Lonely but Never Alone: A Story for Wanderers and their Restless Souls
This story was not at all what I intended to write when I sat down at my computer, but sometimes the unintended things are the most important. Our world is woven so tightly together by the internet and social media that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed as your thoughts get drowned out by the noise of strangers’ voices. But despite that crowded feeling, it’s also easy to feel alone – like everyone is driving quickly and efficiently on the interstate, and you’re looking over at them from a scenic byway that’s bleached and cracked and the speed limit is twenty miles an hour slower. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m looking in from the outside, like I’ve been trying to get off my bumpy byway and merge onto this hyper efficient, smooth interstate road. Beyond stressed about the future and worried that I’d never figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, I took my dogs for a really long hike. Let me just say, if you’re looking to have an epiphany, this is the best way to do it.
As I was walking, I thought of all the things about the people driving on the metaphorical interstate that I envied: they had a clear direction, a sense of purpose, and they were moving quickly in a straight path towards their goals. I pictured them dressed perfectly and professionally on their way to high paying careers that they worked very hard to have. I saw their beautiful houses and their mortgages and their lengthy and impressive accomplishments. I saw them with kids in the backseat of their clean, new cars. I saw their passions and their trajectories much clearer than my own. They were organized and on track and everything I never figured out how to be.
A cold gust of wind hit my face and I realized I had tears running down my cheeks. The overwhelming weight of the feeling of failure crushed me. I thought about all the jobs I’ve had – each one kind of short and pointless like a dead end road. My face literally twisted like I took a shot of whiskey when I thought about some of those jobs. Waking up at the same time every day before the sun and dragging my unwilling body to sit under some fluorescent lights for so long I thought it would kill me – eventually it probably would. But, there was one job that stood out. I thought about the first real job I got when I was eighteen and still in college. I worked as a lifeguard at a natural spring in a small town in Florida. It was just a sweet little swimming hole, nothing fancy. I’d work ten hours a day in the blistering sun, blinding myself from the glare of the sand and the water. I’d come home sunburnt, exhausted, and completely and utterly happy. My memories at that swimming hole are some of my best that I have. I probably would’ve done it even if I was getting paid half of what I was making. Hell, I probably would’ve done it for free if I didn’t have to pay for the gas to get there. I showed up to work every day with no makeup on and bare feet. My car was constantly covered in sand and smelled like sunscreen and sweat. And yet, this was the only thing I’ve ever done professionally that I could honestly say I loved.
As I walked along the trail, I tried to twist my mind around that fact. I’d always thought that I’d find some exit onto that interstate I pictured in my mind. That maybe, when I grew up enough, I could learn to wear shoes every day and have an eight to five career and enjoy it like everyone else. I panicked because I started to realize that there was a very real possibility that that exit was never going to materialize for me. I’d be scorched by the sun and barefoot on this side road forever. But for some reason, as much as I envied the people I imagined on the interstate, I realized that on some level, I didn’t actually want what they had. If that was really what I wanted, I would’ve found a way. All those normal jobs wouldn’t have ended up being dead ends. I started to cry harder as I realized that there was a reason my swimming hole job was the best one I’ve ever held.
It was because I’m restless. I’m a wild child, a hopeless wanderer, a dirt bag kid, a tumbleweed rolling through life. I was built to spend hours in the sun and get my feet dirty every day. My heart is strewn across the world in so many tiny pieces that it could never all be glued back together in one place. I left a piece of my heart at the top of the Swiss Alps, a piece sitting next to a saguaro on the Baja Peninsula, a piece in a wheat field in Kansas, a piece in the mangrove flats in the Gulf of Mexico, a piece shrouded in the mist of the Great Smoky Mountains, and a piece in the sweet tea water of the Suwanee River. My dogs had no idea why I was crying so much, but I saw in their wild eyes and dirty paws another piece of my heart. In that moment, I realized my soul rests nowhere because it rests everywhere and, like that, the reason why I never found my exit onto the interstate became as clear as the crystal water of a Florida spring – I belong on the byways and in the empty, dusty corners of this world, not chained to a desk underneath fluorescent lights making money I’d only spend trying to distract myself from that reality. From the depths of my soul came a resounding, “fuck that.” I realized that I said those words out loud when my dogs turned to look at me.
I felt their warm, dusty fur under my hand and pictured the two roads in my mind again, except this time, I paid more attention to the byway I was on. I realized that even though it felt lonely, I wasn’t the only one on the road. There were a few other cars slowly making their way along around me – other tumbleweeds with a penchant for adventure and a lust for the unknown. Their cars were covered in sand and dirt like mine and had a few more miles on them than those interstate cars.
Maybe you’re in one of those few other cars on the byway. Our paths would probably cross eventually while we were both filling up our tanks and getting a coffee at a gas station at 3:00 AM somewhere. We’d peek at each other’s dogs in the backseat and they’d be dirty, but they’d be happy. Just like us. And we’d give each other a knowing smile and we’d drink our coffee black because we like things uncomplicated. We’d probably shake our heads as we worried about how we’d pay for the next tank of gas, but we know we’d find a way to keep moving somehow. Because we would and we do. Maybe, like me, sometimes you hear the hum of the interstate and get jealous of the people speeding along that path. I don’t know of a way to make that longing stop altogether, but I can say, I’m with you on the scenic route. It might be lonely, but it’s beautiful and we’re definitely not alone.
Cheers to our dirty cars, the black souls of our feet, and to us – the tumbleweeds.