The story of Icarus was told to me as a child, told from a big, gilded storybook strewn atop the cloud-like duvet of my grandparent’s guest room. The story went like this: Icarus was a fool. Icarus did not listen to his father; what a terrible child we was, what sorrow he brought when he fell from the sun and into the waves, all because we was too confident in his wings.

But anyone who grows up, if they can stomach the process, is Icarus. Icarus in the moment before failure makes sense. Anyone who travels, if they have the guts for it, is Icarus. Icarus in the moment he touched the sun and saw all the world.

It’s just a children’s story, with beautiful words and (some say) antiquated meaning, a tale that teaches you of the arrogance of youth. But at some point or other, some more often than not, we all do this very Icarus-like thing, and leap into a world we do not understand. Others say, “be fearful, your capabilities haven’t been tested. Be careful, your faith in the world has not been proven.” But faith cannot be proven; if it could, we wouldn’t call it faith.

To wander with the world when you are young is to accept a change that cannot be undone, to leave pieces of yourself littered absentmindedly across the globe, like the tattered feathers of Icarus in the Icarian Sea. Travel and you’ll be contradicted, travel and you’ll be wronged. Above all, however, travel and you’ll be rewritten. And you read so much better this way.

I spent the weeks in an indescribable adventure of my own making. Running through centuries-old gardens and dancing on slick stones in the city center of Granada, I walked ten miles a day and drank water out of Moorish aqueducts that seemed to appear, as if by magic, at each street corner when needed. The nights were loud like a blazing band and I never felt tired, not after days of this life, not even after weeks of it. The mornings were blush pink and stone gray, and they smelled like fresh coffee and loaves of bread being unloaded from vans on the angular cobblestone streets. I didn’t want anything. Except more time there, and the promise that whatever magical, lovable person I had transformed into in Spain would never leave me.

But oh boy, did she leave me. I cried at the airport in Málaga with a can of tinto de verano in my hand, an altogether worrying experience for the gorgeous male flight attendants that said to me, Está bien, niñita. Tranquila, bonita. Shove me in the ice cart and take me back there, I wanted to shout at them. Instead, I got off the plane at JFK like a expatriate zombie, still whispering Hola, buenas, to everyone who brushed by me. This was the fall I had been warned of, and how terribly it hurt to land.

If Ovid meant we should not attempt to be anything other than the immobile beings we were born as, then surely I should not listen. Because though the waves grabbed him, he did see the world, and soared above its constant drumming. And in this same way, I remember how I embarked. I walked across the tarmac, its heat emitting waves up through my sandals, and saw that plane– tiny as it was –placed upon the runway like a little child’s toy. Traveling with people I barely knew, to a country where I did not speak the language, arriving in the dead of night so the city would awake surprised to find me there in the morning. The plane took off quickly and aggressively, and the blood in my veins seemed to electrify as we were propelled into a sky on fire. Up and onward we raced, with the land below us becoming smaller and less real. And we existed, miles high, humans of no nation, people of the sky. Going places we don’t belong in hopes that someday we will. Running from cities that gave us no voice, with a hidden dream of returning with a name. Young and unknowing, without enough knowledge to form any fear. Call us Icarus, goodbye Daedelus, it’s no one’s fault if we fall. The plane soared, my heart soared.  Icarus, Icarus, but our wings didn’t burn.

And when it’s all over, for one selfish second you think, can anything be worse than this? Can anything be worse than leaving this place, this better person, behind. Then you realize your folly. Yes, to never have seen it would have been worst of all.

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  • Leandra December 16, 2017 at 7:30 am

    This was a pleasure to read. Such a beautiful, poetic perspective on the difficulties of coming back “home” after travels.

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