I walk the tenth of a mile to the end of the dock, a desire to be in this moment peeking like the sun over my horizons. I’m trying to feel the slight breeze on my skin, to feel vulnerable, to revel in the very strange feeling of being alone. I’ve had Spesh by my side for nearly seven months now, and I’m unsure I know what it is to truly be alone anymore. To be alone-with-him is a daily occurrence; to be alone-alone… it happens sometimes. But not like this.
It’s 7:30am, I’m sitting by myself above a saltwater channel, and today, I finish my 30th journey around the sun.
Technically, I’m not quite there – I’m still 29, I’ll actually hit 30 in a couple of hours – but that’s me, always rushing things along. Barely slowing down to breathe. Because breathing means feeling, dealing with the seven months of feelsy backlog I’ve been trying to sort through. Things have been busy enough without emotional chores on the docket. But it’s time, past time, and the fog that clots the morning stills the water. The world seems to be giving me the space I need to figure things out.
I’ve stolen this time, whisked us away from work and the driving life – funny, given that we drove five hours out of our way to be here, in this place, on this day. I needed it. Always being on the road has been taxing, and not just because I spend an average of 23 hours a day approximately three feet from another human1. While hiking, you’re outside, you make your own schedule, feel out the morning afternoon evening. You see where your feet take you – maybe they help you find some friends along the way, maybe they ache and force you to sit down, take care of yourself. And you have the time – or you take the time – to listen. This work, as rewarding as it is, as much as it brings the folk who love a place together, as much as it’s ultimately for a good cause – this work feels like a pale shadow of hiking. And being away from the wider world
That said, I think 30’s easier than 25, in a lot of ways. Edging towards my mid-twenties, I felt like I had to do something, make something of myself, be something. It’s not that I don’t feel that pressure anymore, but it’s… muted. Quiet. I think part of it’s because I’ve accepted that I don’t know what those things mean.
What is it, to “do something”? Is hiking enough? Is writing? Settling down to 40 hours a week in a cubicle? Taking to the streets and getting louder about injustice? Making communities of support where I am?
In the context of the wide world, “make something of myself” seems a little loaded – how why for what? It sounds like accepting and adapting to the system that has strong suggestions of what “something” is, Adapting to the system, which is more complicated, more hateful, more money-grubbing than it needs to be? Nah.
Being something feels more natural, more a virtue of existence, but just being something never feels like enough – and I don’t know that it should. I think it’s ultimately complacent, that being should be a form of doing if you’re doing it right. It feels like complacency the way I’m doing it now, watching the world go by in the cities and towns I spend hiccups of time in, retreating into the tides of work and sleeping outside and working out of cafes, so rarely still, so rarely connected, even when we do have internet.
I’m reminded of the jellyfish we saw yesterday evening, tugged along by the tides, with very little say in where it’s swept. They see plenty of new frontiers that way, but sometimes, they end up on the shore, too.
Looking back, I’m fascinated that I’m here, sitting on a dock in Pensacola Beach, in this moment. There are so many different paths I could’ve taken, so many different places I could be right now if I’d have just made some slightly different decisions, or had them made for me. What if I’d decided I didn’t want to go to college, let alone go out of state? At college, what if I didn’t get that fellowship to study abroad? After returning to the US, what if I hadn’t decided to take on the student loans to go to grad school? What if I couldn’t have afforded to move to Brooklyn? Would I have ended up in Texas, or, later, in Colorado? Would I have ever hiked a long trail? So many ifs, so many choices, so many paths, taken and untaken.
A monarch flies out of the channel’s haze, then a second, then a third, each flapping furiously towards the ocean. I think they’re maybe lost, then I think they’re maybe cutting corners, trying to fly over the Gulf as they head south to Mexico. They seem like know where they’re going, and while they may not know what it’ll be like when they get there, they keep flying anyway.
When I was a kid, I didn’t understand regret. It seemed simple: why do something you think you might regret? If you think you’re gonna regret something, don’t do it. It was hard to imagine getting into a place, into a situation, that would leave room for regret. But regret is as subtle as flipping a coin – in the beginning, there are only a couple of different ways it can go, only so many combinations of heads tails heads, but the more you flip, the more the field widens, and, strikingly, the more the field of what isn’t widens. When we make choices, we miss so much of life regardless of what we choose – if we come in from the rain, we miss the experience of being cold and wet; if we stay out in the weather, we miss the experience of being warm and dry. And while some experiences are more desirable than others, in times of doubt, we often turn to things we’ve let pass by rather than the things we have well in hand.
I think of all of the people my age who’re already married, have children; those who’re separated, divorced. All the folks who’ve earned their doctorates, who’ve traveled the world, who’ve started businesses. The folks living quiet lives, surrounded by family, and the folks who’re all alone, and happy enough that way. The folks who’re gone – whether they’ve passed away, or just out of our lives – who we mourn. The folks breathing their dreams out in sighs, thinking that’s all their dreams will ever come to; the folks yearning for things to be better than they are, and finding or frittering away ways to make them better. I think we, all of us, try to make the most of this life, whatever that means. We do the best we can with what we’re given and what we’ve got.
I don’t know that I have regrets, but I’m still young. Not as young as I once was – old enough to know that I’ve still got a lot to learn – but still young. And I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got, with the support of people who love me. Trying to do better, to be better, every day. At 30, that’s probably all you can ask for.
A pelican flies out of the mist directly at me, spooking me for a second; indiscernible shifts of its body and it’s winging clear of me, past me, headed two docks over where a number of other pelicans gather. I wonder how long I’ve been here, stuck in the fog of the birthday that I thought wouldn’t faze me as much. Reverie gone, I notice the morning’s been passing me by. But I’m always in a rush, and I know that April – and more hiking – will be here soon enough.
I’ve got a few texts on my phone; Spesh is up, and Momma Zuul, who’s driven out for the purpose, is like to be, too. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my day; it’s open before me, no plans, full of possibility. Maybe we’ll walk the six-odd miles into town and back. Maybe I’ll enjoy this brief respite of inside to all the outside we’ve been doing this year. But tonight, no matter what, I’ll walk barefoot at sunset on the Gulf of Mexico, grateful for every moment of stolen time, every footfall that nestles into the sand, every wave that washes against the shore.
Tonight, I won’t even think of regret.
…Assuming the fog ever lifts.
This post was drafted in early November, and finalized early December. A lot happened in our road life before this and a lot’s happened in the wider world since, and I’ll be talking about it in the weeks to come.
 As much as I care about Spesh, no two humans should spend as much time as we do around each other. We’ve learned to live with each other in new ways, but even we need our space from time to time.