Roads

When I was a teenager — when I was the only one of my friends with a car, albeit a bedraggled former rental car with terrible brakes and not even a tape player — I would drive my friends through the South Shore, finding random roads and seeing where’d they go.

Depending on the night, we could get as far as the Cape, before eventually finding a route we knew would bring us home. We didn’t have so much as a road atlas in my car. Just blind faith that eventually we’d find 3, or 93 — or a gas station attendant that could get us to where we needed to go.

It felt like everyone around us was showing their rebellion by throwing parties that we were never invited to. We hit the road instead, wandering the roads, straying and getting lost, never doubting we’d find our way back.

When we moved up to New Hampshire, I’d load up the car with some of the same friends and explore.

It was like moving up to just past the border opened all of northern New England for us. Our phones now had GPS, so in some ways it became a little less risky, a little less daring. We always knew how to get back. But the thrill was in the unknown roads, unknown towns, of going forward and seeing what was just past the bend.

A few years later, when I moved up just a little more north — when everything blew up and everything was a perfect storm of wrong — I’d load the car up with nothing more than myself and my worries and dread, and venture out. No GPS, no destination. Just backroads, wandering, that delicate time like a gentle plea with God — please, please, just let everything turn out okay — and eventually finding familiar roads again.

That was probably the most assuring part during those darker days of wanderlust. Not the new roads, the passing scenery, but knowing eventually I’d stumble across something I already knew. Eventually, I’d realize how connected everything is. That all this unknown would link up with the known. I wouldn’t just find my way home; I’d recognize how each road, each piece, would fit together. That you’d need this street, this bend, to get to this other road — and, likewise, you’d need this dark time to get to something better.

Chapters are ending. No, not just ending. Chapters have ended. Past tense. Some with the whisper of a page turn. Some with the slam of the book. But, either way, there is finality. There has been a shift in eras. No turning back.

Through situations beyond my control — or, perhaps, some that could’ve been through my control, but the results would’ve been the same — I find myself with a completely different work schedule. I lost a third of my classes within a two-week span. A shift that I had planned to slowly implement over multiple years ended up happening in a month. And I’m still getting used to it.

I can’t shake the feeling that this will not be the only shake up in my professional life. That more change is on the horizon. My hunches are usually correct, so long as I’m not confusing intuition for anxiety. But there’s nothing I can do but wait it out and see if there’s another chapter ending, and with what intensity it will end, and what the new chapter will bring.

“I feel slightly outside of time and space.”

It’s a cold and rainy Saturday when I admit this to my husband. He’s feeling the same way.

So many new chapters beginning. So new that it feels insulting to say they’re part of the same book. I feel like a Keane song — everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same.

Perhaps that’s the biggest juggling act for me these days, what can give me these moments where I don’t feel entirely in the present moment. It’s not just the outside world, the changing scenery, work schedule, set of circumstances. It’s internal. I’ve been evolving, finding that stronger sense of self, of self-identity — learning to be my own person, to want what I want and not what I think I’m supposed to want. I’ve shaken off a lot of old hang ups and outdated ways of thinking. I’ve embraced this new version of me, a version the younger incarnations would never recognize. It’s a balancing act, to hold your new self in high regard but also hold space for the fact that you don’t feel the same — and, in not feeling the same, you feel a little off-kilter.

The sign of genius is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. Sometimes I try to joke off contradictory emotions, tell myself I’m just a fricken genius for feeling them. Sometimes the joke works. Sometimes the joke falls flat.

There’s a line from an Ingrid Michaelson song — “Here we go… into the dark and wonderful unknown. Let us go. Let us go.

The dark and wonderful unknown. If there’s ever been a better phrase for this new phase. All these new streets that I’m — that we’re — driving down, no map, no GPS (and, honestly, the gas station attendants in this scenario aren’t exactly sure how to get back to the highway, either). There are moments I’m thrilled. Moments I’m a little spooked. Moments I’m outright scared. Moments I’m excited, moments I’m stressed, and moments where I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew (and moments where I deliberately chow down if only to prove there’s no such thing as “biting off more than I can chew” for me).

And moments I’m elevated and elated. Moments I look around and can barely grasp how lucky I am. Moments where I cannot wrap my head properly around the sheer happiness, sheer joy, sheer adventure. Moments that make me step back and go, “This is why it’s all worth it.” Moments that remind me how alive the world is around me. Remind me that the fear is nothing more than the nerves before jumping out of the plane, working parachute strapped to your back. Jumping from the rig, knowing no matter what happens, the cord’s got you, and you’re going to be okay.

Here we go, dancing in this house that we have never known.

There’s a freedom in realizing you can’t predict a single thing around you. That all your expectations and plans have already proved irrelevant, so you might as well toss the syllabus out the window and just see what comes next. If the car soars down the road, it soars down the road. If it skids, it skids. I might hit my desired destination or I might hit a telephone pole. Either way, the horizon is calling me, and I know I must go (and I know I’ll eventually get there in one piece).

The dark and wonderful unknown. Let us go. Let us go.

In some ways this has always been the way I’ve lived my life. Even before the ’99 Cavalier came into my possession and I loaded it up with my friends. Let me go down this unknown road and find where it goes. Let me go on this adventure and see if I emerge with my shield or on it. I need to know where this path leads, even if I have to venture into unknown territory.

If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always bristled at only having the same paths to travel down. I’ve never been content with the predictable. I long ago decided that “finding yourself” meant stepping into the new and uncomfortable — putting yourself in different context after different context and seeing what parts about you overlapped. What emerges, what struggles, what shines. Embracing the sheer fluidity and evolution of our identity, while learning that the core of our souls will remain constant.

And maybe that’s it: wander far and wide until everything is stripped away — every conditioned response, every demon, every temporary reaction — until there is just you and your soul, meeting candidly for the first time.

“Let’s go on a drive.”

Those are magical words to me. We’ll load up the truck — our brand new Ford pick up, with just my husband and me — and drive off.

Where we live feels like the periphery for everything else. Do we want to turn right and navigate the small towns? Left and go into the city? Do we want to hit the highway, the backroads — do we want to go to Boston? Vermont? Maine? It’s like just standing in one spot fills us to the brim with possibility.

There’s GPS available on the truck’s console screen. And maybe that’s a good thing — knowing there’s a safety net, something to turn to when you get so undoubtedly lost and need something to bring you back. Maybe we don’t have to go barreling down the road just on blind faith. Maybe it’s a good thing to have that provision. Kind of like it’s good that your co-pilot understands the importance of safety, to have at least a map on hand (especially when you’ve tossed your proverbial syllabus out the window).

At this point, all these backroads are familiar enough. They’re not the vast expanse of unknown like they were when we first moved here. I can now piece together what roads link up with what, as they stretch out from town, to town, to town.

And yet I still want to travel down them. The passing scenery, the warm sun against the leaves — the gentle reassurance that I know how these roads bend and curve, that they’ll link up with roads that I know will bring me home.

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