I’m not that big into stuff. My avarice turns on the immaterial, especially on being set apart as the privileged, private indulger of rare experiences.
When I was in high school and college I liked to collect bands. Not just any bands. Super secret bands. Obscurity was currency. As sweet as the music itself was the sound of lips forming the words, “I’ve never heard of them.” Of course you haven’t heard of them. This music is mine, and mine alone. I am amazing.
When I was eight, I visited Disneyland. While I enjoyed the rides, and the parades, and the general sense that I had been transported to a land of wonder and candy, I remember thinking that my day in the Magic Kingdom would have been improved if I was the only visitor. This unfulfilled wish pressed upon me throughout the day as I waited in long lines to get on rides, and jostled with the July crowd to get a better view of the Main Street Electrical Parade. I wish I was the only one here, I thought over and over.
Vivienne, a young woman from France who I met on Easter Island, would have felt the same.
My friends and I were staying at the same hostel as her and her Australian boyfriend. After some basic chitchat, the conversation turned, as it often does among travelers, to travel. She had recently come from Peru. I told her I was interested in seeing Machu Picchu.
“You must do the Inca Trail first!” she said with a thick Australian accent, which, in turn, was laden with a thick French accent.
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“You must do the Inca Trail!” she repeated.
“Ah, my god. For four days you walk with a small group through the Andes. No one is talking. Everything is peaceful and…sacred. Then you get to Machu Picchu and it is filled with disgusting tourists. Like cockroaches.”
“Ah, my god. It is just awful. I hate it when there are too many people.”
At that moment she was talking about Machu Picchu, but she was also talking about Easter Island. Not for the last time, I noticed her casting a disapproving glance at the table in the common room where my boisterous American friends were playing Jenga. After hundreds of years, during which the native Rapa Nui people fell victim to overpopulation and saw their numbers dwindle to almost nothing, Easter Island was once again too crowded.
“I know what you mean,” I said, silently praying that she and her stupid boyfriend would be gone in the morning.
Travelers such as Vivienne and myself want only the impossible: we want to travel to exotic destinations complete with sublime landscapes and monumental artifacts, and we don’t want anyone else around to muck up the awesome pictures we’re taking. In fact, we don’t even want anyone else to know how to get there, so feel free to ask me how it was, but not for directions.
I am simultaneously amused and disgusted at this impulse which has, apparently, followed me into adulthood with the same fervor I felt as a child. It was more than a little irrational to want to possess a place like Easter Island as my own when I had no roots there culturally or genealogically. I was a tourist. I was going to take pictures of stone heads that I didn’t help raise. I was going to lay out on the beach. I was going to eat overpriced food—twenty-five dollars! for a personal pizza!—buy a few souvenirs, and then fly off to somewhere else.
Irrational or not, I wanted Easter Island all to myself. In a perfect world I would have been the first and only traveler to witness its lonely splendor before a freak natural disaster sank it all to the bottom of the ocean.
It’s the same story with relationships. Wanted: the heart of a woman, attractive, vibrant, interesting, mature, independent, and untouched by any man before me.
I have to remind myself to be an adult. She doesn’t belong to you, I tell myself, any more than an island, or music.
Sometimes it works.