Tuesday, July 3, 2012

a year ago.

On the subway home today, a man approached me and said, "Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you something?" I was prepared to ignore him. I had my headphones in, and I was too used to creepers who seemed fixated on my ethnicity.

"Sure," I said, took my earbuds out, and made a mental note to get off at the next stop and wait for another train to come.

"Do you remember where you were a year ago?"

I nodded.

"It's different from where you are now, right?" he asked.

Again, I nodded.

"Are you in a better place right now?"

This time, I paused. This time, one year ago...where was I?
Fireworks along the waterfront in Portland (July 4, 2011).
On the night of July 3, 2011, I was stuffed in the backseat of a Toyota Corolla between the border of California and Oregon. After a half-awake stop in Ashland to watch the second stage of the Tour de France begin at a local pub, I was back in that backseat and heading over Grant's Pass. It was pitch black, and the kind couple at the base of the mountain who gave us coffee and snacks begged us to turn around. We went forward anyways, and I willed myself to sleep by telling myself I didn't want to be awake if we did crash and die.

I fell asleep and woke up more times than I can accurately remember, and when we finally reached Eugene at 4 a.m., all I could think about was how badly I didn't want to be in that car anymore. Twelve hours later, we'd be in Portland pouring forties into soda cups, and the morning after that, I'd be receiving my first post-graduate internship offer--one that would send me across the country to Maryland.

Multiple forks at the corner of Pioneer Square in Portland.
One year ago, I put my life in the hands of my best friend as he powered through a barely lit mountain road, and I closed my eyes and settled comfortably into a familiar car--a car that held laughs and tears and conversations beneath sheets of pouring rain. The first week of July, one year ago, was when my life changed.

So where was I now? In a city that still felt foreign in so many ways, in a city where I still felt like a drifter between communities and people. I've been told I'm considered successful--but Lord, it sure doesn't feel that way. If success means struggling to hold onto your voice, dying for one moment of simple pleasure, losing someone you held so dear... How do you measure success when you're surrounded daily by the promise of what you can become? I've grown up in the last year, I think, but there's still something missing that begs introspection. 

I answered the man on the subway with an honesty that surprised me. "I hope so," I said. "I think so."

As the train came to a stop, the man stood up and said, "Life is always getting better. Remember that. You have a purpose: to live. So live."

When the subway doors closed, I looked around to see if anyone else caught that. The other passengers had their earphones in, were deep in conversations with one another, or immersed in their iPads and Blackberries. I unplugged my own earphones and sat back, and when I reached my stop, I'd like to think I exited with purpose.

5 comments:

  1. wow such an amazing story! You're such an amazing writer and your posts always hit the right spot!

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  2. I feel like this is a scene from some movie, and the guy who asked you the question is like a Jiminy Cricket or Christopher Lloyd in Angels in the Outfield figure... deep.

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    1. He was totally the Christopher Lloyd-figure in my life.

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  3. That is so lovely. Your one year ago: that sounds like it was a perfectly good place to be, and your now is also a perfectly good place to be, in different ways. Ever wandering forward, no matter what.

    (When I grow up, someday, I want to be the kind of person who wanders cities, strewing and tiny prompts of peaceful, hopeful reflection like that.)

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