The other day, I tried to quit my job. For the third time. My managers are pretty cool, so they didn’t give me much grief about it, but they were curious to know why I wanted to leave this time.
“Do you have another job?” Doug asked.
I shook my head. “Nah,” I said. “I just feel like I should go somewhere and do something epic.”
“Why are you always trying to run away?” Dave asked.
His question stung a little bit. “I dunno,” I shrugged. It was an honest answer.
I forget sometimes that most people aren’t used to me and my quirky announcements. My family has had twenty-two years to adjust. They used to be surprised or even concerned, say, when I told them I was going roadtripping out west and didn’t know when I would be back. Or that I was going to Europe for a semester. Or that I ran out of money in Morocco and couldn’t get home. Or that my boyfriend and I were moving to Colombia with no jobs and no place to live. Now I think my family has grown accustomed to my restlessness and has even come to expect my periodic announcements. So when I tell them things like, for example, I’m applying to live on a school bus with three strangers and travel around the country for a year, they just sort of nod their understanding, not a bit caught off guard. “Alright,” they say, “Let us know when you’re leaving.”
It’s not so much that I always want to run away, per se, so much as I just want to go. I want to see new things and meet new people and experience enough spontaneity in my life that I feel like I’m living a real and valuable existence. Most people, it seems to me, don’t have this incredible urge to be elsewhere. It’s like a race to the finish of a spouse, 2.3 kids, a house, a dog, and a job you can’t wait to retire from. But most people also didn’t grow up with Mike Dollins for a father.
Utterly unafraid of any adventure that might befall him, my dad has a greater vagabond spirit than I could hope to develop in a lifetime. Ever since I can remember, my dad has talked about travels–past and future–with the epic delivery of someone like Atticus Finch. Or Morgan Freeman. Some nights, we would sit on the front porch and he would point out constellations, telling me about the times he parked his truck on the Continental Divide and watched the stars as he fell asleep. Other times we would talk about the hitchhikers he picked up as he drove his tractor trailer cross-country, or the rock concerts he unexpectedly stumbled upon when he pulled his truck into some little town for the weekend. There was always a sense, though, that my dad’s wanderlust had been cut short by the constraints of working to support his family. He had enough responsibilities and people who needed him to bind him to one place, but he never quit talking about the places he would love to see. One day, he assured me, he would have the time to just take off, no looking back. And when he did, he would head west, not stopping until he reached the Pacific Ocean.
This summer, my dad finally took the trip out west he had been needing for a while–Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, the Grand Canyon, Zion. He had been gone for about a week when he called me. I was working so I missed his call, but I listened to the voicemail he left me after I got off work. “Hi, Mary darlin’. It’s me. I spent the last few days in Zion National Park, and today I went whitewater rafting down the Colorado River. And–” he paused to exhale deeply, “–wow. Just wow. You were right. It’s been amazing. Talk to you soon.” For once, the man with a million stories of adventure was at a loss for words that would convey what he was seeing, doing, feeling. And that said a lot.
This morning, I went to visit my dad.
“You are not working today?” he asked.
“No, not today…” I began hesitantly. “Actually…I quit my job today. And…I’m flying to Albuquerque tomorrow. Weston’s out there, and we’re going to camp and stuff…I don’t know when I’ll be back.” I was much more confident of my impulsive decision before the words came out of my mouth. Now I felt like my dad was disappointed in me.
“Do you think I’m making a mistake?” I asked.
“No,” he answered, more quickly than I had expected. “This job was never supposed to be a permanent thing for you. You need to find what makes you happy. So I say you go have fun. But don’t get pregnant. I’ll be mad at you forever if you get pregnant.”
I didn’t really know what to say to that, so I just laughed. Even if I can’t surprise my family with the things I say to them, at least they can still surprise me with how they respond. So I’m going to take my dad’s advice, get on that plane tomorrow, and go have some fun. Oh yeah, and not get pregnant.