Every Summer sky looks different. Every last one, every year, month, and day—not a single one has the same wispy cloud formations, the same shade of crisply clear blue, or even the same the sweet swirling winds. Every last day is unique, but not every last one can be remembered as such, and they eventually blend in with the rest somewhere along the way. Something needs to happen—something needs to grab your attention and demand you take notice of it. The thing is, that part isn’t so unique. Each and every day, there’s something there just begging for your attention, but either willfully or ignorantly, more often than not, those pleas are missed or passed over for other distractions.
The day after high-school graduation, Kassandra finds herself at home, her parents on a cruise for most of the summer, and as an only child, she has the entire house to herself. Usually, most at this age would be thrilled, and waiting to throw house parties, or at least have their friends over when they could. Not Kassandra. It’s not as if she’s completely devoid of friends, or at least she wasn’t. Now, they’ve all left early to their respective new jobs or going off to University or College out of sheer unbridled excitement. All of them were scattered across the country, with some even going abroad. Just like that, four years of friendships seemed to have evaporated, or rather vaporized since it happened so suddenly. Just like that, they were rendered to long-distance, or the state of running into each other many years down the road.
It’s not as if Kassandra herself, a smart girl in her own right, didn’t get into any College or University. No, she had her choice of a few, but she simply took too long to decide, and they rescinded their offers. She wasn’t upset or thrown off by it though. In all honesty, she hoped that they made the decision for her, since she didn’t want to outright reject them since she appreciated the offers, but the last thing she felt like she wanted to do, was to go off to school right now. At the same time, she wasn’t completely sure what it was she wanted to do at all, until she made the sudden decision to travel across the country for the Summer. That’s it, nothing else in mind, no goals or destinations. Only her and what she could carry on her bicycle.
“I said I’d do this after all...” Kassandra muttered to herself, dragging her feet as if she really didn’t want to go out on her journey, but another part of her pushed her forward, despite the resistance.
Kassandra opened up the garage after making sure everything was locked in the house, and picked up the heavy pack that she had put together yesterday in a rush. When she went to sling it over her back though, she could barely carry it—forgetting that she didn’t have to lift it when she stuffed it full of canned food, water, snacks, a tent, and anything else she thought she needed.
“This is fine...I can probably carry it better on the bike,” Kassandra, with a determined look in her face, tied up her black hair into a bun, and step by step, she inched her way over to her tuned up bike—or at least as tuned up as an amateur might be able to tune it up, and hopped on.
The bike’s shocks bounced with the heavy pack, but she was right, at least it felt balanced when she leaned forward a bit on the bike.
“Alright, I guess this is it then,” Kassandra sat on the bike in the empty garage where her parents car usually would be, the same one that drove her into school every day until now—a routine she would never repeat again, but a routine not so small that she wouldn’t be able to coldly forget.
After a deep breath, and a few wobbly stumbling pushes with her feet, Kassandra rolled her way out of the garage before barely being able to turn around enough to click the door shut behind her and be on her way. Even with such a slight slope to her driveway, Kassandra’s weighted pack sent her momentum flying forward, and forced her legs into peddling at an unsustainable pace throughout the suburban streets she had grown up on her entire life.
Neighbors who knew her well would wave, and others would just shake their heads in disbelief—unsure what she could possibly be doing. She was never known forever going on bike rides, or having an athletic bone in her body. It’s not as if she wasn’t interested, or disliked being active, it’s just that she had been focused on her studies that she just didn’t have the time. All this time, she had been thinking about where everything would lead her—what job, college or university she might work herself into through these past four years, but still, she didn’t have an answer. After all this time, she had knowledge of math, science, English, history and whatever other course she picked up along the way, but none of it interested her, or led her to anything else of interest, not yet. She didn’t know what she wanted to be, but she knew what she didn’t want to be, and as much as she didn’t know if this trip would help, or even last, Kassandra knew deep down knew that she had to try it. Something told her that much.
