The lightning bolt hit me in a Goodwill parking lot.
Ever since I had breasts the size of pimples and pimples the size of breasts, I have been described as 'reliable,' 'hardworking,' and 'driven.' All flattering epithets, but at 15 years old, it drilled a hole in my brain, where true dreams hid. Spontaneity could have pushed my reliable reputation through the cracks. Even though I yearned to try different hobbies, quit one job for a complete change in pace, travel without a destination in site, the stakes and fear of failure were too high to actually take the risk.
So I committed to it. I double minored and entered the honors program at UNC Asheville, while also working four internships throughout college. By the time senior year arrived, I had the perfect canned response when relatives asked me what I would do after graduation.
"I want to manage communications for a non profit, or work for an agency,"the surety of my response enough to ignore that I couldn't actually tell you why that was a significant path to take.
For the last two and a half years of college, I dated my love at first sight, who then became my best friend. We fell into a steady pattern that was supposed to lead us to marriage and babies. The week after my graduation, I began my big girl job as a social media and PR assistant at a local firm. If the American dream could still exist after the recession, this was it.
My life grew so steady it was stagnant, old water standing still for too long.
"You'll be out of Asheville soon enough."
"If you two just try and listen to each other more or take a vacation, you'll feel better."
"It doesn't feel great now, but someday you'll be happy."
I caught myself mouthing the word 'you' in the rearview mirror on the way to work one day. For months, maybe years, I had been speaking about my dreams, hopes, plans, as if I were directing an actor on stage, not living them myself.
Once this trick became conscious, I couldn't un-notice it. 'You' swarmed my mind, assuaged my deep truths, bit away at the semblance of me that was left like a swarm of horseflies.
My boyfriend loved to drink. One weekend, I had driven to Charlotte to take care of my brother and sister while my mother was in the hospital for a Lupus-related illness. He finished his CPA exams and understandably went out. But then, he really went out.
Six hours, then twelve, then eighteen had passed since our last conversation. I called the local hospital and the jail. A neighbor went over to knock on the door. I attended an event we were supposed to go to together. Then I went to Goodwill, attempting to ignore the deep seated issue with some second hand retail therapy.
I flipped through the racks. I grew angrier with each ill fitting dress I thumbed past.
"I'm only 22 years old, and I'm dealing with a dismissive boyfriend on my own. I deserve to feel infinitely better than this. If not all the time, then the most that I can."
So I broke it off. I returned to my childhood home, where I planned to move with my parents to Portland, Oregon. The city of my birth, I dreamt of walking streets of which I had only a childhood inkling, comfortable, vague memories that would whisper 'I am safe, be myself.' I would take on all the things I had always felt too 'you' to do: standup comedy, hiking solo, publishing poetry.
But things change. My work, with two employees soon to be on maternity leave, needed me back for a client who had doubled their hours. The thing about being a reliable teenager is that if you get good enough at something (for me, social media management: #MILLENNIAL) you become a wunderkind.
So I came back. I tried the things I had always been afraid of. I did stand up comedy on my 23rd birthday, empowered by the fact that a. everyone was drunk, and b. everyone had to laugh because it was my birthday. I began running, pounding the pavement to Beyonce's Best You Never Had.
This added even more 'reliability' pressure. In a little over a month, I had taken over my boss's role as an account lead, along with adding hours as a social media assistant for our newly enhanced client.
I poured myself enough libations to host a pagan ritual. I burnt my leg on a tinder date's motorcycle. Before the burn healed, he broke off the fling because it was too weird for him to separate emotions and sex. I questioned my own ability to so easily pare the two. Pressure at work mounted. 'You' returned.
"One more year then you can go for grad school at any place you choose!"
(But what do I even want to study? Law, creative writing, digital marketing? It changed every day.)
"Everyone has tough times at work. Shake it off and pull yourself up, try again."
(Try for what? Who are my instagram posts helping?)
"You're lucky to be making great money, almost everyone in this town is in a service job!"
(But am I lucky? Or am I good? What could I do in a bigger town?)
After the incessant buzz of 'you' for so long, I decided to shut it down quickly. What I wanted was to be in Portland, close to my family, the best seafood in the world, mountains with year-round snow, legal marijuana and thousands of miles of hiking trails.
The Blue Ridge Mountains have nurtured me in their crest, but at twenty-three, I can't settle in only 7 hours from the east coast. 'You' won't weigh on me like a temperate rainforest thunderstorm, threatening to crack open in Asheville's humidity any longer.
I'm headed through the same mountains my pioneer ancestors, Tabitha Brown and Narcissa Whitman among them, travelled 150 years ago. On August 18, my best friend and I will take off in my parent's Mustang GT, with a few audio books, carefully curated playlists and the wide expanse of America that has tempted many before us who sought to find their voices.
For once, I have no plan. My only to dos are to get a library card, an eye exam, and a feline leukemia vaccine for Nixe, my cat and true life partner.
Will it be where I end up? God, let's hope not. Reliability is for toasters. All I know is that 'you' have been silenced and I can't wait for whatever this crazy journey has in store.