A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.
She asked if I would rewind.
If I could go back and rewind to a portion of life that was filled with boxes and suitcases, would I choose to never pack them? Would I choose to stay, instead of leave, New England?
I was sitting on the countertop barefoot when her text rolled through. Half of a kale and grilled cheese sandwich on a plate beside me. I was waiting for someone to show up at my house and teach me how to garden. Dishes sat in the sink, content to soak a few hours before getting scrubbed good and hard. A candle burned, the smell of sandalwood filling in any parts of the kitchen that hadn’t felt like home just yet.
I stared at the screen for half a second. I wondered if this was the sort of thing we ever imagined would get sent in a text message. Like, when SMS first started, didn’t we always think it was going to be meant for quick communication? Like, brb. And see you in ten. But no, now I live in a world where text messages carry existential questions and I am forced to wonder about “what if” in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon where I really should have mopped the floor better.
If that text had showed up six months prior, I would have answered “yes.” I would have probably broken the phone by tapping those three letters-- Y-E-S-- so hard onto the screen. If it had been November, instead of April, I would have never even needed a moment to think and say, “Yes, I would have stayed. I would have never packed the car. I would have never chosen to be introduced to the antichrist known as IKEA furniture. I would have learned how to live in the same place I’d existed in for my whole life. The journey would have never happened.”
“If I had to rewind,” I answered back to her.
“I would have done everything absolutely the same.”
That text message alone-- the confirmation of “delivered” on my screen-- is proof that I am growing far more than I am shrinking these days.
I would still choose boxes, I have decided. I would choose hard goodbyes. I would choose Siri speaking directions into my ear for thirteen hours straight as I navigated down Southern highways and stopped for sweet tea as a sign that hospitality was about to bear hug me tightly. I would choose the new furniture. The awkward conversations that eventually became “friendship.” I would choose to leave instead of stay.
I want to be clear on something.
Really clear. Because my mama is the devil’s advocate to every little word that comes out of my mouth and I love her fiercely for that. We all need the advocate for the “other way to see things.” We all need to be told every once in a while, “No, you aren’t always right.
If I had written this post a year ago, before I even packed to move, I probably would have tried to jam the idea of suitcases down your throat. I would have told you that you need to be brave. You need to leave. You need to heave yourself straight out of your comfort zone with no map and no manual.
I don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. Some people want adventure. Some people want roots. Some people want an escape. Some people want a treasure hunt. We all want different things that keep us coming and going and staying and living. It’s better to just say, “You do you. You be your own manual. You be your own compass with the help of God that you want-- the portion size you’ll take of Him. But I won’t preach at you with a suitcase in my hand. We all have our reasons for staying and leaving, and that’s just fine.”
I only say that because I’ve sat at a table across from my mother and she has said to me, “Not everyone wants what you want.” And I was forced to swallow hard and see her truth as truth-- not everyone wants to get out. Some of us are wanderers. Some of us are fine where our feet are. Some of us wander in the hopes that our feet will finally whisper, “Stay right here. Here is where you need to stay.”
Staying is just as remarkable as leaving if you learn to white-knuckle-grip the perspective that lets you look at life and think, “We’re all going to find our way to gold. I believe that. I hope for that. We’re all going to make it out okay.”
But me? I needed suitcases.
I needed suitcases one last time to finally unlearn how to be the girl who always wanted to leave. And not stay. And not endure the waves. And not feel the shards of a broken heart. And not sit with myself. I desperately needed a home that was hundreds of miles away from everything I knew to be true and safe if I ever wanted to get honest with myself and say: you’ve been running for a really long time, girl. Are you tired, yet? Are you over building walls, higher and higher, just yet?
I didn’t know any of that as I moved into my first Atlanta home. I didn’t know the next year of my life was going to be anything more than a honeymoon stage with a lot of cute boys in flat brim hats who hold the door open for you when you get into the car. I didn’t know that sometimes God drags you (you’d use the word “drag” when He’d probably use the word “lead”) to a place where you are forced to admit all that you are afraid to admit, “I don’t like unpacking suitcases. I don’t like staying. I don’t like letting my guard down. I don’t like being seen.”
Isn’t that just irony at its finest: when the girl who always “sees” people is too afraid to be seen for who she really is.
I don’t know who I really am.
I am learning but I am not quite there yet. It feels like I have been playing some ridiculous and frustrating game like Monopoly for most of my life. I have passed “Go” half-a-hundred times without ever saying thank you for that two hundred dollars. I have been betting all my earnings on railroads and hotels on Baltic Avenue because I never had the courage to admit I wanted Park Place. Let’s be real, we’ve all wanted Park Place but it was easier to lift our heads to the ceiling at night and whisper, “I’d be fine with Baltic Avenue.”
I’m selling my hotels. The ones I built on Baltic Avenue, I am selling them for sure.
You know, I had a million ways to end this piece and every single one of them was preachy. Straight. Up. Preachy. So I said to myself, “Scrap it, girl. Scrap and tell someone what is real today.”
So what is real today? Today what’s real is that I am scared. I am scared straight over typing these words. My heart is nearly pounding out of my chest. I am scared because I am determined to make baby steps every single day that give me a life that looks a lot more like “living” instead of just “existing.” I am scared to find out that I moved nearly 12 months ago and it feels like I haven't even put the foundation down yet. The foundation isn't the good part, it's the necessary part. I think I might be getting to the good part. Soon. Soon.
I am scared because going forward, without looking back, isn’t an overnight thing. It is an everyday thing. An every hour thing. And I will not sit here and fake the process.
I cannot fake this process. This process is already breaking me. I won’t take an ounce of this year back-- this journey to get right to the spot I am in right now: the moment of feeling like I get to start being really real. I get to stop looking for the suitcase handle and I get to start building a life.
I want a life.
More than anything, I want a life. I don’t want boxes. I don’t want a geographic location. In the end, I did not move for a spot on the map. I moved because I wanted a life, not a place to live. It had nothing to do with people. It had nothing to do with apartments. It had nothing to do with what a location could or could not give me. It had nothing to do with cute, little coffee shops propped on the corner and neighbors appropriately named Little Bit. It had to do with myself-- the one I have always been afraid of-- and if I was willing to admit that nothing could change or budge or move inside of me if I did not just surrender.
And the only way to get to that point of surrender was by saying, “I relinquish control to all the things I know and find comfort in. I am choosing to let those things go if it means I am going to come alive.”
That’s what I want more than anything-- not a house with a brown picket fence, not a countertop that snakes around the kitchen, not neighbors who bring me jello. I want to be alive. I want to be able to read that passage in Ezekial, the one that is overused in every worship song ever written, the one about "dry bones." I want to read about those dry bones, the ones in Ezekial 37, and actually believe that things can go from dead to alive.
I want to look at all the dead things and be able to whisper, “That used to be me.”
I want to look at all the living things-- all the pretty living things-- and finally be able to whisper, “This is me. Finally I am saying it: Me too. Me too.”