“You need to start your real life,” my aunt said.
“I have started my real life,” I replied indignantly from the passenger’s seat. “I’m living it.”
She gave a deep sigh and clutched the steering wheel.
This was not the reaction I’d expected from her when I announced that I was going to travel the world for a year. I had expected a reaction like this from my mother or from many of my eight uncles, but not from my mother’s only sister.
For most of my life, her and I had common ground. We were both teased mercilessly in elementary and middle school. We both struggled with our weight and our self-image. She had advised me through much of my youth and could relate to me even more than my mother could. But this is where the line was drawn.
“I don’t want my life to be boring,” I said.
“Do you think my life is boring?” she asked.
I paused before I responded, arms crossed and staring at the road ahead, “Yes.”
But the truth is, I don’t think her life is boring.
My aunt is married to a man I am proud to call my uncle. She has two sons who would stay up all night playing board games with me if they were allowed to. She has summers off because she is a teacher and gets to spend her summer days cruising the bay on the family boat or on a quiet Fire Island beach. She has a beautiful house in a beautiful town a short train ride away from New York City.
Hers is the life I had convinced myself I wanted. That was before I gave in to the pull of long-term travel and decided to take a year off to travel through Southeast Asia and beyond.
I told my aunt about my travel plans early on because I thought she would be the most accepting.
My mother, although not entirely pleased with the situation, had said, “I have accepted the fact that you are not going to live a normal life.”
This was a much better reaction than I could have expected. It almost brought tears to my eyes.
“What is normal?” I asked. But my mother isn’t one for philosophical conversation. She is far too practical for that.
“You could come visit me,” I told her.
“Sure,” she said.
I tried to picture my mother in Asia, eating fried cockroaches and peeing in squat toilets and riding a tuk tuk with me. The thought made me smile because it is so ludicrous. My mother will never visit Asia.
But at least she had been understanding.
My uncles had all been equally hesitantly accepting. Although only one seemed actually excited about the idea.
Even though having eight out of nine people’s stamp of approval is a pretty good ratio, my aunt’s disapproval still weighs on my heart.
I have to remind myself that seeking the approval of others is what got me in this mess in the first place—stuck in an office, in a job, at a desk every day that makes me miserable. While I work I often cry in the storage closet at least twice a week and throw up from stress at about the same rate. I always told myself that I would never be trapped in a cubicle like my mother was. Yet, here I am.
One of my uncles always tells me “Well, Sweetheart, that’s real life.” If “real life” is being stuck in a cubicle for 10 hours a day just to pay rent and afford a much needed night out with friends (that I’m often too tired for anyway) then maybe “real life” is not for me.
But who says this is what real life has to be? Who created these rules? Work for 10 hours a day, two weeks vacation and then finally get a break at retirement. Maybe that is his real life, but I refuse to let it be mine.
My real life is waiting for me somewhere out in the world and I have to go find it. The problem is…I have no idea what I’m looking for. But if I knew what I was looking for, I guess it wouldn’t be such a risky adventure.
But still, I am anxious about my upcoming journey. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I wonder if I could be happy in a different cubicle, in a different town. I wonder if I could be content with “real life.”
It is only since having a text conversation with my ex-boyfriend-turned-friend that I have begun to feel fully confident in what I was doing.
He has been no stranger to my life as the Escapologist. And although I don’t think he really understands my desperate need to travel, he is accepting of it.
“Don’t let anyone stop you,” he said.
So, I won’t.