I left for my trip a year ago. I left mostly because I was cold. London was freezing and damp and dark, and I felt like my grandfather was somehow still in the walls and the creaks and the whispers of the world outside the window. He was nowhere to be found in the central heating system, that’s for sure.
I looked at a map and found a city in the south of Spain about which I knew nothing but I figured it was probably nice enough, given the latitude. I was supposed to meet some friends in Amsterdam in mid-March.
Six months later, after following an itinerary that had been borne out of little more than whims and geography, I watched the sun rise over the last little shred of Europe as the bus screamed towards the Bosphorus. It dumped me out at an enormous humid stinking bus station and I wandered across the sprawl of Istanbul in the heavy heat of mid-morning in a daze of sleep deprivation, halfway lost but used to the feeling. I checked into the hostel and left immediately for the Hagia Sophia, which I’d been dreaming about for months, and stood and looked up and all the chaos around me fell away and there was a white noise – the stupor of the sleepless night and the electricity of reaching the proverbial mountaintop – and then this song started playing in my head, which my dad sent me as a birthday gift – Love You by the Free Design:
“Give a little time for the child within you,
don’t be afraid to be young and free.
Undo the locks and throw away the keys
and take off your shoes and socks, and run you.
La, la, la…”
I’m writing this from the same room I lived in as a teenager, at the same perch from which I dreamed up all the different people I might be right now – I could be infinite permutations of myself; I could be miserable, I could be in love, I could be dead – but I’m none of those things.
The song and the sleep deprivation and the scale of it, the arabesque and the gold and the history reverberating through it; it made me feel childlike. All of it did – the languages I didn’t know, the streets I’d never seen, the customs I was unfamiliar with, the faiths I’d never been exposed to. But all those childish prophesies about adulthood seemed like pure fiction – fantasies, the idolatries of adolescence; they’d stemmed from fears and discomforts that were long gone. What was left of childhood was the peace of raw wonder.