My eyelids fluttered closed as I put the van in park. Still, the glowing lights of the highway pulsed in the darkness. Though I had just driven for fifteen hours straight, I did not feel tired. The smell of the night’s rain lingered gently, weaving its way through my window. For a minute, though I was alone, I felt the warmth of intimacy curling up into my spine. Sleep came quickly and I awoke slowly, the hum of traffic on Rainier reminding me where I was. I lit the stove and soon the sound of cars was broken with the welcome slow gurgle of a finished pot of coffee. Today, I noticed the shape of the mug, its heat emanating into my hands.
Back in the city, a place of contrast. I long for familiar though not close friends, find comfort in a routine and feel more welcome than in many places I travel to.
Yet I am agitated, stressed and unhappy.
When you are away for some time, the good things can tease you. So, easily, you forget what it was like. Day by day, you can get used to almost anything. Something that felt so unbearable becomes merely scar tissue that doesn’t ache unless you prod at it.
You forget that empty and painful pulse in your heart, the opposite of pride, but not quite shame. How wanting to give yourself the chance to start again felt like dying of thirst. How going out into the rain, you were just trying not to crack. How fraudulent you felt in every room, even when everyone else was gone. You tell yourself you can always walk out, but you won’t. You can tell yourself, repeatedly, to be grateful for what you have until the million thoughts swarming by become white noise and you can’t separate fact from fiction. You forget what it was like, until those few moments when it all comes rushing back at you, your heart galloping, and your mind humming. The intense clarity breaking through a dense, persistent fog. When you realize you are alone, and you should make decisions based on that hard, sobering, raw and essentially human truth.
And so, I changed.
It seems daunting, nearly impossible. Though I am relatively young, I am without money and marketable skills and feel alienated as I am surrounded by those who are good and grounded. The truth is, I haven’t yet accumulated responsibilities or commitments, and so I can take risks. But I have accumulated intense love for specific things and people that feel unbearable to lose. Everything I love feels like it is on the table.
However, for the first time, I understood that the risk was now necessary. I understood that what was on the line was more important than anything I may lose. It finally hit me that the point wasn’t whether it was easy or difficult, the point wasn’t whether or not my future situation would be better or worse, it was neither about how it would affect my relationships nor how dramatic or romantic people might think I am — the point was that it absolutely had to be done.
The stress was turning me into something else. But the fine-toothed razor difference was that the stress came not from being over-worked, but from completely ignoring that I was knowingly on the wrong path and trodding further and further down it, making it harder to find the start. It doesn’t matter that I’m not sure which path to now take; I do not even know which are available for me.
The thousands of little eddies swarming in my head confused me, fucked with my priorities and fucked with my behavior. I dwelled on the past and it made me impossible to be good in the present. It eventually became as if I didn’t want to be without my worries — I didn’t want to be dislodged from my suffering, because it was becoming comfortable. My seemingly persistent dilemma — to quit or not to quit — became my cause. It became my identity. For an instant, I became a bad person. I was turning myself into a demon, the eyes of a menace staring back at me inside my own head.
I won’t be pursuing a PhD and I won’t be pursuing a career in natural sciences. Besides my stint in photojournalism, this is all I have ever done.
But, even as the freefall advances, sometimes I feel like everything was turned upside down. That the windstorm in my head finally calmed down, letting everything it was carrying drop and fall away. I feel like what surface I had beneath me suddenly let out and I was air borne. I might be falling into an enormous big black hole without a landing yet built, but maybe there are stars in there, too.