Anti-prodigal journey

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Write about someone finally making their own choices.... view prompt

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Coming of Age Adventure American

I’ve left home. I am now six thousand miles away from my parent’s grasp. My parents and their overbearing love which felt less like a cocoon and more like a blade that sharpened a pencil to a point, chipping away at it to achieve a semblance of perfection.

The anti-prodigal journey has been winding. First, the northern pilgrimage after living in the South for a few too many years. And what a Mecca at that: New York City, the pinnacle for those who want to get lost in a crowd. Not caring is the currency of the city. No one cared what I did and I stopped caring back. I built a whole new identity, one where I was wild and unbound; my biography at the time might as well have been titled “Fear and Loathing in New York City: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream”. I stopped calling my parents when I got to New York - even as they were helping me pay my rent - and they never stopped complaining about it. “Why do you have to live such a secretive life?” they would ask, their voices coated with the edge of despair and curiosity. Curiosity because they likely couldn't even fathom the extent of how far I could stray from the things they fought hard to pack into me from a young age like a backpacker’s rucksack. But I did stray, hard. I drank belligerently most nights, partied across town, got my heart broken a handful of times, and had unsafe sex with a dozen strangers. And somewhere in there I got a graduate degree. And though things didn’t get much more dramatic after I left New York, I moved further, and further, and further from my parent’s scrutiny. I think I imagined myself moving away from the judgement in my own heart - distaste for my own decisions, and anguish at my lack of resolve - but I didn’t. It followed me long after my parents stopped complaining about me not calling.

When you’re younger, you think there’s nothing better than the promise of freedom in adulthood. My own promise was of getting as far away from the high ground my parents reveled in occupying - where you deliberately avoided choices that plundered you into self-dosing on masochism. Their avoidance of alcohol, cigarettes and fun of any kind was with an astute -if peripherally understood - recognition that these were self-medications that distracted you from pain and emptiness that you would otherwise have to deconstruct. They weren’t wrong, I just wasn’t in the mood to hear it. I wanted the amplitude to make any and all bad decisions and learn from them the hard way. I drank alcohol for the first time in college, a wheaty liquid squeezed out of a hose from a keg that sat on sticky floors of a frat house where I knew no one. The pointlessness of the experience was masked by my feeling that it was all happening too late. I first tasted alcohol and lost my virginity a few months apart, when I was 19. I had to make up for lost time before my parents’ overbearing ways neutered my standing in society for good.

The thing they don’t tell you about living the life you want  - away from furtive glances of family and anyone who knows enough to have a point of view - is that when it happens, there’s no celebratory party. It’s quite mundane and anti-climatic. If I think about it now it does make sense - what’s a good way to celebrate “No one cares what you do anymore”? It was really just a slow descent into my parents’ giving in. I’d like to think it was because they started trusting me more, or saw all the things I was doing well with my life. But I don’t think it was that. And even as I hid most of the alcohol-fueled nights and dating escapades from them- and I doubt they had the imagination to dream any of it up- there was the consistent shadow in my step where I knew I had let them down. That for every thing I achieved in my life, and could be proud of, I would forever be a fuck-up in my parents’ eyes.

But here I was, with the kind of freedom I had only dreamt of: the one that seemed dubitable as a child when I would sit on my balcony and watch while friends with less protective parents frolicked around in co-ed groups. A few years into my runaway life, I was living in Russia, as far away from anything protective or safe as I could have fashioned it. But now, unfettered, and with nothing to risk but my own body and mind, the pressure was deafening. The world was just a labyrinth of choices and destinies, all of which were laid bare for me. The only choices closed off to me were the ones I chose to close off - the meta-ness of it all was discombobulating. The thing is, I had developed none of the skills I needed to navigate this Amazon forest of choices laid out in front of me and I wasn’t sure which path would lead to a beautiful clearing or which was laden with poisonous reptiles.

In those days and many after, I found myself being guided by the very things I had raged against- the moral ground my parents so firmly sat on. Their voices were in my head, even from six thousand miles away. Even if it was the unostentatious maxims like, “Always do the right thing even if it’s harder,” or “Get to where you need to go without stepping on others’ feet,” or “Help those less fortunate than you,” it turns out my pre-programmed GPS was better than going by a weather vane.

The flight path has been a turbulent one; it took a while but I found a way that works for me. One where I stay open to things that my parents’ sagacity would have closed off for me. But I still let them hold me back a bit by letting their voices play in my head when I’m spun around. Because in a world of infinite choices, the choices you don't make end up being as important as the ones you do make.

May 29, 2021 01:09

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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