The most memorable trip I took as a kid was to Chicago with my mom and sister. My mom was there for work, and my sister and I were permitted to tag along. We got to miss a week of school, with a week’s worth of homework packed in our bags. My sister and I were allowed to roam the hotel while my mom worked. This meant vending machine snacks and time at the pool. This was before the days of cell phones or any other kind of technology that would distract us from hour long games of Marco Polo.
My memory is spotty at best regarding that trip, but what I remember most is the view from our hotel room. It looked out on the Chicago river in downtown Chicago. At night the lights from all the buildings glistened and danced across the water top. It was mesmerizing. I stayed up late every night just staring out that window.
I recall leaving that trip with a new drive to be a hotel manager. Not because I had any idea what a hotel manager did, I didn’t. It was just the idea of living in the permanent excitement of that week and that city. It felt like the life I wanted to live.
Who knew that a little more than 10 years laters, I’d be living out of my suitcase, and spending about 70% of my year in hotel rooms all over the country and the world. Finally I was living the exciting life in big cities that I’d dreamt of. Like most things, the reality didn’t live up to my expectations. I began having a huge case of germ-a-phobia and I couldn’t shake the thoughts of, “were these sheets clean?” and, “how many dirty asses had sat on this toilet before me?” I couldn’t figure out what was missing from that excitement I had as a kid, staring out at those sparking lights.
Perhaps it is always like that…the thought of a place or things far exceeding the reality of it. There were a lot of really cool experiences I had in my travels, but in many ways because of where I was in my life, much of it I was unable to fully appreciate. I was unconscious, unmedicated, and immature. I was still chasing happiness outside of myself. I became determined to get out of my traveling career and settle down. I was lonely and wanted the beautiful wife, white picket fence, and a dog.
I never got the white picket fence but I did manage to find the other two. There were moments of amazing beauty and pure joy in that marriage/relationship. There were also two sick people living under one roof destined to make each other miserable. Once again, reality failed to measure up. All those romance movies, The Notebook and When Harry Met Sally, had let me down.
When that dream unraveled, I was left only with nightmares for many years. My mental health rapidly declined, and everything close to suicide started sounding good. There was one last dream I hadn’t yet pursued, which was living the single life with warm weather and long walks on the beach. Salt air and sunshine for sure contained all the magic of every childhood vacation memory.
3 years now a Floridian and in many ways it has not disappointed. Florida is every bit as beautiful as I had remembered.
I’ve learned a lot from all my adventures.
Sometimes late a night in my pool, when the lights sparkle across the top of the water, my thoughts travel back to the Chicago river. I find myself trying to put my finger on what exactly my heart felt or had been seeking. What was it in those memories that I had been chasing all this time? Then when I come back to the present moment, treading water, staring up at the night sky…I realize that I’ve finally found it.