The "A" Word

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He called me from a tent in Mammoth. It was night two of his solo excursion and he would be hitting the trail early tomorrow for a short backpacking trek. Although it’s the middle of summer, Mitch's rain fly was secured in preparation for an odd surge of tropical thunderstorms. After a minute of spotty reception, his voice came through clear: “I don’t want to adult anymore.” I paused. He caught me off guard, which he generally doesn’t have the luxury of doing anymore. After a moment, I smiled. I think my smile may have reached his pine-laden campsite.

Out of context, his revelation may seem immature, sheepish, or annoyingly “millennial”. Yet in context, which arises from being next to his side (whether literally or metaphorically) for the past three-plus years, I saw through his phrase with clarity. And relief swept through me.

He needed this escape. It was a necessary hiatus from the piles of immigration documents that seem to get heavier with each passing month, and the constant social pressure each of us receive- do something with your life, make something of yourself. Though for him, it’s coming with the extra burden of being far away from home, and away from a job he loved and a life he was used to.

The journey we co-created was fabricated out of sheer necessity. Visa stamps, backpacks, and averaging six months in each location were the norm. It was glorious and an utter mess all at the same time. Picture rainbow-sherbet sunsets viewed from the tallest vistas, bordered by empty wallets and crumbling plans. The words broke down palace come to mind.

As Mitch and I begin to adapt to the sentence of being two people from different countries, attempting to live and work in the same location, life has gotten a bit more serious. Sometimes paralyzing. Legal documents burry every ounce of hope that tries to scramble out from underneath, and living in the present due to a sheer inability to make long term plans (where can we live, where can we work, when will we hear?) becomes numbingly exhausting.

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Last year we finally made it back to where we met. Here in California, I’ve begun to settle. And lately I have felt like I am kicking it at a train station- pausing, finally taking a deep breath while watching other people's rides blur by, and attempting to relax into what’s real, right now. Though in all honesty, I am simultaneously squinting at the arrival screen, scouring underneath the bench where I’m perched, and scrutinizing every passerby. I’m hoping they can answer a fateful question. What’s next for me? I am eagerly searching from a place of stillness. Kind of like an exuberant child, with shiny, plastic water wings, making absolutely no progress toward the edge of the pool.

Mitch, on the other hand, has been more kinesthetic. He’s chasing trains. The need to grow up, move on, put his backpack in the closet, and put some green in the bank has been propelling him forward, though maybe somewhat blindly. I’m not sure if the poor guy has stopped, if even for a second. But I get it. When the weight of the world is on your shoulders, ceasing movement seems like the worst idea of all. We anticipate legs giving out and being crushed against the ground in a quick demise.

I know my apathy toward this process of “adulating” has the ability to drive him up the wall. And my incessant scheming has him shaking his head and walking away, leaving me to dream into journals. I often feel like he’s trying to board the train, while I am dragging him back down to the platform. Please don’t travel to adult-land. Stay. Remember how it was? I’m not sure if I’m attached to the past or trying fervently to remind him of his lust for life. Admittedly, it’s probably a little of both. After living and working in three different countries within the first two years of our relationship, I’ll call these our “growing pains”.

"I don’t want to adult anymore.” I could feel him relax at the other end of the line. I could feel the Sierras press against him and the earthy smells provide an aromatherapy release that would make your head spin. A dose of chlorophyll is necessary sustenance for everyone, but it’s different for him. Refueling within rugged terrain it so essential to his wellbeing that it’s innate- going completely unnoticed until that fear of pausing and getting crushed becomes a relentless addiction. The mountains are his source; the pines are his refuge. They replenish him, refocus him, and often nudge him, pointing an uncultivated compass needle toward his true north. For Mitch, stepping into nature is like coming home.

I don’t know what will happen next (surprise). Maybe we will unpack our bags, grow some boringly deep roots, and embrace the “A” word. Or maybe we will keep bouncing, scheming, and confidently flip the bird to people who tell us to make something of ourselves. The only thing I am sure of is this: a few hundred miles away from our worn porch, comfy duvet, and strewn twinkle lights, Mitch is finally home. And when it comes to the people we love, that’s really all we can hope for; that home is wherever they plant their meandering feet- even if only from moment to moment.

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