There are certain points in anyone’s life when the ground rises up to shake you loose. Right now I feel like I’ve been tossed right into the stratosphere.
After months of planning and years of intent, I’ve finally done it—I packed up all my worldly possessions into the back of my camper-van and set out west on March 15th. My plan was to spend some time on the road before making my way up to Olympia, Washington, where I planned to settle down. My mother tagged along on the road trip for the first two weeks, a little vacation to spend more time with me (and help with the long drive through corn country). And after taking her on a tour of Utah’s national parks, I dropped her off at the airport and began a new chapter of my life alone—a moment I’d been anticipating for months.
But as I pulled away from the Departures terminal in Vegas with my mom waving and crying in the rear view mirror, there was no sense of rising excitement; no swell of newfound freedom. Instead, I felt nothing more than a pit of terror eating its way into my gut. In that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than to turn around and beg my mom to buy me a ticket back with her.
I never used to think of myself as having strong ties to any single place. My family traveled a lot for my dad’s work when I was a kid; though we settled down in Virginia when I was in the third grade, “home” was always a series of impressions. Climbing the wrought iron fence outside our apartment in Ankara with the other children in the neighborhood to pick the cherries from the highest branches. Pink worms on the wet asphalt outside my grandmother’s house in Vancouver. Dipping my toy dinosaur’s head into a puddle in Moscow. Home had always been a place I could never really go back to, a place belonging to the past.
For the first time in my life, I’m starting to rethink that.
I left everything behind in pieces. Favorite haunts said goodbye to one by one, visiting them for the last time when they would really be mine. My best friend a few nights before the morning we left. My house in the rear-view mirror as we drove down the street. And lastly, my mother as I pulled away from the terminal at the Las Vegas airport. Even in that moment, it didn’t fully hit me. It wasn’t until I pulled into my campsite, with the jagged red rock around me and the snow-streaked mountains rearing up behind it, that I felt the grief snarl up in my throat like a hand stopping my breath.
In all my travels, I never knew what it was like not to have a destination. I never had to long for a safe place to rests, because I always knew it was waiting for me at the end. Now, all that’s waiting for me is uncertainty. Less than a month ago, I would have said that my biggest concept of failure would be to come back home again. But that first night, on a bone-deep level, I wanted nothing more than that.
I found myself sitting on a rock in the middle of a deserted hiking path with a single refrain beating through my head: what the hell am I doing? Why would I want to leave my comfortable loving home, where I never have to worry about anything? Why abandon security and familiarity when the future promises nothing in return?
Well. Of course, that’s just what growing up is. All these things we do not because they are easy, but because they are hard.; because we need to become who we’re going to become.
It’s been about five days since I struck off on my own. In that time, I’ve felt the familiar calm of being on the road nibbling at the edges of this new panic. I’ve been thinking less about what I’m leaving behind, and more about what’s waiting for me—hundreds of possibilities, as exciting as they are frightening. The peace of being truly alone in some of the most amazing places in this country. I’m so grateful to have had those two weeks traveling with my mom—and it may be corny, but I miss her already. And my little brother, and my friends, and my reading chair by the front window. I things about home that I didn’t even realize I was leaving behind.
But this time, I’m not casting them backwards into the past. They’re still there, waiting for me, no matter how long I’m gone for. For now, I’m turning my eyes to what’s waiting on the path ahead. And at the very least, I’m loving the view.