(written June 2011)
So what if you did it?
Just packed up and left?
Just walk out, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Keep walking and don’t stop.
You have nothing but the clothes on your back and maybe your cell phone, haphazardly shoved into your back pocket, the way it always is.
You’ll hear it ring a few times, more and more as the time passes. But you won’t pick it up. You’ll silently, perhaps sadistically, enjoy the numerous voicemails marked urgent, the frantic text messages. Eventually you’ll drop it somewhere — an unfathomable act in your previous life. All your contacts, your locked text messages you can’t seem to get rid of, they’re gone now. And you don’t even care.
Of course, the hardest people to part with will be your parents. These are the ones you owe an apology to. Obviously, if you were at a point in your life, (and these points come every so often), where you were convinced your friends are indispensable, faithful, would not leave you after their parents get divorced or their boyfriend dumps them, as if you were not constantly walking toward a fork on the road, you would never walk out and leave like this. Your friends right now, you will miss, but things will go on without you.
How long would it take to shed your identity? It wouldn’t be very hard. Dye your hair in truck stop bathrooms, grow it long, or cut it off. Spend your savings on colored contacts, new clothes — the modern world makes transformation convenient. But it isn’t really these things that make you look the way you are, do they? Who you are and where you’re from have a certain way of determining the look on your face and the stride of your steps. Familiarity is a trade-off — we take for granted the comforts of recognizing the people around us by their tics and looks, acts that are distinctly them. In return, we let them mold us into someone they can pick out of a crowd. No one will ask you why you look different today, as if it is a personal attack against them. We all mold each other into something we recognize. Now you’re free, and your face will look different. I guarantee it.
Eventually, they will stop looking for you. How can you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? What about the children on the milk carton, the lost dogs, the parents at war? All of this is a feel-good news story in the making, a cinematic reunion waiting to happen. The world should be retracing its steps and scouring its cabinets for these people. Not you.
It’s the best kind of rebirth there is — you’re new to this world, but you already know how to spell and count and what kind of people you should avoid. Fluid versus crystallized intelligence. Maybe you’ll remember more facts, now that you can discard all the names of acquaintances and your preschool class.
And I’m not talking about becoming a recluse, about holing yourself up in a cabin for the rest of your life. That is the opposite of what I’m talking about. Recluses retreat even further into shell than they already are, are surrounded by nothing by themselves for years on end, destined to inevitably die by suffocation of self.
I’m talking about becoming someone else entirely.
Pick your name. Maybe you can use the one you’ve been harboring since you were a child, or go to the drugstore and pick up a book of baby names and meanings, spend an evening thumbing through it and finding one that fits you.
You’ll like different things. You won’t need to hate the Smiths or Jack Kerouac anymore because they remind you of nothing. They have nothing attached to them, they are empty, no longer metaphors. You won’t love avocadoes so much anymore because they won’t remind you of when you and your best friend still had things to talk about, they’ll just be a salty vegetable. Maybe you’ll be driving somewhere, sometime, and that 90's song will come on the radio, how bizarre, how bizarre, ooh baby. You’ll go to turn up the volume, reminisce of being young and hearing it in your favorite movie from when you were six, the weird sort of memories objects entail, relics from a time and place you can’t quite put your finger on. Because you don’t really remember places, you remember feelings. That song made you think of summer and California even though you hadn’t yet been there and other things you can’t describe. But you can’t cheat in this new life. You can’t remember some things and not others. These things are all empty now.
Sometimes, you’ll catch glimpses of birthmarks and scars, pieces of yourself you can’t shed, reminders of a past life, burdens you must carry.
Of course, this new life is a trade-off. You must give up all those good memories, the ones you held close to you, like you clung to stuffed animals at bedtime when you were young. But now you have the option of no regrets, no embarrassing moments, or memories that make you cringe. You don’t need to proudly boast to anyone anymore that this all made you who you are. It messed you up and you know it. Just disregard it. Treat these memories as pieces of old movies, not your life, and not your own responsibility.
Maybe one day, after many years have passed and everyone has forgotten you, you’ll want to come back to visit. Or not visit, because you can’t do that. But observe your old life and your old town as if you were a ghost. And it would probably only make you sad, to see the way life goes on without you, like that Bruegal painting, Icarus falling from the sky, as the farmer continued to plow. But you don’t have time to be sad — the world is at your feet, and for the first time, you realize how big it is and how many places you can go that don’t remind you of anything.
We are burdened by nicknames, allegations, reputations, stigmas, by cell phone contacts, by due dates, and upcoming events.
We build lives with tact, collect responsibilities, with the hopes of falling asleep at night feeling proud. And if we work hard enough, we will. That day will come, eventually, where you will lay your head against your pillow and sigh a breath of relief. But sometimes, isn’t the idea of escape tempting?