And then

I have lived in Charleston, South Carolina, for one week. I have a job. I have an apartment. I have a laundromat. I have a grocery, and a “vegetable bin.” I have a brunch place and I have a coffee place. If I drive 25 minutes, I have a beach. I think I may even have a bar.

I have lived in this new place for a week, and everyone that hears this says, “Welcome to Charleston.” “Thank you!” And I tell them what I’m doing: waitressing, saving money (well, making money then seeing what’s left over), living with my sister and my cat and trying to run when I can and eat fresh fruit as often as possible and write in my journal and read for pleasure. “And then?” they ask. 

I always say the same shit: I’m going to write for a magazine or have a column in a newspaper or maybe my sister and I will co-author a twin-themed memoir.

What if I didn’t say this? What if I answered your “and then” with “what do you mean”? What if the first part of my “plan,” is really the plan after all?

For 18 years I worked towards the same goal: college. In college I’m not really sure what I worked towards, but I guess I never wanted to get a C in any class (I never did). I wanted to go abroad; I did. I wanted to make sure I didn’t gain the first year fifteen; I had a kind-of eating disorder, but hey, I achieved that goal too. I graduated with a decent GPA and I had a small but dedicated column fan club and I had best friends and a boyfriend and a place I was going to miss. What if I said that was enough?

I find joy in two cups of coffee. I find joy in the jingling on the sidewalk that suggests an impending dog. I find joy in a sourdough sandwich. I find joy in watching my cat leap from floor to chair, floor to chair. So when you ask me, “and then,” I feel like in answering, I will discount “and now.”

No, I do not know what I “want to do with my life.” I do not have a “great passion” and I do not have some piece of paper stuffed under my mattress, with all of my “life goals” written in dark and forever black pen strokes. Should I? Should I have these things to make me feel whole and good and purposeful?

I have lived in my new home for one week. In a week I have learned how to print documents at the public library, how to parallel park (no, really, I never knew how to), how to make a white chocolate mocha, how to join Green Peace (make eye contact with the guy holding the clipboard and regretfully hand over your credit card after bonding over the beauty of words and the livelihood of arctic polar bears), and how to re-apply air to a sinking air mattress. 

In one week I learned all of that. Should I have been chasing my dreams? What if this is my dream? What if sunburned shoulders and blistered feet and the smell of musty air conditioning and cheap black sundresses and muddled mint cocktails are all part of my dream? Would you hold it against me?

Next week may be different. In fact, it probably will be. With any luck I’ll have two jobs. Maybe I’ll meet a magazine publisher. Maybe I’ll start interning at a newspaper. I have told you that these are my ultimate goals; I fully intend to pursue them. But I want you to know–I’d be just fine if I didn’t. If I sat in this laundromat drinking black coffee and typing out my thoughts and breathing in detergent and sweat and melty cheese sandwiches for the rest of my Thursdays, then I would be perfectly content. And now, I have to collect my clothes from the dryer.

travel stories: age 22

In a rare burst of summer reading, I picked up a book of travel stories. Tomorrow I depart for Charleston, (aka my new home), so I figured I should self-inspire with tales from other continents. Okay so I’m not going to Africa or the Middle East– I’m going to a beautiful coastal town full of bars, art galleries, and loads of pretty-middle-class-white girls. I could wax poetic about how domestic and privileged my post-graduate life will be, but really, that’s a bore. Where do you go from there?

So I’ll start from somewhere else. A quote I found in this book of travel essays (Paul Theroux, Fresh Air Fiend). I’m really not trying to be heavy-handed by offering up Borges so early in this post; I actually like what he says.

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face. —Jorge Luis Borges, Epilogue, The Maker

I don’t have to travel the world to “discover myself.” I think, finally, I have let the kind of bitterness that used to stain that sentence, fade away. I used to envy (and naturally, despise) everyone who went to Europe, to China, to Australia, Brazil, Patagonia for god’s sake. The envy remains, but I like to think that I have replaced my disdain with a sort of patience. Of course I want to travel and I want to immerse myself in new cultures and after a decade of painful learning I would like to speak one damn French sentence to a native Francophone. But I can wait for all that.

I feel younger and older every year of my life. The possibilities of the next decade seem more full than any other time I’ve looked upon, from the frightening comfort of my current age. At 21 I cringed and told anyone who asked, “This is, undoubtedly, the last good year.” I’ve been 22 for less than two months and I like it just fine. I feel older–but in the same way a small child feels older: it’s exciting. I feel capable. I feel a surge of self that never really came to fruition at 21.

I may be jumping the gun with this assertion, since Borges claims that it comes “a short time before he dies,” but I think I can draw the lines on my face–the lines of my life, anywhere that I go. I think that I am ready to go.

When my brother and my parents dropped me off at college, when they hugged me before they drove off, my mother was crying. My brother was 14 and probably ready to get back home and my father was, I think, pretty sure that it’d all be okay since we were only a two hour drive down the interstate. I was thrilled. I feel a little bad admitting it, but I never once got homesick that first semester of college. I had ups and downs (and the downs felt pretty shitty), but never did I think that going home would solve anything. It wasn’t until my third year, when I had a car, that the possibility of homesickness took hold of me. That I could go home, whenever I needed to, made me feel free from my problems and more attached to my Home than I have ever been before.

That year, at age 20, my sister and I drove home all the time. We had Henry, the puppy to see. We had country music to listen to. After 15 years of vehemently loathing country music, my sister and I downloaded Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, and Dixie Chicks Pandora stations. We grew sentimental and nostalgic for Home. When we got there we hugged our pets and we crawled into bed with our mother and we drank beers by bonfires with our father and we told our brother what he had to look forward to–college, and then, the times when you get to escape from it.

When I’m in Charleston, I’ll be able to come home. I have a new car that doesn’t shake and rattle and flash all kinds of lights on the interstate. There’s an airport not too far from our apartment. With any luck, I’ll have a few jobs and a little bit of money to come back to Virginia. This is the thing about getting older. I can come home, if I need to. I’ll feel those pangs that I felt those last two years of college–growing pains of the inner sort, and I’ll jump in the car and turn up “Landslide,” and hop on the interstate.

And then I’ll turn around. Not because eight hours is too far of a drive. Not because I can’t afford the gas or the time off of work. I’ve drawn my world in my Home: in the same yard, house, and bedroom, for my entire life. Now, I know that I need to start drawing somewhere else. I expect that it will hurt and that it will be really hard. But I think that it’s what you do at 22.