I’m in a big yard in a suburban neighborhood by myself, ball and glove in hand, and I walk inside and there’s pictures on our wall and it’s our wedding, except it’s only me in a tuxedo, and a few family members in the audience, but they’re not smiling; they’re worried, they’re dying, it’s too late. Another picture: I’m tossing a Frisbee to a ghost of a baby that won’t exist in time, in time for my grandparents to see it, in time for me to be a great-grandparent, in time for us to be a young happy family, and everyone’s moving on, and I go back to the empty yard, and I’m surrounded by empty houses, and on another block are all of my friends and their families, happy, real, official, in time, and I wander through their blocks but now they’re busy, busy with reality, and I’m lonely so I go back to my empty street, and I’m even lonelier, and I don’t know what to do to make my block as colorful as their block, and I just want to start over and live a real life, and I feel like it’s already too late, I’ve already admitted defeat by Time, and I look back and try to figure out where I went wrong.
It took a couple of weeks in San Francisco for me to get fully acclimated, but I was in love the first time I stepped foot in that city. During the first six months there, I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life. I remember talking on the phone while walking up and down the hills with the wind blowing and the buses going by – I had never lived in a big city before, so it was weird getting used to the surrounding noise – and different family members on the other end would mention how happy I sounded. I really did feel a certain joy.
I was starting to get into a rhythm in my graduate program. I was getting good grades and becoming comfortable with my cohort. I was slowly getting adjusted to the city and the surrounding area; I liked it there. A lot. But when the summer rolled around, things changed, and it’s taken me this long to figure out why.
In the winter and spring, everyone was envious of the amazing California weather I was supposedly experiencing. Although SF is much different from the rest of California weather-wise, most people back home didn’t get to play Frisbee on the beach or go for an afternoon hike along the coast. I wasn’t missing out on much because most of my friends were stuck doing boring things indoors and working. Many of them wanted to come visit, as seeing me gave them an excuse to vacation in California. I welcomed and invited them, as everyone else does when they move there.
Over the course of six weeks in the summer, five of my closest friends (three of them girls) and my parents came to visit. It was during this period that I started losing it, and I had little time to stop and decipher my thoughts.
On one occasion, one of my good friends from college had come to visit. I felt like our friendship had been slowly losing ground because of the distance, so I was glad to have her in my reach once again. She joined my SF friends in going out one Friday night, and we had a blast. I signed up to karaoke Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at two different bars to no avail, but the people that did get called up to sing provided plenty of entertainment. Toward the end of the night, the bar was clearing out and quieting down, so we got to goof around and enjoy each other’s company. I thought it would be a good idea to bet Nic he couldn’t moonwalk all the way to the grocery store down the street. I remember closely watching him the entire time to make sure the moonwalk was official, and sure enough, he made it. So much laughing. So much happiness. With my friend from home now here for the moment along with my other friends, I was missing out on effectively nothing. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
When my friend left, something felt amiss. I began taking antidepressants for the first time since I moved, and I started to lose interest in school.
I had little time to think about what this feeling was before another friend came to visit two weeks later. This time, the culprit was a girl I had a little history with. I missed her, and it was fun to act like a couple for the week. Toward the end of her stay, we decided to go out. Nic had just gotten back from Eastern Europe, so it was a “boys are back in town” moment on top of the girl visiting. We had this thing for playing Creed songs on jukeboxes over and over again. Immaturely, we thought it was funny then, but it is still hilarious now. That night was karaoke night, so we thought it would be fun if we each signed up to sing Creed songs. I honestly can’t even remember what song I did – I think it was “One Last Breath,” but the response from our trolling is what I remember more. The DJ was getting a little aggravated after announcing, for the third time in a row, that someone would be singing Creed. Frank and Nic nailed their parts. Long story short, I finally got to karaoke “Lose Yourself,” and the night culminated in Frank singing Juvenile’s “Back That Thang Up.” He knew the song so well that he ignored the censored words on the prompter and sang the uncensored version in a rap voice, while some random girl starting dancing on stage with him. It was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. My friend joined in on the fun by singing Meredith Brooks’s “B###h.” Once again, I experienced that feeling of contentedness because I was missing out on nothing; the action was happening right in front of me.
After she left, that unsettling feeling began again. More medicine. More confusion. It is all a blur after that. Two years later, I find myself in a vastly different Bay Area, again far from my original home.
I now understand that the feeling of “missing out” is one of my greatest weaknesses. It is so extreme that it’s hard for me to feel happy for someone if they had fun and I wasn’t there. Thanks to Facebook, text messaging, and my imagination, I was able to see and guess what was happening back home after I had moved. When summer came, I became less important. My friends had less of a reason to stay in touch and more of a reason to enjoy the summer weather and their own friendships back home. I felt like they no longer needed me. I felt like the whole Midwest no longer needed me. When these friends came to visit, I momentarily had control over the situation, and everything was fine. But these friends also brought stories, memories, and feelings along with them. Besides the few good friends I already had in SF, I really hadn’t made many new friends due to the time commitment of my program. The foundations I was beginning to develop were not strong enough to fight against the foundations I had created back home. It wasn’t home in SF yet, and the flood of visitors in such a short time had me confused as to where home really was. Once the seed of “missing out” was planted in my mind, I could no longer be happy in such a distant land.
