I’ve been longing for Europe lately. The thing is, the Europe I long for is not the Europe that exists now, but the Europe of the 1970s. And when I envision myself in it, I don’t think of myself as I am now, but as I was back then when I used to roam Europe footloose and fancy free, as the saying goes. When I felt that I was getting nowhere in my pursuit to be a writer and I got fed up with my situation in the United States – as I recount in my memoir World Without Pain: The Story of a Search – I sold or gave away almost everything I owned, hitchhiked across the country, and bought a round-trip ticket from New York to Luxembourg for one hundred dollars. That’s right – $100. And it cost me next to nothing to wander from country to country seeing the sights and having brief affairs with tourist and indigenous women. Those were simpler days.
Of course everything has changed now. It would be irresponsible for me to forsake everything and take off for numerous reasons. For one, I am a single parent and solely responsible for my fifteen-year-old son. I’m not going anywhere as long as he needs me, and it’s best for him to have a stable situation and remain in the good high school where he is now. For another, it would be bad for my career as a writer. It’s taken me years to make the slow, painstaking progress that has gotten me to this point, and I have no desire to let go and slide back down the mountain.
I know I can’t go anywhere, and I don’t want to go anywhere, not really. But still, I have these longings. Part of the reason is the way that the United States is so ripped up and polarized right now. I recall the simpler, deeper cultures of Europe. They have their troubles over there too, of course, but there’s something in Europe that gives me peace of mind and surcease from all the conflict and uncertainty that is so deeply rooted in the American psyche.
So – I know I can’t take off right now, but at the same time I would like to escape the present turbulence, and it makes me wonder if somehow my memories could help out. That’s what I thought would happen when I was younger. I figured that I’d do all that death-defying stuff when I had the freedom and stamina, and later when I was no longer able to do it for some reason or another, I’d be able to look back and feed on what I had already experienced. Well, that works up to a point, I suppose. If I had never done those things I’ve done, I would feel a much deeper and more unrequited longing – either that or I would have become so anesthetized by my torpor and lassitude that I would have long ago given up any desire to live out my dreams.
But memories are funny things. They can somewhat console you, but they can’t make up for what you don’t have now. Remembering yesterday’s meal won’t feed me today. Let’s face it – the environment I am living in now is vastly different in ambiance from the one I lived in on the road in Europe. Remembering that I have already seen those places and done those things doesn’t take away the urge to do it again. The mountains, the beaches, the cities, the restaurants, the cafes, the friends, the lovers… There is comfort in the memories, but I still wish I could do it all over again.
In the end, what helps? For one thing, writing about it. That I have done and will do again. For another, talking about it. I realize how much of that adventurous twenty-something-year-old there still is in me, and the deterioration of my flesh as I age is a source of astonishment. Growing old is not what I thought it would be. I don’t feel old inside, but my body belies the fact. It refuses to cooperate when I want it to do things I used to consider so easy.
Still, one can always daydream. And these days, I daydream of Europe.