I was sat at home yesterday, staring into space as Anne waited for me to tune back into the present. She knows me well enough now that these internal jaunts no longer merit comment. I’d like to say that I was working on a short story or one of the two novels I’m developing; but the truth is that I was snagged on a memory.
I’m 23 and it’s a hot, sticky August evening. It’s my last day on Staten Island and the end of about a year spent living the American Dream. Well, surviving it anyway. My flatmate Lillian and I are downstairs, gazing out on the street and there’s no one around. Out the corner of my eye I spot this pinpoint of light, roaming in the evening air towards me. It’s a firefly. And as soon as I see it, this wave of sadness, of unrequited longing for the year-that-never-was, chokes my thoughts. I’m transfixed by this tiny glow and all at once a host of them appear and circle around us.
Lillian is non-plussed; they’re just fireflies after all. But I swallow hard and realise that I’d never seen them before, not until this night – my last night. And at that moment, it becomes a metaphor and a distillation of the whole experience. In my quest for the wrong woman and a life that was never mine, I’d missed out on so many other things. Small things perhaps, but things of beauty and potency. Then we go back inside and watch some TV while I finish packing. The next morning I flew back to Britain, wiser but incomplete.
So yesterday, there I was and this 23 year-old self drifted over to me. He was a writer too, of course, and many of his primitive ideas have since made it to print. It wasn’t a social visit though. I think he was trying to tell me that there’s more to the writer’s life than fixating on the next round of submissions and worrying about my income. For one thing, there’s fireflies, if you know where to look.