight. Breathe.
See the adventure of being here, the risk of staying, the boldness it takes not to leave. See the sun and voice your resolution, speak the first weighted word that anyone learns, say the first thing that comes to mind.
This is gratitude.
This is sunlight.
This is the thing you have been looking for.