The Journey

Do I pull inspiration from my life when I’m writing? Kind of. I twist it and turn it on its head. Here’s an example.

A few years back two things happened that intersected at the same moment. I was on a plane reading the poem Ithaka by Constantine P Cavafy and the girl I sat next to, a hot mess, was on her way to get a divorce from her husband. She was doing a quick turnaround trip. The husband was going to meet her at baggage claim and sign the papers, then she was headed back home on a flight an hour later.

I don’t recall the reasoning she had to do it in person. The girl was pushy and loud and nervous, so she continued chatting at me for the duration of the trip. I had put my book down in my lap with my finger holding the page, just in case I was allowed to ever read again. Eventually, the girl asked me what I was reading, I told her. She nodded and said she wasn’t very smart like that. She asked me if it was a good poem, so I explained what I liked about it and gave her a summary.

I explained these ideas to her that were then, (and still are) always some of the main ideas I have rolling around in my mind. The Journey, this life’s journey, is one of my obsessions.

I grew to love the idea of the journey of life as my love for the book The Odyssey grew. I was forced to read snippets of the book in High School, but I really came to appreciate it in College. We read it in various English classes and my Ancient Greek classes. I love the heart of the story: we are all on a Journey. In Odysseus’s case, he was headed home. And really, isn’t that where we’re all trying to get to?

Each homeward destination for each individual has a different name, a different look, but home is where we’re all headed. And we are, all of us, on the sea of life sailing toward a distant shore, and we will each dock our boats on the shore of our destinations at different times. This is where the poem Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy inspired me. His idea was that we are all journeying toward is our Ithaca.

“Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.”

The journey is a lonely thing, we might have company for a while here and there, but when it’s all said and done, we are, each of us, fighting Cyclops, sirens, and Poseidon. These days these monsters have different names, some are metaphorical, some physical. We all fight, we all revel, we all journey. When I think about the journey, I am always prone to recall the movie White Squall.

The movie is about a group of high school boys who go to school at sea. As with most coming of age movies, the boys go to sea to find themselves. While they are on the ship, they attend classes which are taught by the crew: the cook, the first mate, and the Captain. Of course, the literature assignment for this setting: Homer’s Odyssey.

As the journey continues and the book is read, the main character comes to the conclusion “perhaps Homer was right, the journey’s the thing.” I always loved that, wrote that out and put the words on my wall. Perhaps Homer was right, “the journey is the thing.”

The girl took out a piece of paper and wrote down the poem title and author. Whether or not she looked it up, I’ll never know. I also never saw her in the baggage claim getting papers signed, so who knows if she was even telling me the truth about her trip?

But I did write a story inspired by that moment. It’s called “Ithaca”. It was published in an anthology, but since the rights revert back to me. I get to share it with you my friends.

short stories to read during quarantine

Ithaca By Nicole Sharp

“I’m looking for Ithaca.”

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing” I said.

We started walking again, the rain light enough; not bothering us, well, it didn’t bother me. I continued walking; he followed because he had to, he needed someone to cook and clean for him. He was trying to be nice right now.

“Did I tell you about the girl I met on the plane?”

“I’m not signing those papers.” He said.

“You will.” I said. He had to, it was the reason I came back here.

“You don’t really want to divorce me.” He dismissed me.

“She told me about Ithaca, said she was looking for it. She was one of those smart girls, really smart. She worked in a museum, or something like that. She was smart.”

“I don’t care.” He said, his voice following me.

“I know. She said that Ithaca is what we’re all looking for. A…it stood for something. A big word, I forget. But she said that some of us want to get there, to Ithaca, before everyone else, but when you get there first, you’re not happy, and then…I forget. She was smart.”

“Not like you.” He scoffed but I stopped listening to him belittle me a long time ago.

It was good he was reverting to his old ways; it would make it easier to sign the papers. I could do this. I could leave him.

We had gone outside to take a walk and were drifting down the street, on the current of past memories, in the rain.

I told her about him, on the plane, told her about how he was. She asked if there had ever been any good memories. I stopped and looked around at the neighborhood I had called home. The driveway where he tried to run me over when he was drunk; the house where we fought; those were the neighbors who saved my life after he had thrown a beer bottle at my head. And this road was the one we drove down in the middle of the night when I miscarried and he reluctantly took me to the hospital; the whole time telling me it was my fault I was losing his child.

I told her no. No good memories.

This walk was a stupid thing for me to agree to. We needed to go back. I needed to just get him to sign the papers.

I had told her, the girl on the plane, I would sign the papers and go. That seemed to give me strength enough. She was smart, but she didn’t treat me like I was stupid. Other people did that, but not her. I told her I would get the papers signed and leave right after. I could do that. I could walk away once and for all.

