Your twenties are so transformative in so many ways. In my twenties I lived in six or seven different cities. You try on different jobs, friendships, relationships and explore.
When I was in my mid-twenties in 2006, I had a terrible break up, the kind that shakes every foundation. I was really struggling and, in a quest to feel better I hopped into my 2002 Oldsmobile Alero and over the border. I got to the border in Michigan with no plan and just kept driving. I drove until I’d made my way across most of the eastern U.S. on my own.
I was really working out the end of that relationship as I travelled through a variety of landscapes, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is interesting because whenever I get out on the road, with each mile, I start to feel more like myself and trust myself all over again. I feel independent. There was something so healing about this ‘heartbreak road trip’.
He and I had met at graduate school and were together for a number of months. It was very intense and filled with highs and lows, more lows than were good for me. When it came to an end, it was a deep heartbreak, not the kind where you stay friends afterwards. I couldn't see another future for myself without that relationship and I felt as if I didn’t know who I was anymore. It feels like so long ago, but I remember my Mom saying to me “If you’re doubting who you are when you’re with someone, that’s not who you want to be with.”
During a portion of my drive through Pennsylvania there was one low point where I broke down crying. I had to pull over to the side of the road because it wouldn’t have been safe to drive through all those tears. I kept thinking “Why has this happened? I love this person so much, but I know it is not a good situation for me.” I couldn’t put the pieces together.
At one point I ended up at an artist colony in Connecticut. I bought a piece by an artist named Childe Hassam. It’s a print of a woman sitting on a windowsill looking out of the window to a landscape with a pot of red geraniums in front of her. My grandmother used to grow geraniums and they’ve always been special to me. There’s something about that image that just gets to me —she’s looking off into her future in this white dress and overlooking a field of flowers. I still get emotional looking at it. I remember seeing that picture and thinking “This is who I am. This is who I want to be. I get to determine what my future is going to be. No matter how heartbroken I may be, I get to decide what’s next.”
I still have it hanging on my wall today.
(Interviewed and written up by Alya Somar; photo provided by the interviewee)