Well I Guess This is Growing Up

You already know this, but I’m beyond excited for this trip to New Orleans.

I’m heading down there alone and have mixed emotions. I’m excited by the fact that I can go where I want, when I want, with no regard for placating anyone. But I would love to share the experience with someone; I know that the best experiences in life are shared, and there’s certainly a part of me that hesitates at traveling alone. Yet I’m determined not to let the somber side win out.

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about my last weeklong solo trip: I spent a week in the summer of 2010 in Washington D.C., training for a Fulbright Fellowship that I would eventually turn down. Life back then bore little resemblance to what I’ve carved out for myself today. I spent the bulk of that spring geeking out over a new relationship, debating whether to move to San Antonio or Morocco, and approaching five years in my entry-level job. It all seems like another lifetime now.

Anyway, I wrote an essay my first night there. It’s a little cringe-inducing to look back on now, but I’m proud of it. It neatly summed up a peculiar turning point in my life, so I’m sharing it here. I hope you enjoy:

Not long after touching down in Washington D.C. this afternoon, I came to the realization that I was embarking on a new life experience.

Until I sat on the subway platform at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, it had never dawned on me that this was my first time traveling on my own. Every trip I’ve ever taken to this point has included friends, family or classmates.

That changed today.

I had made it to Washington D.C. via two flights and found my way to the subway station. I sat on the platform for a few minutes before realizing that I had never been so alone, so far from home. In Boston and New York, Dusty was a world champion navigator. In New Orleans, I would swap restaurant and live music suggestions with Pat. I was one of 15 people on a trip to Egypt and had been alone only when sick.

I felt a mix of emotions. I was a little lonely, not having anyone to trade ideas with or talk to; at the onset of any trip, I’m always overcome with a boundless energy. In the past, I had been able to burn that energy by talking with my travel buddies and formulating plans for the days and weeks ahead. But today, I was on my own.

That feeling also empowered me. I knew that I was the only one responsible for having a good time on this trip. I thought about the possibilities: Would I visit the Newseum or one of the Smithsonian Museums on my lone free morning? Would I befriend the other Fulbright fellows and find post-orientation adventures with them each night?

I knew that I was staking out on my own, creating memories for myself and embarking on a new experience. I thought about how crazy it was that I was here in the first place. Two months ago, I thought I was San Antonio-bound as a member of Teach for America. One month ago, I found out that I was an alternate for a Fulbright fellowship in Turkey; less than two weeks later, I was notified that I had received a fellowship in a different country – Morocco. And today, I touched down in Washington D.C. for a week of training in preparation for my 10-month stint in Morocco. Alone.

I sat there on the platform, soaking it all in. I thought about the fact that I made it this far on my own but that the fun was just beginning. Planning evenings, getting around town, finding meals … I would be solely responsible for all of it. I would be the only one responsible for a memorable week. For better or worse, I would be beholden to no one. The success of the week was on me and me alone.

Just as quickly as that “I’m growing up” moment hit, I was struck by another, equally powerful realization.

I was on the wrong subway platform.

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