The Things That Harm Us by Joseph Seta

 

 

silhouette_1            I have no idea where we are headed. Peering around the rugged roads as they ascend what appears to be a mountain, a trio of birds descends before us whilst the glimmering sun slowly rises behind us. I imagine that we are revisiting a childhood memory, and suddenly my blood pressure begins to elevate. “Get out,” I say to myself as the old man drives way too fast towards the crest. “Get the hell out,” I wish I could have said. Yet, curiosity trumps my irrational fear, for I know I have never been here. Perhaps my fear of the unknown is the reason I signed up for this – to confront memories that have cursed me into mental bondage. 

Peaking the crest, I request to stop and cautiously exit the battered sedan. I tread slowly up the hill as the old man parks close behind. An immaculate view of California’s most bombastic natural features greets my tunnel vision. A silent breeze lurks like a whisper from the waves, yet I can feel an overwhelming noise protruding from within. It tells me to go back. This is a bad idea. I shouldn’t have tried to take the high road. That’s when the noise gradually dissipates like a reverberating piano in a church chamber – slowly but certainly. I realize this isn’t the high road. It’s just a road. Memories only represent stops along the way.

A graceful silhouette of San Diego’s skyline rests independent of the land surrounding it, far from this summit but teetering the horizon ahead. Only here do I realize how small the world around me becomes – how many memories exist within that silhouette. It’s interesting to consider how that our most impactful recollections echo the most intimate of spaces. But space is relative, just as intimacy is an illusion dressed in setting. Such a panorama of dimensional terrains couldn’t be intimate, right? Yet, this is the most connected I feel with the deepest shades of my character. I am on top of the world, or so it feels. Therefore, I am above all the horrible things that happen within it, including what happened to me.

I recall first being on the edge of the world roughly five months ago. A bouquet of black rocks was the only material development separating the ocean from me. Remnants of dead trees shaped like skeleton bones and heaps of dark sand settled atop these rocks, while the high tide dramatized the otherwise isolated temperament of my surroundings. I didn’t have to visit Black Rock Beach, but the detour was worth it as I could opportunely reflect about who I was without the technological toys I took for granted every day. That is where I learned that dimensions of personal identity can only be observed in these intimate settings. Taking a deep breath o’er San Diego’s highest peak, devoid of familiarity and situated miles from civilization, I acknowledge the next step: recovering from the things that harm us.

sandiego

 

Approaching the most incomplete downtown district ever, a bombastic structure greets my wandering eyes just ahead – broadly built and topped with a decorative dome. As it towers above the comparatively humble offices and bistros struggling to survive, I cannot resist my curious urge to explore what might lurk within the structure’s keep. Considering this might be the only daypart during which I am alone, I stride hastily towards the structure, though not such that others gaze upon me with questionable facial reactions. After all, my colorful attire and yearn for exploration (evidenced by the camera bag I’ve been hoisting all day) render me a target if I fail to discern wary context clues around me. San Diego might exude lively views and foster a haven for adventure, but I would prove naive to dismiss the risks associated with both.

Distant sirens hiss whilst a cluster of like-minded protesters halt movement just ahead. Thankfully, I chose morning exercise over an Uber, which allows me to engage photographically with the ensuing chaos on the street corner. My ears shriek at the nearby sounds of emphatic whistling and concurrent uproar, driving me to forget subtlety and dash ever so keenly towards the patio of the tallest structure in sight, evading the upheavals taking place on the adjacent street corner. So much for drawing attention, but at least the bystanders are distracted. Never has a construction site been so loud, but perhaps the dome-fitted structure will contrast the barely domesticated anarchy outside. I sense a philosophical metaphor incoming…

Elevated slightly above the general street, the structure’s patio offers a spacious array of seating for eating, reading, or – in my case – peeking at the protest from a clearer perspective. As the patio rests on the corner situated diagonal of the action, there exist several benches and spots prime for watching. I distance myself from the crowd and select a bench with breathing room, hoping to capture the intimacy hidden within the livelihood. However, a happy couple with two bustling children beats me to the bench, forcing me to exercise assessment elsewhere. I encounter a sign on my way around this beastly structure which illustrates the vertical layout of the library. “Wait,” I stop myself and acknowledge what I’ve just found. “I’ve teased my interest over a library? What a way to surpass my admittedly basic expectations! Realizing that the structure is a public place, I conjure an alternative perspective for viewing the masses – a bird’s eye view.

