During Christmastime, I drove back to my hometown of Birmingham, AL. Maybe I shouldn’t call it my hometown. I have four hometowns now. I was born in OKC, then lived in Nashville for three years, then moved to Nashville when I was newly eight years old on December 30, 1985. I have no idea why I remember that date so clearly. I left for college when I was almost 19 and lived in Chicago for almost 15 years. Hometown is a loaded word.
The drive was pretty boring in the beginning–well, in comparison to the rest of the drive. The skies were leaden grey and flat, which actually made the barren trees and landscape more beautiful to me for some reason. I should say that the drive was without incident until it started to pour about 30 minutes away from Tallahassee, where I was going to have dinner with some friends.
Floridian rain is something I had grown accustomed to living in Orlando for over two years now. It’s more like a monsoon, rain coming down in blinding sheets, with windshield wipers whipping vigorously, almost to no avail. For it to be raining so hard during the winter was strange. Usually this type of rain came in the summer, during the afternoon. The overhead signs said that Leon County was under a tornado watch. Not much I could do about that. I had dinner and caught up with my friends and I called my mom to let her know I was about 5 hours away. I really should have left earlier but I wanted to pray at church and talk to the associate minister before coming. Christmastime for me, especially as an adult, has always been fraught with drama and separation. This was the first time in my adult life that I was actually looking forward to going home, which says more about my time here in Mickey Mouse Land than it does about Sweet Home Alabama. I prayed so that there would be peace and harmony. But leaving town at around 2:30pm, even with gaining an hour in central time, was probably not the smartest decision.
I left the restaurant, aided by Google Maps, which lead me to a police blockage. The windy, dark streets of this hilly town were flooded. I went through a flooded intersection, again, against my better judgment, and made it back on the I-10 to join the 231. Rain is still assaulting my vision, but at least the I-10 was well lit.
The 231 which took me over the Florida-Alabama border, was more like a major street than a highway. I turned on my high beams because I couldn’t see much at all. There was one point where my high beams gave me just enough light to see another bend in the road, but the rest of the road was obscured in darkness. And I was angry about it, as if I could do anything about it. My hands ached as I was white-knuckling this drive. I fumed as the Google Maps’ estimated arrival time go from 11:45pm to 12:15am. I couldn’t drive any faster than 60mph, which honestly might have been too fast.
The darkness, the wetness, the length of the drive–these were all conditions that combined into a state of being that I didn’t want to be in: on the way. I wanted to already be at my mom’s place, asleep, to have stopped moving.
My life during and after grad school has been a similar journey. When I saw that my high beams didn’t illuminate miles ahead, maybe just 100 feet, I realized that I had been viewing my life in this way.
Right now, I’m on a stormy journey. I’m underemployed, stuck in a housing situation where I’ve been mistreated and taken advantage of, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. My life seemed to have an illuminated path, miles and miles ahead. When I chose to go to grad school, I didn’t really know what would happen next after graduation. I was OK with that when I had a crappy-but-at-least-it-paid-something job. But I was let go in July. That was six months ago today.
Since then, I left an emotionally abusive housing situation, was homeless for about two months (airbnb + staying at a friend’s house), and now I’m here, with another yet another uncomfortable housing situation. I am a tutor without any students, a part-time grant writer waiting to get paid for work that I did in November, and soon-to-be adjunct prof for one class. If all of those things were actually active, I’d be OK. But I don’t know what happens next. Should I move back home to Birmingham? Should I look into moving into LA again?
I’ve always known what would happen next–or so I thought. Medicine was supposed to be a clear path. But then I realized a few years ago that I wasn’t that great at college science. The dream changed. Died. Transformed.
As much as I am a planner, a Capricorn, a firstborn, fiercely independent in all ways, this stretch of the journey has been annoying. But on that road in Southern Alabama, I realized that I am never meant to know the whole way, even with GPS, even with my high beams on. While I was driving, I kind of laughed to myself that I would assume that my high beams would illuminate more of the road than they were designed to.
So then, it comes down to trust. Trust in my ability to drive my car. Trust that I can follow a path. Trust that the light given is enough for this stretch of the journey. Maybe even trust in the Universe to protect and guide me through these dark badlands (of my life). That’s always been a tough one, though, because the badlands seem to have stretched all throughout my life, even when I didn’t know it.
In helping my mother downsize stuff in her home, we came across my father’s financial documents. My father is somewhere in Atlanta, bipolar and unmedicated. Some of the things we came across were shut off notices from the electric company (my mom never knew), old checks he never cashed, an article about him in the newspaper about possible fraud when I was in junior high (neither my mom nor I knew about it), and evidence that he could have possibly saved the house from foreclosure. His unraveling mind, plus his unwillingness to seek help for his condition, put us at risk. I learned so much that night that just floored me.
One could say that my mom’s fervent prayers, along with her friends’ prayers, kept us safe. For now, that’s what I’ll go along with, even though another part of me wants to go off the road and say that trusting someone who was clearly insane was also putting us at risk. But that’s a whole other convo about emotional abuse that belongs in another post or a book.
One thing that having the whole road illuminated can do is have me mentally check out. I already know what will happen. I don’t have to be as alert. I can multi-task. I can rest my brain for a bit. That isn’t necessarily bad. It’s not to say that the journey would be any less harrowing or difficult. It just means that I can prepare for what’s ahead, have a bit more (perceived) control over my circumstances. That’s what medicine would have given me: a train track to stay on and keep on until I reached the destination of Doctorland.
But that’s not the road I’m on anymore.
I’m already in the weeds now, but this is all to say I can only trust in the light that I am given, to drive down the road that I’m on, and I cannot curse the darkness anymore. I can say that this stretch of the journey has been scary, infuriating, painful, disempowering, and lonely. But I’m still driving, to some place called home (not heaven). I’m just not sure where that is just yet. And I can only go as fast as I’m going now.
But I have just enough light for the next stretch of the journey, and all I can do is wish myself Godspeed and keep going.