Confusing Bravery With Stupidity

My mother told me I was being young and foolish. My liberal friends toasted me with whiskey on my last night and said I was brave for taking a chance—despite how reckless that gamble might be. Others called me a hopeless romantic and unrealistic in these trying times.

All that I know now is that these small, fragile hands of mine shake with fear for the first time in my 21 years of my existence. I had no actual plan. I was drunk and overcome with youthful power in my post-graduate haze. I can’t explain why I did what I did. My heart became infected with a violent urge to leave for San Francisco, to go discover Kerouac’s 11 magnificent hills for myself, to take the road less traveled and to finally stop waiting for life to happen.

96 hours ago, I was safe in Seattle. I haphazardly crammed a few boxes of dispensable material things into my two-door hatchback. Clothes, CDs, a copy of D.H. Lawrence’s letters… superfluous but sentimental things I couldn’t bear to give to Goodwill.  My entire life fit neatly into a box. For thirteen hours, I drove down the I-5 S through the night, listening to Alex Bleeker on repeat and fighting back tears. I had a destination, but there was nothing after that. One step at a time, I told myself.

I do not know a single soul on this urban island. I know of old acquaintances, old lovers and friends’ of friends’ of friend’s. Or in my case: a friend’s little sister’s ex-best friend-turned junkie. I am alone in San Francisco, on this godforsaken isle—all because I was hungry and selfish to discover independence on my own. I had the luxury of climbing the unknown mountain by myself and I took it. I was seeing the world through blind rose-colored glasses and once it wore off, I realized how rash my tomfoolery was.

I was confusing bravery with stupidity. In my desperation, I called everyone in my phonebook, asking if they knew acquaintances, friends, family – anybody that could house me for a night in this city. But I knew I was looking for more than just a roof, I was looking for companionship. I am starved for conversation, for a safe pair of amber eyes I can stare into, for someone to knock some goddamned common sense in me. If my mother’s grating voice couldn’t—surely a stranger could.

In the day, I find temporary solace and shelter in cafes, bouncing from one to the next, until night falls and I realize that this city is not my home. I haven’t been home in five years. I left the idea of home at 18 to escape and quench my wanderlust.  But now, I am in limbo. The home I attempted to carve for myself in Seattle is no longer my own—the home of my mother’s womb was abandoned a long time ago. I am too ashamed to go back and too stubborn to leave this city. The miracle I wanted to forge for myself—I am now waiting desperately to transpire before my humble eyes. I am cold in the confines of my car at night, I fight off loneliness, gulp back tears and I am forever in debt to the kindness of helping strangers.

I regret nothing. I’ve survived sleepless nights, judgmental drunks, and have even warded off a Crusty Punk 7 ft. by 7 ft. wide ex-convict appropriately titled “The Wall” that I swear was going to murder me at Golden Gate Park.

My failures will be my own. But at least they were my own to make. I do not know how much longer my determination can last, but until that day comes, my grave is in this city. In these fog-hilled summer days, I do not know much more than you do. An old and dear friend of mine used to say to me: Ad astra per alia. In translation, it means “to the stars on the wings of a pig.” It was Steinbeck’s personal stamp, for those “earthbound but aspiring, a lumbering soul but trying to fly, with not enough wingspread but plenty of intention.”

I raise a toast to those in the past that have braved the West Coast and have conquered these lonely hills. To every young, romantic fool out there—there is a difference between bravery and stupidity, but that distinction is yours and yours alone to make. I still do not know where I lay on the spectrum, but when the day comes when I can wake up in my own home, next to a windowsill that illuminates with the California sun, I will be able to say with conviction that it was bravery that set me on this journey. All I know now is that I refuse to go back, not until I can grow into the woman that I set out to become. I did it originally for the great American tall-tale story, but now I’m doing it for myself.

Cheers to you all. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Michael Fraley

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