“I never realize how much I like being home unless I've been somewhere really different for a while.” –Juno (2007)
Postcards are kind of a weird concept, Ryan thinks. Like, he gets that they probably got big when not everyone had a camera, because it was like the distant, Victorian version of making someone look through pictures that take up half the memory on your phone of what you ate and the exhibits in that one museum and the weird things children wear in the place you visited that you were really hoping you didn't look too much like a creep while you were taking.
He’s not sure how they stuck around to be the stupid-obvious thing you send out when you’re on vacation, though—it’s like they’re the exception to the way society wants you to learn that gloating is bad—don’t get into your opponents’ faces when you win at sports, but when you’re on vacation, feel free to send out ha! look where I am and you’re not messages, right?
Because it’s not like you can even pretend to yourself that it’s communication—they’re too small to say anything significant, for one thing, unless you get those freaky, double-wide ones, and those are just obnoxious, who does that? For another, there isn’t even a space for a return address. Not that he’s going to be gone long enough to get response-mail to the postcards he isn’t going to send, or that whoever he might hypothetically send them to couldn’t just text him for an address if they really felt the need to send a reply. That’s not the point, though, is it? It’s symbolic, not even the pretence of reciprocity.
And what, Ryan asks himself, spinning to rickety postcard-rack on its pivot to gaze at another series of rows of syrupy-blue skies that are close enough the sky outside that sending them probably wouldn’t even be weird, would he actually say on a postcard.
Hey you, it’s me, sending this from Greece. I’ve been wearing hats and getting sunburned anyway, saw some ruins, they were pretty great. I don’t actually miss you, but if I was gone too much longer I might.
Or even, depending on who it’s to—
I don’t miss you any more than the way I always sort of do or always sort of don’t, but it is strange knowing I’m not on the same landmass as you anymore. That would probably be weird when you’re traveling, too, if I let myself keep track of when that was. Maybe not, though.
Ryan doesn't think so.
He doesn't buy a postcard or six, though he’s tempted, and definitely curious about what the stamps look like from here. Instead, he buys a touristy t-shirt, because those look the fun kind of tacky when they’re written in another language, and because when he wears it he’ll have a built-in, visual conversation-starter for months.
Later that night, he and the guys rent dirt-bikes, which doesn't seem like a terrible idea at the time, and doesn't even mid-messy-landing, when he scrapes his knee open, though he knows Z will probably say he should have known better.
Because isn't the idea to share what you’ve seen? Postcards should be the obsolete, museum-version of whatever new way humans have chosen to rub their friends and loved ones’ faces in the fact that they’re not on vacation, not things you see in every gift shop.
The modern version could be instagram, probably, but as much as Ryan’s inner sixteen-year-old sometimes gets a kick out of watching the comments section next to his photos blow up because he (somehow, still) has fans, or some shit, that’s not exactly what he means, what he’s going for. That’s not really an equivalent.
It’s not just sharing images you’ve seen with people who aren’t there, it’s images of things you’ve seen with specific people who aren't there. Ryan takes a picture of a skinny alley cat skittering over the cobblestones and doesn't send it to Jon, a picture of the sunset he doesn't send to his mother, a moon-shaped disco ball at a club one night that he not only doesn’t send to Keltie but also almost immediately deletes, a funky, sort-of-artsy shot of his own footprints on the beach that kind of reminds him of a picture that used to hang in Spencer’s parents’ bathroom that he definitely doesn’t send to Spencer.
He actually does send a picture of a museum-plaque explaining the historical significance of an out-of-frame artifact to Brendon. It’s the side of the plaque that’s written in Greek. It’s late, though, when he sends that one. He’s drunk and exhausted, and it’s actually probably the most harmless thing he could not mean to send.
Plus, the What the fuck, Ross? text he gets back a few hours later is weirdly gratifying.
He sends pictures to Z, too, but those aren't like the non-postcards, they’re too easy for that. She sends back pictures of her breakfast cereal, or Bones’ head on her knee.
Ryan buys too many souvenirs and plans to not give any of them to anyone, he lies in the sun even though he’s already sunburned and he hangs out with the guys. He goes on boats. Don’t fall in Z texts, and he considers jumping off the side in response, but the boat is moving pretty fast, and he figure that might be a bad idea.
Instead, he falls asleep.
When he wakes up, the boat is pulling into the harbor, and there’s a new text on his phone.
He opens the picture-message and Captain Knots stares back at him. Someone misses you, the text reads.