It was dark when I crossed into New Hampshire. What should’ve been a short distance to my friend Kierstin’s house had turned into a succession of traffic jams. Somehow, I missed the sign that read: Welcome to New England, Land of Endless Roadwork.
I was sick of driving. Getting out of New York City had proven to be a nightmare. The only thing that pushed me forward was the promise of a shower, a comfy bed, home-cooked food, and the companionship of an old friend. I was twenty minutes from my destination when Elizabeth Gilbert decided to share what turned out to be one of my favorite takeaways from her book. It was a lesson that had come to her years earlier on the rooftop of her ashram in India:
The day is ending. It’s time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful. Now, let go.
Your wish for resolution was a prayer. Your being here is God’s response. Let go and watch the stars come out…
With all your heart ask for grace and let go.
With all your heart, forgive him, forgive yourself, and let him go.
Let your intention be freedom from useless suffering. Then let go.
Watch the heat of day pass into the cold of night. Let go…
When the past has passed from you at last, let go. Then climb down and begin the rest of your life…
She dubbed them “Instructions for Freedom.” I played the instructions over again, peering at the stars ahead of me, stars that Liz had once watched from the roof of that ashram. “It’s time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful.” Memories of my ex flooded my mind: the time we fell asleep Skyping each other, the afternoon we played frisbee and wrestled in the front yard, the days he’d come over and pass out in my bed with all his clothes still on. I played the instructions again, but this time, what I heard were questions: “Will you watch the heat of day pass into the cold of night? Will you forgive him? Will you let this go?” It occurred to me that the reminiscing, this reactivation of old memories, was a choice. And then I heard my own voice:
Corey. It’s time. Let go.
As soon as I arrived at Kier’s place, I crashed. My reserves had finally run dry. All I wanted to do was rest. It helped that Kier is a nurturer at heart. She cooked while I lounged, accompanied, talked, listened, laughed, showered and slept. Thank god for friends who spoil us when we need it most.
After a second night of unadulterated laziness, Kier and I decided to take a day trip to Salem, Massachusetts. It was Halloween week—how could we resist?
Over the span of our day trip, we bumped into witches, sauntered through the Old Burying Point Cemetery (the second oldest cemetery in the country), went to a live exhibit about the witch trials, and walked through Hawthorne’s house of seven gables. Our adventure in Salem was coming to a close when we happened upon a fortune-teller’s shop. Kier looked at me. I looked at Kier. We had to do it. Under my breath, I sent a whisper into the universe:
“Hey. You know I’m a skeptical guy. But if you’d like to say something through this swindling clairvoyant, I just want you to know that I’m listening.”
The soothsayer was a beautiful Indian woman. I sat down on a big red couch, she stared at me for about twenty seconds, and then she spoke.
“2015 was a very hard year for you.” Part of me said, 2015 was a very hard year for many people. Another part said, Thank you. It was very hard.
“I see a backpack,” she said. “You are going to do a lot of traveling.” I had decided to do a lot of traveling. A lot of people travel, said a part of me. Yes, but traveling and backpacking are two very different things, said another part.
“Here’s what I see in your future: 2016 is going to be a year of healing.”
I didn’t see it coming. My heart sank to my stomach. My eyes started burning. I faked a smile. Oh god, I thought, I’m being one of those people.
“And in 2017,” she continued, “I see red.”
“Like blood?” I asked, worried that she was making a prediction about my lifespan.
“No, no. It means that you’re going to be ready for love again,” she replied giggling. And silently, I said, Thanks. That’s all I needed. Not because I really believed that she knew the details of my personal life, but because I’m a writer. And if I’ve learned anything by writing, it’s that we humans are made out of stories. The reality was, at that very moment, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to fall in love again. Even so, I’d still have to deal with the inevitable “Why?”—from friends, prospective suitors, even myself. But now, I had a story. “Why? Because a fortune-teller from Salem looked into my future. It’s not the right time.”
I indulged one more day on Kier’s home-cooked meals before departing for Massachusetts. In Boston, I walked the Harvard Yard and then met up with Parker, an acquaintance from the University of South Alabama. We meandered from the Boston Common to the Charles River to the Boston Public Library.
Everything felt different. Traffic was less daunting, my mind was relaxed. I was completely engrossed in the scenery—the trees flaunting their colors, the sailboats waving from the river. I spent the first days of the trip asking, What am I looking for? and somewhere between a couch in Salem and a rooftop in India (thanks, Liz), I found it.
The final leg of the road trip was marked by spontaneous deviations from the itinerary. I caught a show by my favorite spoken word poet (Andrea Gibson) in New York, couch-surfed with a radio host in Pennsylvania, and drove west to visit family in Ohio. Soon after I left Ohio, Elizabeth Gilbert finished her memoir (and then, I presume, slipped into someone else’s passenger seat).
Tennessee to south Alabama was a montage of napping at rest stops and shameless car dancing. I thought back to Laurel and Albert from the Savannah Tribe, and it made me wonder how I might garden more extensively once I got home. I thought about August Pope and started laughing. DUUUUUDE! I thought about the generosity of my friends—Emily in D.C., Adam in Brooklyn, Kier in Pelham, Parker in Boston. I was bringing it all home with me. I was leaving other things behind.
That night, when I finished unpacking the car, I rummaged through my room for memorabilia. Anything related to my ex was placed in a box and relocated to a very high shelf of a closet. It’s time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful. “Goodbye,” I whispered, flipping off the light. A pang of grief rose to the surface, but abated just as quickly as it came. I took a deep breath. 2016: Healing. 2017: Love. And with a smirk, I jumped into my own bed and fell into a dream.
Two weeks later, I was at a wedding in Naples, Florida. I had been feeling that disorienting mix of Oh man, my cousin looks so happy and Screw marriage, boys are stupid, where’s the alcohol? when I received a message on my phone.
“Hey there, how’s it going?”
I recognized the sender’s Facebook profile immediately, but I didn’t know him in person.
“It’s going,” I replied.
I couldn’t have predicted what was about to unfold.
Featured art belongs to Amanda Sage.
A special shoutout to state governments:
This is part 5 of a series. The previous installments are: The End of the World Often Comes (part 1), Hitchhiker Meets Comatose Amygdala (part 2), Couch-surfing with Elizabeth Gilbert (part 3), and From Blue Ridge to Borough (part 4).
Next: the final chapter of the story.