Roadtrips may be one of the American past-times but there’s a point at which it becomes ridiculous. My parents had property investments in multiple states and we commonly took road-trips to visit the land and rentals with my sisters and me crammed in the back of a 1977 Lincoln Continental being carted hither and thither. At some points in my life, I can say with a high degree of confidence that approximately one-third or more of any year was spent away from my own bed. I longed for stability and a bed that wasn’t shared with my sister in a hotel. The sense of inertia, of placelessness was exhausting. When we had a life change and stopped taking trips for almost my entire adolescence, I breathed a sigh of happy relief.
Once early adulthood began, the travel took an uptick: road trips with friends, the freedom of being able to hop in the car and go anywhere, anywhere, I wanted. I found something new about hopscotching the country that I really liked. It was intoxicating, liberating. When I lived on my own, I took advantage of being a young woman with no ties. Did rent go up? Fine, I’ll relocate. Did a friend want me to move in for a little bit? Sure! In a four-year period, I recall changing ‘permanent’ addresses at least seven times. After I married, that slowed down quite a bit: Nine months after getting married we bought a house, and then sold it 18 months later during the housing boom to move out-of-state. We’ve been in the same home for just over five years. And I itch so badly to leave it all behind and move again.
This sensation reminds me of what I liked most about going places and doing new things: it comes with the opportunity for reinvention. Each time I find a new home, I have the chance to recreate myself in a way that is hopefully more desirable, more interesting, more unique. I can adjust to my surroundings or stand out in contrast, depending on whim.
When I was trying to explain this recently to a counselor, she asked “who is the real you if you keep reinventing yourself?” Even though I didn’t know the answer before that moment, a response immediately came. All of my manifestations are the real me, they’re just accentuated or diminished based on the circumstances. In this way, I consider myself to be like a stereo receiver. The box doesn’t change based on the music it helps project but the dials need to be adjusted depending on whether you’re listening to Jeff Buckley, Duffy, Rolling Stones, or Joan Sutherland. Sometimes you want a little more treble, a touch less bass, an adjustment to the mid-range, a shift to the sound balance, etc. Adjust until you find what works best.
Whatever or whoever I am is, at the core, the same with each reinvention but still with the potential to be endlessly varied. The attributes or qualities I emphasize depend upon who I’m around and where I live. Bookworm, career-girl, adoring mother, home ec evangelist, outdoor enthusiast, long-suffering daughter, partier, conservative, liberal, anti-authoriarian, seeking Christian, dubious agnostic: Those and more are all dials that I tweak at will to mix up whatever it is I think is the best version of me for the time and place. Part of what makes my current living situation so stifling is that I’ve kept all these dials at certain readings for a very long time — longer than any other time in my adult life — and it’s very difficult to sustain. This makes relocation so incredibly desirable because it affords the opportunity to become the new version of me, iMe 6.0.
Unfortunately, the older one gets, the more stuff one has, the more responsibilities, the more friends and baggage, the greater are the barriers to reinvention. The trappings start to define the person. The risks are greater, the costs are greater. From now on, wherever I go (barring some major life-changing events and shedding of responsibility) I will be mother and wife, perhaps the two roles most difficult for me to embrace. It’s as though at least two of the stereo dials are stuck permanently and it limits the range and quality of the music that can be played. It feels a little suffocating and leaves me disliking the entire receiver even though it’s the only one I’ve got. And, like any animal who believes it’s trapped, my ferrety eyes are constantly seeking a way out.