I’ve been working this week on a short essay for a contest put on by The Cabin–a writing center in Boise. The topic proposed was “Detours”, and people were invited to write fiction/nonfiction/creative prose. I just started typing and a week later my thoughts have formed into something decent. I submitted the essay five minutes ago, and am happy to have completed something. I love deadlines.
Walking across Key Bridge I am reminded of my mother’s fear that I would end it all in the river below. Amidst the misery in my life at the time, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind before she said it, which I’m sure terrified her in an unexpected way. My only morbid thought of escape had been to shoot out of the city’s arteries like a pent-up bullet finally released.
Before Washington I’d always taken for granted that I’d somehow make it where I’m going. I do still think this is a given, or what other people call fate. And calling something a departure from my route is simply a way of saying that it isn’t the way I thought I’d go. Does it matter though, our inability to tame this essential fallibility? I no longer take my expectations for granted, or at least I’ve recognized my own role in bringing things about.
There is no way to know where I’m going, or how I’ll get there, and almost no way to identify a detour other than in retrospect. My life in Idaho, for example, I now recognize as a four-year-long wandering of sorts; it has been a deviation from the reality I am unwilling to face. Detours are by their very nature meant to be temporary, except in this case I was hoping my excursion would become my reality. I fear that I’m nearing the ramp that will put me back on course, and I’m driving as slowly as possible. It’s merely been a reprieve—a break from the main route, a chance to slow down, an opportunity to explore, and an opening to grow.
On an actual roadway, construction managers help us discern detours from miles away. There is a detour coming. It’s still coming. It’s even nearer now. Here it is. And now it is done. On you go, full speed ahead. They’ve spoiled us with excessive foreknowledge. In our lives we lack that entirely; can’t we balance the two somehow? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know that a deflection from your intentions is imminent, and that the experience shouldn’t be taken too seriously?
My time in Washington was an attempt to return to the main route, or what I refer to as “The Graduate School Experiment.” Also known as the complete and total mental breakdown of my early twenties, this ended up being a danger I could have averted. Instead of heeding the warnings, I packed up all my belongings and cried my way out over the plains toward the swampy east coast. Once there, settling into a new life and starting a program that I no longer wanted to be in, it was obvious that I had plowed into the construction zone, whipping past signs and workers that were screaming at me to stop, or to at least slow down please. Things only got worse after that, and I spent my hopeless days walking across the aforementioned bridge to take part in my constructed misery. Six weeks later I was packing up even more belongings and reverting west to the great relief of everyone who loved me.
Noticing the CLOSED INDEFINITELY signs on the onramp to Washington would have been helpful. The pain, anxiety, and general worry could have been easily avoided had I followed my instincts before hauling myself cross country. But I had to do it. There had been too much work preparing me for this moment, the sacrifices already made. I had to follow through with this plan. In retrospect the forewarning alarms were distressingly obvious—my feelings of uncertainty, my sadness at so abruptly halting my happiness in Idaho, my sheer unwillingness to leave my beloved detouring life. I should have known that the experiment would be brief and painful, that it would fail, that it was something I could have easily bypassed.
Remaining on the detour would have protected me, and I would have continued moving forward, although at the slow rate I was accustomed to. I would have discovered either way that uprooting myself before I was ready and forcing myself into an unwanted life was not a good plan—that I needed to be happier than that. The view from Idaho would have shown me the same thing from a different perspective: I could have circled around the danger and inspected it carefully as time went by. But something about the head-on collision helped solidify my understanding in a way that only looking and thinking never could have. Forging straight into the gaping hole in the road created an explosion—a cleansing one for me. The decision to back up and take the detour around graduate school was simple and fulfilling, in a way that it couldn’t have been had I not tried. After pushing forward through the hell and debris, I gladly put myself in reverse and returned to Idaho, feeling like a new woman.
I’ve had the misfortune all my life of having parents who understand me too well. That sounds like a terrible complaint to put to the world, but they have identified every detour, and every detour within a detour that I’ve encountered so far. No doubt there will be many more. They’ve had the patience (mostly), though, to let me discover the wrongdoing of my wanderings on my own. I’ve been given space to explore and to learn, which can be insufferable. But the mistakes are there to be made, and often propel me onward in unintended ways.
I’ve learned that we are always put back on track if we are willing. It is inevitable and a given that detours are only temporary. Sometimes they are miles long, and other times only require a brief changing of lanes, but they always carry us forward and lead us back to the main route, meanwhile exposing us to a view we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Like choosing to go the business route of an old highway to visit historic downtown, instead of bypassing an entire moment in history with the view of fields and billboards as companions all for the sake of saving time. We are forced to slow down during this scenic stint. The rush to get where we’re going is challenged—what was the reason for the haste? We’ll get there regardless, and we aren’t in control of the timing anyway. The diversions force us to take time, to prove that we aren’t saving time for anything—to mock our idea of storage.
It’s easy to lose sense of purpose during a detour, but far worse to miss a beneficial diversion. So far I’ve always come back; and whether it’s to a sense of balance, restoration, or a continuation of my confusion, I never view the path the same way. The departure may not always be mine to choose, but it is mine to experience. I imagine that there is a single path in life, but that I wouldn’t learn anything from it were I not forced to abandon its rigidity. I can only hope for moments of respite, whether they are found on the straightaway or roundabout stretch.