It’s that time of year again. The wander-time. The horizon-time.
All of the rituals of Summer have been completed. The official first day has passed. The Mermaid Parade has been marched. The fireworks and brass bands of the Glorious Fourth have faded. It is High Summer, headed for the dog days.
And just like every summer since 2009 or so, I’m feeling the Call. The Wanderlust.
It’s not as bad as it was in previous years. For most of those summers, I was alone; now I’m in a relationship with a woman who caught my attention on OKCupid with a Dungeons & Dragons joke, and who suggested the 2011 prequel to The Thing as our first date. For the last two years, I lived in one room in a tough neighborhood, in an apartment with several different pest problems and a screaming brat in the room at the end of the hall. Now I have a cozy new apartment with the previously mentioned nerdwoman. Perhaps most importantly, with this blog, I feel like I’m finally taking positive action toward accomplishing what I want to do with my life. As I’ve mentioned before, I spent many years stuck in neutral, wondering how I had fallen into such a trap, trying to figure out how to get my life moving again. Then a journey last summer – which I will tell you about in more detail in August, when I make the same pilgrimage again – finally helped me figure out what to do, and gave me the drive I needed to do it.
In other words, I no longer feel the desperate need to escape that I have for the past few summers. Or at least it’s no longer the driving force it once was. But still…
I watched Forrest Gump a lot during the summer of 1995, the summer before my Freshman year at college. My family waited until late in the day to get a VCR, and our VHS collection was not extensive, and that was my go-to movie when I had to kill time before my shift started at McDonald’s.
As time has passed, that movie has become associated with the hope, excitement and anticipation of that summer in my mind (if I had to choose, I’d say that summer was one of the two happiest of my life – and I’d have a very hard time deciding which one got first place), and the “long run” section has always been my favorite part of a much-loved movie: I longed for the freedom to just set out and keep going; to visit one shining shore, then the other, and all the amazing places in between. And more importantly, the ability to just be on your own and keep going…for years if need be…until you can truly make peace with your past, instead of just carrying on with the day-to-day despite your wounds, as most of us spend our lives doing.
(I feel a similar envy for the protagonist of Stephen King’s short story The Gingerbread Girl, though of course I don’t envy her pain or her predicament.)
In 2008, I was laid off from a job that I thought was going to be my career. I was going to get my gold watch at 35 years and then retire. That same year, my wife – my college sweetheart – told me that we were through (two very separate events; my wife actually stayed on for two years, helping me with the rent and keeping me on her health insurance). All of my certainties were gone, and I entered a new, much more painful period of transition. That was when Forrest Gump started to re-enter my consciousness, and that “run across America” segment seemed very appealing indeed.
Sometimes, even now, the idea still Calls to me: just walk (I’m not so great at running) out into America, walk back and forth across it, following the same route Forrest did (yes, I know Greenbow is fictional). Take a laptop and write as I do. Maybe that will finally catch the world’s attention, make people want to read what I write. Maybe then my life will finally, really begin.
It’s not a very practical idea. If nothing else, I hate camping, and I doubt it’s possible to find a motel every night as I Walk Across America. Besides, as I mentioned at the beginning, I have things in my life now that I don’t want to reboot away. But still, the Call keeps coming back.
Maybe I didn’t have enough adventures when I was young. I was a bit of a homebody.
So I take placeboes: I walk the City; I see new things, I explore. I immerse myself in the wonders I find here. And each fall, when the weather turns, the Call fades. Maybe someday, it will fade entirely and not come back. Or maybe another time of transition will come, and I’ll follow it. The answer lies beyond the Horizon.
As a bit of an extra treat, here are the two songs from that clip that touch me the most deeply. This is the one I listen to over and over when the Call is at its strongest:
And this is the one I listen to when I lose myself in the past. Like right now, I suppose…