In Stories

When You’re Lost

“How are you going to find the answers if you keep avoiding the questions?”

I like this diner we’re sitting in. It reminds me of a hot summer night in Havana (though I’ve never been to Cuba), which is precisely the kind of thing you want to be reminded of when it’s a cold autumn night in Toronto. The turquoise tiles (they’re the color of those vintage cars you see in photos of Havana) gleam under the globe pendant lights hanging over the bar counter. Spanish words like “Refrescos,” “Comidas,” and “Bocaditos” decorate the walls in big red letters to really drive the point home.

“Do you think there is a disconnect between pretending you’re someone else in different places around the world, and not feeling like a person when you were in San Francisco?”

I like the boy who asks me these questions. We met at my coworking space and were brought together by, of all things, the U.S. presidential election. He’s a software developer and is wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a button-down shirt I make fun of for being “tech bro plaid.” In fact, if we were to pluck him from this scene and set him down in the most hipster indie coffee shop in SF (Jane on Fillmore or, perhaps, Sightglass Coffee in the Mission), he would fit right in, with the exception of being a white, right-leaning moderate.

I wonder if he likes my answers. They’re all really the same, some form of “I don’t know.”

“Okay,” he says finally, “I have to ask: What are you running from?”

I take a deep breath, not because I have a lot to say, but because I don’t know what to say. What comes tumbling out is a convoluted story about a breakup in Peru, anxiety in Florida, a failure to connect in California, and a general sense of lostness wherever I go.

He tells me the experience taught me something, and if I look back on it again there will be fond memories, and I now have “a blueprint” to go by, and he says a lot of other things but my brain doesn’t register any of it because it’s too nervous to hold onto things. When he remarks how good the Pressed Cubano is, I realize I have eaten half the sandwich but not tasted one bite.

“Most people are afraid of strangers,” I tell him. “But I love being around them. It’s easier. You have few preconceived notions of me.”

“I would say I have zero,” he laughs. “All I can say is that from what I’ve seen so far, what I can expect from you is unreserved honesty.” I cringe at his assessment, but decide not to correct him.

graffiti on Dundas Street West

When you’re lost, you will seek directions wherever you can. In the company of a stranger. In the pews of a church. In the pages of a book. In the messy graffiti scrawled on the brick walls of Dundas Street West. You will look for signs everywhere.

You will question everything. If your friend in SF really meant it when he said, “Keep in touch.” If the barista really gave you decaf or was just saying it (because, damn, your heart is racing). If the cashier really wants to know how you’re doing and hopes you have a good day. Or if the boy from your coworking space, when he walked you to your door at the end of the evening, was kissing you goodnight—or kissing you goodbye.

You will feel humbled, indignant, awestruck, and used. Like the whole world got a piece of you to keep as a souvenir, and then sent you home empty handed. (And, as with every souvenir, you just know they’ll forget about it, let it gather dust on the bottom shelf of some bookcase, and then throw it out the next time they move.)

But, sometimes—somewhere between the changing addresses, delayed flights, missed holidays, and unfamiliar faces—you will feel grateful. Because lost is a good place to be, if being lost means you will finally seek.

Travel Quotes - When you're lost

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This essay first appeared in The Wherever Weekly, my weekly sporadic newsletter, on November 20, 2016. To be the first to access my latest personal essays, blog posts, and travel and creativity tips, subscribe below:

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