In the first half of the 90s, I worked two jobs in Vegas and lived with my best friend on the north west side of town, way out in the sticks. When I’d finish my night job, sometimes, I just needed some decompression and quietness, so I’d drive the “backest” of the backroads I could find through the desert to get home. Hardly a stop sign and I think maybe 2 stop lights total on my 15 minute drive. It was rare to see any other cars on the road. No houses, no businesses, just two lanes that must have been paved for some reason I never knew.
It was always late, after midnight, and I’d drive with my windows open and sing and flutter my left hand out the window in the wind. And some nights, I’d notice my skin had a glow from the huge desert moon. The kind of glow that makes you look as Anne Shirley1 would appreciate “all silvery in the moonlight”. The kind of glow that is so unobstructed by light pollution that you almost wonder if instead of it being a reflection of the moon on your skin, maybe you’re glowing from within. And I felt beautiful. And peaceful. And contented. And so I drove that dark road alone and connected to myself and to the universe above me that felt so close while the world seemed far away.
I wandered. But I was not lost. I lived as fully as I could back then–at least within my understanding of who I was in that moment in the world. I didn’t shy away from experiences, from connection with people. All of my moments were for living. Sure, I had regrets. But I also had fulfillment, love, heartbreak, confusion, perseverance, sadness, and loneliness. And I had so much laughing, dancing, singing, and connection that sometimes I didn’t know what to do with myself. So very much love. I just let it all be.
Looking back, I didn’t understand just what a gift to live that way was. I had that same “shoulds” problem most of us do. Life looks like this, but I want it to look like “that”. Why? Because maybe I watched too many “wholesome” movies in my youth or listened too much to parents who had values from another era or who knows. But I felt like I should want and be and have a life more “traditional” and “successful”. So somehow what I had didn’t end up being good enough.
So I pushed “pause” on my life to do something I thought I “should” and something that would give me a costume to wear and a script to recite in that life I thought I wanted. And to give me some perceived legitimacy and acceptance by a bunch of people I didn’t understand were also wearing costumes, reading from scripts, and “shoulding” their way through very watered-down versions of life. And I got lost.
I stopped appreciating the simplicity and joy of glowing in the moonlight. The satisfaction from feeling music so deep inside me that I couldn’t help but dance or sing or both – even alone in a parking lot, in my apartment or in the desert by a bonfire. My energy was instead spent in pretending so hard to be and want a life that was never going to feel genuine to me. I went into a personality coma and settled for a life of things and people who hurt me, who were seriously flawed, and heavily invested in elevating their own narrative into something “SO IMPORTANT” that it was worth sacrificing everything and anyone for. These people and lifestyle who insisted that I disappear and just be good and quiet.
It took aching long years for me to realize that I had lost both the strong sense of knowing where I wanted to be and, more importantly, who I was. It took me still longer to understand I’d wandered by mistake in the first place and that I liked who I had been. That I liked being able to feel joy from something as simple as a midnight, moonlit ride in the desert.
I still have pieces of that mistaken life, and I have kept a precious few people I could never give up that I met on that lengthy detour. I couldn’t ever go back to undo it all. But I’m finally at a time now in my life to wander deliberately, purposefully. To rediscover myself, what’s left of that girl and what’s perhaps more wise of the woman I am now. To refind my glow and relearn how to let it all just be again.
I’m taking small and tentative steps now–it’s so scary in ways my original self would laugh at and disbelieve possible. But I want to rejoin in life — in all it’s messy glory. Feel joy and contentment and the loss that inherently comes with that. And one day to stop tentatively stepping and instead dancing through maybe more haphazardly than I’ve felt safe or comfortable to in 25 years. This is my first step.
If you know where the title of this post comes from2, we’re already friends. 🙂
1 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
2 Some Girls Wander by Mistake
It is ever too easy to fall in with a “should” life but it’s all that richer when you don’t. I look forward to your rediscovery, and my own.