Not my zoo. Not my monkeys.

The first time I knew I was in the wrong place was college. I was on the wrong path and for some reason my body knew this before my mind did, and reacted quite violently. I was in a Native American Literature class and while the material should have fascinated me and held my attention, it didn’t. What did was the snow banks accumulating more fresh fluffy snow outside the window in parking lots at University at Buffalo. It looked so free out there. So open of possibility and happiness, the complete opposite of the current classroom I felt stuck inside.

The feeling to escape grew. Eventually my teachers tightly curled hair and the way he said the word book drove me so insane I found myself, daily, running to my car after class, simply to scream.

I was two weeks from the semester ending and I’d barely attended a single class for about three weeks. I hadn’t told anyone about the urge to run every time I stepped onto campus, or that the reason I chose to drink was that it made feel less attached to the sinking ship that had become my life.

Dramatic? Yes. But I could no longer continue on the same path, this much was clear. So, I did what anyone would do in their early twenties, I left life behind, packed my shih-tzu, my clothes, and moved to Los Angeles: The City of Angels.

The second time, I was still in Los Angeles, spending my days at the La Brea Tar Pits writing stories in a notebook. My nights were spent at the ocean’s edge in Santa Monica allowing my finger to hover over the call button on my parents home line. I could no longer sit at the pool, drink pomegranate cocktails and gossip about the reality TV star who was cheating on his girlfriend with one of my friends. I couldn’t sit at my desk and check in the string of celebrities coming in for bikini waxes and facials. I couldn’t talk to people who felt that they could stay in Los Angeles, in the city that killed my dreams, a city where heart and passion died by the hands of cash and beauty.

On a particularly pretty evening, during a particularly spectacular sunset, I called my mom after crying on the beach for a good 30 minutes. I’d watched a homeless man laying on the warm grass sheltered by palm trees, feed a squirrel from his bare hands, share his own meal, and even this slight bit of purpose, slight bit of joy, in this man’s life made me realize that I had none. My wandering and self reflection were no longer enough and action was needed. I told my parents I was coming home, I was going back to college with a new path.

The third time was just the other day. At the age of 31 — an age where responsibility, taxes, health insurance, and mortgages rule the world — I left a job that all said was a great opportunity, an amazing feat in my career. But I quickly realized that it was not the right choice, the right place, the right path. That feeling of heft that I hadn’t felt in years came back with an adult vengeance. There are consequences to my actions now. There are consequences for me and my fiance, nothing is just my own anymore.

But even with the weight of responsibilities and decisions being influenced by income and safety, I needed pretend to be adolescent again and make a decision based solely on happiness.

These were not my zoos. They were not my monkeys. My mother said this saying to me quite often. It was meant to allow me to compartmentalize the stress, and the needs of others. But what it really meant to me, was that I was peacock, or maybe a lemur, either way, I was not a monkey and this was not my pen. Everything for me, from even a young age, was very black and white. I wanted to, or I didn’t. I was happy, or I wasn’t. Decisions were cut and dry, but incredibly hard with the knowledge that it meant that each yes or no was me walking away, permanently, from something that many would consider a good thing, a great opportunity, something to power through to the end.

Each of these instances were due to making a wrong turn. I had ignored my heart, my inner compass, and made choices lead my things that truly didn’t matter to me: money, prestige, the opinions of others. The moments where I didn’t feel that magnetic opposition was when I was doing the things that made my entire body sing. I didn’t feel that way when I returned to college, changed my major and focused on writing. I didn’t feel that way when I left a job to go to grad school and get my MFA. I didn’t feel that way the second I sat down and wrote this after leaving opportunity behind.

I will find another zoo, maybe one without so many cages.