When I first showed up to that little town, I had handfuls of fear and a back-pocket plan of escape.
I had stubbornly decided to never hang another picture on the wall. I was terrified of ever planting my feet, of ever letting my heart get rooted again.
For those few years, the walls stayed bare. I slept on a borrowed bed. I tried to avoid anything that looked steady, shut my heart off to anything that looked stable or strong.
I remember when a set of brown eyes showed up in my driveway that summer morning, I walked outside barefoot and waited for the words that I knew were coming. I never cried. My heart didn’t break. I wondered why it didn’t hurt more when I threw away the sentimental things. I mourned nothing more than the realization I’d said a lot of things I didn’t really mean.
Honestly, I think he knew that everything in my life was temporary. When he walked away with his head hanging, he knew that I was on the run. That I was just looking for a nice guy to drive my getaway car.
“I never know where you are.”
That’s become a sentence that hundreds of people across hundreds of miles have said to me. Mostly in a joking, but also in a curious way because the geographical location of my residence has changed so much in my twenties.
But if he could have, I think that brown-eyed guy would have used that to sum up everything and then called it a day. Because what would become geographically true was already internally true. He never knew. I never knew. No one ever knew.
As a writer, I’ve spent most of my life speaking in metaphors.
I started doing it as a teenager, in person, and in letters, and I never quite figured out how to stop. I mastered the art of never really saying what I wanted because I could spin it and hide behind an eloquent turn of phrase. And I didn’t even realize how desperately trapped in it I felt until a few weeks ago.
I stood on the sidewalk as I watched a stranger hook his tow truck to my little silver car and pull it out of the mess I’d got myself into. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain the feeling that overwhelmed me as I watched it come out of the place where I’d gotten it stuck.
I stifled the cry I could feel welling up in the deepest part of me. It wasn’t about the car (because again, everything is a metaphor). It was about being in my sister’s college town, the girl I’ve become over the last ten years, the past few weeks, being stuck and finally getting free.
I drove to a nearby diner and held back ten years of tears as I remembered the last time I’d been there. I remembered being sixteen years old, lying in my sister’s dorm room, pitch black, skirting around the things in my heart. We spoke in metaphor, ironically using cars. She humored me because she knew I was terrified to say what I actually wanted to say.
I realized I’d been using getaway cars in one-way or another my entire life. And when that brown-eyed guy walked away, it didn’t hurt because I’d built the whole thing out of pretty metaphors and things that sounded really nice. But there was nothing on the walls. I’d never said or done anything of substance because deep down, I knew I was never going to stay.
A few weeks ago I bought a picture to hang on the wall. I did it without hesitation.
I turned around to realize there were some other good and steady things that I once ran away from. I ran straight toward them.
I stopped solely speaking in metaphors. I no longer wonder if I’m saying things I really mean.
God knows where we are.
That’s the thing I’m figuring out. Across all the miles and after all the running. He’s always been in the getaway car, trying to let me know that I haven’t gotten all that far.
Someday I hope you get tired of waking up to blank walls. I hope that fear and pain are no longer drawing your maps. I hope you find good and steady things that make you fight the urge to run away.
That you laugh when you find out God put the GPS on His idea of home and you’ve just been going in circles all along. That He doesn’t let us get too far. That He doesn’t get mad, but He sometimes lets us run out of gas (or get towed).
That the brown-eyed guy did you a favor when he handed you back the keys.
That someday someone asks you a question that terrifies every bone in your body. But that, for a minute, you lay the metaphors down and say the least eloquent things you can possibly say.
I hope someday you rip up your best plans for escape.