I remember when a friend sat me down for a chat. "You've got to figure it out, Tara," he urged. "You're not getting any younger." I looked at my watch and gasped. I was 26. "You need to find a real job and settle down."
"But I don't know what I want," I said sadly, pushing around the soggy vegetables in my salad bowl. "Well you need to figure it out," he lectured, silently boasting his status as The Person Who Has It All Together, or The Guy Who Figured It All Out. He and his 9-5, his silver band on the left hand, his palm pilot. I felt jolted, like at some point I had been knocked off the timeline and into an abyss of uncertainty.
I went through a stage of doubt, as I watched my surroundings enter into adulthood with apparent ease. I felt left behind, like a grounded child whose nose pressed against the window while watching the big kids play. I felt left out. And those words from my friend stung, as though the directions my life had taken were the wrong ones, like the only way I would be successful would be if I bit the bullet and took a job I didn't want, all for the sake of benefit and a clear path into my future.
Later on, I went to Asia on a whim to try my hand at teaching English. I realized I liked it. One day, on a gorgeous fall day in Beijing, I was sitting on a lift with my friend Kim, overlooking the Fragrant Mountain. I stared at our tennis shoes. The tree tops, with the iridescent autumn colors, were a glimmering backdrop behind the dirty laces and and worn rubber soles. I made eye contact with the old Chinese men, with brown wooden teeth and inquisitive glances, as they passed us in the opposite direction. Then something occurred to me spontaneously. I hadn't been on a lift in years, possibly ten. I think the last time might have been on a ski-trip with my family? And here I was, alone in fucking China, yet sitting with a friend on a lift, from a ticket I had bought, from a job I had had, from a desire that had pushed me to say "Fuck it, just go!" and there I was. It was at that exact moment I saw my first path into adulthood.
Now I'm in Europe, in Spain to be exact, finally reaching security that I'm doing what I need to be doing. I feel good, I know the only timeline for me to live by is MY timeline. Now such decisions in life I never thought plausible are things in which I consider, decisions adults make. Yet I still have the spirit of a child, curious, excited and slightly retarded.
And that friend with the wisdom and the palm pilot? I received an email from him once, about a year ago, asking about my whereabouts. I told him I was in China for a bit, teaching English. He responded, "Oh my God! You are so lucky! I've always wanted to go to Asia!" "You can too," I told him. "But only if you want."