When I graduated college in 2009, I made myself a promise. “One day I will travel and explore this world that I live in.” Pretty typical – right? In my friend group traveling means you’re rich. Experience rich and soul full filled. But, I place an idealized requirement on my promise. I was going to travel the world… debt free.
Everyone told me my goal was hopelessly romantic, but that I shouldn’t place my life on hold for it. I did everything I could to set myself up for success. I completed my B.A. in 3 years to save myself an entire year of college debt. I was 3 credits short of a double major. To make ends meet, I was a full-time student with 3 jobs – 1 full-time and 2 part-time. I took 18 – 21 credits a semester on only two days of the week in order to better juggle my schedule. I started paying off my student loans the minute I accepted them instead of waiting until I graduated.
Over the years, my finances became detrimentally unstable for a variety of reasons. I was struggling with a nasty internal dialogue; my self-hatred reached an all-time high while my ability to cope with life reached an all-time low. I found myself lost – without a job, unable to pay rent, and nowhere to turn. It was then I had to learn an incredibly humbling lesson: how to accept the help of others. I had been so stubbornly independent for so long I had no idea how to accept help, let alone even ask for it. So I hung my head and reached out for support even though it felt like I sacrificed all of my dignity and integrity by doing so.
At that point in time, I found myself with a new job and sleeping on a couch at my best friend’s mother’s house….for 9 months. It was here that I learned exactly what it was to have true grit. Elena’s house is on the top of Lookout Mountain, located just outside of Golden, CO. The winter on top of that mountain was bitter cold and the driving was rough with 4 a.m. wake up calls to get to a job 35 miles away. The 2014 New Year eventually rolled around and it was with high spirits that I welcomed a new attitude and new beginnings into my life.
Then… my car died. On January 1st. Fuck.
Everything felt charred around me and there was no escaping this deep hole I was desperately trying to claw out of. But the woman I lived with and her daughter were hell-bent on making it work. They had a motto: “You know, we weren’t put here on Earth to go through life alone. And, we are all meant to be happy.” With that, we juggled cars back and forth until I was able to save up enough cash to buy a car….4 months later. Even then, I had an incredibly generous friend give me $1,000 just to help pay for the car. The charisma of those three amazing souls literally changed my life. No words will ever contain the deep gratitude I have for them. It was indeed the winter of being humbled…over and over and over.
As soon as I was able to purchase a car, another family with 3 children offered me a place to stay in their basement. I had known the family for a while and had been a nanny for them after college. Accepting help from them was also pretty nauseating for me. Yet, it was one of the best decisions I had ever made. By accepting their generous offer, I was able to see the inner workings of a healthy family atmosphere (much different from the one I had grown up in). I was able to spend time with 3 small human beings who constantly made me laugh and reminded me what it was to be a child with no expectations of what the world should look like. Most importantly, the parents provided me with a sanctuary so that I could stand back on my own two feet. They didn’t expect anything in return; they just wanted me to thrive. I became a part of their family. I became a part of a deep caring and inquisitive conversation I never knew before. It was under their roof I learned a lesson about granting myself amnesty.
“Grant yourself an amnesty. Apply a peace treaty to your heart. You are no longer your own enemy.”
In July of 2015, I was able to move in with a dear friend of mine and actually pay rent for the first time in years. Before I even knew it, I was doing it. I was actually standing back on my own two feet. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate situation. We would spend evenings cooking, laughing, philosophizing about life, and sometimes even just crying on the couch with a bottle of wine and a vinyl record. I was finally in love with life again. More importantly, I was truly learning what it meant to genuinely fall in love with myself.
Fast forward to June 2016. My roommate and beloved friend accepted a position in Norway. Needless to say, we were not going to be extending our lease together. What in the heck was I going to do? If you know anything about Front Range, CO living, you know it’s not cheap. It’s actually pretty astronomically astounding to me how people afford to live here. The average for rent in the Denver/Metro area right now is about $1,400 a month for a 1 bedroom and $1,800 a month for a 2 bedroom. To give a little perspective, 5 years ago the averages were $700 & $1,000.
Besides not wanting to spend 50% of my income on affording a place to live or commit to living in a house with Craigslist randos, I also was not going to sign another lease. Outrageously (or not) I could pay off more of my student loans, camp on BLM land, travel with my dog, and eat well on the price tag of monthly rent. So I reached out to Elena and asked her if I could live with her again. Not only did she say yes, but she welcomed me back with loving arms. I moved back in to the mountain house almost 2 months ago. Elena provides me a constant reminder of how far I’ve come since the first time I lived with her: “You go girl. I just really admire you. You truly do have true grit and perseverance.”
…Which brings the story up to speed.
Next month I will be making the last payment on my student loans in a lump sum. Holy shit. My nearly 10 year dream of being debt free is actually going to come true. I am going to have a clean slate and nothing to tie me to anywhere. For the first time in my life, I am able make a decision that isn’t based in trauma or repercussions of past situations. And now that I am here, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do or how I’m going to do it. I have so many questions racing through my head. At what number will my savings account be “enough”? Where do I want to go? How do I want to travel? Do I stay in the U.S. at first, or pull the trigger and go abroad? Do I start with a thru-hike somewhere? Will I actually be able to do this? What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if. What if. What if.
A friend gave me some advice: whatever decision you make will be the right decision.
So now I just need to jump without knowing where I’m going to land and embrace the beauty of the unknown road.
© /skin/ /ˈpōətrē/