“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.” -Cheryl Strayed
Pull a black peacoat on in the dead of winter and drive to Gallatin Street in Hyattsville, MD. Park your car, put two hours on the meter and walk up to Satchmoe Art. Ascend the stairs, open the door, and make small talk with Vanessa before she begins to ink your skin with the expression, "How wild it was to let it be." This is the last line of Cheryl Strayed's memoir, and you have contemplated getting it tattooed on your body for some years now. First you thought you would get it somewhere near your clavicle, and then somewhere underneath your right breast, until you finally decided on your left inner arm–a place that is both visible and hidden, depending on how you sway. Visible and hidden, a combination of words that seem to embody how you sometimes feel. Yes, you have wanted this particular tattoo for some time, but it is only now, here in the dead of winter, that you felt enough of a spark to actually get the words etched on your body. And, maybe you did not feel a spark as much as you felt longing. As much as you felt lonely. As much as you felt lost. January was a month of wilderness, and it was hard to predict what the months ahead would bring.
"You will never be able to keep up this level of wit." That's what Lu tells you over a bottle of cheap champagne at Quinn's on the Corner. You've handed over your phone to show her a Tinder exchange. It's Sunday brunch and you are catching up on each other's lives. She's fielding incoming calls from her wedding videographer, and you are sending messages to a guy on Tinder. The asymmetry of you and your friends’ personal lives at this age is hard to overlook. When you matched with the guy, you sent him a message reading, "A photojournalist taking a selfie? That's blasphemous.” It is equal parts spirited and bombastic. You both begin to exchange some playful banter, a verbal game of table tennis where his wit is sure to outsmart yours first.
His wit did outsmart yours. And, yet, something between the two of you still burgeoned and bubbled over. On an otherwise unremarkable Friday night, after a few weeks together and that one ride of Pharaoh's Fury at the Alexandria Carnival, he asked you to be his girlfriend. It seemed so simple. It was so simple even though you had spent weeks trying to stitch rows of red tape around this thing, trying to convince him that it was worth waiting until you got back from Australia in July. But, there was not a thing you would have gained from waiting. In fact, you may have lost it all. Yes, it all seemed so simple. Because it was. And that is what you would learn from him time and time again–that when things are right, and when two people are ready, it is simple. It is uncomplicated. It is not laced with uncertainty. You are not bereft of your wits. When it is right, many things about it should come easy.
Your tour of the Sydney Opera House is set to begin in 30 minutes, so you walk upstairs away from the crowd. It is overcast and drizzly, and soon it will begin to pour. But, before it does, you walk around aimlessly, stop for a bit looking at the harbor, and begin to cry. You cry because here you are, across the world, alive and well and on your own. Here you are, a girl from Baltimore who didn't get on a plane until she was 16 and a woman who didn't leave the country until just this year, and yet you've made it to Australia. You climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You spent 30 days alone–eating pepperoni salami and drinking too many Cokes and trying vegemite and doing a Tim Tam slam and asking no less than one dozen strangers for directions. You've made a trip that just a few years ago, you didn't think you had the courage to do. You'll look back on this time and tell people that travel does not necessarily change you. Travel does not rearrange your insides or solve your problems back at home or self-actualize you in the ways Instagram would have you think it does. But, travel shows you what you are made of so that you can do it again. Maybe a farther distance. Maybe a longer duration. Maybe a more foreign place.
When you wake up next to him in an old "See. Speak. Feel." t-shirt, this will feel like home. September was a long month, stitched together with the mounting pressure of work and punctuated by mornings like these. Three days before this, you learn that one of your old coworkers Tina has died after battling cancer for 14 years, and you will challenge yourself to quit focusing too much on the wrong things. The meaningless things. The easily-forgotten-who-cares-it-won't-matter-tomorrow things. That is what death does, except it seems to only do that for a brief stint until you're sucked right back up into the minutiae. But, this year has given you more perspective and depth. It has given you new dimensions and fresh meaning. This year has shown just how much joy can be extracted from the bonds you forge, the bridges you build, and the love that encircles you. This year has given you courage and sturdy hands to hold. Maybe you will quit focusing on the wrong things. Or, at least maybe you will try.
Listen to Cage the Elephant’s Cigarette Daydreams that night on the way home from work. “You can drive all night/looking for the answers in the pouring rain/you want to find peace of mind/looking for the answers.” Recall how many nights and days and mornings you have spent over these last few years of your twenties looking for answers. Remember how so many of those answers were only unearthed in unexpected moments or through hidden passageways. Realize that there is no amount of digging or searching or seeking or clawing that will substitute fate or time or God. There are some things you can only receive once you stop looking. So, I hope that you will ready this maybe a year from now or 10 years from now, and realize that everything you've wanted was either already right here or just waiting to emerge once you stopped yearning for it. I hope you will read this and see the last year of your twenties not as an ending, but as an unfolding. I hope you will read this and realize that where you were in this moment was only a glimpse of the goodness to come.