The things I could not control controlled me.
I love traveling, and as much as I hate moving, I enjoy living in different places. I don’t know how long I will be in my current location, Tampa, and if an opportunity arises in a distant city, country, or planet, I might start off on yet another journey. My point is not about staying in one place, but rather enjoying the moment while I’m here, and not worrying about what I’m missing out on somewhere else.
I do not regret moving from California – I was far from home and confused about life. I do, however, regret letting my insecurity over missing out influence my move so greatly. I wish I could simultaneously be in different places right now, but I will always only be in one place. I’m taking up a tiny portion of a tiny section of a tiny dot on a huge map, and I need to try to be happy where I am for a change. Instead of not missing out on the things distant from me, I need to not miss out on the things right in front of me. There will always be a rest of the world, but I can control nothing more than where my own two feet stand.
Lungern, Switzerland, November 2011.
The last time I felt at home.
I checked out of my hotel and caught the next train from Luzern.
I was the only one who got off the train. Lungern, although nestled halfway between a bustling tourist-friendly town and Mt. Pilatus, among many other popular Swiss Alps destinations, is tiny and has no attractions.
There was a walking trail from the train station to the town. I found myself heading toward the dreamy emerald-colored water.
My travel backpack and duffle bag were even more burdensome than in the previous weeks (I had walked miles in Dublin, Paris, Barcelona, and Nice with the same bags), so I had to take frequent breaks. It was a nuisance, but a wandering traveler has no other choice than to carry his baggage.
The trail wasn’t exactly a sidewalk; it weaved steeply down a hill through backyards, gardens, and fields. The town was very quiet at this time of day and probably at every time of day. Once I made it to the lake, I found another trail.
I walked almost a mile along the water. I saw a little peninsula with a great view of the lake and the Alps. That was where I headed.
There was a man fishing nearby in a small boat who happened to be leaving his spot; I was going to have the space for myself.
The view was breathtaking.
There was a lone bench shaded by a few trees with falling leaves. It was mine. The peninsula was all mine.
I had no clue what to do with all of this – it was too perfect. I put my bags down, sat on the bench, and tried to soak everything in.
Part of my being seeks its own Walden Pond. Completely separate from civilized society and all the “noise,” I can think more clearly. Tranquil, natural beauty makes me realize how little I really need. It also gives me hope that, if nature can achieve something this magnificent, so can I. Maybe I don’t want to be completely self-sufficient, but I do want to break free from the strangleholds of society. All I want is to be unencumbered by the superfluity that is thrown at me.
I took a few pictures but found myself unable to encapsulate what was right in front of my face. I thought a place like this would give me clarity, but it only made me more confused.
I took the long walk back up to the outdoor train station and found myself alone for almost an hour until the next train arrived. The cows grazed a few feet in front of me, their bells ringing loudly. A crisp breeze was blowing through the valley. Straight ahead were a few more houses, which gave way to slowly inclining fields, which turned into green hills and mountains.
I looked closely to see a couple primitive trails through the hills, and I remember thinking how exciting it would be to hike those trails. A train on a separate track from mine briefly stopped. A single passenger got off and a car picked him up. I was too tired to think anymore, so I relaxed.
This is where I had my moment of clarity, not on the bench at my peninsula.
For nearly an hour, I had attained freedom. For the moment, I was free from all of my worries and anxieties. It was just me and the cows; the cowbells rang but the wind provided an ambient noise with which to dampen their otherwise shrill jingle.
This is where I felt at home. Not in a specific location. With few creature comforts. Not necessarily isolated from all civilization, but in an environment where the focus was on no one person or thing except nature in general. Peace. Beauty. “This is what I want.” That’s the only thing I wrote in my journal.
Then the moment passed, and I started thinking again.
I thought about what it would be like living in Lungern. “A large part of whatever it is that I am looking for is here,” I thought. But reality kicked in. I am in Switzerland. I have no clue what to do with my life back home, let alone in a pastoral setting in the mountains in a foreign country. What would I do here? Do I really want to live ‘far from the madding crowd?’
These thoughts were racing through my mind, yet an hour after I left, the Indian summer ended and the winter began. As I passed through the town for a tour of Mt. Pilatus the following day, there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground, and it was 40 degrees cooler. I couldn’t see outside at all. The perfect, serene, beautiful Lungern I had experienced was gone.
Was this some sort of sign? Would I really want to live in Lungern, Switzerland? Perhaps, but that is not the point. The point is, when I was waiting alone at the quiet train station, I was no longer detached from my surroundings. We’re all trying to figure out where we belong in life. We all want to know where “home” is. Some find it in a physical location; others have a more abstract definition. My home is where my mind is able to shut off. Where I can become one with my surroundings and not just be an onlooker. In the rare, usually accidental instances where I am not a tourist of life, I am at home.
I do not know what this means for my future, but I do know that I have endless opportunities to find my home and my calling if I stop thinking and start doing. I still have a ways to go before I settle on a life path; if winter comes abruptly, nothing is tying me down.