Whims of Desire

Yesterday my son and I got lost in Los Angeles traffic. Not really lost, but delayed. Confined. Streets immobilized by what I later learned was a landslide that closed a major thoroughfare and had that trickledown effect of gridlocking a city already hovering beneath the strain of too many cars.

We aborted our plan, said ‘another time’ to karate, and turned the car towards home. As they say, “a blessing in disguise.” An afternoon ahead of us with unplanned extra time together, homework free, a chance to just be.

“Can we go to Europe again this summer?” my son blurts out out of nowhere.

“No, I don't think so,” I respond practically. “Why?”

“Well, it was fun when we went.”

That was three summers ago. Three weeks of travel with an eleven-year-old who felt homesick rather quickly, missing our dog, missing his bed. He opted for hours in a hotel room with Harry Potter over wandering the cities with me. I wondered if in some ways I'd brought him too soon, a trip wasted, before he could fully appreciate what was around him.

But here he is, longing for a return trip, wanting to go with me, asking with hopeful eyes.

“I wish we could go,” I say, his having activated the longing in me. “If we could, where would you want to?”

I’m playing with the fantasy as much for him as for me. For a while now, I’ve sidelined my travel bug. In abandoning a career with real paychecks to chase a dream of writer, I don’t know when the next paycheck will arrive. I don’t know when these free wandering trips will again be an option. I’m dipping into stockpiled resources on a regular basis these days. How long can that continue? Which impulses can I listen to?

“I’d like to see Scandinavia,” he says. “Sweden. Oh, and the Netherlands.”

Most of my travel has centered around what I might call the passionate countries: Italy, France, Greece. I speak Italian and French, though that may be a generous description of my current language skills, and I’ve always gravitated to places where I can slide into the native language and not arrive as the stereotypical, American tourist approaching everyone and simply speaking English.

I think of my son’s desires, his instincts to hit these northern countries, and I imagine my experiences expanding with his lead. I imagine us with backpacks hopping on and off of trains as I did for months post-college more than twenty years ago. I imagine our being able to share this experience before he decides being with his mom isn’t really that much fun, a time I thought had already arrived before he launched this conversation.

“I wish I was studying a real foreign language at school,” he continues. “Latin doesn’t count. You can’t really speak it.”

I’m treasuring this moment, the fourteen-year-old before me wanting to speak a foreign tongue, wanting to leave the comfort of the known, and venture out.

Since that conversation, I can’t get the image out of my head of our traveling together, even though the last time was challenging. I check my accumulated frequent flier miles that I zapped down to zero last year, and see if they’ve built up enough to squeeze out two tickets to Europe if I could miraculously find any open flights during the peak travel season. Miles away from what I need, I turn to the internet to search for cheap fares to anywhere over there, to find just a place to land and begin. I start thinking of how I could possibly support this trip, if some magazine somewhere might want to hear of the tales of a single mom and a single son wandering cities and countrysides, discovering the land and each other.

And I decide to put that out there, to create the intent and the possibility, for when will I even again be presented with this opportunity with my son? How can I let it pass due to life’s practical decisions? Is it worth stretching, and borrowing from here to pay for there, all with the promise of an irreplaceable experience?

Most of me screams, “Yes! Don’t let this go!” Another part of me says, “It’s irresponsible.” I want to put both voices in a ring and let them duke it out. You know who I want to win.

I know I haven’t heard the end of this. Not from my son, but from myself.


I Saw Magic

You won’t believe me, but don’t file this under fiction.

Morning. Long awake. The enjoyment of a novel completed and set down, logged into my list of books read and books awaiting. A few more long minutes of rolling over onto my side to enjoy eyes closed and the quiet of Sunday morning, surprising quiet in my densely populated neighborhood of apartments atop apartments beside apartments.

I feel the pull to climb from bed. To start. To stand. Towards the bathroom I walk. Eyes to the bathtub. Turn the tap and close the drain. A brush of teeth as the tub fills. An unwrapping of a fresh toothbrush after I realize it’s already the second day of the month and my hygienist recommends fresh bristles on the flip of the calendar.

Task complete. I climb into the tub. A soak anticipated. A slow entry into the day. I see the large jar of sea salts sitting before me. I usually turn away, not a huge fan, not from a place of displeasure but from never having fully felt the tingle. Today I say, Yes, I will soak with you. I add a generous supply to the water below the tap, close the lid, and replace the jar. I lay back and relax.

My mind dances. It always does. Leaps from thought to idea and back again. Heads west and circles left. Constant motion. Constant exploration. I reach for bath gel, spill a little into my palm, and lather up. Rinse. No repeat. Moments pass. Mind still moving. And then I see it. I train my focus, for it can’t be real, can’t really be there, but it is.

Floating five feet above me to the right is the tiniest of soap bubbles, at most a quarter inch in diameter. How it got there, I can’t imagine. My eyes lock on, follow its descent, waiting to see where it will land. It magically avoids the shower curtain and darts towards the green-tiled wall. I await the collision, but no, the bubble changes direction, zooms towards free air and leaps skyward. A collision with the ceiling, I think. But no, the bubble reins itself in. Stops short. Chooses a new course.

This goes on for five minutes. I barely breathe. I refuse to move. I don’t want to create air currents to affect movement. I invite the bubble to land on me. It hovers above. I think of Glenda the Good Witch and her descent to earth. I watch and watch and move my mind away from impatience, away from wanting to know how it will end. I just keep watching.

The bubble circles the entire area above the bath. It never heads towards the more open area of the room. It travels perilously close to the walls, but always dodges away at the final moment. I think, No one will believe this.

The bubble comes dangerously close to my face, so close that my eyes can’t focus. I fear I will lose its story in my failing vision. I fear I won’t see its last moments. But then it moves away. I follow its path. It circles me twice again, and then moves across my body. Diagonally. Slowly. It dips. It dips more. And it lands. Of all the places, it lands upon me. An inch from where left arm meets body. It doesn’t break. The bubble bonds with my skin and sits there in its perfect form. I wait. I wonder. And then it’s gone. It didn’t really pop. It just ceased to be.

I sit up, release the drain, and reach for a towel. I climb from the bath, enter my bedroom, and head to the keyboard.