For the entire first day, Kassandra didn’t stop anywhere. She had enough water in her big jug she carried with her, and eventually, her pace evened out once she got the hang of things so she didn’t exhaust herself to the point where she needed a break. It took that entire first day though to see her first wonderful sight that she didn’t even know was there in the first place. A beautiful countryside that looked straight out of a too-good-to-be-true drama with a perfectly green rolling fields, corn stalks and hay fields on the common farm that would pop up every so often, Everything looked so peaceful, and separated from everything else, like it was a place preserved from an entirely different world in this tiny pocket outside of the city. With only two skinny little lanes, barely two cars seemed to be able to fit together on the road, and judging from how Kassandra hadn’t seen any cars in a while, she wondered if this was even for them.
By the time night had fallen, Kassandra had found an open area far enough away from any farm where she might have thought it was on someone’s property. Despite not knowing any of the instructions of how to assemble her tent, she still managed to get it to stand upright enough eventually to where it didn’t collapse on top of her whenever she entered to test it out.
“It still feels weird being out here like this, or even weirder just talking to myself like this,” Kassandra had a bit of an awkward laugh to herself when she realized she’s all alone, and that there’s nothing to feel awkward or pressured about.
There weren’t any plans to adhere to, any curfew, or any other minor restrictions she could think of. There wasn’t anyone there to judge her or tell her it was a bad idea. All she had to worry about, was opening up her canned food, and cooking it on the makeshift fire she managed to make, with no shortage of help from the matches she brought along with her.
“I don’t think this is the first time I’ve ever been in a place like this, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve noticed the sky like this,” Kassandra uttered in awe—watching shooting stars scrape across the sky full of dotted sparkling stars that almost made it too bright to sleep, if not for Kassandra being dead exhausted from all that riding.
Kassandra didn’t end up being long for the world that night, as the stars lulled her tired body into a peaceful trance. Her legs were nearly rendered numb for all the pedaling, it still seemed like her lungs were gasping for air, even when she did her best to calm her racing heart that seemed to be a runaway train. Eventually though, Kassandra crashed out of pure exhaustion, sprawled out on her thin sleeping bag without even staying awake long enough to get under the covers.
This would only be the very beginning of Kassandra’s travels though. Just over the next two months, Kassandra ended up traveling all across the country just as she said she would to herself, and no one else. As slow and painful as it was after that first night, she didn’t give up. Little by little, she kept going on her journey—coasting when she could, but pedaling uphill with steeled determination to get over it. Every day, she got a little bit better. As used to the daily rigorous routine her body was quickly becoming, her journey still wasn’t without its problems.
There wasn’t always a nice field for Kassandra to sleep in, and sometimes found herself crossing through a small town that had very little space for her to be out in the open in a tent to sleep. Going to the nearby park wasn’t exactly an option unless she wanted to be kicked out. Instead, she would have to find an empty overpass, or even a secluded part of a beach that she would have to always make sure to wake up early for, so she would avoid the judging pity and concern she felt when getting caught the few times she did. Though, being caught was sometimes the least of her concerns.
There would be thundering windy storms that either threatened to, or outright demolished her little tent all throughout the night with whipping punishing winds, and pounding rainfall. All Kassandra would be able to do, is bundle up, bury her head in her clothes and blankets, and hope she doesn’t catch some dreaded cold—a fate she actually did manage to avoid so far.
About halfway through her journey, Kassandra had things a little easier, and by now, she was more than prepared. The thing was, she didn’t feel all that different than when she first started. She kept thinking to herself each night, wondering what she’s learned so far, but only came up with superficial platitudes that she herself wanted to believe, but couldn’t. Things that she thought inspires others, didn’t make her feel anything.
No matter how many little things she tried to pay attention to every single day, riding by a vibrant farm wondering just what their day would hold for them, passing through little quaint towns and imagining what kind of differently peaceful lives they must live together than in the big city. All of the peaceful sounds of Summer, the smells and tastes—everything—Kassandra paid attention to all of it and took it in, or at least she thought she was. She wanted so badly for something to click—some sort of eureka moment, but it hasn’t come yet for her. So, she kept going, in search of an answer that might come to her, figuring that at this point, there wasn’t any use in turning back now.
Kassandra continued to see all sorts of people, and all kinds of places she had no idea even existed in her very own country. From the beautiful distant mountains nestled behind some golden fields peppered with roaming horses, to quaint little farm towns that maybe had a few hundred people in them, yet acted as if Kassandra wasn’t some passerby, and rather one of them. Not one moment passed where Kassandra wasn’t taken in by all the beauty around her, but still, there wasn’t a single answer her way. In all these places packed with meaning to glean from, Kassandra found herself empty handed, with her journey nearly at its end.
