Summer is my favorite season. Even here, in Norfolk, when the humidity and heat become oppressive. Some days I walk down to the ocean in the early morning as the sun rises to watch the mist rise off the Chesapeake Bay. The haze disappears by the time the sun has peaked over the horizon, fading into blue sky like cigarette smoke from Poseidon.
There are a couple of old homeless guys who sit under the wooden steps leading over the dunes to the water. They wear beat up cowboy hats and flip flops, but never shirts. Sometimes they drink coffee from tin camp cups. Sometimes they drink cheap beer. I always chat with them and comment on the impending heat. They always ask if I'm going running, since last summer I ran down there all the time.
I wonder if they are happy. I wonder if they have nothing because they hated everything or everything hated them. I worry that I'm going to end up that way. Or maybe hope for it. It depends on the day.
Some people do not do well with conventional life. They don't see doors, just open spaces leading to bigger spaces. Everything is a path to somewhere else. Life is just a never ending journey and they are Gods. I feel like this a lot.
I remember leaving this place, my childhood home, almost ten years ago now, and how happy I was to go. I was 17 and I was ready to leave. I was so desperate that I took the first opportunity I could think of. I biked down to the military recruitment station without telling anyone. I parked my bike behind the strip mall they were located in and paced back and forth in front of the glass windows because I was too scared to actually go in.
A Marine recruiter saw me first and charged out to talk to me. Marines are like that. Charging in without hesitation and full of optimistic energy. As soon as he realized I didn't have a high school diploma, however, he changed his tune.
"Come back when you graduate kid. Marines want smart men. Education is important. Get your diploma and then we'll talk." I didn't get the joke at the time.
That encounter did give me enough courage to walk into the Air Force's office next door. I liked the sharp blue uniforms they were all wearing. A blonde haired, blue eyed officer sat me down in his office and pretty much repeated what I'd heard from the marine.
I skipped the Navy's office since the idea of floating on a building sized mass of metal has never sat right with me. So it was Army or nothing. I didn't realize it, but Bush had just called for a massive surge in Iraq, part of some strategy to overwhelm America's enemies with sheer numbers. You can't resist freedom like that. So the army recruiters were ecstatic to see me, and one, Sergeant Ward, told me so.
They asked what kind of job I wanted. I didn't even realize I had options. In my young mind, I had assumed every person in the army had a rifle and slept in a tent out on a battlefield somewhere. Similar to Boy Scouts, but for adults. I said I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just wanted to join, to leave as soon as possible.
Ward gave me a few tests that I thought were very easy. In between questions, I looked at the posters on the walls for inspiration about what job I should ask for. There was one of a plane in a dark sky, white specks floating out into the night surrounded by brighter specks. I liked it and kept imagining myself as one of those falling stars.
"You did good on these tests, any idea what jobs you'd be interested in, son?"
"I want to be a paratrooper."
Ward laughed. "Lots of soldiers jump out of planes," he explained. "But mostly Infantry."
"Then I want to do that."
It wasn't that I particularly wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I just wanted to be on that plane, going anywhere. I wanted to leave. To get away from Virginia's beaches and strip malls and my family.
I was too young to understand that if I had been born somewhere else, I would have left that place. I would have run south to find wild horses, or north to see snow and mountains, or west to find another sea. I didn't know then that everyone has to leave. That we have to run away sometimes. That everything changes constantly like the seasons, and summer doesn't last forever. We have to change, to move, or we die. The opposite of life isn't death, it's stasis.
All my life I've been changing. From a child with toys to a teen dying to get away, to an adult struggling with money and trying to find love. And I will keep changing. Maybe into a husband to care for a woman, or a father for a child, and hopefully, a better man and friend. I will leave the water eventually, then maybe move to be near it again, then move to be near friends or family. Everyone has to leave home so they can come back and find it again and fall in love all over again.
I want to keep my mind aware of these changes. More than that I want to be open to them so that I'm never the same person I was a moment or a year ago. So that my mind keeps figuring out new things and dying and being reborn so that I never get stuck on the same page of my story, but push the narrative forward every day. Because you can't come home until you run away from it. My story won't keep going on if the scene never changes. I won't change.
All good stories change their characters, because nothing stays the same, ever.
I hope your story has leaving in it. I hope it is full of wonderful characters that challenge you and force you to keep moving forward. It would be a crime to never venture out.
So leave. Go somewhere, anywhere.
And when you come back everything will be different and changed, but it will be you that has changed.