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July 18, 2012

chicago girl in kentucky.

this is an essay i did for the wonderful mackenzie of whatever, gatsby. (i immediately loved the name of her blog.) thank you for including me, mackenzie!

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
-Why We Travel, Pico Iyer

 I cried a lot when I went to Kentucky.

I took my first road trip at the age of twenty-six. I went alone. I regret waiting so long to go.

I drove almost eight hours from Chicago to Lewisburg, Kentucky to spend six days with my great Aunt Hope and Uncle Norman, the most beautiful and loving black lab, and a group of characters I instantly dubbed The Lewisburg Rat Pack. 

I cried for a lot of reasons. I cried because I was overwhelmed at the idea of driving that far by myself. I cried because I was at the tail-end of a relationship I wasn’t happy in and I cried because those six days were overdue. But I cried the most sitting in a hotel room in Lexington three hours from my aunt’s house the Saturday I was there. I built this trip around a Mary Chapin Carpenter concert. I emailed my aunt, bought a concert ticket, booked a rental car, and started counting the days.

I sat on an ugly flowered bedspread in that hotel and felt my loneliness wrap itself around me. I felt it come over me and try to make me hard. I sat like this for a long time. I finally threw water on my face, put on a dress and heels, and drove myself to dinner. I sat with myself and drank margaritas and chicken tacos and salsa and felt my sadness, sadness that was a number of things. You’re in a city where you don’t know anyone. You’re three hours from your family. You’re scared. But you’re relaxing, on those walks with your uncle, his friends, and their dogs, you are relaxing. And you don’t know what to do with that feeling. But at home in Chicago you aren’t happy. You need to ask yourself why you aren’t happy. You need to be honest with yourself because you already know why you aren’t. And you need to forgive yourself for ignoring all of these things. The time for ignoring is over. I felt all of these things,but I didn’t let them swallow me. I sat on a bar stool and watched the people around me: couples, old and young. Everyone was with someone else. I was alone and I felt it, in every sense of the word. I told myself, you need this trip. You need to sit here with yourself and not be doing five things at once. You need this quiet. Sitting by yourself does not mean you are lacking anything. You, as your own company, are enough. You need to feel this sadness instead of trying to push it deeper inside yourself. You need to have that second margarita if you want it because you’re on vacation and you’re wearing a dress that makes you feel pretty and you’re going to see one of your favorite singers and sit in the second row and cry because you are happy. You’re learning to let yourself grow accustomed to that feeling.

There are a lot of things I still miss:

Long conversations with my Aunt Hope, a miniature version of Shirley MacLaine, someone who calls people Chicken and Toots and feeds you bacon every morning and wraps you in love. You feel it just being near her. She has the perfect name.

Their dog Raven. I would sneak her into my bed as much as I could. That dog, sitting at my feet, licking my toes, that’s something I miss. Sitting on the edge of my bed my first morning there staring out the window with that dog next to me, rubbing her ear, saying a prayer of thanks for being in this house, this town, quiet so beautiful I wanted to kiss it.

Walking at 7:00 every morning with the Lewisburg Rat Pack: Norman, his best friend Eddie, Bob, and Kenny. Men who meet at the same corner every morning regardless of the weather. Men who walk with their dogs without leashes, with walking sticks carved out of tree branches. I stood behind them, taking pictures, breathing, actually breathing.

Singing my favorite country songs with my left food up on the driver’s seat, staring at nothing but open road and trees in front of me. Laughing and sighing and singing and crying because I felt something while driving in that car. I felt like enough for the first time in a long time.

Fishing with my aunt, uncle, and his best friend Eddie. I miss fishing. I miss trying to fish. The fact that Eddie couldn’t get my name right so I finally told him to call me Rhi. The fact that in just one hour on my uncle’s boat Eddie caught thirty-one. I caught two. I insisted on a re-count.

But sitting on that boat as the sun set, next to Hope, across from my uncle and his best friend, I’ll never forget how that moment felt. Quiet, calm, a different kind of lonely. Lonely always feels stronger when we’re in a place we don’t know. It’s easy to feel lost when we’re away from home, away from our routines, but it’s easier to find ourselves when we take the time to get lost in the first place.

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