Traveling all over the country, experiencing everything she thought she possibly could, and surviving on her own without anything else than what she carried along with her—so far, she’s done everything she hoped in her wildest thoughts she might do, outside of the one thing she hoped it might provide for her, the one answer she wanted so badly to come to her.
“Even after all this time, I still don’t know what I want to find out...” Kassandra sighed, as she pulled into a little town with the measly population of one hundred and forty, and sat herself on a nearby bench for a quick rest. “Only a week or so left, and then I guess I can take a bus or something back home. I think I brought enough money for one trip home.”
Kassandra spoke to herself, which at this point, had become a new habit she had picked up.
“Is there anything you need help with?” An older woman stopped by the bench in the park, wondering if Kassandra was alright.
“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s a bad habit of mine...” Kassandra laughed off with a bright bashful smile.
“Then is it alright if I sit here? I come here every day to see the birds gather at the top of the fountain around this time,” the kind old woman asked.
“Of course, here,” Kassandra offered up the other half of the bench, shuffling her way to the other side.
That was it for a few minutes between the two, with Kassandra awkwardly itching to talk to herself, unable to now keep her thoughts contained in her head, as she slouched her tired body into the surprisingly comfortable wooden bench, all while the old lady sat and waited for these birds that were supposed to be showing up.
“You seem tired, do you want a drink at all?” The old lady seemed a little concerned, and leaned over to fetch a drink.
“Oh, no that’s alright, thanks. I just had some water,” Kassandra said as sweat dripped from her brow, and onto her lap, catching her attention since she didn’t feel all that hot or tired. “Maybe I will...” she awkwardly smiled, and gladly took the ice cold soda the old lady had in her cooler beside her—clearly ready for a long shift of bird watching.
“I would ask if you went on a run, but it seems your clothes are a little dirty for a normal run around the block, if you don’t mind me saying,” the old lady lightly laughed to herself in a friendly manner.
Kassandra looked down at herself and saw her clearly worn out clothes that she had been doing her best to keep clean, but now thinking about it, she forgot the last time she had a chance to give them a good wash.
“Sorry about that...” Kassandra began. “I’ve been traveling on my own these past couple of months, just on my bike, and sleeping in a tent, so it’s been a little hard to keep clean clothes—which is why I don’t think I’ve even bothered going inside anywhere. I don’t know if they’d even let in someone like this,” Kassandra jokes.
“Hmm that sounds interesting, may I ask what made you decide to do something so bold?” The old lady asked with her barely open bagged eyes, but with a face that couldn’t seem any warmer and more welcoming than it is.
“It’s ok, I wouldn’t want to talk your ear off, or bore you,” Kassandra deflected.
“It’s the opposite, dear, I never have anyone to talk to when waiting for my birds, so I would love to hear about it. After all, it’s not everyday that I run into a brave traveler,” the old lady grinned over at Kassandra, prompting her to go on.
“I guess the thing is, I’m not sure exactly why I’m doing this, if I’m being honest,” Kassandra took a deep breath, and while she tried to think of a reason why right now, it wouldn’t come to her. “I just...when I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, when everyone else—including all my friends, knew exactly what it was they wanted. Actually, I’ve felt like this for a while now, but it kind of just crept up on me, graduation that is. I thought that I was going to go on a trip like this and figure out what it is I want to do.”
“Oh, is that so? That sounds like plenty of a reason to me,” the old lady replied. “And have you found this answer, what is it you would like to do?”
“No, not yet,” Kassandra sighed.
“You don’t sound like you haven’t enjoyed your journey all that much,” the old lady suggested with a bit of a smirk, still looking intently ahead at the top of the beautifully ornate fountain for the arrival of her birds.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to bring your mood. It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed myself. Actually, when I think about it, it’s kind of funny to look back on. Starting out, I could barely pitch a tent or cook canned beans. I couldn’t even bike up a big hill without getting off my bike to walk it the rest of the way to the top, but that’s not a problem anymore,” Kassandra fondly thought back on her treacherous travels. “I think I had a pretty great time, when I think about it now. All the different places I got to see, and all the kind people that I met along the way. I still can’t believe that even though we’re all so close to one another across the country, everywhere and everyone managed to be completely different than where I came from.”
