I told myself I would do what any rational human being does. I told myself I would look for a sign. And suddenly, they were everywhere.
So I made a checklist.
- Save money
- Learn to drive
- Develop faith in the universe
That was how it started: I wrote out to-do lists, checklists, journal entries, sample itineraries. I wrote it down over and over and over again until it felt real. I made a plan before I knew what I was really planning.
It isn’t about the destination so much as the journey, kind of like all those cheap magnets you can buy at old-school country stores and probably the local Dollar Tree in your neighborhood. I’m driving across the country to Los Angeles but it isn’t about LA anymore, not like it used to be. It’s just about exploring and finding something new and wonderful, and recognizing how full of new and wonderful things the world is. It isn’t about where I’m going so much as the getting there, and how I think getting lost in all there is in the middle might be how I get to the feeling good at the end. It’s about starting a new chapter without knowing how it ends, and sitting back just to enjoy the ride. It’s about adventure. It’s about freedom. It’s about the open road and learning to feel at home anywhere and challenging myself to finally live out the things I’ve imagined for myself, even if I didn’t always think they were possible.
It isn’t that DC isn’t enough or is too much or isn’t right or is wrong. This city has been a glorious home to me for seven years. I learned how to roll joints here, how to talk shit, which cocktails I liked to buy at the bar, what wild and raucous looked like, how to get away with it, how to be reckless, when to jaywalk across city streets, how to be gay, how to fall apart into a million pieces and come back together again.
But now I’m leaving. And I know why I have to leave: Because I got a dream job and then years later I dreamt my office was a prison. Because I got mugged outside Libby’s house two years ago and stopped being able to go out at night alone, and a friend from college got stabbed to death on the train, and I saw a man get shot on H Street, and the woman behind my house kept yelling in the alleyway, and the city I stayed in because it felt like a safe choice got taken away from me. Because I’m afraid of so many things but most of all I’m afraid of never doing the stuff I’d dreamt of doing all my life, or never being as big as I feel in the world, or rotting in my own boredom until the end of days.
Because a few years ago, my girlfriend Geneva told me that living your ideal life is the only way to live your ideal life. And I realized as soon as she said it that she was right.
For a while, I kept the idea of moving in the back of my mind the way other people hang postcards in their cubicles to remind them of where they used to be. And then it started happening, just like Danielle LaPorte told me it would in The Desire Map. I saw so many signs it was almost impossible to ignore them. My life in DC just stopped feeling the same. Other people, some close to my heart and others just figments of my former life, began picking up and creating new lives for themselves. Nobody else seemed to be where I was at, in a way where I realized that where I was at wasn’t working anymore. I was still waiting for the rest of my life to unfold, as if doing all the right things was going to lead to all the things that it didn’t make sense for me to want. It was broken. And I felt broken. I felt more disgruntled and grumpy and restless.
I began saving my money, almost compulsively. I got my license. I made a playlist called “i am gonna do this” and listened to it every day. I started putting stuff in boxes to be donated or put in the trash and I read books like Wild and The Big Tiny and I went outside every single day as the seasons changed for the last year in Washington, DC ready to absorb every last ray of sunshine, drop of rain, and snowflake the nation’s capital had left for me.
This city raised me. I will love it and all of the people I fell for inside of it for the rest of my life. But at some point, I got complacent. I got bored. I got restless. And I started saying goodbye.
First, I felt guilty.
Guilty for leaving my friends and family behind. Guilty for leaving my job and career path behind. Guilty for making a decision that would inconvenience my roommates and my coworkers and the people who needed me to not be running around learning how to drive and looking for housing. Guilty for admitting, out loud, that I was going to do something selfish and stupid just because I could. Eventually I stared guilt down and said “fuck you” to it, really loud, really defiantly. Sometimes I still listen for the echo.
And then I grappled with the idea of it, the idea that someone like me — someone who grew up with a single mom in the ‘burbs and promised her she’d make all the right choices — could get away with it.
You will figure it out became my mantra, something I repeated to myself over and over again to remind myself that I had done all of this before. I had moved to a new city and carved out a social space for myself within its masses of weirdos and stuffed shirts. I had learned how to feed myself and go to the grocery store and the pharmacy alone. I had navigated murky waters and learned to ask for help.
You will figure it out. It’s okay to fuck up. You can turn around. You can always go home again. I said these things to myself until I felt better. Until I felt ready. Until I felt brave. I reminded myself that even if it doesn’t work out I’m gonna learn something. I reassured myself that even if it just turns out to be an extended stay in a new place it’ll be a damn good road trip.
I am doing this because a few years ago I wrote in my diary that I was glad I changed, that I was glad I was someone else, that I was glad I couldn’t remember who I was a few years before. I am doing this because I want to change again. I am doing this because I’m finally ready to admit that.
I am trying to learn how to trust myself. How to declaratively say “yes” or “no.” How to make decisions that feel good, faster. How to figure out whether my brain and my heart are telling me to go forward or turn back. How to get in touch with what I want and feel secure pursuing it.
And I am trying to let go of control. Of my control-freak impulses, at least. I am trying to learn how to find the road less travelled, how to buck the rules, how to make it on my own terms. I am looking to get lost and then found, looking for adventure to spark me back to life, looking for something new to help me see the world a little more clearly.
I am doing this because I have decided, against all odds, that I can. That I know how to get there. That I am still wild. That I still have it. That I can hustle. That I deserve to be free. That sometimes what you need is to rip yourself out of everything safe and certain and reliable and start from there.
This week I will pack up my (brand new!) car, and I will probably cry, a lot, and I will put some stuff in the mail, and I will take a million photos, and I will drive across the country. I am going from DC to Los Angeles with a few candles and a record player to my name.
I’m doing the whole thing with Geneva, my partner-in-crime and co-adventurer, in tow, because she loves me and she taught me to get free. I’m buckling my permapup Eli into his car seat for the ride, because he loves me and he’s my entire world. I’m making hotel reservations and having a lot of really stupid and totally wonderful visions of the future and picking up lots of road trip snacks.
I am gonna do this. I am gonna do this. I am gonna do this.
And I am gonna write it all down.
Wild Child West is a mini-series about this thing I’m doing with my life wherein I quit my job so I could pursue my dreams and fulfill my intentions as written in my copy of The Desire Map in Los Angeles. Alongside road trip diaries and all of my feelings here on Autostraddle, I’m also posting live from the road using the hashtag #WildChildWest on Instagram and Twitter, so.