San Diego has betrayed me.
I caught myself thinking this more and more. Our relationship had already decayed quietly to the point of nonexistence. It was only fitting to leave it so unceremoniously. I loved it, but it made a cuckold of me. It loved others more than me. It never truly wanted me; it needed me. Maybe I needed it too. But, after it got all it could from me, the city left me.
I was spurned, left with no purpose, no direction, and while at my weakest point, the open road called to me. I thought that maybe distance and time, the healers of so many wounds, would help with the reconciliation. Perhaps I’d be smitten by another and move on. The road’s call grew stronger, more pronounced, and I was helpless to resist it. So, I did what I always do. I left.
I gathered what little belongings I had, packed up my car, and left with as little fanfare as possible, making my goodbyes just long enough to say that they existed but brief enough to where they could be considered inconsequential. I deflected any questions about my return, choosing only to respond with a vague statement about coming back when I was a good enough man to do so. Friends knew the absurdity of the statement and laughed it off as yet another joke. As did I. But, the humor for me was never in the overly dramatic requirements of my return; it was in the fact that I never planned on returning.
There were no concretes going forward from here. No itinerary. No final destination. Just a list of cities I’ve always wanted to see. A list of people I regarded as friends. And, all the time in the world. This venture into the unknown excited me, and I had forgotten what it felt like to be excited about something, about anything.
I headed north to Los Angeles, to another city that I abandoned. And, soon enough, my renewed thirst for excitement met its first bout with the harshness of reality. My homecoming, though joyous in many respects, served to remind me of the reasons I left in the first place. This place was no longer my home. It now stood as a monument to death. The death of my family, of my home, and of my faith in the church of the emotional connection. It only fit that my travels were to begin here.
As I ventured further north along the Pacific coast and deeper into unfamiliar territory, the idyllic vision of my existential road trip continued to lose its shiny veneer. Here I was alone in my car. Nothing ahead on the road. Nothing beside to accompany me. The sheer amount of nothingness around me served only to underscore the debilitating nothingness within me. When this journey first sprouted in my mind, some part of me must have known that this day would come. A last, desperate attempt by my subconscious to save me from myself, to force me to stop running. My time had come.
There was no work to get lost in. No distractions. No more valid excuses. The open road left no other choice but to confront the reasons why I had grown to be so dead on the inside. So afraid to commit to a city. So willing to leave. I had to face my demons.
My dad’s death fucked me up. I finally admitted that to myself; years of practice had made me adept at denial. Seeing the life escape his body, leaving him a sallow husk of the man he once was, left me ruined. That image forever branded into my mind. Everything, absolutely everything, reminded me of that lone image of my lifeless father.
I desired nothing more than for it to stop, welcoming any refuge from the onslaught. Sleep grew to be my sanctuary. The safe harbor where I could escape the maelstrom in my mind. Soon enough, that too would be defiled. Dreams crept in and refused to leave. Dreams of my father still being alive. For a brief moment, my mind believed that the life that had escaped him had somehow returned. Immense joy, immense emotion, welled inside of me. In that moment, my father lived. Once I saw my father, once my joy had reached its peak, I would awake. From joy to sorrow in an instant. To go from such zeniths to such nadirs, night in and night out, left me emotionally ravaged. Left me broken. Left me a husk myself.
I never wished to cause such trauma to the ones that made the mistake of loving me. That burden weighed too much. I refused to wield such power over others. In my mind, no other choice could be made. I had to do it. I had to renounce my faith in the church of the emotional connection. I could bear being alone, being miserable. That cross would be easy to carry. If all it took to save others from such pain was to fall on the swords of loneliness and misery, the decision was easy. Martyrdom always did fascinate me.
I just wanted to wallow in my sorrow, and I did exactly that for so long. But, the road had other ideas. The hundreds of miles between cities left me more time than I ever wanted to think. To heal. To actually slay my demons. The travels that started as a cowardly escape slowly evolved into a holy pilgrimage.
The Central Coast, the Northwest, the Mountains, the Plains, the Lowcountry. These were the parishes, gradually revealing their sanctity the longer I stayed within their borders. The familiar faces that housed me, fed me, they were the prophets, proselytizing their faith in the church of the emotional connection. I saw the beauty in it. My doubt faded. I believed again. My cold heart began to thaw.
The pilgrimage continued for months. Every new city, a holy church. Each one now hallowed ground. Every new conversation, a blessed sacrament. Each one now sacred to me. And, as I returned to San Diego, I no longer saw it as a traitor. The city had grown to be sacred too.
In my mind, it was always the cities in which I lived that betrayed me, the city, along with the community created within its borders, rejecting its newest transplant. But, I’ve come to realize that it was never the cities that turned their backs on me. They have done all that they could to keep me; they battled. But, the battle was never fair in the first place.
I never wanted to stay. I wanted to wallow. I was the traitor. It was so much simpler to leave than face my demons, so much simpler to be miserable. But, friends have a way of getting in the way of my misery.