I walked the black hallways, bathed in the deep blue glow, seeing without seeing. As children and adults alike stopped and awed at each exhibit, face pressed closely against the glass with eyes wide, I watched from afar, heart heavy.
I should have known better than to come to the National Aquarium of Baltimore. Behind thick glass, sea turtles, sharks, and fish glided through the water, unaware of our existence, distinctly separated and out of reach from me.
There was a time when I saw them without a barrier. I once shared a space with them, a turquoise blue world. Outfitted with nothing but a swimsuit, snorkel, and fins, I ventured out into the ocean to play. Our interactions were mutual. Even if they didn’t acknowledge me, they were aware of my presence.
As I moved through the dark halls of the aquarium, my mind was on sunnier times. I remembered salt crusting my hair. I remembered the sun and waves working against each other to warm and cool my skin. I remember being a participant, rather than a spectator, in the magic of the ocean.
I felt bitter and sad. I was homesick for Hawaii. How did I ever think that I would be better off moving? I left paradise. What was I thinking?!
I couldn’t handle it any longer. I picked up the pace, giving each passing exhibit less attention until I broke through the exit doors and found myself in the sunlight on a random, unknown street of Baltimore.
I couldn’t help but feel like I tainted my trip. Emotionally drained, I aimlessly walked through the city.
Eventually, my stomach forced me to head north. I wanted to make my way to Thames Street Oyster House, in the Fells Point neighborhood. It would have been a ten-minute taxi ride from Downtown, but I didn’t want to spend my own money and I couldn’t justify using the company card, so I decided to take the thirty-minute walk.
I’ve never been to Baltimore before and I’ve honestly never thought of vacationing there. If it weren’t for work trip, I doubt I would have ever gone, but as I walked the city, I felt increasing thankful for the opportunity to go.
Charm City is a fitting nickname. The streets I walked had Adamesque, or Federal Era, architecture. The row houses were thin and tall, made of various hued brick. Like the structure, the houses had thin and tall windows which were framed by wooden shutters. Each house had its own color theme and each front door was unique. I saw them painted with light yellows, rust reds, navy blues, and forest greens. Window shutters were sometimes painted to match. The streets were narrow and made with cobblestone. Lining the streets were antique lamps, and I could have sworn I smelled oil from them.
Fells Point was just as beautiful. The left side of the street was lined with local shops and the right side of the street met the water line of the harbor. As I waited for a spot at the restaurant, I grab a hot chocolate next door. The inside floored me. Ceiling windows illuminated the shop. The sidewalls were exposed brick and had windows that peeked into the buildings next door. The space felt open but intimate.
I sat with my hot chocolate at an empty table. I soaked in the warm of the drink, I soaked in the surroundings of the café, I soaked in the city, and I felt good. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
I never liked the phrase “The only time you should look back is to see how far you’ve come.” There are experiences in my past that I will never get again in the future; highs reached in particular or specific situations that can never be compared. I love looking back. I love that I did things in the past that are still worth longing for in future.
However, there is also so much ahead of me and I can’t experience it fully if I’m too distracted with the past.
After the hot chocolate, I ate the best lobster roll I’ve ever had, decided to spring for a taxi ride home, and watched the night-lights of Baltimore roll by as I sat wide-eyed and awed behind the glass window.