Places (Guest Post)
I stood opposite my neighbor Michael with my heart still racing and my breathing lengthening out until it became slower and more relaxed. It was some time around the early evening — the sun was in the process of setting and the street lights were starting to come on. We had bumped into each other on the sidewalk around the corner from my house while he was taking his dog, Fenway, out for a walk and I was coming back from a short run.
I’ve known Michael for the three years he’s lived in our neighborhood. A recently divorced man in his mid 40s, he moved into the house he lives in now because it was closer to where his parents lived. He was always eager to talk to whoever would offer an ear to listen, and some might say he was overly talkative. I didn’t mind though, especially knowing that it was just him and Fenway in that house. We weren’t very much alike. Michael’s personality was a little more boisterous and assertive. I, on the other hand, had a tendency to be bashful and hypersensitive to others around me. Michael had the physique of a rugby player. I ran and was therefore very lean. On the weekends, Michael was likely sporting a jersey from his favorite team. Jump over to my house and you would see me tending to my garden. Despite our differences, I did like Michael. He was very friendly and invitational — it was also just very difficult to keep up with him and all the things he wanted to do.
While I was still trying to catch my breath, Michael began telling me all about his recent trip to Europe. He returned from a jaunt through several countries overseas for two weeks with some of his old college buddies — a reunion of sorts. I listened while he detailed how they went from place to place experiencing different aspects of European culture. He talked about starting in Spain and his discovery of the Catalan language, his amazement with how small the Mona Lisa painting actually was compared to other paintings in the Louvre, and how he had never tasted seafood pasta as good as what he ordered in Cinque Terre, Italy. It felt like there was no shortage of experiences of which Michael could speak. There’s no doubt that he had traveled to a lot of places. And as I stood there and heard of the places he’d visited, I couldn’t help but think of where I had recently traveled, too.
In those same two weeks, I had started questioning whether the place where I was working was actually where I wanted to stay for the foreseeable future. I noticed that I hadn’t enjoyed my work as much as I’d used to and had found myself scrolling through job listings just to see what was out there, to let myself dream again. My son was telling me about the pressures he was facing in middle school and how kids were engaging in things I hadn’t even heard of when I was his age. My parenting skills were really put to the test as I aimed to strike a balance between telling him what I thought was the right thing to do and empowering him to make autonomous choices that wouldn’t come back to haunt him. And then there was my parents, who called me to say they were revising their will and needed some more info from me and my wife. For a brief moment, my mind traveled to a life without my parents.
Michael’s voice broke my tangential thinking and pulled me back to our conversation. It seemed Fenway caught sight of a wild rabbit and Michael was trying to calm him down. With a command from Michael to lay down, Fenway dropped his body to the ground, tail wagging and tongue out. It was much darker now, but that wasn’t about to stop Michael from sharing with me about his travels. I smiled, I nodded, and leaned in to be engaged, and as I listened to my neighbor talk about where he had traveled to and the things he experienced, I resolved that I had done some traveling of my own, without even leaving town.
Franklyn Francois is a Haitian-American, Florida native who spends a considerable amount of time mentoring college students, writing short stories, watching movies, and drinking chai tea lattes. You can follow him on Instagram @franklynforeal.