Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

The Courage to Stay in One Place

by Nikki Hodgson Jan 14, 2014

He took me to a brewery, to a place I will never go again. The memory of his hand brushing against my knee is connected to a piece of me that still aches to lie awake at night and listen to his breathing. When he stopped calling, I spun circles in my apartment, went for a run, drank half a bottle of wine. In the morning I emptied the contents of one drawer into a suitcase and made it halfway through the booking process before I realized I couldn’t just catch the next flight to Tel Aviv.

I tried to do all of my favorite things, distractions. But the cappuccino turned cold before I could concentrate long enough to read the first few lines of anything. A man walked into the cafe and smiled. I smiled back, but my eyes stayed sad.

I did the same hike twice and then called my dad. From my window, I can see the mountains. The snow collects on the balcony, the patio furniture, the trees, and windowsills. The heater rattles the air vents, but the quiet of the snow still permeates my apartment. Everything is in slow motion and muted colors. I have a home and a job. I can’t just run.

The heater stops. The place is so still. I roll over onto my back, stare at the ceiling. When I close my eyes, I see my heart like a bruised peach, a soggy indent where he pushed hard and walked away. I try pushing the thoughts away and then I try just letting them go. But there is still that weight on my chest and I’d rather just get on the next plane to Mexico.

When the first pangs of anxiety hit, my default is always a suitcase and a ticket to anywhere. I have gotten used to the idea that an Italian train and fields of red poppies are the cure for any sort of trouble, but then at a certain point that is no longer true. Because even in travel there are moments where you pause and it all catches up with you, where you stand on the top of Masada and the Dead Sea looks like somebody painted the sky on the desert floor and it’s so damn beautiful and you’re so damn lucky, but you just think of him and that smile and the email you wish you could send. At a certain point, every breathtaking vista just becomes another backdrop for your broken heart.

I am scared that I will never find a way to balance my love of adventure with my need for quiet reflection.

There is bravery in traveling, but there is bravery in staying home, too. There is bravery in staying still long enough for everything to catch up with you, in trusting that whatever it is, it won’t drag you down. Because it hurts like hell when there’s nowhere to run, when the only place to circle is within the confines of your own addled brain. I lie awake at night trying to figure out ways to escape the barbed wire thoughts closing in. Every memory digs a little deeper into my skin.

I don’t feel like listening to anything but Beethoven. I don’t want the sun to go down. I can’t stop reading travel books and planning trips.

I have a home and a place and responsibility. I chose this for myself; I chose this inability to flee. I have finally decided to sit quietly and let the pain seep in under the doors and through the windows. Rumi says you have to keep breaking your heart until it opens. And I’ve broken it open under every sky imaginable, rolling it across the Sinai, dragging it through the Alps, wedging it in the cracks of the Western Wall. But I have never learned to sit still, to stop shoving the fragments into a suitcase.

In the slow motion of my unpacked life, I find that I like to bake, to find that balance between desperately seeking meaning from my life and finding it unexpectedly while waiting for the dough to rise. I am scared that my expectations of love are too unrealistic, scared that I will never find a way to balance my love of adventure with my need for quiet reflection. I find that my natural state is delight, but even while marveling at the perfect hue of a mango, I crumple over the cutting board, pressing my forehead against the cupboard, struggling to swallow my tears.

Sometimes bravery is booking that ticket to Mongolia. Sometimes it’s canceling your flight. Sometimes it’s plunging into a new culture, a new language, a new place. Sometimes it’s a few hours of staring at your ceiling telling yourself you’re not going to give up on you, that you’re going to stay in your old place and learn to make it new. Sometimes your demons push you to stay, sometimes they pull you to go. Sometimes you have to sit still long enough to figure out the way your heart breaks. Sometimes you have to hit the road to remember how to put it back together.

In the slow motion stillness of a Colorado snowstorm, I am finding that there is so much bravery in both.

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