I was an island on fire once.

MeShortsWhy the slow dreamy image of an island keeps returning, I can’t say. It’s the picture that forms when I close my eyes, clumsy attempts at meditation or at least a softer gaze inward. I have felt like an inhabitant of an island for years, or more accurately, the island itself. It was on fire for awhile, until I realized I was the one starting fires. And even then, I let it burn for a while. And then I began to stop. I went underwater for a while, to make certain that every burning ember had been soaked. Now, that I’ve emerged, drying out in the sun, with other islands, lives, people, specifically new people, drifting in, and locking onto my shore, I feel like a new shape. New shorelines. My new neighbors barely know the history. It was before their time. The secrets are buried under this fertile soil. I think that happens after a fire, right? It takes time though. So I’m here, and I’m afloat, which is due to that being how islands are built and also the pull of the sun I suppose, and this jungle is growing, uncontrollable life, wild, unplanned newness.

With all of this life, and newness, why then, do I feel the need to dust off these old maps, old stories, and revisit them? Why don’t they fit neatly in a tomb, deep at the center of the island, untouched. I want to reclaim places and stories. I want to retell them to myself, or replace them. I don’t know why, so I look for answers in this soft gaze inward, to the island that I call home. Is it part of rebuilding? Is it a desire to not have places I can’t go to, without a dark cloud closing in? I did it with Chicago. It took time to reclaim all of the old blocks as ones I could amicably share with the past. Street by street, I tiptoed in and made sure they were safe for this new person. I lived there, so it makes sense that the memories were long, and undefined in some ways, one rolling into the next, mixed up dates and times, but a strong general sense. New York is different. My visits there were short, and sharp. The hottest self-made fires burned quickly there. Over the years, this was a place I went and felt no self-control. I felt alive, but, like many amateur fires, set in the wild, it got out of hand. But I could always return home, and pretend nothing had happened.

In this place, the embers have been replaced by new grass for the most part, some patches of smoldering earth remain of course, some is still damp. But far off, maybe on the horizon, there are these other islands. Places that I visited. Places I went to have an experience. I’ve been back to Paris since I first went there, setting fires everywhere. I sat on the balconies, sipping coffee, quietly, reclaiming that story. You wouldn’t know from watching me. It’s subtle. It doesn’t happen immediately. But I knew it had happened, and I wasn’t scared to go back, because nothing was haunting me. There were no ghosts. It was clean. Just like with Chicago. So I planned a trip to NYC, because it’s still on fire for me, maybe a little ways out from shore, but I can always see it. I don’t need NYC to do anything for me, just like I didn’t need Paris, or a few blocks in Chicago to change. I just need to be there. I need to form a new memory, that isn’t so hot. I need a story without so much fire. And then I’ll push away, head back to my island, tend to the vines and the newness that lives there. But before that, I need to pour myself out a bit more, cool the embers, and then come back someday, to see what’s grown.

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