My first boyfriend sent me a postcard once, from the depth of his compulsory military service, that simply read “Wish you were here”. I was not that familiar with the English language and its subjunctives yet and that phrase resonated mostly to Pink Floyd’s music. But it compelled me to research its meaning and, since then, there have been many incarnations of “I wish I were” – in Venice, in Cape Town, in the arms of another man, in a more challenging job, in a better mood.
For many years, I was a compulsive seeker: of thrills, experiences, changes, new cities. I clocked miles, continents, jobs and men, always wishing for something or someone a little bit different, some greener pasture that I imagined lived just around the corner. It was indeed exciting, at times satisfying, but it always came with a tinge of letdown attached.
Now, when I wake up in the morning, the first sight my blurry eyes set on is a large photograph of slightly stormy waters, lapping the edges of the Church of San Giorgio, in the Venice lagoon. Many a dawn did I wish I were back there instead of being greeted by the relentless Californian sun. I would daydream, shrouded in the crumpled sheets, how my life would unfold if I had a job that required a boat to get to or how I would stop to pick up the ingredients for dinner at one of the many markets – our version of trendy Farmers’ Markets but their staple shopping experience. I would wake up to the sound of water sloshing under my windows instead of the chirping of birds and, in winter, I would brave the cold and fog, to meet some friends for dinner, just like that, on the spur of the moment, instead of opening my calendar and pencil something in five days from today.
If I were somewhere different, somewhere so magical, my existence would be perfect; every object and every emotion properly placed in their cubby-hole, an endless series of romantic days and dreamy nights.
I am not sure when the transition happened. It crept on me unnoticed, the way unpleasant habits sometimes do. The transition from wishing to having. A life in Venice. Sure, I could have that, like I had all the others. And it would be just as messy and unpredictable and at times hard and annoying. And also humid and full of tourists.
The truth is I wish I were…..right here. I took my own sweet time to learn to enjoy the clouds rolling in to create the perfect atmosphere for a Halloween night, the quiet sound of my dogs napping at my feet, the unconditional and imperfect love of the people who matter, my uncertain future and my perfect present.
Maybe there will be a life in Venice or in Timbuktu or wherever else my path will take me. In the comfort of my skin, it seems irrelevant right now. The dogs have raised their heads in food expectation. The half-drained cup of tea has gotten cold. The most melancholy hour of the day has set in, the one that always made me wish for something, someone, somewhere different. Now it only reminds me it’s time to switch the lights on.