No need to wallow on the battlefield of what had once been. She said that. Don’t stay on the battlefield. Get in your boat, set your sails and go.

“Stop the shit, we both know you’re coming home.” He said.

“You hit me. A lot. Then you threatened me with a gun.” I stated more for myself than him.

“I apologized.” He shrugged.

“She didn’t treat me like I was stupid. She talked to me like I was smart. She used big words, a few of them I didn’t understand. I didn’t know people could talk like that every day. Some guy had just broken up with her, some idiot had broken her heart. You wonder why a guy would be that stupid. She probably would have made him the most amazing man in the world. You know? She was one of those girls, who could make a man bigger than life.”

“You made me bigger than life.” The twang was deep and sexy, the one that I had a hard time resisting. I had no problem resisting now. She said there would be obstacles along the way. But you just keep sailing. Isn’t that what she said?

“No, I was stupid and I gave you too much control over me.”

“You liked it.” He grinned. The asshole grinned. Good, I thought, grin asshole. It brought hatred and anger. Leaving him was not going to be a problem.

“How many times did you cheat on me?” That was how to take away his power. With the past.

“Just once.” He said.

That I knew of, I thought. “For nine months.”

He shrugged in reply.

Enough time to have a child. I turned and began walking back home. Back to his house. His house. I don’t live here anymore. I don’t want to live here anymore. It was just a place I stopped for a while. Drugged by what I thought was love.

Just keep sailing. You can do anything you want. She said that too. She didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

“I gotta go.” Just get him to sign the papers and leave.

“Where?” He asked.

“Ithaca.”

“You got some guy you’re dating? You’re gonna go screw him now?”

“Maybe. Maybe I just gotta go.” Don’t antagonize the bear, I’m almost out of here.

“But that’s where you gotta go, isn’t it? Cause you got a date with some guy you’re gonna hop into bed with just to get back at me.”

“You’re going to sign the papers when we get back to your house.”

Not mine. Not ours. Yours.

“What if I don’t sign them?”

“You will.” I kept my head high as I walked, he shuffled behind me. He would sign.

“I showed her my tattoo, I told her it was my eighteen-year-old mistake. I told her you were my twenty-two-year-old mistake. I told her you were my five-year mistake. She asked me why I had stayed with you so long.”

I hadn’t known how to answer her. She told me about Ithaca.

“It’s getting late. I gotta go.” I said instead. Papers and leave. Get back on the boat.

She had said Ithaca was a magical place, a persons own heaven, the place everybody is looking for. She said that every step a person takes is toward their own Ithaca.  Each journeyman is on route to their own personal finish lines. She talked a lot about the journey. I showed her my tattoo, told her strange stories all the time my voice awkwardly wavered, annoyingly. I told her that my mom was worried about me coming here alone; I told her that I chose the wrong kind of people to hang out with. I asked her what Ithaca meant, she didn’t laugh. She told me it was an island in Greece. I asked her if she’d been there, and she laughed, not at me, I don’t think. She laughed and said she would get there one day; that it was one of the places on her list to visit.

I told her about him. She told me about her own ‘him’.

“You’re not going to divorce me.” He said; cocky.

I could leave him. “If I don’t, you can’t marry Connie.”

“Who said I wanted to marry her?”

“You did, when you kicked me out of the house, you told me you wanted to marry Connie. You wanted a real woman who could take care of you.”

The sun was setting. Luckily, there wasn’t anything spectacular about it. I needed to leave before all the daylight was gone.

“I didn’t mean it.” He shrugged.

“Anyway.” Just sign the papers.

She walked away like a princess. When we left at the airport, as she said bye, she walked with a lot of class. She said she thought she was clumsy, said she did everything wrong. I told her she was smart, but she just laughed. I wondered if her ‘him’ had taken the good things away from her. The things she thought were good about herself.

She was smart.

Oh yeah, if I’m so smart, what was I doing with that guy? That’s what she had said when I told her she was smart. She laughed, but it was the kind of laugh girls give when they’re heart broken.

I told her it was nice meeting her and wished her luck and she wished me luck. I wanted to ask her so many more questions. I didn’t have time and we both had other planes to catch. I watched her walk away.

“What will do you when you get home?” I asked; kind of yelled it at her.

She smiled when she turned back toward me. “I’ll keep looking for Ithaca.” She smiled.

Me too, I thought.

“I gotta go,” I told him, “I’m lookin’ for Ithaca.” A breeze bushed my hair back from my face just then. The kind of breeze that was perfect for leaving. I was sure of it.

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