On Sunday, C comes back to our house in Costa Rica with a six-pack of light beer: the pinnacle of middle-aged revelry.
Except I can’t help but notice, like the weasel-eyed gladiator that I am, that one of the beers is missing.
“You drink one already, Hercules?” I say smirking, but really thinking YOU SWINE.
“Oh, no, there were only five,” he replies nonchalantly, as if that explains anything at all.
“You bought us a six-pack with one of the beers missing?”
“Yeah, I don’t know why.” He continues going about his business, as if this is not some sort of violent crime.
I pause. Look down at the beer. Look up at C. Look down at the beer. Perform some advanced mathematical equations.
“So, to make sure I understand, you paid for a six-pack of beer, but WE ONLY GOT FIVE?”
“No, we only paid for five.”
“So they gave you a discount? On a mysterious five-pack that you…voluntarily purchased?”
“No, they charge per individual beer in Costa Rica. There’s no special six-pack price. They just charge you for six separate beers—so, in this case, we only paid for five.”
My head detaches itself from my neck and begins to spin at the thought that packages could be anything but…packages. I am twinning with Beetlejuice, and I am pretty sure we have the exact same hair. (Thanks to Costa Rican humidity.)
“You can just open a package and take WHATEVER YOU WANT…even when there are individual units available for purchase?”
“I never realized you could do that,” I mumble, as if I have just uncovered one of earth’s great secrets. “I can’t even walk across fresh snow without feeling bad.”
”Good thing there’s no snow here.”
I SHOOT HIM A LOOK.
C knows better than to remind me that there is no snow here in Costa Rica. But haha, joke’s on him, because whenever we’re here, I turn the air conditioning down to such uninhabitable arctic levels of lunacy and then snicker as he shivers in a sweatshirt. (It really is the little things.)
These little discoveries never fail to fascinate. It’s one of my favorite things about living abroad, the absurdity of it all. Everything is absurd when you don’t grow up with it that way. Put me in any beer distributor in Pennsylvania and let me tell the guy I’m just gonna slip one of these here Oktoberfests out for a solo adventure, and he’s going to hog-tie me to the wall. Then again, Pennsylvania is a real prig when it comes to beer. You can’t buy beer in the same place that you buy liquor, and you need an expanded permit if you hope to hell to sell wine. And those states that just casually sell forties alongside some cupcakes and lighter fluid in a gas station? DISNEYLAND. It’s a real theme park every time I walk into one of those. Even when we were in Slovenia the other day—wait until I tell you about Slovenia—there they are, all the beers lined up in the back of a convenience store like they actually trust people to, I dunno, buy them.
Laws are weird. Countries are weird. And the rules you grew up with are the only ones that don’t seem weird, even if they are. One of the reasons I love living abroad is that every day challenges you to think. The smallest of details become a fascinating micro study in human behavior and societal norms, like getting a PhD in Anthropology. The things you take for granted as everyday “truths” suddenly are not true. And, what better personal development tool, than to have everything you’ve ever thought pulled into an interrogation room for questioning?
That might be intimidating for some. But for the right people, it’s a form of intellectual banter. Of flirtation. Of having a fling with the world. You say one thing, and the world winks and says something smartass back.
And, that’s what I want when I travel. Your picture-perfect postcard beach doesn’t move me. What I want is to come alive when I see you.
I want to feel like I am seventeen again, and I am swinging on a rope swing under an old elm, and you are teasing me about my dress, and the light is hitting your hair, and you smile back at me like maybe I could be the one, and I manage to say something witty, and you laugh—and oh, your laugh is the closest I’ve ever been to god—and every good sense I have is lost in this moment, in this tiny razor-thin sliver of time, when you and I are human poetry, and dandelion cotton balls blow across the wind, and the sun starts to set, and we both look at one another and think things that neither of us will ever say, but will feel for the rest of our lives, every time we pass the park on Church Street, and remember how it felt, to be free.
This is why you travel.
It’s not about being worldly; it’s about going home. You return again to the part of you that’s innocent, and soft, and wide-eyed, and beautifully foolish, before the world bludgeoned your spirit.
You find gentleness again.
You find wholesomeness again.
You find enchantment again.
You find the part of yourself that exists in awe. You find it in the bellini overlooking the Grand Canal. You find it as you gaze up at The Sagrada Familia. You find it as you watch families chase their sweet children with backpacks and sandwiches and jelly-crusted fingers. You find it in the sidewalk. You find it in the bread. You find it in the flowers. You find it in a six-pack of beer on a Sunday afternoon.
It’s a kind of temporary insanity that feels just like you did when you were seventeen.
And man, does it feel good to be young.