On top of the Marjan in Southwest Croatia—10,000 steps above the city of Split—I realize, when it came to you, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Whether or not I could’ve is an equation I still remain unable to solve. Too many variables, even now. But to know I wouldn’t have seems to be enough.
I am always somewhere else. On the bus to the Split airport, my mind is back inside the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, climbing the clock tower of St. Domnius’s Cathedral. Perhaps not as high as the Marjan, but made a thousand times scarier for the narrow winding stairs, the flimsy railing—the sharp drop, should I fall.
I am petrified of heights, but abhor being seen as a coward, a wuss, or maybe missing a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and besides, my brother adores this sort of thing. So I climb, and cling to the center line as best I can, and curse the whole way up and down—my brother laughing all the while. The things we do for love.
Now, we’re at the airport. Going back to Rome. All roads lead to it, right? But it will be good to hear Italian again, after so much Croatian. It’s funny, the things we miss. After Rome, will come L.A., then Fountain Valley, then Portland. I feel neither ready nor unready to return to my life. It’s funny, the things we don’t miss.
Down from the clock tower, we enter the Temple of Jupiter, converted in the Middle Ages to the Baptistery of St. John, but still boasting art dedicated to both. You climb the tower? asks the man who takes our tickets. Yes, I say. Oh, bravo! he replies. I laugh, say, Thank you. That was all I wanted—recognition for what I’d done.
When Moses asked God to show him His ways, that he might know Him and continue to please Him, God replied, My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. I think I feel that. I think I understand it now, such as I can—that rest is not just where I lay my head, though this can make a considerable difference.
In the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace, I have trouble breathing. The centuries-old air clings to my lungs, will not make room for fresher oxygen, which is nowhere to be found regardless. My brother says, I don’t miss being a teenager, but I miss how simple things were then. I say, I don’t ever remember things being simple.
I leave you on the Marjan, let you go as I descend those 10,000 steps. Zig-zag down the uneven rock and feel you detach from my side, like a weight I scarcely knew I carried until it was gone. But then, it is. I walk and think how I might not be here, in Split, if I’d stayed with you. How I might not be here if I’d never met you.
There will come a day when I will no longer hear your voice in my head. Can’t even remember what it sounds like, and don’t want to. When it won’t be you I’m thinking of when I wander below the earth or travel far above it. It won’t be the first time any of this has happened. I’ve scaled heights I can scarcely imagine.