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South American Dreams

I have an itch. 

 

 

And before you hand me the cortizone, I think I need something more powerful than a $3 tube of anti-itch cream (but thanks for the thought). 

 

 

I want to travel.

 

 

I want to feel completely out of my element.  I want my foundation to crumble away, so that I can build a new one in its place.  I want to feel lost and alien, I want to taste strange foods and learn new languages.  I want to make friends with people I’d never even think to speak to at home.

 

 

I want to grow.

 

 

Herein, the Ecuador dream came forth. 

 

 

In August, I will leave everything that I’ve come to know and love for Quito, Ecuador – a place I plan to know and love.  I will live there for four months, volunteering with street children and travelling when I have the time.  I am going alone.

 

 

And I could not be more frightened – and euphoric!  In my ongoing search for my own definition of stability, I can’t think of a better way to find it than to simply take it away.

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 They came from some ocean in Sweden.  The were red and chewy.  They were Swedish Fish, and as a young teenager, I was obsessed with them.  

Aside from Mountain Dew Code Red, Swedish Fish were the staple item in my sweet stash as a kid.  Remember the days when you’d keep a shoebox under your bed full of taboo items your parents wouldn’t let you touch with a ten foot pole?  The days when such unmentionable items included a Metallica CD, a few Pixie Sticks, and perhaps an R-rated movie or two?   Those were the days. 

My obsession with these little bottom-dwellers, I cannot quite explain.  I can say that, with one taste of their sweet, crimson awesomeness, I am instantly transported to another time and place.  A time when I only stressed about boyfriends and homework, and when a cool breeze and a sunset were all I needed to cure a wave of melancholy. 

Just to give a little background (because I love my homework), Swedish fish did originate in Sweden, although in their native country they are referred to as “pastellfiskar”, literally meaning “pastel colored fish”.  They were first introduced into the American market in the 1960s and garnered popularity quickly from there (because who could resist a candy imitation of a slimy, scale-laden fish?) Initially, the fish came in only one flavor: red.  To this day, the flavor has not been identified by the company, which incidentally, reminds me of the two Nyquil flavors: Red and Green.  No need to muddy the waters by assigning the flavor a corresponding fruit, of course.  That would make things too complicated. 

As the years went by, a variety of colors and flavors were introduced, including the ever illusive black Swedish fish – rumored to be a “salted herring” flavor.  Yum.  To make things even better, the fish get their gummy qualities from carnauba wax instead of the standard gelatin, which makes them vegetarian.  Or pescetarian.  

A fish flavored, fish shaped candy. Logic. Sweet.

It seems to me that the fish have lost some popularity over the past decade.  But I know that, much like the Tootsie Roll, they will never fade completely.  It is the generation of children born in the 70’s and 80’s whose nostalgia will keep their legend alive.

I love so dearly the fact that these goodies can bring me straight back to childhood.  It’s like being in possession of my very own – and very inexpensive – time-machine (patent pending).  I’ve always been a fan of nostalgia, whether I’m recalling the charming taste of a favorite confection, or the flutter of a first kiss.  I enjoy reflecting on my past, and often romanticize it (which is really just a gentle way of saying that I rewrite my own history). As much as one Swedish Fish can affect me, any familiar smell, taste or scene can instantly make me long for my past.  This is one of the great pleasures of life, after all!  A memory long lost can reappear, crisper and more alive than ever, just by a simple trip of the senses.  Being in touch with such a gift and valuing the journey taken in life is important, as it is the only foundation to stand on.  Of course, being that nostalgia is a double-edged sword, dwelling too much on the past can cause that same foundation to crumble. 

 So, my point is simply this:  While the past is important, it shouldn’t carry so much weight that it keeps one from stepping forward.  I’ll think of my past as an encyclopedia that I can refer to when I’m in doubt about my next move, but when I’m done, I’ll leave it on the shelf.  Too often I’m digging in my past, or obsessing about the future, and I forget to enjoy myself in the here and now.  So, as I keep searching for life’s stability, I’ll grab a handful of Swedish Fish and think of my teenage years.  Then I’ll thank God that I am 24.

