Over spring break, I dropped my phone in the ocean. It broke, and for two days I felt estranged – no sense of time, no notifications, no detested yet familiar sound of my alarm in the morning or the reassuring faculty of documenting every instant. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, life is much slower – the bright color of the small houses shine in the hot afternoons, the tide of the sea oscillates calmly and steadily; roosters’ onomatopoeias resound somewhere in the distance, sangria is served with lunch and the sun sets late in the evening; coquis sing on your way home. After long days at the beach, we could never get rid of the sand – it was in between our toes, in the cotton white sheets where we slept, trapped between a cylinder of red lipstick and its lid. Sand was everywhere and it drove me crazy; I wish I could write that the slow rhythm of the colors and the waves and the separation from omnipresent and overbearing technology taught me to let go of the small things and accept things as they are, but that is not who I am. The ruggedness of the sand grains against my slightly burned skin still annoys me.
But I did have my phone fixed – I brought it to a store. Because that is what the waves were telling me, as they were swamping the foreshore and erasing all that had been there before – happiness lies in fixing things that don’t work. I went on break with four of my best friends, and we did a lot of fixing. Fixing the way we sleep, so that we could share a bed without pulling the blanket on our side, and fixing the length of our showers. Fixing all the inside jokes, to include those who were left outside; fixing the way we quietly listen when talking about the future while sitting by the harbor or when walking on the beach, sharing things about our families. Fixing the way we meandered through the tropical forest, so that no one would slip on the rocks covered in green or behind the fresh waterfall.
I always tell everyone that I think the best things are difficult, and I love this idea and I do believe it. Sometimes currents are really strong, flights can be turbulent, and I find myself thinking about unexpected and unwelcome changes of directions quite often– they scare me. In water, we have to breathe and relax to float; yet we must also keep all muscles contracted. It is a fine equilibrium between what we know and what we are still learning or haven’t yet discovered. April truly is the cruelest month, especially if you are a junior in college trying to figure out what comes next, when the waves in the distance look menacing and the limpid sky suddenly gets stormy. Several times in Puerto Rico it rained, it poured – within ten minutes the sun was out again. But then the beach bags were packed – and if there was sand on the bottle of sunscreen, or between the pages of my book or all over the lenses of my sunglasses or even stuck in the padding of my bathing suit, by the end of the week I had learned that these things could be fixed. Like the sky rapidly clearing, restoring its bright blueness and terse light. Like learning to fix our idiosyncrasies, to take shorter showers to wash the salt off our hair and to stand closer than we did before, burnt shoulder by burnt shoulder. Yes, it is April, and on top of that, it snowed in Ithaca, our tans fading into the blazing white of the ground. But learning how to fix your posture, to contract the muscles a little less and breathe a bit more – that will keep you afloat. And fixing your edges to fit with other pieces, to find your space between other red shoulders and reassuring eyes, matching hats and long memories and repeated jokes – that is to find a rock to hold onto in the middle of the ocean.
Emma is a junior Classics major in the College of Arts and Sciences. An Italian native, she loves Virginia Woolf and dreads Ithaca winters. She writes about her experience at Cornell as an international student, and has an uncontrollable passion for excessively long sentences and vivid metaphors. She can be usually found enjoying a soup in Temple of Zeus, and can be reached at [email protected]