My mother’s name is Barbara, which means foreigner. Barbara as in a form of the word Barbarian– those who arrived like cannons and never really integrated. This is how I feel more often than not. For more than two decades of his life, my father was a Marine. The first time we moved, I was seven weeks old, and we haven’t stopped since. My grandparents are immigrants. Nothing in my life settles, and I don’t know if I know how to do that. When every chapter leading up to this one has been a field guide, a Captain’s log– some text always written in transit– it’s difficult to stay still.
This isn’t unique to me. The social media era thrives on instant gratification. We have amazon prime for all of our goods. Dating apps for a quick hook up or to bigger, better deal it. We have postmates and instagram likes and a 24 hour news cycle. It’s hard to function on any mode outside of “go”.
The restlessness is a survival skill. A predator cannot feast on running prey. But I have outrun every beast intent on devouring me. In this frantic quarter -century, I found and built and scavenged for the things that others were handed. before I go further— I want to point out that I was handed whiteness, Christianity in a culture that prioritizes it, a middle-class upbringing. But, privilege simply means that the world at large is not against you. Privilege doesn’t ensure a lack of internal problems. Privilege cannot protect you when the people who were supposed to do that couldn’t. So not all of my traumas are because of what I am but my traumas have impacted who I am.
I don’t know how to stand still. Literally. I pace all the time. I never sleep through the night. My heart pounds with the potential of a bass drum but insists on beating like a snare. Which is to say that it’s always pounding way more than it has to.
Freedom is something I relish with my whole body. I am my own latitude and longitude– cartographer of any and every direction I move. I prided myself on how little I’m tethered to people, measured my cool in distance kept away. This is a safety mechanism. If the emotional investment isn’t there, then neither is the ammunition. If I always keep one hand on the door, I can leave at any time. The thing about being distant and focused on the exit is that my whole life became an escape route. It was never about being and only about leaving. I am most comfortable on the run, in transition, leaving.
I’m a commitophobe. When it comes to my future, when it comes to relationships, when it comes to plans. Commitment feels like captivity, like claustrophobia. Being wanted feels like a trap because it’s only led to springs and ensnarement before. Warmth lured me close, so close that I couldn’t leave when I realized I mistook attention for something deeper. Health scientists say that your body craves what you give it. So, I now crave that shallow affection. I’ve taught myself to subsist on likes, fleeting compliments. I am suspicious of those who stay. I do not believe in permanence. This is a wonderful recipe to wind up all alone. I’ve built everything in my life so I can leave at any time it because I don’t know how to stay. And part of me feels like this was an equation crafted long before I even arrived. After all, we are a family of wanderers. That makes us hardy. The problem with hardiness is that over time, it callouses. Designed to be tough, I struggle with softness.
I am in a relationship for the first time in my life. I’m not scared of diving in deeply. But I am protective of the situation because it’s relatively new. I don’t know what will come of this attachment if anything at all. I don’t know what this is supposed to “be”, but I think the uncertainty is the point. To do anything besides remain present with this person robs me of the becoming. I can’t be happy now if my mind is somewhere else. What I know is that this woman is consistent, overwhelmingly compassionate, stable, generous, joyful, and makes every bad day better. My head is ever a tempest, but with her, everything is calm.
And it’s uncomfortable– not because she isn’t spectacular, but because I’ve outrun my feelings. I’ve overthought them out of my head and into concepts. Distance and restlessness are spectacular barricades for intimacy. Nothing can reach me if I’m far away. I cannot be seen fully in the distance. I did not want to rely on other people for good things because I never wanted to be let down. I don’t like asking people to do things because what if they don’t show up? Expectations have been nothing but trapdoors for me, plummeting my hope. And for me, hope is the prickliest of this. Daring to believe I deserve good things and that they will find me feels like I’m testing fate. I’m prodding the universe to do the opposite. Expressing care feels dangerous outside of my mouth. I await her disappearance, a withdrawal, a fade into the saga of past dating lives. It hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve dated madly and not at all and with feverish speed again. Carefree and brazenly, I frolicked from dalliance to dalliance. Dating is a kind of chase– the flirting, timing, social media strategy. In remaining restless, it became into an elaborate game of chess, a campaign to earn someone’s affection even if I didn’t want it. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t my job to market myself as the best potential romantic partner. It shouldn’t be that inorganic.
Staying, raging against the restlessness, demands focus. It eliminates all the background noise so my choices command full volume. I’m no longer distracted by empty options. This doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to get married, commit to a career path, and buy a house. This means that I’m brave enough to trust my judgment. I am confident enough to make a choice. I’m humble enough to fail and begin again.
Every chapter before this one had feet, but I want to give this one roots. I want to plant and bloom and grow. Stillness stirs fears of not keeping up or realizing I am not enough or making the wrong choice. But my life needs to be more than just one giant way out. This is the plot twist after a theme of leaving. This is where the nomad stays. And maybe that stay isn’t forever. I believe in being brave enough to leave. But for now, I’m trying to summon the courage to stay.