An essay about my experience moving across the country by James Bonner

Finding My Way Across the Country: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Growth through Travel and Writing

By the time I was 19, I had plenty of unprocessed, repressed thoughts rattling around in my head, and enough that I was living in a constant fog. I had next to no life direction and was worried about making decisions that would affect the course of my life without understanding why I was making them. So, I tried to avoid making any real attestable decisions. I wanted time to stop. Not forever, but long enough for me to start rebalancing whatever was obviously out of balance. I knew that I had an emotionally ambiguous incident when I was around 7 years old that borrowed a part of my psyche (I only recently remembered parts of the incident); that part of my psyche is still there in California and is still 7 years old. I also had little interest in pursuing anything besides the one thing that fulfilled me, which was writing. I was told at a young age that writing wasn’t an option.

Unfortunately, my child's brain couldn’t distinguish between a challenge— ‘well, we’ll see about that’—and a conviction. I didn’t reflect on being told I couldn’t do something, instead, I believed that for some reason [for me], the opportunity to write for a living was unattainable. And I accepted that. Lastly, I was afraid to grow up; afraid to fail or to succeed, or afraid of the unknown. Some combination of these three things saturated my emotional well-being at 19. A time that’s already confusing enough to work through unprocessed, repressed thoughts too. Life moves on, and becoming an adult isn’t a question of maturity or acceptance, it’s merely a matter of time. I was pressed to move on with it. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I didn’t know how to ask for help or even what to say if I could. By the time I was 19, I had already learned that it was better to say nothing anyway, so I kept most of what I was thinking and feeling close to my chest.

Studying psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and working at Borders, Books, Music, & Café, and Starbucks Coffee, I had all the pieces laid out before me giving the illusion of direction, or at least of ‘doing something right’. But something didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right about the path I was preparing for myself. It didn’t feel like mine. It felt like every time I was pressured to make a decision that I wasn’t ready to make, I chose something that seemed manageable, given my frame of mind, and that would appease those who were pressuring me. What I wanted was to settle into myself first. To work on some issues and get to know the person on the other side. I think it’s important for everyone to have a mentor, someone who is not family who helps you to develop the pathways in your brain that develop while you explore the possible avenues of adulthood. The benefits of mentorship are invaluable, it’s impossible to express all the ways you can benefit. I didn’t have that. I didn’t even know how to have that.

It seems like such an easy thing to have said today. To ask for help, advice, guidance…something; at the time, I only wanted to slow down momentarily and wait for those words to come; like Jim Carrey’s character at the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, “Just wait. I [just] want… to wait for a while.” My life was moving along regardless, of course, but because I felt like I had no control over my life’s direction, I started doing things to reclaim some of that control, and to move time backward. I started dating a girl younger than me. I alienated my friends and compensated for those friendships by befriending her friends. I maintained habits I developed in high school and even middle school. I didn’t want to look back on my life after years and wonder how I let myself get so far off track, knowing that I followed someone else’s track all the while. That’s exactly where I felt I was headed so I needed a hard stop, no one was willing to allow me the opportunity. I think it’s because instead of trying to accept what I was going through they were too focused on their fears of my failures.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of responsibility. I just wanted to have a clearer vision of the direction I wanted to go. I didn’t have that vision yet. I knew something had to change. So, I dropped out of school. I quit my jobs at Borders and Starbucks. I packed my ’99 Honda Civic. And drove west along Interstate 10. I traveled through New Mexico, exploring several little towns along the way. I continued north on Interstate 25 into Colorado. I had little interest in Colorado and cut through only the southwest corner. Colorado came across to me as pompous and belittling of other states. My only memorable experience in Colorado was at three in the morning. I was driving through and tried to stop for gas. Pulling into the gas station my Civic got stuck in the snow in a dip before the canopy. It took me nearly an hour to dig myself out.

