Of the last nine weeks, I have traveled seven of them.
My roommate laughs every time I write my absences on the calendar that coordinates our schedules on the refrigerator because she assumes that all of this travel is for leisure. She’s jealous and inquisitive of the time I spend away, but the truth is that it’s been anything but leisure: it’s desperation for escape, a desire to be anywhere but here. I wish it were as simple as wanderlust.
I have lived a lot of places, and I’m kicking myself daily: the adjustment should be easy. But everything in DC is a reminder of failure, and honestly, I don’t like the person I’ve become here: a person who begrudgingly wakes up in the morning. A person who exists, but doesn’t live.
It probably has very little to do with DC itself. Plenty of people are happy here. In fact, when I tell people that I do not like it here, I’m met with blank stares and confusion, as though I’ve told someone I do not enjoy daisies or sunshine. But to me, DC is a lot of things, none of them pleasant. It’s a constant comparison to a former life that is so fabled and exaggerated in my head, I’m not even sure those things ever really existed.
Close to the water, DC feels like a rowboat with a large hole in the bottom. This isn’t ideal because of my propensity for motion sickness, my disgust of fecally contaminated water, and I haven’t been swimming in years. Fortunately, I have a bucket and I keep dumping gallon after gallon of water over the edge of the boat to keep things afloat, but no matter how comfortable I should be perched, the boat is still sinking.
Since DC isn’t creating happiness by happenstance, I’ve decided to chase it. My time here has turned into an attempt to interview as many potential eastern seaboard cities for future residence. I pull up to every location now and ask, “Could I live here?”
I find myself on street corners, closing my eyes to take deeper breaths, and think, “is this the place where I belong?” A few deep breaths later, I open my eyes and survey the landscape, immediately finding microscopic flaws in the place where I’m standing.
I’m finding it makes no difference if I’m there. Or here. Or there.
Some things don’t change. Cellphones are a reminder that we can be lonely anywhere—if I had a landline I could assume that the answering machine was full of messages from people that wanted to connect with me—but constant refreshing of the inbox, my timeline, and my voicemail have led me to conclude that’s not true. A watched phone never rings, and when you are desperate for someone to say hello, you remain desperate for a very long time.
I’m looking under rocks that haven’t been peeked under in years. I’ve tried picking up some hobbies that are long since forgotten, but none of them is bringing fulfillment. Playing with a digital SLR camera was the closest to the happiness I’ve come lately until I looked at the price tag and realized that contentment through a glass lens was several paychecks away.
I’ve tried unconventional relationships. I’ve made friends with people that I wouldn’t ordinarily give the time of day; I’ve opened pieces of my heart to explore new relationships, but I’ve largely failed. There is certainly not contentment in trying to commit yourself to someone then quickly realizing that you’re overcommitted and incapable of pulling the trigger even on momentary delight because of a fear of the future causing paralysis.
There have been a lot of baseball games, and there will be even more. I wish I could explain the escapism of being inside a ballpark, but it’s better than any other form of therapy I’ve paid for. Perhaps it’s the prescribed roles of all involved: the players play, the coaches coach and the fans sit in the stands delighted in patronage.
It’s almost impossible to have a bad time at a baseball game, save for a handful of reasons. Those events include, but are not limited to: being hit by a bat, being hit by a ball, being hit by a drunk person doing the wave, getting a sunburn, ending up on the Jumbotron, or awkwardly refusing to hold someone’s hand, no matter how much they insist.
I particularly like keeping the score at games because for three hours I am the keeper of all importance in the universe: that notebook depends on me to pay attention, keep my pencil sharp, and remain in my seat for the duration. There is no leaving, no time for daydreaming or fretting; there is only time to write numbers and letters in the scorebook. I put more care and thought into the scorebook than I have any project at work in six months—it’s a reminder that when challenged, even my dyslexic brain can stay engaged for long periods of time. I was starting to wonder if that was even still possible.
I hope that I am chasing elusive happiness, not one that doesn’t exist. At the same time, I’m not exactly sure what I’m seeking—it’s difficult to quantify, quality, and it’s impossible to Google. I’ve been operating under the assumption that I will know what it is when I see it, but it’s been years and I’ve seen nothing yet.
Some happiness has been a mirage. Most of those moments came recently in the form of a prospective friendship, turned relationship, turned friendship again. It came mostly in the form of intimate moments, thoughtful gifts, and an unrivaled spoiling. As it turns out, it couldn’t be any of those things, but even the idea of it was enough to be satisfying in some regards.
Right now, the greatest happiness comes in the prospect of the future. It’s easy to be consumed with the present and the laundry list of items that are not going right, but there’s satisfaction in knowing that as soon as I can gain a clear idea of what it means to be happy, genuinely happy, I can work towards carving those things out for myself. A wise person once told me that you are the keeper of your own satisfaction, and I believe that to be true. It’s just a matter of constant reassurance, readjustment, reconnecting. The rest might come easily.