The first time I traveled by myself I was 17 on a plane headed to Tucson, Arizona. I was moving there, I thought. I had packed up all of my things, sold whatever I could, gave my cat to a friend’s mom, and headed on a one way ticket to my new home farther away than I had ever been in my entire life. It was a chance to start over, to begin again.
My father had died a year earlier and I had been on my own almost entirely since then. I was trying to find answers, trying to figure out where I belonged, if anywhere. With the death of my father came the death of everything else in my life. But I didn’t belong there. Not in Tucson. Not in Arizona. I was a pissed off teenager lost and confused and struggling to understand a very adult world I didn’t feel like I had any right being in yet. So I left. Again. On a different one way ticket. This would happen again and again over the years in different ways.
There’s something to be said about those who leave and those who stay. Those who stay are reliable, predictable, loyal to their routines. They’re bound to their families, their jobs, their friends, a sense of security – all understandable things. And those of us who always leave – we’re what? Selfish. Not dependable. Always in an in-between state of neither being here nor there. And I guess that’s what I liked about leaving – it was an unnerving sort of pain I enjoyed. I found a place within my own discomfort I could bury myself in. Because if you leave that means you’re going to arrive. If one door closes, another one opens. It’s a continual cycle of renewal, of shedding one’s skin to come out a rawer, stronger version of yourself.
There’s a sort of freedom that comes from abandoning everything you know to blend in with the crowds of people in strange cities. Exploring a new place was always a bit like falling in love. There was a rush to it, a childlike sense of discovery, a heady sublime feeling I couldn’t find anywhere else. I could never lose myself in other people, in drinking or drugs, but traveling – yes, it was the only thing I found myself addicted to. College and a serious five-year-relationship kept me grounded for awhile and I always kept a home base during my travels but the next trip or adventure I could go on was always on my mind. With my job I can be anywhere in the world. I guess I always thought if I had a reason to stay I would stay. I still haven’t found that reason.
“No one wants to invest in people they think are just going to disappear someday.” A friend told me this at lunch. He was trying to convince me to not move out of the state this year, something I had been talking about and planning for awhile. But isn’t that one of the greatest risks in life? You meet people and you bond with them and you become close and form relationships but as all things in life, there are no guarantees. Nothing lasts forever.
So then I thought, what if I stayed? What if I committed to one location for the rest of my life? What if I promised to be there for every event, every holiday, every organized happy hour and I gave up my sense of adventure because that’s what made me reliable and present for other people to be happy? What if I got married and had kids because that’s what everyone else is doing my age? What if I played the role of every other late 20-something because I needed to prove to other people I could do it? Then what?
Well then I guess it wouldn’t be my life anymore. I’d be living someone else’s story. And that’s one compromise in life I’m not willing to make.