This must be the place: I remember you, the one in the dusty photos
It came out of the blue.
Sunday morning. My smart phone dinged next to my bed. I groaned, rolled over and reached for it. One eye open, my blurry vision tried to make out the sender in the message. It was a name I hadn’t spoken to in several years, more than a decade since we’d seen each other in person.
It was an ex-girlfriend of mine. From way back in the day, so far back, it was a time when I didn’t sport a beard or have any inclination of being a writer. There was never any animosity or ill will between us in the breakup, more of a blindsided decision amid the distractions of youthful transgressions and the unknown road in front of you — so much time ahead, so why get tied down now, you know?
After years wandering around America and abroad, she recently moved back to our native North Country. Going through a separation, here she is with her young kid, trying to start over from scratch after years of building a life together with someone, or at least trying to.
And within this process of relocating came her inner desire to peel back the layers of her past, to make sense of just why and how she found herself at this moment in time, all the way back to the starting line. So, throwing caution into the air, she reached out and spilled the beans of her trials and tribulations, all in an effort to find some kind of footing in her current physical and emotional landscape.
She wondered what life would be like if she had chosen another path. Would she be happier, perhaps more sure of herself and her endeavors? Sure, her child is the center of her universe. Of course. But, the ole “what if” tends to rear its ugly head when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. You start to question your moves in that great chess game that is life, questioning your ability to corner and checkmate your dreams.
I find the further I push down the road of life, it’s the strange things (which are good things) that are what becomes normal, and what was once normal becomes odd and, perhaps, uncomfortable, which I think means you’re ultimately honing in on your true and beautiful self. Who doesn’t think about the past and say “what if”? It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe, looking back at the paths that led you to the here and now, wondering if there was another, more bountiful route.
But, there isn’t, in essence. Who you are today, all of those incredible people and things you’ve been able to experience, was (is) only possible by you taking this exact line on the map of your existence. Warts and all, even in the darkest of times, you’re still alive, still aware of the emotions running through your soul. And of which, your true colors emerge in how you react, where you’re not defined by what happened, but by how you stand up, brush off your shoulders, and keep moving forward.
I think the beauty of getting older is digging deeper within your soul. You spend so much time keeping your eye “on the prize” while growing up, sometimes with blinders on to the actions you think need to be made — in high school, college and in adulthood.
I find in my own endeavors, it’s been cathartic, and also scary, when trying to figure out just who you are, making sense of why you are the way you are, and what specific moments put you on this trajectory. It’s OK, though, for why would you not want to dust off those forgotten, disregarded or “Do Not Open” boxes in the closet of your mind?
It’s a funny thing to look at those old photos, haphazardly taken with a disposable camera, before smart phones and second chances at a symmetrical, flattering image. There is smiling and innocence, a lack of responsibility and obligations, all before you stepped out into the “real world,” as they say. Those smiles and that sense of innocence are still there, within all of us, but we tend to forget or disregard it as adults simply because you feel you either don’t deserve happiness or it seems like some far-off thing that’s unattainable or unrealistic.
That Sunday afternoon, I went for a long, quiet trail run through the Tsali Recreation Area just west of Bryson City. The sounds of my feet crunching along the dirt trail, heavy breathing while striding joyously up steep hills, where your legs feel like a muscle car with a full tank of gas to burn. Life is a lot like that run. You know it may hurt, but you attack those hills with everything you’ve got, only to stand atop the ridge, rewarded with one of the most serene and picturesque views — yours and yours alone.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.