I am aimless. Wandering. I stop to remind myself that I am finally experiencing the very thing I have wanted to experience for years. I can jump behind the wheel of my rig and just drive to wherever my little heart wants whenever I want. Yet, it’s funny what happens once we get to that place we have dreamed of magically for so long. Now that moment is here for me and I strangely find myself reluctant and hesitant. It was easier in my imagination. It is easy to dream about the magical campsites and breathtaking vistas and charming cafes in even more charming towns, but when the opportunity is finally presenting itself, it’s even easier to get lost in the mind’s worried chatter. I find myself drawn to familiar places I have already been, rather than to the new places I want to explore. It feels safer. Fuck that. You hear that? It’s called fear, and it is with me every day. I might seem like some fearless chic going out to the woods and camping alone and exploring and meeting new people, but in reality I am afraid and hesitant. Cautious and riddled with nerves. In the city at night, I fear men. In the woods at night, I fear mice and raccoons. And men. How can I be afraid of my own species?
Every opportunity is lined up in front of me staring back, waiting for me to make my pick. These choices are like children up against the backstop, quietly wondering when they will get chosen and by which team captain, or if they ever will. Lately I have been playing it safe. I go with the kid that is consistent and familiar. The one that won’t let me down. The one with the least amount of risk. I suppose I should cut myself a break. When you are completely out of your element doing something a bit risky, I guess it makes sense to narrow the other risks down. In any case, I find myself frustrated with my fear.
I write of fear often, and I guess I find it fascinating just as much as I find it frustrating. I also think it guides the wheels of humanity more than any other factor, except maybe for love. Most issues seem to be birthed from fear. We stay at the same job we loathe because we are afraid of leaving its security, yet we are just as much afraid of hating ourselves if we stay. The woman who is upset at her husband because he comes home from work in a bad mood every day fears that the rest of their lives will be miserable and laced with sadness, so she berates him. That man comes home every day afraid his hard work will never be enough to make the life he wants for his family and him, and his fears of a never ending cycle bring him to a place of misery. He doesn’t realize that all she wants is for him to be happy, and she doesn’t realize that all he feels he is ever trying to do is find a way to make them all happy. They both fear they won’t find it.
What if we stopped letting fear make all our decisions for us? I am trying to find that out.
The other day I spent the entire day listening to rain that never stopped falling on my aluminum roof while parked in an empty parking lot at the head of a trail. Steamy fog never stopped rising from the green trees surrounding the area. I was alone in that lot for the whole day. There I worked while the rain fell. I took a break for lunch and fried myself up some leftover rice along with two over medium eggs. When my work day in the middle of nowhere was over, I drove. I drove with no real destination in mind until I ended up in a town on the water. Water is everywhere, even up. I am jettisoned back to fall or even winter in this chilly weather. I walked empty streets until I found a pizza joint, and there I ate a salad and a small pizza in a large booth all by myself. Surrounding me was a full restaurant of large groups, chatting together. When you are alone, you see things and you hear things and you notice things you don’t when with another person. The family behind me spoke of work and college and family things. The grandpa made a silly joke to his granddaughter about the signs in neighborhoods that say “slow children playing.”
Later at a coffee shop where I stopped for a nightcap of hot chocolate, two young guys sat at the window with their computers, lost in excitement planning a trip. Eager. Innocent. Youthful. There was so much excitement shining through their calm planning. I wanted to send them all of the energy in the world for that trip. I want it to be just as beautiful as they hope it to be.
But it never is. It’s never the way you imagine, and thank goodness for that. It is at times, and then other times it is not. It’s part of it. If I were traveling with another person right now, things would be easier, certainly. But with that comes a different experience. I might not have seen those guys at the window, or heard a glimpse of the interactions that happen between a family I have never, nor will ever, know or even see again. These quiet times, alone and uncomfortable, lend themselves to observation and insight. The very reason I loathe them is the very reason I yearn for them.
I wonder what this point in my life will look like with some age on it. I see it as a pivotal time, yet perhaps it will not be. I try to zoom out of this current perspective to imagine what this point I am in might mean to me in ten or twenty or thirty years. That first kiss that rocked my world is now trivial. Those full nights I spent in my university’s computer lab, writing up papers that I had been given an entire quarter to write. The worry and the exhaustion and the stress has faded in my memory, leaving only one of pleasantry: walking through the coffee bean section of the grocery store at 4:30 AM on my way home, paper finished, and seeing people that had just come from a night of sleep while I knew I had never slept. I held it like some special secret. There was that other time I wrote and wrote all night in that lab right up until my AM class. I hit print, walked on over to my psych class, dropped that paper off and opted for skipping. Instead of going home to sleep, I drove to Chuckanut to sit on a cliff and look out at the water and reflect and write. My real writing. My best work, there in my journal.
I’m not far from that cliff now. In fact, I am in a place I once came and have not been to in eleven years. Even then, as a sophomore in college, I was searching for something. I biked through the rain all by myself on an unfamiliar country road to arrive exactly where I physically am today. I remember that day and the feeling of being set free on my own in an unfamiliar place. The uncertainty of what I would encounter or where I would end up. And I remember the beach I walked when I got off the bike. I walked that same beach yesterday for the first time since. Never had I known then I’d be standing in the same place now, and the space between those moments carries so much life.
There was a day in my history when I sat with a close friend in the tiny studio I once lived, and together we placed our fingers on my computer mouse and pressed click at the same time. In a whirl of excitement that literally took our breaths away, we cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the purchase of our plane tickets to Europe. The following year changed the course of my life. Did I know it then? Would I recognize it now? Do we ever know when we are in those moments? Or are we always in those moments?
And now it’s only a flash in my mind, a treasure in the music box of my life. There it rests with other memories, some which seemed so meaningless at the time and became life changing. Others remind me of the significance they once held, but now they are something different. Still others are exactly now what they were then.
I am growing accustomed to waking in campsites or on city streets alone. The more times I do it, the more it becomes familiar and the easier it gets. The less scared I become. And suddenly it will no longer be anything, at least I hope. And I wonder if one day when I am older I will look back at these nights early into my traveling camper life and think of them the same way I now think of those first early kisses as a teenager. Will I reflect on them with fondness, aware of my innocence in a way I could not have been then, and say “man, I was just getting started?” Who really knows, except for time?
I do know that whatever circumstance or situation or point in life I find myself, it is paint on the larger canvas. At the end of my road, I will look at my painting in broad perspective knowing that each color and stroke served as a marker of my moments. The color of paint is not chosen by the event; rather it is my perception of each moment that is doing the choosing.