Upon treading lightly into the contemporary San Diego Central Library, the silence I expected hardly exists even though the expansive first floor embraces a fully-fledged chess club, wherein five or six chess matches currently play. I tiptoe throughout the glossy chess club partition – probably the only person to do so – and seek the elevator without crashing into anyone. My venture succeeds, and I elevate to the topmost floor of the library, which turns out to be a rooftop deck featuring breathtaking views of San Diego and Coronado beyond. Unfortunately, as I squint to seize the protest on the ground beneath me, I’m filled with passive dissatisfaction. The crowd dissipated, but at least I can immerse myself into the photogenic abyss that now resides before me.

hoteldelcoronado

 

Peeking through the broad brazen archway shines the first glimpse of sunlight we had seen all day. The brisk but lively dancing of the Western winds settles within the winding hotel’s colorful garden patio, which is brilliantly maintained and boasting with extravagance as we slowly soak in the Victorian visuals. Lined with bulbous bushes and polished foliage, we circle the stone brick walkway enclosing the garden towards the hotel’s check-in center – a quaint square addendum wedged between the flower forest and the principal Victorian Building – the main residential wing which from the outside offers no clues denoting this inner garden’s existence. Characterized by the sound of a whistling fountain and the occasional tourist returning from the neighboring Pacific Ocean, the scenic epicenter of our temporary residence blossoms with serenity, symbolizing a separation from the outside world that neither excludes nor excuses the hotel’s prominent upper-class demographics. I can’t believe that today, I am among that statistical group.

Checking in grants us a map of the hotel – it needs a map to be explored! I’ll admit that we almost drifted to the incorrect building, even after being told a dozen times how to reach our room. Situated on the outskirts of the hotel’s complex asymmetrical layout, we choose the picturesque route to our building, along which we will garner our daily exercise. On our walk towards the cabanas, the sun’s mild gleam is somewhat shadowed by the crisp temperatures and delicate winds emitting from Coronado’s oceanic border – just a boardwalk away as we gaze upon the rock-ridden beach separating us from the approaching horizon.

Suddenly, my grandfather takes a detour towards an outdoor bar and grill called the “Sun Deck,” which during our daytime excursion is closed. However, business didn’t halt the gentle heat from calming grandpa’s aging bones. At first, we thought the heat originated from the decorative lanterns that coated the glass gates enclosing the spacious deck. Approaching the contemporary build more closely, however, we find the heat emitting from a more intimate (and expensive) source – tender flames brushing the air from braziers aboard decorative regional rocks. Surrounding each brazier is an array of pristine white Venetian chairs which contrast the sleek black bases the braziers sit upon. To our left is the community pool situated well beneath the deck’s elevation, whilst to our right is an expansive oval pasture sprawling with energetic children and to-be couples.

Grandpa and I choose to pursue the beachside, which I can just capture in the deck’s background beyond its thick glass railings. Complete with a cascading of elegant terns and their friends, grandpa and I sit quietly on the deck’s intricately detailed seating as the waves reside in the distance and the bartenders set up the charmingly aged outdoor shack in preparation for the evening’s promising fortune. A silhouette of Tijuana, Mexico, completes the panorama as the palm trees rustle one last round before the clouds inevitably dissipate, finally revealing the sparkling blue heaven we were patiently awaiting.

blowing trees

“You must be freezing out here” – my first words to a well-dressed young socialite on a boardwalk overlooking a full moon above the Pacific Ocean. In the distance is a breathtaking panorama of Tijuana, Mexico, while just behind these glass doors riots a bustling cocktail party I wasn’t invited to join. My attire is appropriate, though, which is probably why the socialite bought into my charming charisma. “It’s been biting all day,” he gracefully admits while gravitating towards one of several lanterns. I, too, find comfort in the subtle heat source as I gaze upon a pompous display of pyrotechnics on the horizon. “You know what that is all about?” I ask inquisitively, still unsure of my goal by the evening’s end. But he remains honest. “I’ve no idea. It is beautiful, though.” The silence that follows is no longer awkward, but instead welcome. The lanterns barely blaze, whilst the voices from the party inside interrupt what would otherwise be the second-most enigmatic evening I’ve experienced in recent years.