“Yet you still seem slightly upset,” the old lady couldn’t help but continue to bluntly point out.
“I just thought that I would be working toward something while seeing all these things. Now it almost feels like I was taking a vacation I didn’t exactly deserve, while everyone else was off getting ready to start the next phase of their lives.”
“Ah I see,” the old lady seemed to understand now, and let out a little bit of a friendly chuckle. “Everyone else around you is ready, and you aren’t.”
“Exactly...” Kassandra muttered, annoyed with herself, because she knew that much, but hadn’t said it out loud, not once.
“And what is the problem with that, I ask?” the old lady turned her sights over to Kassandra, and for the first time breaking her concentration from the fountain.
“Shouldn’t I have an idea by now at least? Everyone else is so set on what they want, while I have no idea what I want to do with my life, not even after all of this,” Kassandra replied.
“I suppose an idea is always nice to have,” the old lady joked, laughing a little louder this time. “But, everyone emerges on their own time. Some can go out on their own with a goal in mind right away, and some take many months, or even years, but eventually, they do emerge in the end.”
“That’s kind of what I’m afraid of though, emerging too late, and wasting my time but realize it before I can go back and make the right choice. I keep thinking I’m going to become homeless, and forgotten by everyone I know eventually.”
“Well, it sounds as if you’ve been doing quite well being homeless for a couple of months,” the old lady laughed even louder this time, wholly enjoying herself with Kassandra tired and concerned next to her. “Sorry, I just find it funny that you already think you’re wasting your time.”
“What do you mean?” Kassandra didn’t follow.
“Of course you would be wasting your time, if you believe that’s the case. A waste of time is a judgment after all. It’s not some kind of definitive thing here, dear,” the old lady smiled fondly at the top of the fountain in a short pause. “You said you enjoyed your time these past two months, yes?”
“Yea...” Kassandra conceded.
“Then I fail to see how that is a waste of time.” The old lady reasoned.
“But I wasn’t doing it to enjoy myself,” Kassandra circled back.
“Ah, and what, does the world need to follow your exact plans now?” the old lady laughed again. “You only find your time wasted, because you see it as such, when instead, you could likely easily find all kinds of things along the way that have helped you. Now doesn’t that sound like a waste, throwing away all those experiences just because you didn’t get the one you thought you might get?”
“No, you’re right,” Kassandra thought to herself with a warm smile for the first time since sitting on the bench. She remembered everything she did all on her own this entire way, and knew it wasn’t nothing, but until now, she had been way too focused just on the singular revelation she was hoping to receive along the way.
“Time is only wasted if you deem it as such, my dear,” the old lady closed. “While your friends, and others you know seem to have their futures set, that just isn’t true. If we all had our futures set, then it would surely be a boring life, wouldn’t you say? As I said, you just need a little more time to emerge from the ground is all. You will never find your definitive answer, because it just isn’t there, not for anyone. So just keep going, and don’t let your time be wasted wandering a future that won’t exist, and instead, just keep going on in the present step by step. As powerless as it might make you feel, it’s the best you can do.”
“Thanks,” Kassandra started to realize everything along the way had changed her, even if only a little bit. “Now I really do feel like I wasted my time, letting something distract me all this time from everything along the way.”
“Better late than never to look back and realize, yes? Let your friends and everyone else worry about their futures, and you yours. There’s no need to compare two completely different things after all, that wouldn’t be very fair, now would it?” The old lady gave an assuring warm smile Kassandra’s way. “But I’m sorry to have talked your ear off like this, some old lady and her ramblings I’m sure wasn’t the way you wanted to rest after a long journey.”
“Oh no, not at all. If anything, you actually helped me, so thanks,” Kassandra awkwardly waved her hands around in appreciation.
“I’m glad then. It was nice after all to have someone to talk to, and someone with such an earnest heart as yours,” the old lady smiled, as she slowly creaked her way to her feet, and gathered her things.
“Aren’t you going to wait for the birds to show up?” Kassandra asked. The entire time, not a single bird had landed on the top of the fountain as the old lady said they would.
“Oh, I’m sure one day they will arrive, but today doesn’t seem to be that day,” carefree, the old lady smiled, and turned to be on her way out of the park just like that.
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