After The Adventure
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me and alone; on shore and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name.
– Tennyson, Ulysses
After the adventure I am expected to go home.
I arrive there, carefully carrying the thick, tattered web of bonds I had with my fellows, torn apart and divided up too hurriedly at the parting. All their ghosts are still with me, as they will be for days, and the lot of us barely fit through the door together. My family and friends look somehow wrong, as if they are being played by actors. I go to sit down, but old chairs do not feel the same with all my new parts, new muscles. I greet my old friend and silently wonder, alone, if this is the correct universe.
As I eat, I cannot help but compare the foods with what I ate there. As I cook, I cannot help but remember the equipment that I used there. Unconsciously I contrast the smell of night air here with that night air, the bed here with the places I slept there, and the person lying next to me with the person who lay next to me there. Night after night I wake up convinced that there are two or three people in bed with me. Waking in the dim hours of the morning I move freely back and forth between two worlds, unsure of where I really am.
I find myself thinking constantly of those I was with, but afraid of using the phone to contact them lest in this world they too should turn out to be played by actors. I know that they are thinking the same thing about me. I reread Tennyson’s Ulysses. That old man knew what he was talking about.
I remember: be kind to those who welcome you. They have been expecting my old self and are a little afraid that this is not the person who has arrived. Their world did not move in the short time that I have been gone forever. There was no rift in reality here; nothing occurred that did not already have a name. Their eyes do not see into the place from which I come. They will listen eagerly to my story, but then excuse themselves.
My time spent in the other place has resulted in a finely tuned competence that is still present, but goes unrevealed. My muscles are ready for the long days. My mind seeks the next step on the route. My voice stands by to speak truths and concerns. I efficiently note weather changes through the window and mentally inventory my gear, but my team is not there. Times of sunrise and sunset, temperature patterns, and amounts of food and fuel carefully remembered have become mere trivia. The name which, as Ulysses says, “I am become,” is not spoken in this place.
I weather the test of the cynics. They come out of the woodwork, some disguised as the people I once trusted most, like moths drawn to something invisible I now radiate. They eagerly share with me the adventures they once had; but they are not so interested in hearing my tale as in extinguishing my light, which drives them mad. I observe them carefully. They have rationalizations. They suggest I place my experiences in context. They say jolly but subtly seductive things such as, “Welcome back to the real world!” They do not accept dissent on my part. They use concepts such as “financial stability” and “settled down” as keys to try to open my doors. They act like they have a right to this access. But I have changed the locks ahead of time. I remember: never give up what has happened to you.
As hollow and lonely as my soul is, ultimately I have a choice to make. I have two options to ease the pain. The first is to actively forget. It was just an adventure. It wasn’t relevant. I may retire happily, as a cynic. There was no point in that new name.
The second is that bundle I carried in the door, the thick, tattered web of bonds with my fellows. It is not to be discarded it in a corner; it is to be used. Whenever the aloneness comes now, I write. Whenever I feel the insanity, I pick up a pen and put it down on paper for one of the others. I do not write to some person I am supposed to write. I just write the person I long to write. I write all day and all night, whenever the pain comes.
In doing this I begin to retrieve the story. I begin, in the days after the adventure, to cement the two worlds together. I enrich this place with the distilled essence of that place, drop by drop. The passage of time can work for me or against me: I must not drop the ball, and I must keep my name, so painstakingly discovered.
Listen! I know that something similar will happen to you someday, for in our wide world there are many goings home. We must hold on to our dreamings, all of us, now that we have earned the right to dream.
© Copyright 1990, Morgan Hite