Whoa, it’s been a while. You know why? Because I was having more adventures so that I could tell you about them. I’m not going to dump them all on you right now, and rest assured that they are ongoing, and therefore you can probably reasonably expect me to write a lot more in the next little while. Hopefully. Is my goal.
So, where am I right now? England. I don’t know if you remember, but I met this guy back last summer, and he was British, and going to the University of Oxford… So obviously, when he asked me to marry him, I said yes, and I got me a visa and hauled ass to England. I moved to Oxford in November after spending some transition time with his parents, and spent the remainder of the time before Christmas working on job applications, and on my application to a graduate program at the University – a lifelong dream of mine that now seemed more pragmatic than adventuresome. Everything was amazing! For a while. And then it all started going wrong.
Over the next couple months, the engagement dissolved until there was nothing left. I felt the same sick feeling of dread that I had felt the summer previous (see Stress is a Four-Letter Word), and not even two weeks after we got back from the winter holidays, it was over. And it seemed that my adventure was, too. There was no way that I was going to get into Oxford; getting a job seemed so far off, even with the temp agency I was with; and I couldn’t bear the thought of dropping hundreds of pounds every month to sit around in a city that was now tainted by heartbreak, being heartbroken. I decided to go home.
And then I didn’t.
A lot of people have a lot of theories about the way the universe works. The religious say that God is the universe and that he/she makes everything happen in a certain way. Fatalists believe in destiny. Cynics make jokes about hell while knowing that really, hell is right here, and needn’t be mysticalized. Optimists believe that everything happes for a reason. My theory is that everything happens because of a reason, which at least is supported by linear time.
No matter what I believe, though, I haven’t been able to shake the nagging voices in my gut that tell me when something I’ve said is wrong. And for a couple days after my life ended, I swore up and down that I was leaving, while something in me said, no you’re not. It wasn’t even so much that I secretly wanted to stay – rather, every time I thought about Fort Collins, my beloved hometown, I got this sticky feeling of dread. And I knew: going back would be giving up. But what else could I do?
Step back a minute. [cue montage] It is May, about a million years ago. I am 18. I have never traveled without my parents, I have spent but a semester at university, being negligently coddled by the dormitory system, and I bake in an odd depression in the aching late-spring heat. Driven forward by an angst I thought had evaporated with the snow, I prowled the fields behind my house at sunset, immolated in angst. Mathematically, these factors indicate that I must also play the guitar, and math never lies. One evening, bleakly, I wandered into the field, the sunset turning the grass orange and red under the gaudy clouds, with my guitar bandoliered over my shoulder. I set to improvising. And it grew. As the light faded, it began to blossom, and four in the morning found me on the kitchen floor, putting the finishing touches on a song I could hear in my head long before my fingers knew how to play it.
It never had a proper name. It still doesn’t, not really. I call it “The Adventure Song” – each verse describes a sort of adventure, and the chorus is thus:
And will you follow, or will you stay here?
Or will you (verse specific line, such as “take hold and learn how to steer”)?
Through darkness, through danger, through hellish adventure:
Go take your chances – try your hand alone.
That song has haunted me ever since I wrote it. Since then, I’ve traveled so much, learned so much, grown so much, but still the final line of the chorus comes back to me as a taunt. It finds me when I feel weak, and sabotages my attempts to collapse and finally relax, a puddle of melted wannabe-adult goo. I wrote that line an innocent child, not knowing what it was that I meant, and I somehow managed to curse myself with living that line almost ever since I wrote it down. Because being alone is. so. hard.
That was all I could think that day, when all I wished to do was get on a plane and go – I didn’t quite care where. Away. Somehow, I felt I couldn’t go home, but at the same time in no way could I stay. And there was that line again: go take your chances – try your hand alone.
I decided to stick it out for a few days. My mother told me to, as did one of my housemates. Stick it out, they said, until you hear back from Oxford. Make your decision then. And so when I found out I got on to the program (MPhil in Linguistics, Comparative Philology and Phonetics, with a focus in Neuroscience, for all those who wondered), I chose to stay.
There are many reasons why I chose to stay. First, I have run away from every soured relationship I’ve ever had. As soon as they dump me, that’s it, I’m outta there. What’s the point in hanging around and worrying what every corner will bring? I thought. What’s the point of staying somewhere you hate when there’s no one you can love anymore? But I couldn’t run away from the school of my dreams: I had to stay and heal. Second, I worked so hard to get here. How could I be more ungrateful to my past self and all the people who helped me than by throwing it all away because of some stupid boy? Third, I chose to stay because I couldn’t face the defeat of having to go back with nothing.
The other reason I couldn’t run away was that the day after I got my offer from Oxford, I started working, and my life took the form that I’d been hoping it would take for months. I started working eight hours a day surrounded by the delightful women in the office, and I’d come home every evening to my housemates, and talk and cook and watch movies. Yes, I was in pain. But it wasn’t my whole life. That last line of the chorus stopped running around in my head.
One afternoon, about a week after I’d started at work, I was talking with one of my new-found friends, and she asked me whether I’d come over with my ex-fiance. No, I said, and told her where he was from. She looked at me in utter astonishment. “You’re here alone?”
I shook my head. “No,” I insisted. I thought of my housemates, and all the people at work, and all the people I’d met in Oxford. I didn’t feel alone at all. And then I thought of what my life must look like to people: a single young woman who moved to England on the whim of a whim, surrounded by near strangers and abandoned by the sole person who “counted” as an anchor. And I had to laugh, because I realized that I’d overcome the chorus. I realize now that every time I’ve “tried my hand alone”, I’ve found people. And now I know what that line means: when you take chances, you open yourself up wide, and in the midst of your engrossing sense of vulnerability and fear, you find help. It surges in as care and love and goodwill from others, but it also wells up inside you as strength you never realized you had.
Sometimes, I still feel monumentally alone. Sometimes I feel absolutely terrified. But overwhelmingly, I feel that even now, I have more blessings than I could ever have expected. They come in the many varied shapes of the people I’ve met who have taken me for what I am, and also in my own familiar form, for finally taking the chances – the baby steps, the leaps of faith, the flights of fancy – that I always desired and feared. It took an adventure to realize the meaning of adventures: but isn’t that the case with everything? Adventures are challenging. Some challenges are fun, some are scary – this one is an odd combination of the two. But fundamentally, what all challenges are are chances to learn and grow. And if you run away from them, you can only hurt yourself.