 

              The palm of his hand met my cheek.  For the first time in a long time, when our eyes met, he didn’t instinctively look away.  I felt the warmth of his hand against my skin, and allowed myself to drift into the past, if only for a moment.  I needed to believe, just for a little while, that our love wasn’t ending.

                He spoke.  What he said, I don’t recall.  I’m not sure I was even listening.  But the sound of his voice brought me back to the present.  Really, it felt as if his words dragged me from the warmth of fantasy like a freight train tugging at a stubborn box car.  Not to be melodramatic or anything.

                And then, present in the situation at last, I felt the pain of separation all over again.  I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer, and when he saw the moisture gathering in my eyes, his gaze fell to the carpet beneath our feet.

                I suddenly became overwhelmed with a wave of desperation.  Consumed by a kind of irrational hope, I prayed to God that he would meet my eyes again and realize that we were both being fucking idiots.  I wanted him to hold me in his arms and promise to never leave.  Even as the feelings unfolded I condemned them.  It made me sick to feel so desperate, so needy, so stereotypically girly.  Still, I could not extinguish it.

                And alas, despite my frantic prayers, he did not hold me and promise that we would be together forever.  He did not have a sudden philosophical epiphany and realize that I was, indeed, The One.  Instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his lamest “get the fuck out of here quick” line, and vacated the premises.

                And another one bites the dust.

                That was a mere month ago.  In short retrospect, I cannot recall an experience in my life that has felt quite as catastrophic as that one.  It felt as if I was caught suddenly with no floor beneath my feet – or swiftly run over by a dump truck.  I mean, what the hell was I supposed to do now?  I found myself not only suddenly without a lover, but also without a friend.  You see, during our courtship I had broken one of the first cardinal rules of relationships:  Don’t Abandon Your Friends.  I, sometime during the two years that (S) and I dated, had begun to severely neglect those around me.  So, in the end, there was no one there to catch me when I fell.

                So I fell.  Hard.

                And guess what?  For the first time in my young life, I’ve had to – gasp – rely on myself.  Quite a far reach for a girl who can’t even stand alone in line for cotton candy at the County Fair.  I mean, it’s cotton candy.  I would sooner walk through fire for something that awesome. 

Anyway, true to form, I approached the predicament like any problem in my life: I got organized.  My assignment: to pick myself up and gather the scattered pieces of my life with my own two hands.  And, I’ve got to admit, I’ve never experienced anything so simultaneously empowering and mortifying.

                To start a healing process is often very difficult because, well, it’s difficult to figure out where to start.  For me, this process seemed to unfold naturally (while I was busy obsessing about what my first step should be).  I began to look inward.  I began to ask myself, for the first time in two years, what I wanted out of life.  What made me happy, instead of we?  Where did I want to be in five years?  It was invigorating and exciting to suddenly not have to factor a man into my equation.

                On the flip side, it forced me to see the darker side behind such rejuvenating questions:  What caused me to become so codependent that I wasn’t asking these questions two years ago?  Or two days ago, for that matter?

                Those haunting questions aside, it’s obvious what I’ve struggled most with is the concept of being alone.  During our relationship, I had let myself fall so deeply into the fluffy white-picket fence fantasy that I had lost touch with reality.  I ceased to be me, and even to be us.  I became him.  Thus, my first assignment upon my release was to carve out a new individual identity – or locate and polish the one that already existed. 

                While searching for that illusive identity of mine, I began to notice that I had more questions than answers.  And the more questions I asked, the clearer it became that all of my questions had a common theme: stability.   My search for identity, for desire, for meaning and for happiness was a mere symptom of an unstable life, thus I had to reach for the root of the problem.  I had to begin with finding the answer to one question:

What does stability mean to me?

                So, where do I begin?  Stability has worn a thousand different faces throughout the ages, which makes it no cake-walk to define.  And as I have picked myself up from my broken relationship and patted off the dust of depression and heartbreak, I have come to realize that I will never find stability and happiness in my life until I truly understand what that word means to me.

                This is my quest.  I have dubbed myself a seeker of life, of experience and of self-exploration and I fully expect that I will come out the other side with all the answers.

… And maybe some cotton candy, too (call me delusional).