When I went to write about this, about Florida for the first time, I went back to that old online journal I have because I knew I'd written something about it, remembered that I'd put something in there about traveling and linguistics and cool night air on my skin. But I had no idea. I look back at myself at fifteen and sometimes I can hardly believe where I am now. It was late and I was four states away from my whole life, and the only thing connecting me with that world was a decision I shared with a boy, how to walk away. Except his was toward God, and mine was inward or outward, I don't know, it was sensory and palpable it had to do with Naples, Florida, a French boy, and a world that seemed endless and possible.
I grew up in strange hybrid world of indifference and hope, of racism and open mindedness, but not to everything. Of unceasing movement and stagnation, complacency. I was only in Florida because my friend invited me to come with her mom and her mom's boyfriend. It was always like that. I was this kid raised by families who told their daughters they couldn't go to their black friends' birthday parties, but I would never have gotten such a clear picture of family if hadn't been for them. There was life, on the one hand, as it was: poor and misguided, badly held together. But the other one was reaching toward me, offering some way of could and might and promise. Even now, and always, I think of my brother and wonder how I could possibly have been so lucky. And all along, I never even knew to wait for the other shoe to drop. You know, it was just what it was.
Florida was jarring. We felt like we'd woken up. I remember riding in the covered bed of a truck twelve hours down the coast and the mild weather came like morning, the air shocking us alive. Wake up, this city seemed to be saying. Didn't you know? Didn't you know there were all these things you could see and feel and didn't you know about the world, how it's so much bigger than all the things at home that don't go away? I was held, my heart a hook on a line gasping like a caught fish, overwhelmed by something I couldn't name. It felt like an April morning and it was December at night, it was quiet and dark and I still heard the French in my mind, c'est le monde. Did he really say that? He might have--but then I don't understand French, and you shape things by how you understand. And I said I'll take it if you're offering, and does the whole thing feel like this? Suddenly I could spread my arms and take this thing and everything could be new and everything would feel, it would feel this way, senses all at once, like your breath caught short.
And fifteen, what do you know about holding back? You're this tender, shaken thing, and suddenly it's everything at once. But it's only everything in those moments--there wasn't anything waiting for me to go back to, and there wasn't anything to be afraid of leaving, because who's going anywhere? I don't mean understanding or hope--I mean the very small world I occupied filled to bursting with flashes of the moments I would feel four years later in Colombia, that I'll feel leading up to my wedding. The way the air will move a certain way and suddenly I'm fifteen and in Naples and I'm walking alone at night in Wilmington wondering if feeling so strongly is worth it at all, and I'm ten years from now in some moment that will draw a line from then to these moments, and life keeps folding back on itself and stretching toward something new and reaching out to this kid who just kept getting lucky. Who knew?
I know that there is something that imitates heaven in Naples, and I know that it's here as well, and in all the houses I've ever lived in and wanted to leave. I know that something in me wants it so badly that I'm awake at four in the morning writing this and I've got to go to work in four more hours but what's exhaustion anyway, and how is it so different than what feeling overwhelmed is? This comes from The Weight of Glory, but physically, I can only experience things so many ways, and yet the things I might feel are endless. If cool air and lights feel like quickened breath and so does longing, then it only means I was made to desire something, to want it with all of me.
But you're fifteen, you're this skinny kid who never knew the world might be so big. And Naples--Naples was God when you weren't looking, God saying hey, hey. Didn't you know? There's something so much bigger.