Afterward, I didn’t even bother to get gas but instead sped through Colorado and filled my tank in Monticello, Utah; before I made it to Utah. However, I drove the wrong way on a dead-end road for thirty minutes at least. When I found the right road, I lost control of my car on the ice and almost slammed into a highway column under a bridge. As I traveled through southeastern Utah, driving up HWY 191, I started doubting myself. I mean, what was I even doing? I packed my car and disappeared onto the highway. I was barely twenty years old with no life experience and enough lingering traumas to befog my every waking thought, while my brain struggled to form and store clear memories. I was a mess. As beautiful as that stretch of HWY 191 is, it’s easy to get lost in your head during that drive. I stopped in Moab, Utah. It was a small, quiet town then, nothing like it’s become today. There was an energy in Moab that revived me and made me realize I was doing the right thing. There was nothing specific about the Moab other than that it was completely foreign to me, and I loved it. But I kept going.

I didn’t stop in Salt Lake City, Utah. I let SLC disappear in my rearview mirror as I traveled into Idaho. I stopped for the night in Pocatello, Idaho. The next day I walked over the bridge and the tracks into downtown Pocatello and found a coffee before wandering the residential streets to the west and along until I ran into the Portneuf River. On the walk back, I passed the Brentwood Manor Apartments and asked about seeing a room. I rebooked my hotel room every morning for the next four nights and eventually moved into the Brentwood Manor Apartments. It was a thrilling experience. On the one hand, I had created a level of freedom I’d never known, but on the other hand, I still felt pressured to succeed with no real guidance on where I should even start. Pocatello, Idaho, came across as a place suitable for real introspection. In part, because there’s nothing to do in town.

I told myself that this was the start. I had driven halfway across the country and rented an apartment in a place entirely foreign to me, I wasn’t starting over but finding my place to start. I was scared but what else was I going to do? I wanted to believe that this move was about the opportunity to do what I wanted, but realistically it was about the opportunity to just wait for a while. I had to leave one place to find it in another. It’s hard to find the possibility to work on things you might need to work on without a network to help you. My network in Texas pressured me to go in a direction I didn’t want to go. My network in Idaho was nonexistent. In Idaho, I started pressuring myself to make up for the time lost and so there were foundations I should have been building that I was ignoring because I was striving to compete at a level of adulthood I hadn’t earned. I didn’t want to do the work because I was too busy racing to the finish line.

Instead of working on the things I wanted to work on, which was my reason for coming out here from the start. I was focused entirely on enabling my co-dependence. I didn’t get better at anything. I just wanted to feel like people liked me; the act of what I did, moving across the country on a whim, and my own, was lost on me and my youth. I wasted the opportunity. I will forever be able to say that I chose to brave that unknown and along the way learned lessons in adaptability, self-reliance, struggle, depression, minimizing, and behavior. Although I may have started for the right reasons, I didn’t learn the most important lesson from that experience for years, the lesson of self-investment. Instead of investing in myself and my passions, when I didn’t find what I was looking for in Idaho I moved to Salt Lake City, UT, and when I didn’t find what I was looking for in SLC. I moved to New York City, NY. And when I didn’t find what I was looking for in NYC. I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And in New Mexico, my path of enablement was completely derailed. The universe stopped my pattern before I wasted my life looking for something that was never beyond or ahead of me but was always inside me. I wanted to be a writer. I had always wanted to be a writer. The one thing I never allowed myself to do was develop my passion so I might earn the opportunity to be the writer that I was told a lifetime before I could never be. We have to learn to look for something before we can see it. That journey often takes us further than we expect to go. Paulo Coelho's novel, The Alchemist, is about change and growth in search of our ‘personal legend,’ is an example of that. Joseph Campbell’s insights about the hero’s journey and ‘following your bliss,’ as depicted in classic writings like Dante’s The Divine Comedy…—the point being, perhaps we need to lose ourselves a little.

Ultimately, my journey taught me that growth and self-discovery require patience, courage, and a willingness to embrace the unknown. I learned that searching for direction and purpose is not a destination, but a continuous process. Though I may have started my journey seeking external validation and direction, I ultimately discovered that the answers lay within me all along. My experiences, both triumphs and struggles, have shaped me into the person I am today. As I continue on this path, I’ve realized that the greatest investment I can make is in myself and my passions. The journey may be long and winding, but with self-investment and determination, I know I’ll find my way. Because of course, in the end, you become yourself, but you have to retrace your steps, dive into the unknown, and walk right through your demons to get there. It’s never the route you expect it to be.

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