My friend Philip often dreams of running away to some place more exotic than Tuscaloosa, Alabama—somewhere like Scotland, or North Carolina. I used to join in with daydreams of my own. Maybe I should earn another master’s at the University of Edinburgh, or live on bread, butter and coffee at a café in France. Perhaps my dream job and accompanying adventure awaited at a small town newspaper somewhere north of here.
Then one day I realized, I already ran away.
Six years ago I faced college graduation, the milestone I’d been so eager to reach that I rushed a four year degree into three. I had everything planned out: I had been accepted on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. All that remained was raising support for training, then learning which Southeastern college campus I’d be placed on. It was the obvious path for a girl once dubbed the Campus Crusade poster child.
But it wasn’t the right path. One month before graduation I finally admitted that Crusade staff wasn’t the best fit for me—for my personality or my gifts. I was 20 years old, suddenly directionless and scared to death.
I now think it’s pretty normal to feel confused, aimless and depressed during that first year after graduation. At the time, I had dreams, ideas I’d longed to pursue since childhood. Fear (of failure, of bankruptcy, of an unkown city and a state I’d left 15 years earlier) and then my own comfort had held me back. I wanted to write. I desperately missed it; I had decided in fifth grade to become a journalist. But I wasn’t trained, and I wondered if I could satisfy this craving in my free time. Terror immobilized me, and I remained in Florida.
It wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t. When a friend told me he didn’t understand why I had to leave, I couldn’t find the words to answer him. I didn’t fit there anymore.
And maybe I was wrong, or foolish. Maybe I was strange, thinking Alabama was where I could “find myself.” But I had to leave. One year after abandoning the path I’d planned so carefully, I left everyone behind and pointed my car toward Tuscaloosa.
It sounds so silly now. Millions of people go to grad school every year, like it’s the obvious next step. Now, I’ve moved back and forth through cities where I didn’t know anyone, or didn’t know anyone who wasn’t a blood relative. But then, I was 21 and holding to a firm conviction that this was what I had to do. Both Alabama and picking up a pen were my calling.
I can’t, won’t, paint all that’s happened since in rosy shades. There’s been loneliness, broken hearts, triumphs and family problems. But now, when Philip talks about running away to Europe, my daydreams involve month-long vacations instead of existential crises grappled with in some foreign land. I’ve found a place (the place?) where I fit, where I am the most myself. My heart is tied to this city.
Somehow, running away brought me home.