by Hantian Zhang
On the map, Todos Santos sits in the ocean’s middle, the tip of a peninsular hugged by the blue from all sides but the north. From the airplane, its precise location is hidden in the surprising green, a carpet of shrubbery crisscrossed by dry riverbeds of sandy yellow. On the ground, as Cabo’s crowds and resorts recede from view, vistas of shimmer lift the spirit, rendering an alacrity that something might come out of this trip after all, some new ideas, a new path.
Here I am, in the sugarcane-capital-turned-surfers-paradise of Baja for my birthday, undeniably middle-aged. At 16, I vowed to leave my mark given my limited allotment, but six degrees and three jobs later I am nowhere close. On each birthday, I revisit the question of “life direction” from the middle-class comfort of home, only to find invoking the “finding yourself” mantra once more chips its efficacy, the passion for seeking tapering into a jaded indifference.
So, for this mid-life birthday, I change my approach and look into the defamiliarizing distance, pinning some hope on the regenerative potential of the unseasonal warmth. Overlooking the flimsy basis of such a proposal, I let go of my gloom and focus on the non-stop breezes. The breezes come from the ocean, swishing through the chorus line of palm trees. Even when the afternoon scorches outside, waves of them still gush in, gyrating with a calming dynamism. I realize: the breezes elongate me. Cutouts of myself travel with them in every direction, extending beyond the dunes and over the shimmers. Floating midair, I am multitudinous and ubiquitous; amidst the coolness, I regain patience with the bumps, obstructions, and occlusions.
And once patience is restored, I hear sounds. I spend whole afternoons simply listening, the birdsongs and the soughing palm fronds. I wake before sunrise hearing rain, but it’s just the dried leaflets plucking each other like fingers. I walk out and climb to the rooftop, the moon a golden eye and the clouds silver brushstrokes. Traffic hums faintly in the valley, harmonizing with the insects’ chirps. I realize: the sounds expand me. I stretch over the hamlet and slumber with the breaking waves; I bend into the mountain’s shape and wait for the sunrise.
And since I am expanded, I live beyond the confinement of cement walls. I read in the open-air kitchen when the sun is vertical; I write on the rooftop when the gloaming cools off. Leaning on the railing there predawn, I marvel at how the moon melts away in the mauve, the way the half-lights outline visibility’s boundaries. The first light paints the petals of hibiscus cerise, and a dragonfly lands on my forearm with pearlescence flickering on its wings. I realize: this outdoor living heightens me. The eyes are no longer tethered to a monitor but roaming free, taking in all from the eternal to the intricate.
So I am elongated, expanded, and heightened, so there is a broader space for my emotions to spin their cycles, more room for my thoughts to deliberate the pros and cons. I hum with the construction workers as they sing and pour concrete at a nearby site; I nod as a décor shop owner shares her story of leaving L.A. for the slower, tanned life here. The song fills the space, and the slowness fills the time. And in this fulfilled time-space, tolerance towards the status quo emerges, thin contentment glimmering on the small wonders of ordinary life.
But before going home with this slightly changed interiority, I must drive to La Paz to see its harbor, the furthest point my friend Mark had reached. His mid-life crisis solution was to quit his job and sail around the world, and I passed on his invitation as I was in the middle of a job I thought I liked. Alone he departed from San Francisco and sailed south, until the realization hit him that he wasn’t yet ready for a roaming life like this. He swam with the whale sharks and then returned to Silicon Valley, found a better job but was diagnosed with cancer soon afterward.
And now, two years after his passing, I stand by the white sand and the turquoise water, picturing his face when he found sailing was not the solution, the moment all claims over life must be rescinded amidst the tubes, beeps and flashing lights. What is the answer we all seek in this life, the best possible self or a becalming harmony, an inarguable confirmation that I have come, I have seen, and I have been? Walking into the warmth of the water, I miss my friend dearly and yet feel so fortunate, a slightly changed person at my own inflection point, still privileged with all the life troubles to grapple with.
I am in the middle of life. All what-if questions are unquenchable, like the wish to live life to the fullest.
Hantian Zhang is a writer based in San Francisco. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Diagram, The Offing, Eclectica, Waxwing, and elsewhere. He is a data scientist by day.