Going Far, Coming Home

Laugavegur bustled with tens upon tens of bodies, bundled for the December chill. It was 1600 and the sun had already sunk behind the snow dusted peaks across Faxa bay. The last fragments of daylight hung delicately in the sky above them. A bitter cold permeated my insides too, but this feeling was unrelated to the climate. I’d never expected to be back in Iceland alone, 10 weeks after being sexually assaulted by a man I’d met in Reykjavik on my first trip there.
Exploration yields to no plan.

When I’d arrived in Reykjavik in late September, the most prominent sensation I’d experienced had been rooted in comfort. There was something about the houses: their brightly colored roofs and their many windows, warm structures nestled cozily together across quaint streets. Ironically, five days later it would be inside one of those very houses that my trusting spirit would dim.
Within a reality I couldn’t have imagined previously, I left Iceland changed.

Now I had returned in search of atonement. I wanted to find peace in the reminiscence of driving through stark, bare mountain passes, with no company besides the music on the radio. I wanted to feel as powerful as I did when I stumbled upon a sparsely traveled gravel road in Grindavík, and the rusted abandoned shipwreck that laid between it and the ocean. I wanted to seek out the serenity of treading through those fine black sands: the ones that had comforted me during the moments in which fear overcame my understanding of what it is to travel alone.
I cried in the airport before boarding. I hardly remembered getting on the plane. In the darkness of early morning, on a shuttle bus from Keflavík, I questioned if I’d lost my head.
Still, when I saw the towering expressionist spire of Hallgrímskirkja Church on the horizon, I knew I was on a path to healing.

At first, the most difficult facet of being back in Iceland was the endless doubting; forgotten woes and uncertainties bubbling to the surface, calling into question whether or not I deserved to grieve. On the second day of my pilgrimage, laying listless in a hostel bed at 1000, I understood what I would have to do.
I didn’t want to, but I walked. Past the brightly colored Aktu Taktu, across a vacant Sæbraut, along the Sculpture & Shore Walk. Next to the turquoise-grey, white tipped waves, misting me as I passed.
After 40 minutes, I reached Blue Car Rental.
The woman at the desk was cordial and formal, taking my information as well as several photographs of the body of the vehicle before I stepped in.
I sat frozen behind the wheel for several minutes.
Then I drove.

Weaving through roundabouts, heading north on Þjóðvegur 1, I pulled aside whenever natural wonders or strong emotion enveloped me. I’d started out with no direction, but soon I knew where I would go. I would find the Northern Lights.
It was something I’d wanted to achieve during my first visit, but distracted by a foreign fling and subtle manipulations, I hadn’t gotten around to the task. In this moment, I had a second chance.
I checked the weather forecast, and felt confident that if I kept heading north towards Laugarbakki, I would find the lights.
I drove for two hours on desolate roads. Ten cars passed me in that time. Careening through the darkness was like flying through space.
Finally, I caught it out of the corner of my eye: a faint, green, dancing glow in the atmosphere above me.
It was barely visible. An unsuspecting eye might not have seen it. Yet, shivering and looking to an open sky on the side of a road, just past a tiny town I cannot recall the name of, I was triumphant.
I was awake. I was alive.

The morning after, I sat alone upon the shore of an untouched lake. There was no sand; only the tiniest of twisted, multicolored seashells. The air was crisp, wet and cold. I’d tried to burrow into my jacket, huddled on a rock, staring out into the grey.
A gust of wind drove past; I knew I would be carried, too.

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