Quarters fascinate me. They are mesmerizing. During these past few weeks, lacking and not being allowed to have a more intelectually-challenging pastime, I’ve been touching, scraping, smelling and scrutinizing them, and no sooner than yesterday did I come to realize how utterly enthralling they are.
That’s because it dawned on me that each and every single quarter is the perfect replica of a day in someone’s life. Every human being is entitled to one coin-tainer of quarters. More often than not, unfortunately and ungraciously, all you discover when you unwrap the jagged paper that’s keeping them together is one roll of old quarters, which all look the same – the classic head and tails, with the unmistakable motto “E pluribus unum”, an eagle perched onto the stump of a twig, overlooking an absent West (oh, maybe the fierce bird dreams of California, too).
But what if instead of that plain, classic appearance, you got a motley population of coins – which, on a miniature scale, reveal the core essence of America’s culture and spirit?…
The Chimney Rock in Nebraska.
Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia.
A commoner centered between two leafless trees, carrying a pail of water in Vermont and supposedly depicting the motto of the state, “Freedom and Unity”.
Two magnolias in full bloom, because Mississippi is the Magnolia state.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, which you remember that one of the vice-consuls at the US Embassy in Bucharest said it’s so beautiful and made you resent once more the fact that of all the “50 states, 50 lines, 50 crying all the time” , you chose this stifling hot shithole nicknamed Maryland.
Three ships of increasing size, setting sail and threading waters in Virginia.
A map of New Hampshire, the state that has my favourite motto of all – “Live Free or Die”.
An oxhead proudly popping onto the tails-side of the coin dedicated to Montana, the big sky country with mouthwatering landscapes, whose capital is Helen, if memory serves me right.
Three horses running free under a resplendent sun, partly hidden behind a mountaintop in Nevada, the silver state.
A tiny human and a bigger one, with a prominent humpback, kneeling upon an islet, or whatever piece of land that might be, staring at the sand dunes in Colorado.
A war scene from New Jersey, aptly but unsurprisingly captioned “The Crossroads of Revolution”.
The arches in Utah, which do look a lot like what formerly used to be known as the Azure Window in Malta (RIP).
Some sort of mythological bird, kind of huge and kind of scary, representing and honouring the Kisatchie National Park in Louisiana.
Lush foliage in the foreground and a wall-like rock in the back, which reminds me of Verdon Gorge in the South of France, but is actually from Yosemite National Park in California.
Oh, did anyone say California in here?
Yep. That was me.
California, why you so far away?
Why didn’t I have the guts to choose you, to pick you, to love you?
Why was I so scared of the unknown?
What if, oh, God, what if you sucked more than Maryland does?
What if I would have been either madly happy or irretrievably miserable, drinking beer every night on the beach in Santa Monica?
What if my first, my last and my most treasured of all illusions would’ve come to shards, proving me once again that my signature goal is naught?
Nevermind. Let’s just go back to our quarters.
It comes in different tails and appearances, but it’s the same worth. A quarter dollar. Twenty-five cents. It can buy you nothing. But it adds up to more quarters and in the end, it makes good money. Just like one day in your life. You never know what you’re gonna get next. That sucks most of the time. But they’re your quarters. Your wages. You worked for it, you survived a whole lot of crappy quarters to get this extra crappier one. In the end, your life might be fifty cents or one million dollar worth, but that, you’ll never know, because you won’t keep track of the quarters that come and go onto and from your counter. You just won’t have time for that. You’ll be busy making change, replacing the changing machines behind the little carroussel which are out of service, whiling the time away in order for your paycheck to prove that time is money.
But is it? And if it is, who has the power to disagree with a paycheck?
If time is money, then what is life made of?
I have a feeling that my life is going to be a monotonous roll of look-alike, outdated quarters, with the forlorn eagle overlooking an absent, unfathomable West. I will have a job that won’t even feel 1% like myself, I will cook, I will read and I will write (but never enough or good enough to publish a book). I will travel to Kazakhstan only in my dreams, where the sky has the colour of Edam cheese. I will pay for the funerals of my uncles and aunts, who will all die from cirrhosis, and along will them, I will also bury the wondrous prospect of having my mother set up her own greenhouse, which would’ve supposedly provided me with tasty tomatoes year-round – not when you spend all that money on coffins, priests and food for the dead, though – and I will do whatever a good, responsible and grateful girl is supposed to do. Nah, let’s face it; I’m me, but I won’t be quitting my job to jump in a cab with some guy I had terribly fallen for, and then to go on a road trip to Las Vegas or Grand Canyon, like in the “Sleep on the floor” video of The Lumineers. I’ll be good and mind my own uninsteresting and unadventurous business, since I’ve already lost so many quarters and nothing feels complete anymore. Ever since I was born, it felt complete only once or twice, a very long time ago anyway: once, when I was in the third grade and I was eating French fries that tasted like nothing, because I had a stuffed, runny nose, and the mint tea I sipped from gave them this strong flavour, which felt blindly delicious, making me swear that I could eat that stuff for the rest of my life if I had to; and another one – whenever I’d open and sniff one of the many fairytale books borrowed from the village library.
Perhaps I can go back to that kind of complete someday, somewhere, though I don’t know how many quarters a journey like that is gonna take. The journey to yourself is pricey, risky, and no one will guarantee that you’ll make it to your destination – since there’s no way back – , dead or alive. Chances are that, unable to carry its heaviness on your shoulders, you’ll abandon the shell that encapsulates your spirit on the road. Chances are that the very spirit be lost in the quest for the one thing that has always been within reach, closer than you had ever dared to imagine. Chances are that you’ll run out of quarters, stamina and hope, and be striken by the truth of inner poverty and emptiness, surrounded by a pack of wolves disguised as your friends, and fooled into believing that you’re not alone in the endless barrenness of the desert.
But who knows? Maybe you’re stuck in the desert right now, and all this – the sentences, the dots, the dashes, the quarters, the stupid life itself – is but a mirage, a fata morgana witnessing your thirst that screams to be quenched by an ice-cold beverage, such as knowledge of the self. And unlike the title of the book below, you don’t have all the time in the world, and you know it.
That’s the only certainty your quivering hands can still firmly harbour.
Better than nothing, right?