I stood in Ernest Hemingway’s living room. A dozen sweaty visitors crammed into a small space. The Key West heat pooled down our lower backs. I nodded at the tour guide’s list of construction dates and owners. I pretended to listen. All I could think was “He was here”. Hemingway lived here. He slept here. He drank here. He yelled here. He fought here. He fucked here. He was here. I occupied the same space. Us, his house guest separated by decades. I fought against my body’s need to grin. At the end of America, I confronted reality.
Hemingway became a character within himself, a persona too big to accompany the mortal world. His work and himself as a person intertwined and turned into a knot. Where one ended and the other began became impossible to decipher. He never existed for me. Beowulf and Don Draper held the same level of realism. Larger symbols developed to portray machismo. Everything about Hemingway matured to myth. His six toed cats. His mounted exotic creatures. His beard. No way had this man existed. Yet, I stood in his bedroom. This realization changed the weather.
The clouds’ drift away and the peak of his mountain show itself. The mountain still looks impossibly dangerous. The northern side too hazardous to navigate. The strong hurricane level winds never dwindle. Climbers often blown off its face. A possible point of attack is the southern descent. There sits a series of narrow and jagged valleys. The only way to traverse is by placing your back flush against one side and your feet against the parallel wall. Then with equal pressure being applied to raise yourself off the ground you shimmy across the gaps. A steep wall of ice faces you next. It is a slow and steady slog up the challenge. Each hack of the ice pick becomes more tiring. The summit finally becomes visible by the naked eye. A three week hike follows. The weather drops to the negatives. Your head gets light. Your vision blurs. You continue only with the memory of walking. One foot follows the other. You stand on the top or you die somewhere below.
The Hemingway House taught me that. It showed Ernest as a human. He worked with the same body I work with. The same arms, hands, and fingers. His tools are the same given to me. The random factors of life and time made us different, but on the very basic level we are the same. Man. I may die before the summit. That’s okay. I saw it.