Sometimes when Brian and I are restless and the feeling of being stuck overwhelms us we borrow my in-laws car and drive out to my favorite neighborhood in Cincinnati. In this part of town the homes are old and stately and made of brick with wide front porches. Here, the fast food chains and big box stores are replaced by cafes and boutiques. I feel good on these historic streets, like I’m a part of something.
Yesterday was one of those restless days so Brian and I drove. The sky was bluebird clear and the air so cold it hurt my teeth to smile. Snow was piled up in drifts against mailboxes and the residue of salt had stained the roads a chalky white.
I wrapped my scarf, the one I bought in Paris, tightly around my neck. I thought about Paris, about Vietnam. I thought about all of those far away places.
You chose to be here, I told myself as I climbed into the car, and it is true. I choose to be here, in the dead of winter, waiting for this new chapter to begin.
We drove to Joseph-Beth Booksellers, one of the only independent bookstores in Cincinnati. I walked up to the travel section to check out the books on New Zealand, the latest country of my obsession.
There was a middle-aged woman with yellow dyed hair hunched down by the New Zealand and Australia guidebooks. A bookstore employee was assisting her. “These books are written by people who have actually been there!” she said.
I lingered, eavesdropping.
“Oh!” Said the yellow haired woman, “that’s helpful.”
“So,” asked the bookstore employee, “How do you want to experience your vacation?”
“Oh, you know, my husband and I don’t really want a tour because a tour is all ‘be here at this time, be there at that time.’” She said it in a stage whisper, like it was a dirty secret.
“No tour,” said the bookstore employee, nodded grimly.
I stood dumbly behind them in silence. I wanted to scream, “I’ve been there!” Although, in fact, I haven’t been there yet. I wanted to say, “Let me tell you all about everywhere!”
The yellow haired woman couldn’t decide between Frommers or Rick Steves or Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. She said, “What will I do? I can’t buy them all.”
“Screw the guidebook!” I wanted to yell. “Just GO. Go! Go! Go! Go! GO! Go now. Don’t wait.”
She took her pile of books to a bench at the side of the store. I stood alone staring at the empty space on the shelf where the guidebooks had been. And as I stood there staring at that wall of books I was overcome with a deep, hollow sense of loss.
I was no longer a traveler, just a woman in the travel section of a bookstore in Ohio.
I turned on my heel and ran down the stairs. I found Brian with the cookbooks.
“I’ve got to get out of here. NOW.”
“I just do.”
“Where do you want to go?”
We climbed back into the car. I pulled my Paris scarf up around my ears. I wanted to disappear in it. I wanted to believe it was a magical cloak that could transport me back to the twinkling lights of Paris or the pulsing, jungle heat of SE Asia. Brian drove slowly through the crawl of SUV traffic. The exhaust from the tailpipes rose up around us.
“I just can’t believe that we’re back here again,” I finally said into the stillness of the car. “I just wonder sometimes what we’re doing.”
Brian nodded silently.
A song on WARM98 began playing softly through the speakers.
“This is such a good song,” I said to Brian, and I was not joking.
He turned it up, winked at me. “Belt it baby!”
And I did. I sang so loud that maybe the other drivers in the other cars could hear me. Maybe Paris could hear me. Maybe Vietnam.
“I CAN’T FIGHT THIS FEELING ANYMOOOORREEEE.” I pointed my head up towards the roof of the car like I was howling. Outside, above it, was that cloudless sky.
“I’VE FORGOTTEN WHAT I STARTED FIGHTING FOOOORRRR.”
It is always this struggle when I am home to remember who I am. I am a traveler not traveling. I am a writer without a desk. I am a wanderer back on familiar ground.
“IT’S TIME TO BRING THIS SHIP INTO THE SHORE AND THROW AWAY THE OARS FOREVVVEERRR.”
At first I was just a girl who dreamed of seeing the world. And then I was a woman seeing it. And now? I am becoming something new. Something that is still too young to name, something I might only learn in retrospect, when all things are clear and the path makes perfect sense.
“MY LIFE HAS BEEN SUCH A WHIRLWIND SINCE I SAW YOUUUU. I’VE BEEN RUNNING ‘ROUND IN CIRCLES IN MY MIIINNDD.”
I sang my lungs out and Brian sang too.
“I’ve got to put this on my iPod,” I yelled over the instrumental whirl of brass.
“We’ll do it as soon as we get home,” Brian yelled back.
We drove back the way we came. The landscape turned recognizable, the streets took on their familiar names.
“You know, we’re going to be okay,” said Brian. “Whatever this ends up like it will be okay.”
And I nodded, though I did not turn my head from the window or break from singing. Because I knew, I know, that it is true.
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