I've been trying for a month to find the theme to recapitulate the last year that I've had. I have been trying to find an idea to wrap all my thoughts up around, and I have been trying to find boundaries to ensnare the rollercoaster of emotions from these past three hundred and sixty-five days.
I have been trying, and I have been failing.
How do you encapsulate a year in which you traveled the vast majority and condense it into some hundreds of words? Could Kerouac? Were Travels with Charley made to be an essay? Was the Road to Oxiana but a brief trail? Did Cheryl Strayed punctuate her pilgrimage with a tweet? Who would have enjoyed but a jaunt Into the Wild? What would the Motorcycle Diaries look like as a single entry?
My life took two monumental turns in the span of four days last June for which I suspect it will never be the same. On June 15th, 2015 at 12:01PM, I boarded a bus on Greyhound Route 4446: Detroit to Cleveland. Since then, I spent at least one hundred and ninety-two days of the following year touring. I have likely spent half of the other one hundred and seventy days traveling for things other than work: to my parents' home for holidays, to pick up friends in Windsor, to Lansing for my brother's family, camping on the Leelanau Peninsula, and on and on.
The point therein is two-fold. The first is a reassertion of how much this job means to me. For the first time since I was twelve, my brother lives less than a thousand miles away. He lives close enough that I'm planning a day trip to ride my bicycle there. And I get to see him. I get to see his wife. I get to see their dog. Instead of working fourteen hours in a grueling kitchen cooking for strangers on Thanksgiving, I got to take three days to make a fourteen-dish meal for my family and a small assortment of foreign post-doc students. Instead of closing the kitchen at three AM New Year's Day, I got to celebrate by crawling into bed at eleven PM New Year's Eve. Where once I would have been wasting my nights away, I got to hold an anxious friend's hand through their MRI. Rather than running myself sick, I have had the healthiest year of my life. Where I was barely able to visit my spouse when the doctors thought they would surely die, I got to devote whole days to a friend in recovery. Instead of spending Father's Day cooking two hundred extra-well done steaks, I was able to go on a nature walk and photograph flowers with my father before cancer finishes its job. For the first time in my life, I get to live my life, and I get to be there for those whom I cherish.
The second point is that, when everything is taken away, I spent about ninety days of the last year in my own bed. Ninety days with my garden. Ninety days with access to my favorite neighborhood bars. Ninety days I didn't have to ask for a wifi password. Ninety days where I was able to cook for myself. Ninety days I didn't have to pack or unpack every item I had. Ninety days with a washer and dryer. Ninety days of biking in the open air and listening to records. Ninety days with a bookshelf. Ninety days I didn't have to worry about leaving something behind. Ninety days I was able to cry out, and find myself in the arms of a friend.
I spent twice that many in hotels.
I had never traveled like this, and I had never thought I would ever be able to. The closest I ever imagined was working on a cruise ship, and, honestly, if my divorce had gone slightly differently, I likely would have done just that. As anyone who has traveled for work can attest, it's not the joyous life of a tourist that many think it is. It is tiring and grueling in its own way, but there are joys to be found. I have traveled the nation seeking out paintings by Kehinde Wiley, and I have managed to visit twenty-nine of the thirty Major League Baseball stadiums. I have witnessed the bayou, and I have approached the Rockies. I have smelt the Pacific, and I have breathed in the Atlantic. La Brea's tar pits stole my heart, and Montréal matched my soul.
In all of this, I have spent but a few days at home. In all of my flitting about, I have lost sight of what that even means. It has long since been the place I grew up, now so disfigured I haven't been able to bring myself to look at it in years. No longer is it the building my mortgage covers. No, that is a quiet place to rest, but it is even less my home than my brother's house with its handsome dogs and limitless espressos. My home was a feeling I feared I had lost and might never recover.
Three days before I left on that Greyhound bus that changed my life, the arc of my life had already bent in a way I couldn't begin to realize for another month. Almost three years into my career and some three months after Dillan Wolfe and I started chatting, I had my very first coworker - if I ever could get to Montréal. By some twist of fate, that same day, Delilah Sansregret had published a piece that took up permanent residence in my head. Conversation sparked, and soon the two had me scheduling the longest bus ride of my life. Within minutes of arriving in Montréal, I was embraced as though I had lived there my whole life, and by that afternoon, for the first time, I had a fellowship that understood my work. Even more than that, I had found a people that also understood me in all the niches that my past coteries had. For the first time in three years, I had found a community who understood me. Even now, nearly a year later, that first day plays deliciously over and over in my head.
You could say it was love at first sight.
I used to date a guy who is a little bit of a deal on Twitter. It was always rather funny to me that, when he traveled for work, he often would meet up with his mutual follows, but made sense in that he had, on the internet, finally felt like he had found his people. It took some time, but since that pivotal first day in Montréal, I finally began to understand as I similarly met up with Twitter friends whilst doing my own traveling for work. In the intervening months, I have met so many amazing people I could not begin to enumerate them, but they have spanned the length of a continent and the breadth between oceans. To a one, the people I have met this way have been truly astonishing humans that anyone should consider themselves fortunate to know. That I have been lucky enough to know them in this context and with this level of instant familiarity is beyond any expectations I ever had for this part of my life. Quickly, very quickly, I have formed some of the deepest and most meaningful relationships of my life with a bevy of people I could never have imagined myself knowing, much less befriending.
This year - this road - has been wearisome at times to be certain, but it has brought me more opportunity, experience, comfort, and love than I ever expected. Yes, I have only spent collectively some three months at my house, and, yes, I have only spent a few days at home. But what does that mean? Where is that home? It has been with these new friends - these new loves - who see me as I am. It has been with and within these generous souls that I have found my rest. Nowhere has life afforded me such ease and comfort, and finally, on the road, my heart is finding its home.
To be certain, I am no Che Guevara, and my story is no Wild.
But what if we were?