America had always been the dream. Scratch that, California had always been the dream. I wanted a taste of the sexy SoCal life I’d read about and seen on TV. The place where people made themselves into the stars that were stuck in their eyes. The place all my high-profile musician and movie-star teen-dream crushes called home. I spent years and years dreaming about it; imagining where I would go, what I would wear, who I would meet. I created a whole world in my head around this magical place.
Of course, being Canadian, these dreams remained a sort of wistful background noise to the life I was stuck living. I’d been in Toronto almost ten years, having moved there from my tiny rural hometown at the age of 17. I’d made an almost comical habit of falling for geographically desirable suitors, men passing through town from far off cities clearly more glamorous than my own. I hopped planes and trains chasing people and places I’d never belong to. I had been to LA several times, getting a taste of the life lined by palm trees and the Pacific Ocean. Each time I went back I grew angrier and angrier, throwing an inner tantrum at my rotten luck – all the reasons and circumstances keeping me from this sunshiney coast and the life I was surely meant to live.
One night, while tending bar at my beloved Rock and Roll Toronto dive, I got into a conversation with the DJ about how I had planned to be in LA in three years. Three years, a random, arbitrary amount of time I had decided upon because it seemed like an appropriate amount of time to somehow get my shit together and figure it out. I rattled off the laundry list of reasons I just couldn’t do it now, or anytime soon. My outstanding student loans, my near-empty bank account, my Canadian passport. He more-or-less shrugged each of my reasons away – telling me about friends he’d known that had lived in New York for years, because they’d just decided to do it. Then came the question, asked ever so gently, yet still hitting home with force.
“How old are you?”
I paused. “Twenty-Seven.”
“You need to do it now.” He smiled.
He said nothing more, but I did the math. Did I really want to wait that long? Could I? In that moment I realized that there had always been and would always be reasons not to go. Did I want to wake up 3, 5, 10 years later wondering what would have/could have happened?
*** 5 months later ***
Texas was huge. SO huge. I mean I had known it was big, but driving across it? Alone? It seemed like the never-ending state. The crying didn’t help.
Let’s rewind a bit. I was ACTUALLY on my way to California. From Toronto. By way of Milwaukee, Memphis, then Austin (I know – not exactly the most direct of routes). I’d quit my jobs, packed my car, said goodbye to friends and family and started driving. I was somewhere in the vast, empty middle of Texas, between Austin and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Of course there had been a boy in Austin. I had met him years prior. He was in a band. (Hi, my name is Allison and I have a thing about boys in bands. But that is not the point of this story). He and I had connected from time to time over the years but had never lived in the same city. I figured if I was going to drive across America, I should probably get into some mischief along the way – even though I was aware on some level that nothing good would come from such an irresponsible gamble.
Austin was wonderful. Austin was hot. I had kidnapped a girlfriend from Milwaukee to accompany me and we had a blast swimming in stunning watering holes, watching the bats fly out from under the bridge in South Congress, and baking in the 100+ degree heat. When the sun went down, after sitting on the patio and sharing stories over drinks, I would spend the nights curled up with our handsome host, remembering our brief spells together over the years, driving from Buffalo to Upstate New York to Burlington Vermont, sleeping in discount hotels, sneaking around backstage hallways, and the inevitable goodbyes, the tear-stained pillowcases, the endless “what if”s. Here we were again, not living in the same town, one of us just passing through, and in a day it would all be over for the umpteenth time. I, of course, was feeling the inevitable waves of sadness start to rise in me. The consummate drama queen, I decided I must be in love with this person and cursed the universe for being cruel and unfair. On the last night I broke down in the darkness of the bedroom. He was rational, I was grasping at straws for a star-crossed lovers scenario – some sort of silver screen declaration of adoration. What had I even wanted or expected here? I struggle now to guess.
The next morning I could barely take a step without crying. I willed the tears to hold off as I lugged my bags down the stairs, but they defied me as I told another concerned-looking house-guest – “I’m no good at goodbyes.” When the last bag was packed and the trunk closed with a finite slam, I sucked in a breath and turned to embrace the one I was leaving.
“If nothing more than as a friend,” I whispered. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” he replied, giving me a last kiss. “Drive safe. Text me when you make it to the Grand Canyon.”
After twelve hours of endless flat landscape, tearful phone calls to my mom, sister, and friends, I collapsed into a lumpy Days Inn bed in New Mexico, too tired to care that the sheets smelled like stale cigarettes.
A few hours later I awoke early, made myself a waffle (cool move, Days Inn!) and hit the road yet again. I was drained physically and emotionally but the sunlight and stunning red rocks that scattered the horizon made it all much less grueling and within a few hours I was starting to feel a bit more human. My next stop was The Grand Canyon – it was a bit off the direct path to Los Angeles, but I felt like driving past it would have been a crime, and so I took the exit and headed North in the mid-afternoon sunshine. I wasn’t sure what to expect; would I see it as I got near? Would it sneak up on me? Was that even possible?
I finally reached the gates of the National Park, paid my entrance fee and to my dismay, still couldn’t see anything. Where was this place? Wasn’t it supposed to be monumentally big?
Parking my car in one of the many large lots, I was dismayed to see the sun had faded and it was now grey and overcast. I stopped at the souvenir shop, grabbing a few postcards, then followed the general direction of the people around me, groups and couples and families armed with big cameras and fanny packs and smiles. I trudged along the generic cement pathways, waiting to be struck by this supposed world wonder, should it ever decide to reveal itself. Finally the treeline ended and the path opened out. There was a black metal railing lined with people in bucket-hats and cargo shorts. As I moved closer I began to see what lay beyond the railing and the other tourists. There it was. The Grand Canyon.
I found an open space against the railing and simply stood there, stunned, my mind trying desperately to comprehend what lay before me. Even when you’re standing right there on the edge of it, it is so incredibly vast, so utterly flawless that it still doesn’t seem real. I walked along the edge to a nearby outcropping. Families and couples and friends took snapshots and selfies while I weaved through them on my own, seeking the best vantage point. As I neared the railing this time, my breath caught in my throat. In the distance, above a far off cliff of red rock, a rainbow had emerged from the mist.
I stood silent as I heard the gasps and exclamations in various languages as those around me began to notice it too. I felt tears slide down my cheeks and past my sunglasses as I finally felt the full impact of where I was and where I had come from. I had done it. I had sold almost everything I owned, packed it up into my old Buick, left my entire life behind and driven across the continent. Most of it on my own. I didn’t know what lay ahead – much like landscape before me, it spread out endlessly with few answers and unlimited potential for incredible things.
I pulled out my phone and opened a new message, typing his name. Staring at the blank screen, I wondered what to say, suddenly at a loss. After a few moments, I simply attached a photo of the view in front of me and hit send.
The future was wide open; the past, a chapter closed.