I've often alluded to some intangible, elusive feeling I've pursued for years. A feeling of being free-wheeling and happy, having everything I need and being around people I enjoy. A feeling I had associated with some sort of mid-90's Gen-X utopia, populated with popular, well-read, fascinating people named Winona and Ethan. For some reason, I always imagined this fantasy taking place at night, in a city brilliant with streetlights and signage, speeding up and down highways, walking through busy downtowns, music and laughter and motion.
But I could never figure out what spawned this concept. I always assumed that I had whipped it up from too many movies. But while driving home the other night, a sense-memory kickstarted it all over again, and I finally realized where it came from (in part, at least).
When I was in tenth grade, Mrs. Gertson, the Fine Arts teacher, had arranged for a multi-class trip to Dallas, over a weekend. "The Phantom of the Opera"'s national touring company had a stop at the State Fair of Texas, and since Phantom was (inexplicably) part of the class syllabus, Mrs. Gertson saw this as a golden opportunity. The lucky weekend happened to be the weekend of my birthday.
I was in Dallas, eating pasta at Spaghetti Warehouse, surrounded by friends and classmates, when I turned 16 years old.
We had arrived in Dallas at dusk. We cruised around for a while, the drivers trying to coordinate our route into the city, toward the hotel. The parent driving our van noted that "Kennedy was shot over there." I had a minimal understanding of the importance of the place. I responded with a teenager's barely-bemused "oh."
We sped through the night, my friends and I, in the back of the van flying down highways lit by yellowed fluorescent beacons. In the van, talking excitedly. In the van, only a few seats from the girl I secretly adored. And I was happy. The world was full of possibility. The worries of the moment were left to other shoulders. All I had to do was sit back and soak in the freedom and bliss of being sixteen years old.
We found the restaurant, ate a great meal, and walked outside into the night. It was October, so there was on the slightest hint of chill in the air. There were bands in the streets, on stages set up as part of the State Fair festivities. People walking, laughing, dancing. The whole city seemed to celebrate my youth with me. And when we found the hotel, and our ritual rowdiness in the rooms had died away, my sleep was sweet and without care. I didn't worry about money, or responsibility, or meetings, or deadlines. I just let it go, trusting that everything would be taken care of by others.
And there it is. I think I subconsciously imported the "twentysomething hipster" part of the fantasy in since then, so that I still belong there.
I don't know what it means, other than that I miss being young. I'm not old, mind you. But I'm not young, either. Not anymore.
I think the task now is to find a new kind of bliss, to replace this old one.