An Ocean of Time
By Walter Rhein
I graduated from UWEC in 2001 and moved to Lima, Peru. I stuck around because the women were beautiful, the exchange rate was favorable, and the food was better than anything I’d ever tasted. My expenses consisted of the $100 a month I paid for rent, and whatever else I needed to spend to keep myself fed. That was it. I had no insurance payments, no car payments, no electricity payments, nothing.
I’d only been using email for a couple years, and Facebook didn’t yet exist. It was possible to disappear then, something that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do today.
Back home, they all thought I was nuts—that I was giving up a lot. Honestly, on occasions when I returned to the US to visit, it was fun to sit and “veg out” on cable TV or Netflix. ‘American Idol’ was in season 3 before I ever even heard of it.
“What are you getting in exchange for missing out on the American dream?” my friends would ask. They were scrambling to cover student debt, car payments, mortgage payments, and constantly terrified of losing a job they hated. Somehow, in their minds, I was the one missing out.
“An ocean of time,” I’d reply.
I can still see the eternity of that era stretching out before me. It’s a beautiful image. With modest savings and minimal expenses my time was mine, as much as I wanted. Enough time to bathe in. I was young. I was healthy. I had no obligation but to live.
Some said I was living in squalor. I had a single room, no hot water, and early on I assassinated a colony of bed bugs with a spray can of raid. I wore my clothing to rags. My delights came from spinning tales. In the mornings or evenings I could dance my fingers on my keyboard until my mind cooled off. Sometimes I wrote till dawn and slept through the day. Sometimes I wrote with pen and paper while enjoying a fine breakfast at an outdoor cafe. For a change, my time was not squandered.
“When I was young,” one of my friends in Peru said over a beer at night on a side street in Miraflores, “my parents made me sit in the corner when I was bad. That wouldn’t have been a punishment for you would it? You’d just have sat there and made up stories.”
I lose track of where I am sometimes. People disappear in front of me. Jungles and mountains and super novas spring up all around and steal my attention. Sometimes my wife has to shake my arm to bring me back to her. I’m on the other side of the universe while sitting beside her on the couch.
“Oh, sorry dear, what did you say?”
It made her mad at first but she’s used to it now. She understands my mind is not entirely under my control. In the greater scheme of things, my affliction is low on the list of detrimental quirks.
Stories and articles got sent off into cyberspace. Sometimes I’d get paid. Mostly no. I do the same thing today and get paid marginally more often. These days I strive for hits and comments and reviews. I find them all equally invigorating.
I think the ocean of time is as big as it ever was, but I’ve come to understand a little more how insignificant I am beside it. When I stared writing I had a definition for “success.” Now my definition has changed. One reader is as good as a million if that reader finds nourishment in your work. I didn’t believe that long ago. I do now.
Walter Rhein writes for Perseid Press. His most recent release is Reckless Traveler, an expat novel about his time in Peru. He’s also the author of Beyond Birkie Fever, which deals with America’s greatest cross-country ski race: The American Birkebiener. He’s a regular contributor to SilentSports.net, and Singletracks.com, and maintains a travel blog about Peru at StreetsOfLima.com. Please write and request a review copy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org