Ardent salmon tales
Finding a sense of home is hard
My hair falls like candle wax. The winter sun dips below the horizon and drips onto the tray beneath; metallic clangs ripple through the spring air. I stand on the moss-covered rocks and look out across the ocean, the beautiful Atlantic I’d never inhaled before. The fire rises to my feet and crashes against the desolate beach. It must be high tide.
The heart of the flicker waves calmly at me. I stare into it and feel everything yet nothing at all. When I look into the ember, I feel like the most powerful and most vulnerable being at the same time. Feeling powerful does not make one invulnerable, nor should vulnerability convey a lack of power, I suppose.
The stone-laden sand crunches below my feet. The ocean is far too beautiful to be my domain. One day I want to live by the ocean. I want to feel the waves crash into the planks of my existence. I suppose eventually we’ll all end up with the ocean, just particles of silt drifting off to some new destination. Won’t we?
But maybe I want to live by a creek instead, the kind that cuts shrewdly through a grassland field. Maybe I’d listen to the river calmly chipping away at the stones below the surface in my rocking chair, knowing that it will eventually cut its way through any obstacle that dares to come its way, however slowly. But alas, the freshwater cannot be mine. It’s far too transient… like a candle flame.
The thing is, I truly am no greater than the almighty salmon: master of freshwater and saltwater alike. I meander carefully over a particularly large stone in my path. Maybe I’m a bit like a creek myself.
I’m a wanderer. If the premise of this column does not make that abundantly clear, I wish to clarify further. I feel like I’ve never quite settled down. I had moved about six times before entering middle school. Sometimes, there are certain childhood experiences that one cannot seem to outlive; this is mine.
I don’t have any friends stretching all the way back to the beginnings of my childhood, because I never stuck around long enough for most of them, or so I’d like to think. Most of my best friends in elementary school were as transient as a candle flame, vanishing in the passing smoke of a U-Haul.
I am afraid. I am afraid that my friends will drop away like the hairs on my scalp. I am afraid that I will wake up alone one day and realize that people only tolerated my presence, that once people discover my limited number of facets, I would become disposable. I am afraid that none of my best friends consider me to be one of their best friends. Would I even consider myself to be my own best friend? I’m not so sure. I’m afraid I sound desperate.
I’ve lived everywhere from Texas to Virginia to Massachusetts, but each time, I feel like a visitor. My immediate family is in Virginia, so why does the state feel so foreign to me? Where is my real home?
The thing about the salmon is that all it cares about is finding its home. After it leaves the freshwater for the sea, it will always, no matter how far it has traveled, somehow know where it was born and return to that spot to spawn the next generation. Failure is not an option.
The dusk is settling in over Winthrop. I should return to Random.
I feel lonely on the return trip even in the presence of the two friends who I had traveled with. This has always been Wenbo’s Walks. These walks have always been just mine. Sure, I reference the friends in my life as parts of stories or even recurring motifs, but I remain alone in the literary present.
I want to be more present with others, whatever that means during a pandemic. Over the past year, I’ve been terrible with keeping in touch with many of my friends. This is nobody’s fault but mine. I keep making excuses, telling myself that I’m just prioritizing “useful actionables” over “unproductive small talk” or that I’m simply “too stressed.” But that doesn’t make me a better person or even a greater contributor to society. It only makes me a worse friend.
I must go to the place where any smoke left in the wake of a flame must always return; I must ground myself. Maybe my home isn’t a fixed location at all. As bromide as it sounds, perhaps my home is wherever my friends are. And maybe I’ve just been so afraid of losing my friends in the smoke that I never allow myself to feel at home.
I love my friends, and in much the same way they have supported me, I must do my part to support them too, even if that just means checking in on them every once in a while. Although it’s been a year since I gave my heart to someone I deeply love, there’s always plenty of love to spare. It’s like that Kacey Musgraves song: “Anywhere beside you is a place that I’ll call home.” Romantic or platonic, I think there’s significant truth to that.
And so I will find my home like the salmon. I will be a better friend. While there is an infinite amount of “productive” academic or vocational things I could do, the time I spend with my friends, however infinite it seems, is ultimately finite, which makes it all the more valuable. That isn’t to say that I’ll drop everything to talk with a friend under any circumstance whatsoever, of course, but it does mean that I’ll do everything in my power to adjust my perspective on what I value most.
I take a breath and step into my dorm. Tonight the moon begins anew; tomorrow is a new day.