I have conversations with myself sometimes, usually silent, but when I’m confident that I’m alone I’m not above speaking out loud. You do it too, and you’re lying if you say otherwise. You do it when you’re making an purchase at the mall, questioning your decision and weighing all the things you won’t be able to afford this week or month because somewhere along the line of your adult life you reorganized your priority closet and shoved the things that make you happiest into the back, wedged behind a stack of shoe boxes. You talk to yourself when you’re single at a bar and the girl or guy leaning against the wall by the dartboard has that quality you’ve never been able to put into words but has always drawn you in, and it takes an inner monologue by that sliver of you that oozes confidence to summon the strength required to approach an unknown person in an unfamiliar situation.
I’ve talked to myself about lots of things over the years, nothing more frequently these last few months than the conversation about what the hell I had to be thinking to quit my job and abandon my life in a place I had only recently reached, in relative terms, a half-dozen years ago to launch a career and establish a new world around a foreign place. I had this wordless conversation every time I looked at the beautiful but crazy woman I married less than a year ago, the woman around which that new world in that foreign place was built throughout a half-decade together in Los Angeles.
She made me do this. She deserves the credit or the blame, depending on where you’re sitting or standing or lounging in that casual, sprawling pose across a couch while you read this blog on your smart phone or a computer resting on the chaise. She said it was a good idea to quit a job I liked, to leave a boss I respected, to flee a career I had only begun even if I didn’t know where to take it in the long run. She said to hell with savings and to hell with plans for the future and talked me into signing up for this open-ended excursion to a place reserved, in my mind, for people with money and opportunities I didn’t have at birth and therefore shouldn’t expect until I’d achieved some miraculous financial success that made me worthy.
“Is this crazy?” she asked me, piles of folded clothes surrounding her during our final weekend in Los Angeles before we launched ourselves into this bold new epoch, our life and our home being packed up and shipped out so we could venture halfway across the world to see beautiful cathedrals and stunning monuments and unfamiliar culture.
The silent conversation in my mind occurred rapidly. I looked back at this mad woman, this pusher of impracticality, with a stunned expression and buckled knees. She’d wanted this for so long, and I’d resisted for most of that time because I knew it was crazy. I knew it was unreasonable and I knew it might even be foolish if we finished our time in Europe—with three months or six months or a full year behind us—penniless and in our early thirties and farther away from owning a home and starting a family than we ever were as comfortable but wayward, uncertain twenty-somethings enjoying their existences in Los Angeles. I knew all of this, but I agreed to it.
I married this woman, this beauty, my best friend, because I looked at her and saw a need, a need of the soul that she couldn’t eradicate if I pleaded reasonable points or not. Being in the position to make this woman happy and satisfy this yearning soul, I finally relented because I can’t and won’t be the reason for a what if in her life. I can’t and won’t be a road block for happiness, even if isn’t specifically my own, even if it goes against every instinct to quit my job and bid farewell to my regularly scheduled auto-deposit and leave the longest-running home of mine since the ranch in a Massachusetts suburb that the horrors of America circa 2009 tore away from me.
I agreed with Anne, and somewhere between giving three months notice to my understanding but disappointed employer and the moment I looked around a bar at friends and colleagues when my last day had concluded and our departure from LA was closing in rapidly, I fully bought into her vision. I adopted her need and felt equally compelled to raze the foundation of the new world we’d only just settled, to spend what we have now rather than commit it to some abstract future, to do what can be done at this exact moment rather than push the possible onto an age when we’re old and gray and, sure, maybe we can afford the experience more comfortably but the flames of passion and vigor and belief that the world is ours for the taking has long since been snuffed.
To my credit, I only faltered once, just days before the flight from Boston to Paris on September 18th that had been looming on the horizon for the better part of 2017. For so long, the trip was an abstract thing, a wouldn’t it be amazing if sort of game we’d play when we both sat on the couch after my disappointing day at the office and her frustrating day inside the restaurant. Then, for nearly as long, it was a real thing set on the horizon, so far up ahead we could barely make out its faint shape throughout the summer months we knew would be our last in our home city, at least for a while. Then, more delay before it became real when the last days at our jobs were complete and our goodbyes had been said. We drove east across the continent, through the desert and the Rockies and Plains, past cornfields and over the Mississippi until we reached the right half of the country; then, two weeks with family and friends in Chicago, followed up with another couple in Boston with more of the same.
Despite all the anticipation and foresight, it still crept up on me. As we closed in on the forty-eight hour window until our flight, I finally felt my twisting, turning guts telling me what I’d been ignoring: Yes, you’re doing this, and yes it’s crazy. The hard parts were behind us—quitting the jobs and saying goodbye to the people and places and things that make a place a home—and the only piece of the puzzle awaiting us was the justification for our sacrifice: months in Paris and Spain and Italy and who knows where the rest of the road leads. Still, I felt nervous. Still, I doubted if it was right. I wondered if it was too late to admit mistakes have been made, to email Shawn and see how I could be folded back into the company’s machinations, to text Jay and see if he had a roster spot open for me on the soccer team, to ask Anne’s cousin to break our subletting agreement and return the premises to its proper owners.
Anne talked me down. She has a way, this girl, and it got me through the last couple of days and it got me to Paris. Then, the thing every husband hates occurred: I realized my wife was right. We threw ourselves into Paris for our week-long stay, and somewhere in the blur that ensued through twisting narrow streets into massive, awe-inspiring squares anchored by magnificent monuments I never knew existed, I lost track of the worries and anxieties that plagued me from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston, the voice in my mind that told me it wasn’t practical and it wasn’t the right move for our long-term plans and the best thing to do is nothing because any risks or gambles might negatively affect this future we always need to keep in consideration—the kids and the house and the career and all the big chunks of mental naggery that we need to weather for the next thirty years before we ever consider embarking on a journey like this one in our twilight years when life is behind us and it becomes less frightening to live a little.
It’s right, as my wife Anne told me, to choose to live a whole hell of a lot right now. Yes, it’s crazy. It was crazy when she proposed it to me and it was crazy when I agreed to it and it was crazy when we left Los Angeles, the familiar in our wake and uncertainty unspooling through our windshield on the road ahead.
Maybe you didn’t need convincing when you heard what we were doing. Maybe you understood immediately or maybe you never cared. It’s fine either way. I’m just telling you that our last night in Paris, I had another one of those conversations in my mind while I stood outside the bathroom door and watched this brunette dime curling her eyelashes in the mirror of the flat we’ve rented in Le Marais for the last week. I looked at her, and though I fell in love with her six years ago and married her five years after that, the diametrically opposed forces in my mind that push and pull me every which way started a conversation I needed to hear:
Look at this woman who jolted me awake. Look at this woman who brought me here. Look at all I’ve seen and done in just seven days and nights because this bold spirit had the audacity to suggest a different path. She married a man who needed rides home from sleepovers less than a mile away from his childhood bed, and not only did she make Los Angeles a place worth living for a New England kid struggling to establish sturdy footing, she then kicked those feet out from underneath him and pushed him across the planet to the places he’d always wanted to go but wasn’t sure he’d see.
I’m still worried about money and what my career will be whenever this concludes and what our future will look like and how we’ll bring the picture into focus, but those private conversations dogged my mind when life was mundane and unsurprising. Why not do all that worrying as I stroll through urban gardens and gaze at the works of Impressionist masters or sample the wine and food envied around the world? I’m no longer looking ahead at things I can’t see or control, only the next step of this adventure that has only just begun.