by Jennifer Bane

scotlandcliffsPhoto by Maciej

Just up a hill from the sea cliffs where a black mountain range plunges straight into a thrashing sea, I spent six weeks ironing sheets, washing dishes, and waiting tables at a Bed, Breakfast and Restaurant.

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I lived and worked sixteen miles down a rugged one track mountain road on a Scottish Isle, covered in crossing sheep, rainstorms, and scattered turnouts. Rural, few houses, fewer people, and I had traveled by myself to this rural area on a whim, hoping that there would be answers here, in all of this mountain, sky, storm, and sea—answers to all my questions about life, about love, adventure, my soul, my purpose. Finally I would learn how to make myself happy.

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A week or so before I left Los Angeles for the lonely Hebrides, I fell in love. He promised to write every day, and he did, but he was not only my romance, but also my sanctuary, my hero, my best friend, and I couldn’t imagine spending time away from him when I confided in him about everything. It was the kind of new love that lingers so strong that even as I was falling asleep at night, I could still hear his car door slamming as he drove away, and ache. On top of my love, I had never left home before by myself. Not even summer camp as a kid. I was still young, seventeen, naïve, and I couldn’t see it then—but I wasn’t ready to go off on some six thousand mile search for myself yet. Who knows who they are when they’re seventeen anyway? Nevertheless, I found the courage to get on that plane.

My heart must have been set on being lonely, because I tried to love strangers and grow close to them, and to some extent I did, but there was always this deep and throbbing sense of estrangement and separation from the rest of the human world. I missed my family and my love, and the comfort that they brought me, and I even missed the sounds of Los Angeles, because the village was an eerie quiet in comparison.

I spent time with the sea cliffs, the old house I stayed in, my diary, and a Scottish girl who smoked grass and drank whiskey on the rocky beaches, watching the horizon intently as if her dreams would one day sail to her that way. I watched the horizon too, intently, waiting for my restlessness to sail away from this place, and me.

In truth, the place just frustrated my spirits more. Although I loved Scotland, the foreign sights, scents, and sounds confused my soul, and I did not know who present to confide in. The beautiful landscape, the ancient cemeteries, the rocking ocean, the wild grassy winds only murmured more of life’s questions to me, not answers. God, it was so quiet there. I could hear every breath I took.

A tourist asked me when I came to this place and he saw me, an American city girl, so out of place working in the fishing village, why I would come to the ends of the earth. The ends of the earth. I had no answer for him, but what he said summed it up. I was disappointed because I had traveled to the ends of the earth and surprise—all I found were the ends of the earth.

I made mistakes those six weeks, but the mistake I knew I would regret most was misunderstanding my opportunity, neglecting all of it simply because it yielded no answers. After a lot of thinking since then, I’ve come to understand that there simply are no answers, even at the ends of the earth. The restlessness may never go away. I should have set myself free then, thrown away all my worrisome questions behind me, thrown away my loneliness, and loved every second of my six weeks, loved every face, every mountain. But I’m glad I went. Maybe that’s enough. I would never want to lose the memory, even with all the loneliness. Scotland comes back to me in brief remembrances of colors, faces, waves, but they are vivid, reminding me of how much I saw and how far I traveled. Even months later, I pour a cup of coffee and I taste Scotland. I change the sheets on my bed and I feel Scotland, and I can smile. My love holds me when I remember, and I tell him, “You just don’t understand. If you stood there, at the end of that road and saw the way the earth crumbles into the North Sea off the side of those cliffs, you would understand.”

It’s so refreshing.

God, it was so quiet there.

Not a sound but the rain, every so often the bleat of a sheep. Nothing else but quiet. I haven’t gone looking for myself since then. I figure it will come to me, naturally, maybe creep up on me in my sleep one night, so that I wake up aware of myself, aware of the world. Maybe it will happen one day after class when I am going for a long autumn walk. I don’t know. I doubt it. It doesn’t really matter to me like it did before I left. Maybe that’s what I wanted to find out, maybe that’s what I traveled all that way to understand—that it doesn’t matter anyway.

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