I forgot to mention that besides myself, the socialite stands alone. From outside, he serves the cocktails at this party to the corrupt elite members inside lighting each other’s souls on fire. His association with this exclusive group was otherwise minimal – a behavior I admire enough to acknowledge. Such is why I initiated discourse. Notions of colorful celebrations and bombastic picturesque landscapes like this one often neglect the more minute moments of magic, which ergo make such environments prime for reflection and evaluation (and perhaps judgment of others). I could not bare enamor the artificial imbuement of classy etiquette taking place on the inside, which is why I fasten firmly at the boardwalk. At least I can observe such behaviors from out here, as I listen to brooding aircrafts emerge from the Navy SEALs training center just south of me.

\Before the sun went down, my causal journey to this restaurant started with an island tour. Oops, I meant “tied” island, since describing The Crown City as an island would offend its prestigious and self-important inhabitants. Clearly, culture is as important to them as self-preservation is to me. I do not come baring judgment, however, because otherwise I would gain nothing and lose myself. Though my interest in psychology manifests in camouflage throughout all my travels, few compare to the vast array of characters on display tonight. From this perspective, I conclude that Coronado’s diverse geography figuratively matches its palette of persons – creative exploration requires creative manipulation.

A modest tour boat arrives at the dock during my attempts to capture a still photo of the fireworks afar. A second group joins the cocktail party inside, but their attire differs significantly. While the first group is dressed in glossy and elegant fashion, the second group carries themselves in largely dark-colored casual garments. Indeed, the groups are separate, and this expensive coastal restaurant innately attracts the wavering wealthy. And then there’s me, who looks wealthy but is far from it. My socialite comrade’s wandering eyes tells the rest of this story – that your identity hardly matters when your skin bares riches. Certainly, there is more than meets the eye, which is why I bid my freezing friend adieu and join the party inside.

crownroom

The crowd raves to the contemporary tune in the hotel’s crown room – the most impressive of event rooms – following the successful awarding of honors that completes the evening. Tall Victorian walls and a cathedral roof decorated in bright lights and ethereal shades of red coat this party in wealth and prestige. Surrounded by industry professionals, pushy sales representatives, and marketing geniuses, I immediately feel somewhat disengaged. As the company’s CEO declares promise and joy to those of us fortunate enough to be here, I am left with a perceptive emptiness about whether I connected with anyone at all. Did I make friends, or was I just a target for obligatory conversation over cocktails? Nobody wants to dance with me.

As someone who fights for the little guys, my feelings about the constant luxury surrounding me conflict. On one hand, I have everything for the price of nothing – delightful curated food, a seat in San Diego’s most decorative hotel, and fine cocktails priced far beyond anything I could enjoy back home. On the other hand, this image of luxury does not accurately depict the pinnacle of happiness. Is “luxury” a goal to be cherished, or only a façade of society’s expectations about the triumphs of hard work? Gold trophies, sparkling lights, whimsical carpets – these glorified versions of everyday commodities intend to express indulgence as a reward for those who have earned. Yet, here I am, proof that this expectation is indeed an illusion.

A woman that I met – we’ll name her Lola – offers some valuable insight into the prospects of gargantuan money-driven corporations like this one. As she pulls me onto the dance floor, forcing me to confront that which I cannot do, the lights cease flashing and a dim shade brushes the cathedral space. Amidst roughly a hundred important people, I’m surprised that the most chaotic night of my life becomes the most intimately reflective. I ask about her affiliation with the company and why she works here. “I get to travel the world,” she answers quickly. It’s not the riches or the fame or even the gold trophies that motivate her. Working hard and taking advantage of corporate benefits allows her the reward of seeing new sights, garnering fresh perspective, and meeting unique people. It doesn’t matter that our social classes differ, that I’m far less qualified in any field. Neither do our memories matter. What matters right now is the dance that we both cheerfully but ineptly attempt to perform.

My initial doubts about the trip are negated when my grandfather is called to receive his award. As it turns out, he was part of the top ten percent of salesmen in his international company for the 2017 fiscal year. Despite accompanying him as a guest, I never anticipated the eventful itinerary that would conclude with this celebratory ceremony. Upon receiving his trophy, he calls me to the stage. For what it’s worth, I usually loath the spotlight as it often threatens my anonymity and introversive behavior. But tonight, I endorse what could be the last time I see my grandfather. Posing for the photo with the CEO behind me and grandpa to my left, I create a new memory, realizing that the true rewards of hard work are not materialistic at all.

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