I’ve lived my whole life in the same house; on the same street; in the same neighborhood; in the same lakeside town. I’ve laughed here; I’ve cried here, but most of all I’ve learned here. Here is where I took my first steps, but it will not be where I take my last.
Growing up in a community with very few people means you know everyone and everyone knows you. Secrets simply just don’t exist. Adventure is only a thing you read about in English class. Everyone marries their high school sweetheart and works at the local grocery store. That’s just the way it is and the way it always will be. People are content, happy with their lot in life. Those who strive for greatness eventually come to their senses and settle down.
So now, as I sit in this car, staring down the all too familiar driveway, I weigh my choices. Soft music flows from the speakers, some love ballad I had heard a million times, played by some local radio station. The same station that every person in this area has set into their stereo presets.
A part within me screams, daring me to drive away and never look back. To let my dust settle in a town with one less citizen. It yells and bangs against my skull, begging me to consider the whole world out there that I had only seen in PBS specials. The mountains, the oceans, those sights that National Geographic would give anything to capture. The people, the culture, the brand new life where I could live free from past reputations and guilt. It pleaded with me, and as tempting it is, it terrifies me.
The other part within me sits quietly, simply watching me struggle with this decision. It doesn’t feel the need to beg or plead. It knows that it’s words have already been imprinted into my brain throughout the past years of my life. Every time someone told me to be content, told me that this was as good as it gets; this part within me grew stronger. It’s main message was that those who try to venture out where they don’t below, fail and wither under the harsh atmosphere of the real world. It’s silence is reinforcing; it judges me. It terrifies me even more.
I’ve never had a choice to make that was this big before. At this point in my life, the most important decision I had had to make was what to wear to homecoming. At that time, that choice seemed like life or death. Now it seems like a small dot on the timeline of my life; something that I won’t even remember in 20 years. This choice, whether to stay or to go, would change the rest of that timeline. The arrow of labeled with my name pointed straight ahead. This choice decided if it continued on that course or took a sharp turn into the unknown.
I sit, staring silently out the dirty, dust covered window. I watch the breeze blow through the quiet neighborhood of my childhood. It seems so small now, far different from the way I saw it as a kid. The trees I used to climb don’t seem as massive anymore. The concrete sideways where I first learned to ride my bike don’t seem like they go on for miles. I suppose that it just something that happens when you grow up. Your surroundings may not change physically, but the way you perceive them certainly does. As you grow larger, everything you know grows smaller.
The pleading part within tells me this is a sign that I need to move on, to expand my world once again. The quiet part within me implies that this is a sign that I need to stay, to stay within the comfort of the only place that I have ever known. The pleading part argues for adventure; the quiet part suggests safety.
The funny thing about personal decisions is all the input that other people want to contribute. It’s most people’s nature to voice their opinions, whether you welcome them or not. They tell you that they only want what’s best for you and what they would do if they were in your shoes, but without a full understanding of your thoughts and feelings, they only stoke the fires of doubt within you. Those fires then grow and before you know it, you are 65 and regretting all the chances you didn’t take when you were young. I don’t want that. I want this decision to be 100% mine, which might be the most difficult part of it all. The idea of disappointing those close to you is enough to make you sick to your stomach. Your parents, most of all, who raised you through the pain and tears, putting your life above their own. Their faces in that moment when you tell them you’re leaving, that feeling of being shattered enters your eyes and seeps down into your heart. In that moment, you lose all sense of being trapped and it is replaced with the unmistakable grief you feel for causing the humans who gave you life to feel this way.
I glance into my backseat, physically empty, but filled to the walls with memories. I remember how it felt to get my first car. Like complete and utter freedom. I remember the friends who sat in these seats, the jokes we laughed at, the stories we told each other. Every stain, every dent had a memory embedded in it. I guess that is the way it was with most things in life. Everything represented something else. But this car, my first big responsibility, represented something much greater. It was my wings, and it had the ability to change my future. Within minutes, it could take me to a whole new town; within hours, a whole new city and within days, a whole new world. That feeling of freedom I had felt the first time I had driven it was now a reality.
The sun has begun to set now, the way it does everyday, in every place in the whole world. I wonder if they are this beautiful out there. Are the colors as vibrant? Does the light dance on the dashboard the same way halfway around the globe? Will looking at them still make me feel so small? You don’t really ever think too deeply about something so constant until you are afraid you're gonna lose it forever.
A difficult decision is like a ten ton weight placed on small, fragile shoulders. The longer it sits there, the weaker they get, the closer to crumbling they become. Eventually, you just have to muster up the strength to lift it; to make a choice and stick with it. At this point that is what I have to do. If I don’t do it now, I’m gonna end up sitting in this car for the rest of my life, wasting my thoughts regretting my inability to control my own future. The two quarreling parts within me have grown quiet, knowing that the time has come to see who has won. Everything going on outside of my car seems to slow down, and my breathing quickens. I weigh my feelings carefully. Memories never truly fade, do they? The important ones always stay; I will always carry those ones with me, won’t I? So why am I worried about leaving the physical representations of them behind? Parents worry but they always want you to be happy, right? How am I ever going to know what the sunsets look like on the other side of the world if I never go see them for myself?
I smile and shift my car into drive.