The southwest had me crawling through eerie ghost towns to find the single operational gas station, prices jacked up two dollars a gallon higher than the rest of the country. None of the restroom doors closed properly, and the mirrors above the sinks had been pried off their mountings as if to discourage patrons from lingering. Not an issue, folks. The watercolor sunset over the Mojave Desert darkened to an inky night sky, the blackness so menacing it threatened to suck me in from the dimly lit two-lane highway. Nobody even knew I was there, and the thought at once terrified and liberated me.
All of the time spent alone with nature was changing something chemically inside me, and my brazenness swelled with each test of my physical and mental stamina. I skidded down paths into the Grand Canyon in shoes whose traction was but a distant memory. I took wrong turns on trails in Zion National Park and turned a hike of five miles into eleven. Dangerously low on water I staggered back in the blistering sun, singing to myself “You’re thirsty, but you’re fine!” to quell the panic. I took in views from the peaks of Yosemite that I felt pretty sure I was unworthy of witnessing. The Oregon coast felt like a magical kingdom that I am fairly certain, if I were to return, would have vanished into thin air leaving only a glimmering breeze behind. Majestic mountain ranges in Wyoming still drift through the back of my mind like long lost friends.
I felt like the absolute monarch of my own existence. My chariot: a Nissan Sentra with cigarette holes in the upholstery and a partial rear hubcap. My domain: the potholed back roads and sprawling black interstates where fast food signs kept time to the slowly stretching hours. My sense of self-empowerment was inversely related to my appearance, a confidence bubbling up from within with each outfit repeated and shower skipped. My lack of smart phone had me snapping photos with a disposable camera which, upon discovering its 2006 expiration date halfway through my trip, left me feeling like some gross exaggeration of a hipster. There were no photos to exhibit most of what I had taken in, and my eyes twinkled with the delicious secrets of memories that saturated my brain.
On one particular drive through Utah I was hit with a feeling of completeness so overwhelming that I started to cry. Not a pretty, single tear rolling down a rosy cheek sort of crying, but a heavy sobbing grasping me from the gut. I cried out of a sense of sheer joy and fulfillment, and feeling so humbled and grateful for all that is out there to embrace. Sitting in the midst of scenes so grandiose and powerful, just a speck of matter rendered speechless by what I was taking in, I suddenly found the search for answers so irrelevant. I suppose I had set out hoping for some glimmer of inspiration on what to do next with my life, but I was instead discovering all that I didn’t need in order to live. What to “do next” became an invigorating riddle; the vastness of what I was seeing made me feel ashamed for ever having doubted what lies out there for anyone willing to go find it. As I have never been able to meditate for long without falling asleep, I was as of yet unfamiliar with the sensation of Nirvana…but this felt like transcendence.
If my months of solitude on the open road were like floating through a daydream, then returning to the clamor of a city was like being awakened with a taser. The old comforts hardly felt comfortable- the upheaval begged to continue. Back in my original setting, the inclination to begin filling time with all the “should’s” flashed like a warning signal in my mind. Something had expanded inside of me, and it was refusing to be ignored- nagged at me as I bought my coffee or texted about weekend plans.
In place of answers I had been left with an even bigger question than I had ever allowed myself to ask; a wondrous, insatiable curiosity for the world that defied obedience to any one path. I still had no idea what was next; all I did know was that my world view had permanently shifted, and falling back on the familiar felt like a betrayal of what I had just glimpsed. There was only room for more exploration. My mental checklist of elements to compose a fulfilling life had been upended, or maybe dissolved altogether. My desire for answers gave way to a thirst for more questions; a gnawing hunger for what I had yet to learn, to realize, to perceive. What exactly that meant for my future, I had yet to decipher. But then again, at least in my experience, that’s how something truly remarkable begins.
Abby Fitzgibbon is an artist, writer and musician based in Baltimore, Maryland. After her graduation from James Madison University in 2007, Abby moved to China, where she lived for seven years as a teacher and local artist. Now having returned to Baltimore, you can follow her band, GingerWitch, or see her paintings showcased throughout the city. Visit www.abbyfitzgibbon.com to read more about her adventures. Artwork for sale at abbyfitzgibbon.threadless.com.