With my sophomore year of college coming to a rollicking close in Connecticut, I dropped off my girlfriend in her native Pennsylvania before shooting back up to my hometown in New York.
That night, as I pulled into the driveway after hours on the road, I tiptoed to my room only to hear my mother say my name in a distressed voice. I inquired about why she looked like she was crying. She informed me that my childhood best friend had been killed that day in a motorcycle wreck.
The news hit me in the gut like a bowling ball. Though he and I had lost touch in recent years, our time together as kids was as often as it was cherished. He was only 19 years old when he left us that May. At the funeral, as high school chums and family members shed innumerable tears, I leaned down and kissed his casket before it was lowered. I said under my breath, “I’m going to live a life for the two of us.” From that moment on, I knew each day I awoke was one more than he was able to. It sparked a wild streak within my being, where I constantly am in a race against time and place, and what it means to provoke the chaos of possibility and chance.
And with that mindset I took off for the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee a couple weeks later. My girlfriend was unable to join me, so I found myself on my first solo road trip, one heading to a melodic zoo in Southern Appalachia. One morning, before anyone took the stage, I was reading Kerouac’s “On The Road” when a bolt of excitement shot through my body. Out of nowhere, I realized, after years of cluelessness, exactly what I wanted to do with my life — be a writer. The light switch not only went on, the bulb itself only grew brighter and brighter as the summer rolled along.
For the next month or so, I readied myself for an upcoming fall semester abroad in Ireland. Never having been to Europe, I was anxious and a tad apprehensive as to what this trek would mean to not only my purpose, but also to my relationship, which would now become long distance and across an ocean.
I spent my last month in the states with her in the Pocono Mountains. We wandered the region, going hiking or swimming, anything to spend quality time with each other. She was the kind of girl, that kind we all have had in our lives at one time, where you see yourself years down the road, still smiling with happiness when she enters your field of vision.
And yet, as I packed my bags and headed for the airport the last week of August, I received the call — she wanted out. She pulled the plug on us before my airplane even left the tarmac, where it’d be easier to just call it a day than go through months of anguish and uncertainty thousands of miles apart, physically and emotionally. Thus, I settled into my seat, buckled in for Europe, with pieces of my heart scattered somewhere back there, in New York, in Pennsylvania, and in the now past.
It wasn’t until Christmas when I returned to America. My parents picked me up at the airport, but I wasn’t the same kid they dropped off. I had changed. After the summer of 2005, after Ireland, my outlook was no longer just seen from my childhood backyard — it gazed beyond any mountain range or horizon I once thought impossible to overtake.
Ten years ago this week. A decade since I left for the inevitable, which was my soul finally connecting with the world around me, in ways unknown to me until I was ready to possess them. I think back often on how that period of my life created the trajectory I’m currently still on. My reality was cracked, flawed, and shook up, like a snow globe shaken by a curious toddler.
But, just like the snow globe, when set down on a firm foundation, the flurry subsides and clarity is once again attained. The line in the sand was drawn by my big toe, eager to see if the rest of my body would step across it. You see, the thing is, as you cross the threshold, the winds of time wash away any trace of that line.
And when that happens, the cosmos once again draw another line further down the path to conquer. The challenges aren’t the same as the date on the calendar changes, but who you are deep down, and how you react, remains full of a childlike wonder and lifelong determination to see just what happens when you tempt the curiosity of your intent.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Haywood County Fair will be held through Aug. 31 at the Haywood County Fairground in Lake Junaluska.
2 The 109th Canton Labor Day Festival will be held Sept 5-7 at the Rec Park and Sorrells Street Park in downtown.
3 Legendary rock act The Steve Miller Band will perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 3 at Harrah’s Cherokee.
4 The Seven Clans Rodeo will be held Sept. 4-5 at the intersection of U.S. 19/441 in Cherokee.
5 The 14th annual RailFest will be held Sept. 5-6 at the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad depot in Bryson City.