The Beginnings of Things

by Heather Vandenengel

ON A TRAIN SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BOSTON AND GRAFTON, MASSACHUSETTS — My favorite part of any trip is the moment right before I walk out the door when I take one look back and wonder what will happen between now and when I’m back here again.

One year ago on Monday, September 15th, I walked out of my friends’ house, turned right on Albion Street in Somerville, took about five steps and felt a lurch in my stomach. I had made a choice–finally–and was leaving Boston–finally–and it was all beginning–finally.

I would say I haven’t looked back since, but that would be a lie. I look back all the time. I think about that day, about boarding the Red Line with a heavy backpack that felt more unwieldy by the second, about running through South Station to catch a bus to Maine and almost missing that bus because it was full, and then getting the last seat on it. I think back before that, to the Summer of Indecision when I asked all my friends how they made big decisions and how I didn’t know how I would make mine. I think about crying on an airplane flying over the Pacific, reading Dear Sugar’s Go! Go! Go! and knowing that I knew what I had to do, and that I had known all along.

What I remember most is the urgency–the feeling that if I didn’t leave then, I never would. It felt like the biggest decision I had ever made, and maybe it was. Our lives from birth to college follow a fairly straight track and leaving home and friends and a job required an unbalanced force that I would have to summon. What I wasn’t prepared for was how many decisions I would have to make after that, how paralyzing the freedom to go anywhere and do anything could be.

And yet, I am aware of the privilege of choice. This is an entirely selfish endeavor, in which I can, in theory, do whatever I would like. with no consideration for a family, house, a full-time job. I know that this situation can’t last for forever, but it is suiting me fine right now, and there is that urgency again: if I don’t do this now, then when? (Although I don’t think it’s ever too late to start doing the things you always wanted to do.)

I am thinking about this all as tomorrow I leave very early in the morning for Seattle. I am doing what I always said I was going to do, which is go West, for two months of traveling the coast, WWOOFing, seeing friends, exploring. It’s another beginning, a new wave of anxiety and excitement and looking back at the room, wondering how things will be different, how I will be different, when I’m here again.

Feeling it: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” — Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That