Last week, my wallet was stolen out of my car. How this happened is a long story involving the ping-pong table in the garage and the car parked in the driveway and is not the point (mostly because I was the one who forgot to lock up). More important is the fact that both my driver’s license and my social security card were taken, and as it turns out, it’s near impossible to replace one without the other (especially when you’re not 100% sure, at the moment, where you put your passport). I was telling this sad tale to my friend Michele, complaining about the ordeal of proving who I am (and my US citizenship) to both beauocracies when we came to the same conclusion at the same time: You could reinvent yourself! she said. I could be anyone! I echoed.
Our enthusiasm lapsed into awkward silence rather quickly when I realized that when Michele had said ‘reinvent’, she meant I could change the spelling of my name or get a new hairstyle. When I had said ‘anyone’, I had meant both of those things too, but more in the hack and dye job hair style performed over the dirty sink of a gas station bathroom so I could disappear in the night never to be seen again sense.
I hadn’t really meant it of course, but it’s these types of moments that make me suspect I’m, at heart, a terrible human being. It’s probably why I love fugitive movies and Anne Tyler novels. (If you’re unfamiliar, the heroine in every other Anne Tyler novel snaps and catches a bus to Jersey City or Iowa or anywhere-but-here.) These stories always make me think, there are so many versions of us all, out there, waiting. What if I went back, and chose a different one? Found out if any of those ‘I could have been a ____, you know’ statements are true?
Once, while I was driving on the I-5 to visit my cousin in San Diego, I got lost after turning off for gas. I drove dark, unfamiliar streets past tattoo parlors and night clubs and trashy apartment buildings, executing illegal U-turns and getting more and more flustered, and I couldn’t find a place to ask for directions and I didn’t have my cell phone with me, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere (but somewhere very, very central), I thought: I could just keep going.
I didn’t mean it then, either. What I meant–what appealed–was the possibility. The potential. The driving hope that somewhere, in some other dimension, I was more than I was. I stretched farther. I reached deeper.
I know not everyone feels this way. Others are centered and grounded and at peace. I know. I’ve seen them. Lived among them. And for years, I cursed the fact that I’m not any of those things. When I thought escape and new me I thought it meant I was rejecting what I had, and I’d wallow in how abysmal and confusing that was, because I loved what I had. I realize now that seeking more doesn’t mean putting aside what you’re grateful, every day, for. Instead, it can mean bringing the ones you love–and the life you love–with you.