It’s approaching the nine month anniversary of our move to Virginia , of the voluntary upheaval of our previous life to chase after an adventure that had seeped into our minds years before. An hour ago, I would not have had many uplifting things to say about this decision. But I grabbed the notebook I always keep by my bed (full disclosure: to write down Halloween costume ideas for Clayton and I), and I began reading the first few pages. Instead of writing my thoughts on the past nine months–bleak and lonely and depressing as they may be–I think it will make everyone feel better if I share the beginnings of the dream that brought us here. Mostly me. This is an entry I wrote the day I bought this journal, January 20, 2009. (Sorry to anyone who might have read the excerpts from this entry I posted the day after I wrote it. At least now you have the whole story.)
Today marked several firsts for me. And not just for me—today America has sealed this day forever in history as Inauguration Day of the first African American president. While I wish my mind could turn itself outward and embrace this milestone with the celebration and revere it deserves, I am holed up in a mesmerizing spell of introspection that has prompted this string of new (even if mundane to others) activities. As I write, I am perched on a bar stool in a “sports café.” Alone. Drinking a glass of rosé. Alone. I found my way to this place after walking the streets of downtown Tampa. Alone. Three “never-befores” within a span of two hours. I should probably explain.
Today I had to report to the Hillsborough County Courthouse for jury duty. Oddly enough on this groundbreaking day, this was not a new occasion. I’d had jury duty less than a year ago when living at my parents’ house in Pasco County. I went through the itemized list of potential-juror responsibilities throughout the morning: wake up early, fight traffic to get downtown by 8AM, search for the correct parking garage marked on the map of hieroglyphics included with the jury summons, check in, and wait. And wait. And wait some more. There was nothing extra ordinary that would cause the tectonic shift in my impulses landing me at this window seat staring at a glass of wine. Not even getting called to questioning for jury selection seemed unusual. (At my prior call to this civic duty, I was actually chosen as a juror.) It wasn’t until we broke for lunch that the winds started to shift, both literally and metaphorically, around me.
We were allowed 1 ½ hours for lunch, longer than I’d expected. Instead of crowding in at the deli in the courthouse, I decided to stretch my legs a little and venture into downtown Tampa on a search for some local flare for lunch. I ended up at Quizno’s. And no, there was nothing life-altering about my turkey club. What was different, and still is as the leaves swirl across the concrete streets, was the temperature. A recent cold front has sent Tampa into frigid and very rare near-freezing temperatures this week. I only walked for a half hour at lunch. But I’d gotten a taste. And though I couldn’t identify this particular feeling or urge, there was something I knew immediately: it was delicious.
I sat through the rest of the afternoon pretending to be interested in the questions the defense attorney posed to me and 39 other candidates. I shifted my weight from left to right, right to left as we waited to find out which of us would be reporting tomorrow morning for the robbery case. I didn’t mind the thought of coming back; I even expected I would be. But my name was not among the seven. And I didn’t mind that either. I was free to leave the courthouse, free to leave downtown and the traffic, free to forget this excuse to not be at work, free to get back to whatever it was I had to get back to. On the way out, when all the other jurors exited the elevator at the second floor (where we’d originally reported) and I rode to the first floor for no good reason at all, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to get back. Back home, back to work, back to the T.V., back there. I simply wasn’t ready. Not knowing quite how to catalogue or defend this realization, I let it sit out in front of me. I could see it and hear it, but I kept looking without reacting. I walked all the way back to the parking garage and even got in my car, all the while this familiar yet unfamiliar tug at my spirit lingered. The line of cars waiting to exit the garage stretched all the way to the third level and behind my car, preventing me from backing out. I guess this notion of not leaving was really intent on my following through with it. So I did.
It was even colder than it had been during the lunch break. Windier. Crispier. In a word, it was fabulous. Typically, I hate the cold. I am whining about goosebumps if the temperature drops below 70 degrees. But today, by any sort of definition, was not typical. Though I had no specific destination in mind, each step had purpose. Each gust of wind that whipped over my face energized me. The weather and the grayness of the skyscrapers enveloped me, and at the same time transported me right out of this city into someplace else, somewhere distant and different and unknowable. The hopes and ambitions that began to pour over me were intoxicating. I allowed myself these dreams and let my mind open itself to the possibilities of this new place, these new streets. An unimagined life began to take shape. I wanted to hold my breath for fear that I might exhale this windfall of promise out of sight. At the same time I wanted to drink in these moments with unashamed drunkenness. I wanted to absorb this cold air and float away in it. But I also wanted to walk right through it and take determined step after determined step. I wanted to feel what I was feeling. I got out of my car to walk out onto the streets and feel exactly this. That’s the only way I know how to describe the beauty in that walk. It was void of disappointment. What other moments in life can provide us with that fullness?
The greater meaning of this day came in several waves of realization. In one moment of complete gratification I understood so much of my joy was coming from the idea that I was somewhere else. Of course, my body wasn’t anywhere different. I grew up in this city. But for those few moments where I captured the excitement and wonder of the unfamiliar, I was happy. I was happy with strange weather and strange faces, with unrecognizable street names and storefronts. I was happy thinking if I am somewhere else, then maybe for a while I can be someone else doing something else. And maybe that someone else was more like the real me than the girl I was walking headfirst into the cold to escape. I didn’t feel like I was here, and I wanted to stay wherever I was for as long as possible.
About halfway through this “Oh-my-God-am-I-going-crazy-to-feel-like-this-because-of-a-walk?” walk, I had another thought that begged me to take its significance seriously. I was experiencing this apparent life-changing transformation in my psyche, and the silent narrator in my head confirmed what I’ve known since high-school. So simply I thought, “I want to write about this.” I don’t know (or maybe now I really do know) what the “this” is. Taking this thought in the most literal sense, I stopped into a cards and gifts shop no more than thirty minutes ago and bought the journal in which I’m chronicling the discovery of this very thought. And now I sit alone in a sports bar doing my best to fulfill this immediate impulse of creativity. (I didn’t want anyone mistaking how serious I was about all of this.) But in the beyond-today kinds of questions, where does my writing fit? Is it a part of the whole? Does it encompass all of the answers I’ve been restlessly searching for these last few months?
I’m certainly not a person who would be mistaken for a fanatic or a kook, but can such life affirming statements carry themselves to you through an unseasonably cold burst of moments on a directionless walk meant solely to postpone returning to the life you’ve found yourself in?
I don’t think I need to decide that tonight at 502 Sports Café. What I can fully attest to is that I am almost done with my wine, my best friend is on her way to have her own glass, and this was one of the best afternoons I can ever remember having.
I can’t say that I have had any afternoons here that felt quite like that one. And I’ve probably cried more days than I haven’t. But to read this again was such a comfort to the part of my head that has not stopped questioning this move since the day I said goodbye to my parents at the Newport News-Williamsburg Airport. That uncertainty has tainted every relationship I’ve tried to build here.
But, in complete honesty, everything is ok. I know we are right where we are meant to be. The evolution of careless comments to whimsical conversations to hours on a bar stool trying to make sense of those feelings to job interviews to snow boots feels divinely laid out. To read about a day so crucial to that plan provides a sense of supreme affirmation.
Cheers to three quarters of a year in VA.
And you’re just going to have to wait and see about those Halloween costumes.