Returning by Paul White

I traveled 3,000 miles. 38 hours of driving. I crossed three time zones and 10 state lines. In a fully packed up Toyota Sienna, where the drum set sat next to me and Spotify played hours and hours and hours of music. When it wasn't dead silent from the lack of service. Thanks T-Mobile....

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I started in Denver. The mile high city. And when I stepped off the plane and stared at the landscape, I felt like I'd been knocked back. Pretoria and Denver look the same, without the Rocky Mountains in the background of course. But the rolling hillside and shrubs look a hell of a lot like home. I don't know how anyone can stand there, in that space, and look at the vastness of the earth and not be overwhelmed with the glory of nature. I sat with my boyfriend's friends and learned about the city he lived in, stopping in at their favorite haunts and eating some of the best tacos I've ever had at a bar with one hell of a sense of humor. It's called Pinche, by the way.

 

I drove 15 hours through Denver, New Mexico, and West Texas. I had multiple moments of heartbreak and awe. The land is not easy, it's rugged and harsh. Mountains paint the sky blue and the land looks wind torn, with the occasional windmill on a mesa like a sky dancer reaching for the clouds. Settler's looked at that land with dogged determination and decided they would make it their own. More often than not I saw land tearing down homes, natures tendrils reaching up to pull bricks down the walls, to reclaim what had been built. But the homes that survived, are incredible.  In New Mexico, I went over 15 miles at time between dwellings and I was mind blown at man. Roads, electricity and telephone wires are testament to the presence of humanity, but otherwise the flats and mountains, mesas and buttes, are all barren of human touch. No billboards litter the highway, no gaudy signs for gas or cheap motel rooms. Just the occasional small town, a blip in the unchanging landscape. The road trip was long, and often arduous, with the wind whipping across the road and forcing me to fight the elements for the majority of the 15 hour drive.

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I landed in Austin at 9:30 at night and walked down 6th street, time and memory and exhaustion driving me to the nearest food joint that still served food on a Wednesday night. Eureka! was the choice, where a bourbon cocktail named Penicillin won me over, and a woman named Christine had me hysterically laughing as we discussed men, bunnies, the love for movement beyond a desk, the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a workforce and the fact we say sorry too much. She invited me to join her for a yoga retreat in Boston in August and when I left she hugged me and told me I had a beautiful soul.

 

In the morning I drove across Texas and into Louisiana, and I cried over the vastness of the Mississippi river and how brave men and women had to be to cross that without a bridge. We owe so much of what we have to people with far more guts then we have. And then I drove into New Orleans, as the sun broke through and storms finally quieted, and oh if that city doesn't feel like coming home. There's an energy in New Orleans, a hum in the lining of the walls. Where belief systems are a little different and you can see children playing tag amongst the tombs as easily as you see them on the playground. Music pours out of open doors, colored houses dot the landscape and theres something amazing to do or see on every corner.

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We visited several local favorites, caught up on a year of changes, discussed love and family, work and wishes, and the lives we want for ourselves. We stopped at St. Roch's market in the morning, before we walked the quarter, and indulged in overly great food. I spoke with Melvin, a man who loves this city so much and was so glad I'd come to visit. And we talked about music, and places to see and the vibrancy of people, of art, of music and experience. And he told me to come back because I looked like I belonged there.

 

If there would ever be a place to pack up and start again, I'd know exactly where I'd go. And I'd never look back. I told Michelle I'd see her in the fall and I left with a heavy heart, because there's never enough time in New Orleans or with a friend who you know you can count on for 12 years and counting. I drove through lightning storms and pounding rain for 4.5 hours, as if the city itself was angry I was leaving. And arrived at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. 

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I saw Stephanie last, 7 years ago, at her mother's funeral. Her son was an infant, not an independent young man like I met. She has done an incredible job, raised a polite and wonderfully kind son. And She and I sat on the couch for seven and a half hours and talked about every possible thing that crossed our minds. From hysterical laughter to conversations that blew my mind. She told me she has stopped apologizing for things and instead has started saying thank you to people instead. "Thank you for your patience, thank you for not judging my house." The shift in position felt life altering. Seven years was covered in such a short time and it will never feel long enough. We ended our journey with breakfast and a hug and a vow to have more adventures together instead of just discussing them. 

And then I drove 10 hours home. Honestly I think the most impressive part of the trip was the fact I spent that much time in a car without getting a speeding ticket.

But I learned so much about myself in that car. To drive that far alone is to be trapped with your own thoughts and fears and wants and to be forced to confront them. I didn't stress about food or workouts, I enjoyed the moment. The first trip I've gone on where exercise and food were not an obsession, because I know what I'm capable of and that I can alter my state with hard work. I felt a sense of calm and peace as I looked forward to my new career choices. Between restaurant industry and advertising, my day will be filled with excitement and value. I will not be a stationary, caged bird, I will travel. For work, for pleasure, for a change in scenery. Fears, that have once kept me tethered were alleviated as the hours passed and I realized I am able to do a lot more on my own than I gave myself credit for. I forgave myself for holding back, for still allowing someone else's voice to ring hollow in my ears after the fact.

And when I pulled into Richmond, it was with love, because I do love this city, but also with joy. Because you can always come home, so there's no reason to stay tethered anymore. 

I'm ready for more, more life, more adventure.

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